Friday, November 12, 2010

Nothing in Education Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

A talk by David Sloan Wilson at the 2010 National Meeting of The Reinvention Center.  (David Sloan Wilson blogs about evolution at ScienceBlogs.  I don't remember much about the content, but I do remember that I disagreed with it.)

Four main points:

1.  Evolutionary theory integrates all of biology.  Darwin's theory transcends disciplinary boundaries.  So evolutionary biologists already are thinking interdisciplinarily.  (But only within biology.)

2.  It can do the same for all human-related subjects.  Well yes, because humans are products of biological evolution, and everything we do has some sort of biological base.  But academics outside of biology, and even many within, think of human affairs as having little to do with biology.  Ed Wilson's Sociobiology book as a landmark - everyone up in arms at an attempt to apply biological thinking to human activities.  Evolutionary ideas are not reflected in higher education, except in biology.

3.  Can it integrate undergraduate education?  To the extent that learning and culture are biological properties, yes.  His new initiative = EVOS.  Objcctive is to teach evolution to all students, early (Evolution for Everyone" optional first year course open to all).  An EvoS seminar series and associated course directed at a wide audience.  The topics certainly would qualify as 'sociobiology'.

4.  Can learning about evolution make students smarter?  He thinks so (he's collecting the data), because a few basic principles are repeatedly applied to a diverse array of subjects.


"Everyone knows that life is a cycle.  Is evolution cyclic?"  A very tactful answer, emphasizing that evolution is not linear or goal-directed, and ignoring the claim about life being a cycle.

How to deal with the fear of many in social sciences that application of evolutionary theory to human affairs may provide very distasteful (politically incorrect) answers?  He tactfully avoids dealing with the issue by slithering to the value of evolution as a toolkit for understanding human nature.

What about how humans have evolved to interact with technology, and how we and technology will coevolve?

A asked a question but didn't really make my point well.  I want to know about the evolution of learning, and what that tells about how to teach.

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