advancing cultural evolutionary studies


ACE Grants Background

The ACE grants are made possible by a generous donation from Eric and Peggy Peterson. Below is a note from Eric on the motivation for these awards.

These grants' origins trace to several lines of Peggy's ancestors and mine. Here's one line. My maternal grandfather opened doors to the universe. Some of his enthusiasms—flying saucers, Great Pyramid mysticism—led nowhere, but during the mentally cramping 1950s odd old Sam Blanc saved my inner life. That visionary elder retained a capacity for wonder despite his own grinding youth. In 1894 when Sam was 11 his parents confined him to a reformatory for the vague offense of being “incorrigible.” Two years later, his newly-widowed mother brought him home to help support her five younger children. His only further education was limited correspondence school self-study. Later he pulled his eldest daughter out of high school to make money to keep food on the table. None of the Blancs had it easy. These photos show my infant mother in her pregnant mother's arms, and, a few years later, holding a cat next to her little sister.

In late middle age, Sam invented and patented the Roto-Rooter sewer and drain cleaning machine. He licensed its use to men across the country so as many as possible could feed their families during the Great Depression. In his sixties he learned to pilot small aircraft to more easily visit his licensees. At 75, he took me flying and let my small hands control his single-engine Cessna plane, thrilling for a young boy. He gave each of his nine grandchildren nearly a year's college tuition. Because now he could.

What drove me was wondering how the past led to now. I worked historically, biographically, personally. When I needed fresh perspective, Not By Genes Alone invigorated me. Richerson, Boyd, and others showed how to comprehend particulars by simplifying, modeling, simulating the general. Jointly they pointed toward ways to live with less suffering. During pandemic webinars Pete Richerson introduced dozens of cultural evolutionary researchers who are contributing to our great collective need: to replace myth with explanation. What Pete termed “the golden age of non-human cultural research” especially delighted Peggy, an avid gardener fascinated by mammals, birds, and fish, by insects and plants. She says, "My whole approach to the myriad living things I come in contact with has changed profoundly in recent years."

We're eager to keep unlearning assumptions. We want to support brains behind eyes which sparkle with curiosity. Our troubled planet needs you as much as you need what Pete once called the “vast pyramid” of others on whose shoulders we all stand. We can't fight your battles, which may be fierce, or celebrate all your victories, which may be many. But perhaps these small CES grants will help you find the connections through which life blossoms. We hope they open heavy doors far enough that you can slip through cracks to big worlds.