Cultural evolutionary tipping points in the storage and transmission of information

R. Alexander Bentley, Michael J. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Human culture has evolved through a series of major tipping points in information storage and communication. The first was the appearance of language, which enabled communication between brains and allowed humans to specialize in what they do and to participate in complex mating games. The second was information storage outside the brain, most obviously expressed in the “Upper Paleolithic Revolution” -- the sudden proliferation of cave art, personal adornment, and ritual in Europe some 35,000–45,000 years ago. More recently, this storage has taken the form of writing, mass media, and now the Internet, which is arguably overwhelming humans’ ability to discern relevant information. The third tipping point was the appearance of technology capable of accumulating and manipulating vast amounts of information outside humans, thus removing them as bottlenecks to a seemingly self-perpetuating process of knowledge explosion. Important components of any discussion of cultural evolutionary tipping points are tempo and mode, given that the rate of change, as well as the kind of change, in information storage and transmission has not been constant over the previous million years.
Original languageEnglish
Article number569
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2012


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