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Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory…

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think… (2007)

by David Sloan Wilson

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This book is an introduction for anyone to incorporating evolution into everything. It is written specifically for those who may feel the sciences (in particular evolution) are intellectually too tasking.

David Wilson uses a journalistic approach that I akin to the like of a gossip column - a distracting, mesmerizing description of an aha! disaster that you can't keep from reading while in line at the grocery store. In this manner, Wilson is able to help the reader apply evolutionary thought and science to everything from daily life decisions to politics to the humanities in a less-than-scary manner. ( )
  Sovranty | Jan 17, 2012 |
My evolutionary biologist fiancée forced this book on me, and like all things that are forced on me, I decided to hate it. But I had to read it, as I was trapped in an airport and I'd exhausted all other reading material. I was initially skeptical-- the first few chapters are pretty basic, and Wilson doesn't help his case with his cheesy "you too can be a scientist!" rhetoric-- but before I knew it, I was warming up to the book. A lot. Wilson's argument is that evolution manifests itself in all aspects of our lives, society, and culture, from dung beetles to religion, from homicide to politics, and at first I was skeptical, but he just kept piling on example after example, and I started thinking, You know, maybe there's something in this. Then I found myself noticing evolution everywhere I went: people in one of my seminars were wondering why a group of female factory workers we'd read about were so stringently self-policing, and I knew that evolutionary theory would provide the answer! I was listening to a story on Morning Edition about an Army guy who wrote a book about training Afghani troops, and he said that they were really good at fighting individually, but not as a unit, and I thought, Man, I wonder what evolutionary theory would say about that? Slowly and unwillingly, I had become an evolutionist!

The book isn't all roses; like I said, I was little leery of Wilson's tone sometimes. He did pen one of the most unfortunate sentences I've ever come across: "Learning about natural selection is like having a premature orgasm. You think it will take a long time and lead to a tremendous climax, but then it's over almost as soon as it began!" And sometimes I found myself worried that I had been swayed only because I wasn't familiar enough with the material he was discussing to muster a counter-argument; I think it's telling that I was most unconvinced by the (very brief) section on evolutionary theory in literature, but he's co-edited a whole book about that (The Literary Animal), so I suppose I'll have to seek that out. But perhaps the biggest endorsement for this book comes from an encounter I had in the lunchroom at school. One thing Wilson rails against is the thinking that evolutionary theory leads straight to eugenics and genocide, when it can actually have a bevy of positive applications. Well, I was reading the book over lunch and one of my colleagues noticed it and said that the scary thing about evolutionary theory was eugenics. But as Wilson shows, there's so much to evolutionary theory than that-- and this book is an excellent first step to recognizing that.
  Stevil2001 | Oct 11, 2009 |
This is a must-read - NO - MUST-HAVE book! I can envision myself referring back to it to use the well-illustrated fundamentals of evolutionary thinking in examining all aspects of my life and the universe.

Not only does David Sloan Wilson introduce evolution to the layman, he brings it up-to-date - for those of us that were lucky enough to be taught the concepts decades ago - with the latest thinking, theories, discoveries and facts. And he distinguishes between hypotheses and what is fact and teaches the reader how to distinguish between the two. He points out that good science is self-correcting and builds knowledge, "one-brick-at-a-time."

It is particularly interesting to read his explanations about practical realism (which I'll paraphrase for my own selfish purpose as: knowledge that is based on common-sense, but may not be fully scientifically "valid" yet "works" from an evolutionary standpoint) and factual realism, which always predicts a particular outcome given the same conditions and circumstances (IS based on scientific evidence). Practical realism trumps factual realism when it provides an evolutionary advantage. This explains a lot of our beliefs that actually do not make much factual sense.

Finally, I appreciated Wilson's prescriptions for us as humans and groups and his optimistic prognosis for us all - given the right conditions and circumstances. As others have mentioned, this IS an "all-encompassing" book that has a HUGE scope, but Wilson pulls off this goal with aplomb!

I urge EVERYONE to read this book and buy a copy for frequent reference! ( )
  motjebben | May 30, 2009 |
You know the old saying, "Nothing in biology makes sense except under the light of evolution"? Well, Wilson takes it one step farther--nothing makes sense except under the light of evolution. He applies evolutionary thinking to absolutely everything.

And, strangely enough, it works. The basic premise of this book is that selection promoting groups as a whole (vs. other groups) is stronger than selection promoting individuals (vs. other individuals) within groups. Altruism trumps selfishness; at least under certain conditions. And then he goes on to apply this concept on levels even lower than genes--starting with molecules in the primordial stew of early Earth--all the way up to human culture, morality, and religion. And he touches on everything in between: dung beetles, egg-laying hens, Abraham Lincoln, laughter, primates, economics, etc. I've seen criticisms of the book that the scope is too grand; but after talking with him, I see that this is exactly the way his mind works. Everything fits.

