Tag Archives: Wilson

Nervous States: Counterpoint

This is the second of three posts discussing William Davies’ book Nervous States–Democracy and the Decline of Reason. I pick a couple of areas to argue with some of the scenarios Davies presents.

Markets and Evolution

Davies discusses Hayek as the guy who believes in free markets above all else, and who has helped us reach this point of not agreeing on reality.  When I read Hayek (The Road to Serfdom), he said to me that free markets with the right stable rules in place are the best system for everyone. Unfortunately, determining the right stable rules is difficult and the job of government.  Hayek seems to have taken Adam Smith’s invisible hand and run with it. David Sloan Wilson in This View of Life- Completing the Darwinian Revolution makes clear that the invisible hand only works at one scale of a market (see posts Evolution for Everyone and Multilevel Selection Theory).

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Intuition and Creativity

This post is derived from a review article: “The Role of Intuition in the Generation and Evaluation Stages of Creativity,” authored by Judit Pétervári, Magda Osman and Joydeep Bhattacharya that appeared in Frontiers of Psychology, September 2016 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01420. It struck me that in all this blog’s posts, creativity had almost never come up. Then I threw it together with Edward O Wilson’s 2017 book:  The Origins of Creativity, Liveright Publishing, New York. (See posts Evolution for Everyone and Cultural Evolution for more from Edward O. Wilson. He is the ant guy. He is interesting, understandable, and forthright.)

Creativity is  notoriously difficult to capture by a single definition. Petervari et al suggest that creativity is a process that is broadly similar to problem solving, in which, for both, information is coordinated toward reaching a specific goal, and the information is organized in a novel, unexpected way.  Problems which require creative solutions are ill-defined, primarily because there are multiple hypothetical solutions that would satisfy the goals. Wilson sees creativity beyond typical problem solving.

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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.

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Multilevel Selection Theory

bee2imagesDavid Sloan Wilson is a persuasive proponent of multilevel selection theory.  His 2007 article entitled: “Multilevel Selection Theory and Major Evolutionary Transitions:  Implications for Psychological Science” is a good synthesis.  The main argument is that when between-group selection dominates within-group selection, a major evolutionary transition occurs and the group becomes a new higher level organism.  Within groups, altruistic behavior is selectively disadvantageous, but it may be favored between groups and thus counteract the within group selection.  The big question is whether or not this between group selection is always weak so that it is unimportant.  The answer seems to be that between group selection is only rarely strong, but that does not mean that it is unimportant. Wilson states: “All species of eusocial insects are thought to be derived from only 15 original transitions.”    It is thought that it occurred only once among primates to create humans.

A major transition requires mechanisms that suppress conflicts among individuals-internal social control mechanisms.  In humans, moral systems guarded egalitarianism that characterized hunter-gatherer societies.  Members’ motivation to punish selfish behavior results in high levels of cooperation.  Moral intuition comes first and is only partially overridden by moral reasoning.  Multilevel selection theory explains why ingroup favoritism and outgroup hostility are the hallmarks of social psychology.

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