David Sloan Wilson is an evolutionary biologist who has spent several years applying evolutionary theory toward understanding how human social groups and organizations change over time in response to specific environmental conditions. His latest project, connecting his academic and civic lives, is about testing the practical application of evolutionary studies to improve how people live together in his home city of Binghamton, NY. The Neighborhood Project is a non-profit organization (and book outlining the underlying ideas) operated by Wilson and other faculty and students out of Binghamton University which partners with other community groups to develop research-based programs and initiatives for creating pro-social behavior:
“The most distinctive feature of the BNP is its scientific foundation. An explosion of basic scientific research relevant to the human condition has taken place over the last few decades, including an integration among disciplines that is ultimately rooted in evolutionary theory. This newly derived knowledge can provide new solutions to a wide range of practical problems. In fact, never before have basic and applied research contributed so strongly to each other.”
Wilson was interviewed by Krista Tippet on her public radio program On Being, and the unedited version is a fascinating introduction to evolutionary research in the context of culture and cities. Wilson makes a compelling case for how insightful such evolutionism-based research into the human condition can be, and how it captures a holistic view of the relationship between social groups and their environments. What is remarkable is the systematic process, distilled into a set of heuristics, by which Wilson is using evolutionary principles to create the conditions for strong urban communities.