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David Sloan Wilson: “Chickens, Cooperation and a Pro-social World”

February 1, 2023

(Conversation recorded on December 8th, 2022)

Show Summary

On this episode, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson joins Nate to unpack how evolution can be used to explain and understand modern human behavior, particularly with respect to cooperation and pro-social behavior. David is a leading scholar in this field, especially on the resurgence of the concept ‘multi-level selection’. How can an evolutionary idea, first thought of by Darwin and subsequently ignored until recently, shed light on human’s inherent balance between competition and cooperation? And how might our improved knowledge of where we come from inform our behaviors and collective governance in the decades ahead?

About David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson is one of the foremost evolutionary thinkers and gifted communicators about evolution to the general public. He is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology Emeritus at Binghamton University and President of the nonprofit organization ProSocial World, whose mission is “To consciously evolve a world that works for all”.  His most recent books are This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution, Prosocial: Using Evolutionary Science to Build Productive, Equitable, and Collaborative Groups (with Paul Atkins and Steven C. Hayes), and his first novel, Atlas Hugged: The Autobiography of John Galt III.

Show Notes and Links to learn more:

00:40 – David Sloan Wilson works and info

02:35 Charles Goodnite

02:48 Multi-level selection

03:12 Evolution for Everyone

03:19Evolution institute

04:58Sloan Wilson

05:41 Theodosius Dobzhansky

06:29Optimal Foraging Theory

06:48 E.O. Wilson

06:55 – E.O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson’s paper: Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology | The Quarterly Review of Biology: Vol 82, No 4

07:17 Group Selection

08:12 Reductionism

08:24Émile Durkheim


10:03Darwin on Group-Selection

10:58The 6 Legacies of E.O. Wilson

11:18Kin Selection, WD Hamilton 

11:58Complex Systems Thinking

17:53Chimpanzee males obsession with status

18:30Stoning as a social adaptation

18:55 Humans have been a species for 300,000 years

19:40Small groups are central to human behavior

20:03 The Dawn of Everything

21:12Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson

22:32 Elinor Ostrom

24:15The Capacity for Abstract thought is distinctive/unique characteristic of human thought

25:20Nature vs Nurture

25:44 Blank Slate

26:10Evolutionary psychology

26:17Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Steven Pinker

26:58BF Skinner, Margaret Mead, Clifford Geertz

27:29Innate Component and Adapt Component of the Immune System

28:20Joe HenrichSecret of Our Success & Weirdest People in the World

30:33Flour Beetles


34:34Michael Wade

35:02William Muir Purdue University

37:55Rank and yank

38:31The Problem with Super Chickens National Geographic

40:15Elinor Ostrom’s Core Design Principles

40:53 Tragedy of the Commons

45:40 Business groups were deficient in all Principles

47:25B Corp, Conscious capitalism

47:30Raj Sisodia, Firms of Endearment

47:40Everyone Matters, Bob Chapman

48:32Elon Musk Twitter Firings

53:03Tight Society vs Loose Society

53:20Michele Gelfand

56:26Making Democracy Work

1:02:18Factors affecting behavior change

1:02:42 Nate’s superorganism paper

1:04:49 Satya Nadella

1:05:08Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer

1:06:30Hit Refresh

1:08:37Overton Windows

1:10:40 – “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism” – (often attributed to Mark Fisher, Slavoj Zizek or Fredric Jameson)

1:12:52 Baháʼí Faith

1:15:15Generalized Darwinism,, and 


Teaser photo credit: The harnessing of fire was a pivotal milestone in human history. By Kenneth Hawes – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: building resilient societies, human evolution, prosocial behavior