Evolution for Everyone

davidsloanwilsonEvolution for Everyone is an interesting book published in 2007 aimed at the general public and written by David Sloan Wilson. This particular blog entry is largely a rehash of Multilevel Selection Theory, but I just had to include some of the most interesting tidbits.

Wilson discusses so called highly sensitive people as an evolutionary variant.  Information is a mixed blessing with too much being overwhelming and too little potentially being disastrous. There seems to be no best solution to this trade-off.  Thus, we have HSP or animals who tend to be slow in novel situations and appear to be shy, but can arrive at new solutions to problems by slowly absorbing the available information.

Wilson mentions Ed Wilson author of Insect Societies and answers the question of why should we study these insects with the answer that their social organization is unequaled with cohesion, caste specialization, and individual altruism.  He notes that insects in social colonies makeup 50% of insect biomass.

Wilson suggests the 3 C’s of human evolution:  cognition, culture, and cooperation and that we are evolution’s newest transition from groups of organisms to groups as organisms.  He mentions “enforced equality” as possibly the key adaptation. Small human groups can be egalitarian because they collectively have the means to detect and punish cheaters and bullies. In this light, Wilson mentions Paul Bingham’s assertion that the key human adaptation is the ability to throw stones.  He notes that our big eyes facilitate us being team players by allowing others to see where we are looking.

In discussing cultural evolution, Wilso notes that unlike insects, after crossing the cooperation divide, we gained ecological domination while remaining a single species.  The reason is that our change was cultural rather than genetic.  An evolutionary process needs:

  1. Variation–expected from complex systems.
  2. Consequences from variation–must make a difference in terms of survival and reproduction
  3. heritability–cultural evolution takes place beneath conscious awareness.

Walter Ong author of Orality and Literacy argued that writing fundamentally changed everything because we do not have to remember everything–all those proverbs,etc. Our minds are freed for new activities.

Wilson also mentions his book Darwin’s Cathedral.  One portion of that book discusses Calvinism and shows religion as potentially adaptive.  Particularly, Calvinism enabled the city of Geneva to function as a unit, like a body or a beehive.

He finishes the book by noting that we should study the relatively simple rules of organization from an evolutionary perspective and I have parsed my favorites from the list:

  • “Evil Empire”–Dehumanizing our adversaries only brings out the sociopath in all of us.  We need to be cool, calm, and collected as a nation.
  • Short term emotional responses such as fear and hatred cannot be sustained and become toxic over the long term.  Potential is developed during periods of safety and satiety.
  • When there is no discipline and excommunication, there is no community.
  • Morality is required for morale.
  • Moral communities can embody whatever values are deemed good and right.  This is a double edged sword.
  • Traditional societies are likely to include a great deal of wisdom that remains to be discovered scientifically.  For instance, the Hutterites social system  was designed to punish behaviors rather than individuals.
  • Do not attempt social transplant surgery unless you are qualified and have the consent of the patient.  Sometimes we are so certain we know how to implement our vision of a good society that we are really like the ignorant doctors of the past.



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