A correspondence between David Sloan Wilson and Massimo Pigliucci on Human Cultural Evolution

David Sloan Wilson (and Massimo Pigliucci) in Letter:

Dear Massimo,

We go way back and share a love of philosophy in addition to biology. I was proud to be included in the “Altenberg 16” workshop that you organized to explore the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, a term that you coined.  I have always regarded you as one of the most forward looking evolutionary thinkers.

I was therefore surprised by some of your recent comments on Twitter, which struck me as decidedly backward looking. The topic was ancient Greek history. I commented that it could benefit from a cultural multilevel selection perspective.  Your response—at least as I took it—was that you didn’t see how such an analysis would add to traditional scholarship on the topic. You also noted that the study of genetic evolution is hard and the study of human cultural evolution is harder still. You regarded much of the work on human cultural evolution as speculative adaptationist “just-so” story telling.

Really, Massimo! The study of humanity from an evolutionary perspective—including but not restricted to cultural evolution—lags behind the study of genetic evolution by nearly a century. This is not because the study of our species is more difficult—in many ways it is easier—but for more complicated and nuanced reasons.

More here.

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