If we want the whole earth to become a superorganism, then multilevel selection theory tells us exactly what to do: make planetary welfare the target of selection.

This View of Life (2019)

Portrait of David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson

Evolutionary Biologist

David Sloan Wilson is an American evolutionary biologist and a Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a son of the author Sloan Wilson and co-founder of the Evolution Institute.

Wilson is a prominent proponent of the concept of group selection in evolution (also known as multi-level selection). He and Elliott Sober proposed a framework called multilevel selection theory, which incorporates the more orthodox approach of gene-level selection and individual selection, in their book Unto Others. This framework argues that while genes serve as the means by which organisms' designs are transmitted across generations, individuals and groups are vehicles for those genes and both are arenas for genes to act on. Indeed, genes themselves can be affected by selection, not just because of their effects on the design of their vehicle (the organism) but also because of their effect on the functioning of the DNA on which they reside. 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 their interactions with each other.

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Collective Consciousness and the Web

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis Heylighen collaborated with Shima Beigi on a research paper about the noosphere’s response to the global crisis, titled Collective Consciousness Supported by the Web: Healthy or Toxic?

Cover image for Glimpsing the Global Brain

Glimpsing the Global Brain

Complex systems theorist Heylighen and evolutionary biologist Wilson discuss a possible phase transition of humanity in which the members of our species become neurons in a planetary brain, utilizing the Internet as a shared exocortex.

Smart Cities Interview

This conversation between Shima Beigi and David Sloan Wilson focuses on Shima’s book, Mindful Smart Cities: Rethinking Smart Cities with Mindfulness Engineering.

Cover image for This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

This View of Life

Completing the Darwinian Revolution

It is widely understood that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution completely revolutionized the study of biology. Yet, according to David Sloan Wilson, the Darwinian revolution won’t be truly complete until it is applied more broadly—to everything associated with the words “human,” “culture,” and “policy.”

In a series of engaging and insightful examples—from the breeding of hens to the timing of cataract surgeries to the organization of an automobile plant—Wilson shows how an evolutionary worldview provides a practical tool kit for understanding not only genetic evolution but also the fast-paced changes that are having an impact on our world and ourselves. What emerges is an incredibly empowering argument: If we can become wise managers of evolutionary processes, we can solve the problems of our age at all scales—from the efficacy of our groups to our well-being as individuals to our stewardship of the planet Earth.

Mentioned in 3 documents

Daniel Schmachtenberger and Nate Hagens

Artificial Intelligence and the Superorganism

Daniel Schmachtenberger and Nate Hagens discuss a surprisingly overlooked risk to our global systems and planetary stability: artificial intelligence. Through a systems perspective, Daniel and Nate piece together the biophysical history that has led humans to this point, heading towards (and beyond) numerous planetary boundaries, and facing geopolitical risks all with existential consequences. How does artificial intelligence not only add to these risks, but accelerate the entire dynamic of the metacrisis? What is the role of intelligence versus wisdom on our current global pathway, and can we change course? Does artificial intelligence have a role to play in creating a more stable system, or will it be the tipping point that drives our current one out of control?

Francis Heylighen

The Global Superorganism

The organismic view of society is updated by incorporating concepts from cybernetics, evolutionary theory, and complex adaptive systems. Global society can be seen as an autopoietic network of self-producing components, and therefore as a living system or “superorganism”.

Garriy Shteynberg

Theory of Collective Mind

The human mind harbors wondrous capacities. Beyond understanding individual minds, we can represent unified awareness across souls, feeling strands of consciousness intertwine. As one, we comprehend realities; as one, we hold intentions. Synchronous experiences spin these mental webs, binding our fates and etching shared worlds upon our hearts. Though fragile, such unions nurture cooperation's tender bloom. Let us marvel at this collective mind—a tapestry of perspectives, stronger than its threads. In this oneness we find hope, for it whispers: even in darkness, we need not walk alone.