And, ok, maybe I used to believe everything I read, but I've learned how to be a scientist since then. He's got some big unsubstantiated claims ("untested hypotheses," he admits himself), but at the same time he's got a lot of support packed into that book. (And, by the way, he uses his sources well--he references scientific articles in a very accessible way, and he also makes good use of the internet, refering readers to websites as well as books.) But even apart from the what's interesting here scientifically (in scientific terms, we're talking about "multi-level selection theory"), Wilson is putting out his worldview here, and it's one I quite like. He aims to tear down some of the walls of what he refers to as the "Ivory Archipelago" of academia, both between disciplines and between academia and the general public. He also aims to tear down walls between science and religion. As atheists go, Wilson is on the complete polar opposite end of the spectrum as Richard Dawkins. Wilson sees the conclusions of his evolutionary thinking as complementary to the goals of religion. Indeed, Wilson's conclusions go far beyond the scope of science: he believes that we can, and therefore must, use the theory behind cultural evolution to improve the world. And so, Wilson says he actually gets along with highly religious people better than the average person who simply does not care, because they are working towards similar goals. He models a refreshingly affirmative portrayal of atheism.

It's hard to give the book justice in such a short review, because it simply covers so much. I loved it, though, and imagine it's worth a re-read at some point to try and absorb more of it. And I would be happy to call myself an evolutionist, as Wilson does, in addition to an evolutionary biologist. ( )
1 vote hayleyscomet | Nov 12, 2008 |
This is an excellent introduction to general evolutionary thinking, even though the author is one of the new spokespersons for multilevel selection, and this book promotes group selection quite a bit. (I was surprised that "group selection" and "multilevel selection" were not even in the index!)

Wilson looks at groups as individuals, and individuals as groups. He states "groups become organisms when selection within groups is suppressed, enabling selection between groups to become the primary evolutionary force." When adaptations increase communication and cooperation within the group, a group can function more like an individual. For example, he cites research that shows that human gaze and finger pointing can indicate direction and intention, and is important behavior not found in other primates. Additionally, laughter and dance are behaviors important for human group cohesion. Even though he's not religious himself, Wilson is quite favorable towards religions and believes that they provide important social functions.

Wilson discusses research that shows that some tasks are better performed by groups, even better than the best member of the group by themselves! He believes that human groups were originally much more egalitarian, and that the ability for the rest of the group to stone a difficult member kept individuals more humble than in chimp social groups. ( )
  mkjones | Sep 11, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385340923, Paperback)

What is the biological reason for gossip?
For laughter? For the creation of art?
Why do dogs have curly tails?
What can microbes tell us about morality?

These and many other questions are tackled by renowned evolutionist David Sloan Wilson in this witty and groundbreaking new book. With stories that entertain as much as they inform, Wilson outlines the basic principles of evolution and shows how, properly understood, they can illuminate the length and breadth of creation, from the origin of life to the nature of religion. Now everyone can move beyond the sterile debates about creationism and intelligent design to share Darwin’s panoramic view of animal and human life, seamlessly connected to each other.

Evolution, as Wilson explains, is not just about dinosaurs and human origins, but about why all species behave as they do—from beetles that devour their own young, to bees that function as a collective brain, to dogs that are smarter in some respects than our closest ape relatives. And basic evolutionary principles are also the foundation for humanity’s capacity for symbolic thought, culture, and morality.

In example after example, Wilson sheds new light on Darwin’s grand theory and how it can be applied to daily life. By turns thoughtful, provocative, and daringly funny, Evolution for Everyone addresses some of the deepest philosophical and social issues of this or any age. In helping us come to a deeper understanding of human beings and our place in the world, it might also help us to improve that world.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Wilson outlines the basic principles of evolution with stories that entertain as much as they inform, and shows how, properly understood, these principles can illuminate the length and breadth of creation, from the origin of life to the nature of religion. Now everyone can move beyond the sterile debates about creationism and intelligent design to share Darwin's panoramic view of animal and human life, seamlessly connected to each other. Evolution, as Wilson explains, is not just about dinosaurs and human origins, but about why all species behave as they do--from beetles that devour their own young, to bees that function as a collective brain, to dogs that are smarter in some respects than our closest ape relatives. And basic evolutionary principles are also the foundation for humanity's capacity for symbolic thought, culture, and morality.--From publisher description.… (more)

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