How have humans become such an ecologically dominant species? Humans and their livestock now comprise about 96% of all mammal biomass on Earth. So how have we managed to survive and enter this immense diversity of habitats, despite few environment-specific genetic adaptations?
Imho in his book
"The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter", Joseph Henrich makes a compelling case that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains―on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations. In other words it's the software, not the hardware. We culturally inherit cognitive solutions to many problems. Children and chimpanzees have very similar cognitive skills for dealing with the physical world, but children have more sophisticated cognitive skills than apes for dealing with the social world.
Muthukrishna M, Henrich J. (2016). Innovation in the collective brain. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0192
Innovation is often assumed to be the work of a talented few, whose products are passed on to the masses. Here, we argue that innovations are instead an emergent property of our species' cultural learning abilities, applied within our societies and social networks. Our societies and social networks act as collective brains. We outline how many human brains, which evolved primarily for the acquisition of culture, together beget a collective brain. Within these collective brains, the three main sources of innovation are serendipity, recombination and incremental improvement. We argue that rates of innovation are heavily influenced by (i) sociality, (ii) transmission fidelity, and (iii) cultural variance. We discuss some of the forces that affect these factors. These factors can also shape each other. For example, we provide preliminary evidence that transmission efficiency is affected by sociality—languages with more speakers are more efficient. We argue that collective brains can make each of their constituent cultural brains more innovative. This perspective sheds light on traits, such as IQ, that have been implicated in innovation. A collective brain perspective can help us understand otherwise puzzling findings in the IQ literature, including group differences, heritability differences and the dramatic increase in IQ test scores over time.
Muthukrishna M, Shulman BW, Vasilescu V, Henrich J. (2014). Sociality influences cultural complexity. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.2511
Our more detailed analyses of Experiment 1 indicate that learners in the five model condition learned, to at least some detectable degree, from the top four performers, though they did rely most heavily on the top performer among their cultural parents. This is important because, by drawing ideas, techniques and insights from different models, learners can end up with novel recombinations that none of their cultural parents possesses. This, in a sense, creates innovations without ‘invention’, ‘creativity’ or trial and error learning.
Culture is much more widespread than previously suspected; it's found not only in primates, whales, and birds, but even in fish, fruit flies, and bees. Amazing recent review paper by Andrew Whiten.
Whiten, A. (2021). The burgeoning reach of animal culture. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abe6514
Culture can be defined as all that is learned from others and is repeatedly transmitted in this way, forming traditions that may be inherited by successive generations. This cultural form of inheritance was once thought specific to humans, but research over the past 70 years has instead revealed it to be widespread in nature, permeating the lives of a diversity of animals, including all major classes of vertebrates. Recent studies suggest that culture’s reach may extend also to invertebrates—notably, insects. In the present century, the reach of animal culture has been found to extend across many different behavioral domains and to rest on a suite of social learning processes facilitated by a variety of selective biases that enhance the efficiency and adaptiveness of learning. Far-reaching implications, for disciplines from evolutionary biology to anthropology and conservation policies, are increasingly being explored.