The Imitation Factor: Evolution Beyond the Gene

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Simon and Schuster, 2000 - Science - 243 pages
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Is imitation really the best compliment? As Lee Alan Dugatkin's powerful work of cutting-edge science reveals, imitation is the most profound compliment you can give anyone. It might last for millions of years.

An acclaimed biologist, Dugatkin has identified and mapped the effects of a powerful, overlooked, and deceptively simple factor in evolutionary history. He shows how the imitation of one individual by another, in any species, is an essential and fundamental natural force that has enabled the growth of animal and human societies. Previously inexplicable animal behaviors become comprehensible in the light of Dugatkin's research: How can one group of monkeys all learn to use a new tool in one generation? There is no time for genetic evolution to achieve this, but the social system enabled by imitation manages it easily. Dugatkin also investigates the way we, and other species, select mates. Why do tiny sailfin molly fish have sex with another species? The somewhat disturbing truth is, simply, to impress the ladies. There can be no purely genetic, standard Darwinian explanation for it. Such fishy sex isn't all in the genes. Humans and animals alike do things because they see others doing them; in this way fashions, traditions, and customs eventually emerge. Indeed, Dugatkin's astonishing point is that the imitation factor has led to the development in animals of education and culture. This fact has changed the course of evolutionary history.

Dugatkin draws on a wide range of his own and others' research into the behavior of fish, birds, whales, and humans to reveal the failure of genetic determination to explain mating behavior and the fundamental process of learning. As we watch people become popular and find ourselves attracted to them, we are doing nothing more than what animals have been doing for eons. Dugatkin follows the course of imitation as it leads to teaching and reveals that the mechanics of "animal education" built the species-wide phenomenon known in our own society as civilization. An original, brilliant, and lucid presentation of a profound new idea in evolutionary science, The Imitation Factor will have an enduring impact on the way we understand life on earth, and ourselves.


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THE IMITATION FACTOR: Evolution Beyond the Gene

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An engaging exploration of how culture effects evolution."Why do humans behave the way they behave?" According to behavioral ecologist Dugatkin (Biology/Univ. of Louisville), it isn't just our genes ... Read full review

The imitation factor: evolution beyond the gene

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Dugatkin (biology, Univ. of Louisville; Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees) turns the troubled concept of cultural Darwinism upside down by asking not how biological evolution affects culture but how ... Read full review


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About the author (2000)

Lee Alan Dugatkin writes a monthly science column for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and has written for Scientific American, BioScience, and many other popular and academic journals. He is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Louisville.

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