Browsing All posts tagged under »multilevel selection«

Of Course, War Is Evil!

July 29, 2014 by


Thank you, Joe and all people who left comments. It has been an extremely thought-provoking discussion, so I thought it’s worth a separate blog to address the issues that most resonated with me. Let me start by repeating that the title, “War! What is It Good For?” was not mine, but Ian Morris’s. It’s not […]

War! What Is It Good For?

June 2, 2014 by


I’ve just returned from California, where I spent last two weeks. I dislike long-distance air travel, and when I do it, I try to hit as many birds with the same stone, so to speak. This means bunching up as many talks and visits as possible. On this trip I started at Stanford, then went […]

The Truth is Born in Argument

January 28, 2014 by


The title of today’s blog (“The Truth is Born in Argument”) is a translation of a Russian saying (в споре рождается истина). For a long time I thought it was simply a Russian version of something that Ancient Romans would say, but as far as I can tell, there is no such Latin proverb (please […]

Down with the Selfish Genes!

December 10, 2013 by


The Twitter-sphere is abuzz with the talk about David Dobbs recent article in Aeon Magazine, Die, Selfish Gene, Die! Dobbs’ article attacks Richard Dawkins (as is clear from the title). Dawkins responded here and also sent his readers to Jerry Coyne’s more detailed critique (Part I and Part II). Steven Pinker tweeted Coyne’s blog, and […]

Math Explains History III. Reactions to our paper

October 2, 2013 by


Although publishing in PNAS is a bit of a pain (there are a lot of pesky formatting and other requirements) and expensive (in particular, we had to pay, so that you all could have free access to our article), the redeeming feature of this journal is that they practically guarantee good press exposure. I am […]

Math Explains History II: Q&A

September 25, 2013 by


The last few days were very hectic. I gave more than ten interviews, about half by phone or Skype and the rest by answering e-mailed question. I prefer the second approach: I am a better writer than speaker. I am glad that there is so much interest in our results in the popular press. And […]

Can Math Explain History?

September 23, 2013 by


One of the greatest puzzles of social science is how human societies evolved from small groups of relatives and friends to the huge, anonymous and complex societies of today. A peace demonstration. Today we live in huge societies of strangers, who nevertheless are capable of coming together for cooperative purposes Ten thousand years ago everybody […]

Why Become a Farmer?

May 20, 2013 by


The previous blog discussed Göbekli Tepe, which achieved a surprisingly high level of social complexity before the adoption of agriculture. In the language of philosophy of science, Göbekli Tepe is an anomaly for the reigning paradigm in theoretical archaeology, which posits that the adoption of agriculture was the pre-condition for, or even the cause of, […]

What Happened in Prehistory

February 22, 2013 by


I just finished reading the book by Peter Peregrine, What Happened in Prehistory? Peregrine is an anthropologist at the Lawrence University in Wisconsin. I have known him primarily because he spearheaded the construction of the Atlas of Cultural Evolution database and was co-editor of the nine-volume Encyclopedia of Prehistory. (I am interested in these works […]

The Glue that Binds

January 31, 2013 by


There are certain things I miss about my first scientific love, ecology. Mostly it is being able to travel to neat places, like the Yellowstone or the Kruger National Park in South Africa, to commune with neat animals there. Bison in the Yellowstone National Park (photo by the author) But on the whole I don’t […]

Unproductive War II

January 26, 2013 by


In the previous post I argued that although it looks like the period between 1 and 1500 AD was one of stagnation, and even regress (European ‘Dark Ages’, etc.), under the surface there was a lot of technological and social progress. In China, again, agricultural techniques continued to evolve. And while the geographic extent of […]

Is War Creative?

January 13, 2013 by


A year ago, together with Sergey Gavrilets and Laura Fortunato, we organized a conference at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in Knoxville. The main theme was how we build and test theory of the evolution of social complexity. After the end of the conference we held a public debate on this question: […]

Peter J. Richerson. Human Cooperation is a Complex Problem with Many Possible Solutions: Perhaps All of Them Are True!

December 2, 2012 by


Recent debates on the SEF and in Steven Pinker’s Edge essay The false allure of group selection, and commentaries thereupon, seem to underplay one of the most important points about human societies, the interaction of, and often synergy between two major structural principles for organizing cooperation in human societies. I think that everyone agrees that […]

The Dangers of Building Historical Databases

November 17, 2012 by


Wednesday and Thursday I ran a workshop in my lab. I call these gettings-together ‘micro-workshops,’ because there may be as few as 4-5 people, or as many as 10 (but not more). Many years ago, when I was hired by my university, I asked for a laboratory that was set up not as a usual […]

David Sloan Wilson. Reply to Comments on “Human Cultures are Primarily Adaptive at the Group Level”

October 22, 2012 by


Thanks to Peter Turchin and Michael Hochberg for creating and managing the Social Evolution Forum, which has become an excellent arena for high-level discussion. Thanks also to my colleagues who took the time to write commentaries and to readers who responded with their comments.  In addition to this general reply, I have also provided comments […]

Joseph Bulbulia, Simon Greenhill, and Russell Gray. First Shots Fired For The Phylogenetic Revolution in Religious Studies: a Commentary on David Sloan Wilson

October 18, 2012 by


Wilson’s target article illustrates how evolutionary hypotheses are advancing the science of complex cultural systems. We agree. The following extends the conversation to consider the benefits of evolutionary methods. We restrict our review to computational phylogenetic methods as these are being used to test evolutionary hypotheses about religions. Why cultural phylogenetics? Offspring resemble their parents […]

Michael E. Hochberg and Harvey Whitehouse. To Understand Present Day Cultures We Must Study the Past: a Commentary on David Sloan Wilson

October 15, 2012 by


David Sloan Wilson’s essay provides ample fodder for provocative discussion on cultural evolution. Are cultural traits adaptations, and if so, at what level(s) of selection? These questions can only be resolved on a case-by-case basis but that will mean we also need to know much more about how cultural traits and groups change over time. […]

Stephen K. Sanderson. A Commentary on David Sloan Wilson

October 12, 2012 by


David Sloan Wilson has been perhaps the strongest advocate for group selection for several decades now. The article under consideration here is an attempt to show that human cultures have been created by and evolve by a form of group selection, presumably cultural group selection. I am afraid that I don’t find anything in this […]

Matthew R. Zimmerman. Should the Consensus be Essentialist and Adaptationist? A Comment on David Sloan Wilson

October 10, 2012 by


Wilson describes a growing consensus concerning the role of culture in human evolution.  While not everyone is yet a member (he excepts advocates of memetics and evoked culture), I am heartened by much of what Wilson describes. I readily join this consensus when it holds that cultural inheritance is an important tool that has allowed […]

Mark Pagel. Adapted, Yes, but for Whom or What? A Commentary on David Sloan Wilson

October 7, 2012 by


David Sloan Wilson’s essay Human Cultures are Primarily Adaptive at the Group Level is helpful in calling attention to the fundamental role that the human social group has played throughout our evolutionary history.  But Sloan Wilson is mistaken, in my view, in seeming to use the phrase “primarily adaptive at the group level” to mean […]


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