David Sloan Wilson, PhD
David Sloan Wilson is an American evolutionary biologist and a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a son of author Sloan Wilson, and co-founder of the Evolution Institute, and co-founder of the spinoff nonprofit Prosocial World.
David Sloan Wilson is president of Prosocial World and SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, through Prosocial World and in his own research and writing. A complete archive of his work is available at www.DavidSloanWilson.world. His most recent books include his first novel, Atlas Hugged: The Autobiography of John Galt III, and a memoir, A Life Informed by Evolution.
Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.― David Sloan Wilson & Edward O. Wilson
In this episode, David and I explore the explanatory power of evolution. Traditionally, the theory of evolution has been confined to the biological sciences; however, David has spent considerable amounts of time researching and arguing for the necessity and importance of incorporating an evolutionary theory into the social sciences. Cultural evolution, David argues, is an essential component in understanding how we evolve and adapt as human beings.
Human beings possess a remarkable capacity for adapting to change. All living creatures have the capacity to adapt to a changing environment, but the human being’s capacity for symbolic thought introduces a new contributive factor: the symbotype. Symbotypes are cognitive processes (thoughts) that work in congruence with other phenotypic manifestations to support us in our change processes. This can be seen both at the individual level and at the group level.
As we move towards a more globalized society, it is important for us to use conscious evolutionary paradigms to direct our evolution towards the highest good – a situation whereby altruism and cooperation are central ideals.
Wilson is a prominent proponent of the concept of group selection (also known as multi-level selection) in evolution. He and Elliott Sober proposed a framework called multilevel selection theory, which challenges the more orthodox approach of gene-level selection and individual selection, in their book Unto Others. This framework argues that natural selection operates on a nested hierarchy of units, such as between genes within individuals, between individuals within groups, between groups within a multi-group population, and even between ecosystems (such as microbiomes) in multi-ecosystem populations. Each level of selection results in adaptations at that level and tends to be undermined by selection at lower levels. Hence the notion of multilevel selection.
Wilson has also coined the concept of a trait-group, a group of organisms linked not permanently as a group but having a shared fate due to interactions that they have.
Wilson has described himself as an “enthusiastic proponent” of the extended evolutionary synthesis.