Cultural Evolution: The Application of 3D Imaging to the Study of Society’s Development

As science has progressed, researchers and analysts have become more and more entranced by the study of a specific process: evolution. Evolution of organisms and biological systems is the driving force behind what makes the world the way it is today. The theory (which is pretty much accepted as fact at this point) is that, over a relatively short span of geologic time and through a series of selective pressures, life began, developed into countless species and genera, and either persisted or died out; in fact, over 90% of all life that ever lived on this planet is now extinct. Many scientists study the different facets of and species produced by this process, a study made much easier from the abundance of data we have concerning extant and extinct life (i.e. living organisms and fossils). The goal of these pursuits is to both understand the world’s past and to try and predict the world’s future path given all of this information.

Mankind, due to the scope and general association of the word “evolution”, usually only thinks of evolution in terms of science. However, something else has evolved in a similar way to life over a similar span of geologic time. In fact, this thing has evolved far faster than biological life in a multitudes-shorter span of geologic time. What am I talking about?

One word: culture.

Cultural and societal evolution is so often overlooked in the face of scientific discovery despite being so important and integral to the human experience. It is a history of our species’ development over the years from a non-biological perspective. We also have a significant amount of historical and contextual data to frame any evolutionary discussion we might have about culture. If anything the difference between the discussion and appeal of biological and cultural evolutions is the difference between how these are presented. While biological evolution can be observed every day from just looking around the world at nature and human life, cultural evolution needs a lot of context and different resources to observe and translate to people effectively.

Certain websites and blogs have already tried to show some facet of cultural evolution. One such example is Buzzfeed. In the following video, they show how female makeup has evolved through culture and society over the years:

I believe that this concept of showing multiple stages in cultural evolution can be expanded and improved through the usage of digital humanities and new technologies. We could use Structure Sensor and visual data from different historical databases to show the evolution of different spaces and parts of culture. For example, we could render 3D images of theatres throughout history to show the evolution of how the spaces are laid out and used in performances. It would help to educate humanities students about the applications of architecture and design to the performing arts over history. This method could be extrapolated for any structure or icon or space over time. It would be a more detailed, more qualitative, and more culturally focused version of a project like ArcGIS. This usage of technology could make the humanities and history appeal to a larger audience and get more people interested in these topics.

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