Mar 9 • 1HR 6M

David Sloan Wilson: the past and future of multi-level selection theory

A wide-ranging conversation with evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson on his past work and future projects

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Razib Khan
Conversations about science, culture, and current affairs
Episode details

Dr. David Sloan Wilson is a Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. Co-founder of the Evolution Institute and Prosocial World, Wilson is the author of Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish BehaviorDarwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution and  Atlas Hugged: The Autobiography of John Galt III. A self-described evolutionist, Wilson is perhaps best known in the scholarly world as the champion of multi-level selection theory.

In this episode of Unsupervised Learning, Razib talks to Wilson about where multi-level selection theory is in 2023 and the progress made in the last five decades in understanding evolutionary processes through this pluralistic framework. This discussion is a sequel; in 2010, they discussed multi-level selection theory for

Right off the bat, Wilson outlines his view that evolutionary theory has been too narrowly constrained within the straitjacket of the gene-centric view, which violates the spirit of Charles Darwin’s more expansive original vision, where adaptation driven by selection was inclusive of both culture and biology. Razib and Wilson also observe the growth of the field of cultural evolution that applies a Darwinian framework to understanding the variation across human societies and discuss Wilson’s early work on the adaptive value of religion in human societies. Wilson touches on the numerous fields in which he has been involved over the past few decades, from evolutionary psychology to revisionist economics. In keeping with attempting to apply his scholarship to the real world, Wilson’s latest project is ProSocial World, a nonprofit that aims to “facilitate and inspire positive cultural change using evolutionary and behavioral science.” 

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