Author: David Sloan Wilson

Brief Info: American evolutionary biologist

Years Lived: 1949-

More Info: <link>

Quotations


Between-group selection became the primary evolutionary force

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Our ancestors found ways to suppress disruptive competition among individuals within groups, so that between-group selection became the primary evolutionary force. This favored group-level coordination in all its forms, including the transmission of learned information across generations.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


The chicken experiment

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But the chicken experiments suggest that this logic is flawed – even for farm animals where eugenics is a common practice. It seems Francis Galton was deeply mistaken about the relationship between individual abilities and societal welfare. The number of eggs laid by an individual hen is not an individual trait so much as it is a social trait, because it depends upon how members of the group behave towards each other. If the individuals who profit most from a social group do not contribute to the group's welfare, and if their traits are heritable, then selecting for them results in the collapse of the society.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


The entire pageant of human history

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Once we become attuned to it, the entire pageant of human history, starting approximately 100,000 years ago, can be seen as evolution at high speed, made possible by the transmission of learned information across generations. Our departure from Africa and colonization of the rest of the planet; our ability to inhabit all climatic zones and dozens of ecological niches as hunter-gatherers; our ability to grow food as farmers; the advent of writing, and the exploitation of fossil fuels were all made possible by the generational transfer of information.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


The eternal struggle between good and evil

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Cancer provides an example of multilevel selection and the eternal contest between the behaviors associated with good and evil. With cancer, the group is the multicellular organism and the individuals are the cells. Just as the traits associated with good are vulnerable to the traits associated with evil for organisms living in social groups, normal cells are vulnerable to cancer cells within multicellular organisms. In the same way groups of morally virtuous individuals outcompete groups crippled by selfishness, multicellular organisms free of cancer outcompete multicellular organisms riddled by cancer. The eternal struggle between good and evil takes place within our own bodies and has since the origin of multicellular organisms roughly a billion years ago.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Increase nurturance thoughout the life span

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If we could say only one thing about making the world a better place, to be reflected in our social policies and our personal decisions, it would be to increase nurturance thoughout the life span and especially during its early stages, starting before birth.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Living in small groups has been baked into our psyches

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Living in small groups has been baked into our psyches by thousands of generations of genetic evolution, and small groups need to remain “cells” in the cultural evolution of larger-scale societies.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


The malleability of life

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It is sobering to contemplate the malleability of life. It only takes five generations to turn a population of mild-mannered chickens into a population of psychopaths. If we don't manage evolutionary processes, they will very likely take us where we don't want to go.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Nurturance is a master variable

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One basic prescription is to do everything possible to re-create the ancestral social environment of small groups of nurturing individuals who know each other by their actions. Provide such an environment, and prosocial child development and adult relations will take place with surprising ease. In the absence of a nurturing social environment, the shaping of behavior will lead in a very different direction – survival and reproductive strategies that are predicated on the absence of social support, that benefit me and not you, us and not them, today without regard for tomorrow. That's what Tony means by calling nurturance a master variable.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Our long-term personal and societal goals

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Furthermore, as we have seen for genetic evolution, what's adaptive in the evolutionary sense of the word isn't necessarily good or right in the normative sense. Genetic evolution often results in adaptations that are good for me but not for you, or us but not them, or good over the short term but not the long term. The behaviors that we adopt by open-ended learning have all the same limitations. If anything, behavioral adaptations are even more shortsighted than genetic evolution because the immediate costs and benefits of our behaviors are more perceptible to us than the long-term consequences. You might want to lose weight, but your mind is causing you to dip your hand into the next bag of Doritos. You might want peace on earth, but your mind is causing you to do what it takes to beat out your competitors for a promotion at the office. A lot of cleverness will be required to align our learning abilities to our long-term personal and societal goals.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Our species does represent a new evolutionary process

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As we are increasingly coming to realize, our species does represent a new evolutionary process — cultural evolution — that far surpasses cultural traditions in other species. This capacity for cultural evolution enabled our ancestors to spread over the globe, inhabiting all climatic zones and dozens of ecological niches. Then small-scale societies — “tiny grains of thought”" — coalesced into larger and larger societies over the past ten thousand years. Human activities now rival other living processes and non-living physical processes in shaping the earth and atmosphere….

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Religions are great bushy trees

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In short, religions are great bushy trees that evolved, and continue to evolve, by cultural evolution.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


Small groups are a fundamental unit of human social organization

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Multilevel selection theory tells us that something similar to team-level selection took place in our species for thousands of generations, resulting in adaptations for teamwork that are baked into the genetic architecture of our minds. Absorbing this fact leads to the conclusion that small groups are a fundamental unit of human social organization. Individuals cannot be understood except in the context of small groups, and large-scale societies need to be seen as a kind of multicellular organism comprising small groups.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019


A vast repository of information learned and passed down from previous generations

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With this perspective, you can begin to think of yourself as not just a product of your genes, and not just a product of your personal experience, but also as one of many members of your culture who collectively contain a vast repository of information learned and passed down from previous generations. This makes you part of something larger than yourself. The information has not just been passed down, but it has also been winnowed through the generations, leaving us with a set of beliefs and practices that helped us to cohere as groups.

From the book This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

— 2019

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