Episode 53: Societal development from an evolutionary perspective

In this episode I have the delight of connecting with David Sloan Wilson, Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghampton University, New York. Wilson has written several books explaining evolution to the general public, while also championing the view that understanding evolutionary processes can be of great benefit to a whole range of issues, not only classical biology. From his point of view the evolutionary perspective can be applied to the human level as well, for instance in relation to social and cultural change. In the interview we start of from his most reasent book The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Timeand we explore how an evolutionary paradigm can inform and support urban development. Through different examples he makes an argument for how we can become wise managers of evolutionary processes and how universities can engage both local, national and global communities in steering towards a pro-social future. Towards the end of our conversation Wilson tells about a planned case study involving Norway and he´s looking to connect with researchers and institutions for this purpose. If you´re interested in contributing or want to learn more, please contact Wilson directly at dwilson @ binghamton.edu.

If you feel inspired or provoked by our conversation feel free to add your comments after the interview. You can also send in a written piece of work and get it published together with this episode. Further details can be found here.

Episode links:

In the interview David Wilson references the kriging-maps they derived from different neighborhood surveys. This one shows the degree of pro-sociality in the given area.

James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) er lærer og arbeider i Osloskolen. Han har bred erfaring innenfor dialogbasert prosessledelse, nærværstrening og konflikthåndtering. Ta kontakt med James på følgende adresse: james.arnfinsen @ gmail.com
James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) is a teacher, his subjects being geography, religious studies and sports science. He is currently working as a teacher in Oslo, Norway. In his spare time he practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art.
  • Øyvind Holmstad

    Is this guy a relative to the famous Edward O. Wilson, he who established the therm “biophilia”?: http://www.metropolismag.com/pov/20111129/frontiers-of-design-science-biophilia

    When I look at their photos they might be.

    • James Arnfinsen

      No, they are not related! Here is a critical review of David Wilson´s work that speaks to their theoretical relations though:

      “These reasons explain why only a few biologists, like Wilson and E. O. Wilson (no relation), advocate group selection as the evolutionary source of cooperation. Nevertheless, David Sloan Wilson is convinced that organizing Binghamton’s citizens into amiably competing groups can turn it into the proverbial City on a Hill. His passion sometimes verges on obsession, as if (to paraphrase the Blues Brothers) he’s on a mission from Darwin.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/books/review/the-neighborhood-project-by-david-sloan-wilson-book-review.html?pagewanted=all

      • Øyvind Holmstad

        Another biologist, Terje Bongard, advocates organizing work and democracy around small in-groups (15-25 people). His book “Det biologiske mennesket” (The Biological Human) is soon to be translated into English and German. So he thinks somewhat along the same lines.

        The Norwegian radio NRK P2 recently run some programs where Bongard propagated his ideas, well worth listening. They can be downloaded as pod-casts from here: http://www.kulturverk.com/2012/10/12/fra-massesamfunn-til-stammesamfunn-terje-bongard-hos-nrks-verdiborsen/

        • James Arnfinsen

          I´m currently in dialogue with Terje regarding a possible interview. Stay tuned!

          • Øyvind Holmstad

            I really look forward to that! Personally I find it immensely promising to combine the good forces of the handicap principle discovered by Amotz Zahavi, with the pattern technology developed by Christopher Alexander. To mix these two are in my eyes dynamite, and can be a major contribution for a more human society.

            Unfortunately I know of no others that share my enthusiasm for this idea, I don’t think neither Alexander or Bongard has seen its full potential.

            As I see it there is a close relationship between Alexander’s A Pattern Language and Bongard’s The Biological Human. It’s like Alexander’s pattern-technology is made for utilizing the good forces of the handicap principle. I really don’t understand why I’ve not yet met any others that share my enthusiasm for these possibilities?

  • wakeman
  • http://leveveg.blogspot.no/ Øyvind Holmstad

    Jeg mottok nettopp denne beskjeden fra Bjørn Grinde:


    Tusen takk for boken. Jeg har såvidt fått sett på den.

    Jeg kjenner til Terje Bongard, men vet ikke så mye om hva han holder på med. Jeg er absolutt interessert i samfunnsutvikling, og har blant annet startet et prosjekt med David Sloan Wilson ved Binghamton University der vi skal se på Intentional Communities. Har svært liten tro på at NFR ville støttet det prosjektet heller, men vi har nok til å drive det.

    Vennlig hilsen



    Bjørns hjemmeside ligger her: http://grinde.wikispaces.com/home

  • James Arnfinsen

    Davis Sloan Wilson is currently writing a blog-series titled “My Spiritual Journey”. Interesting stuff (sep 2015): https://evolution-institute.org/blog/my-spiritual-journey-part-i/