Norway is widely admired as a nation with a high quality of life and robust economy. Now it might become the first nation that reflects upon its past, present and future from an evolutionary perspective.

As part of its focus on quality of life, the Evolution Institute has decided to focus on Norway as a case study of cultural evolution leading to a high quality of life. The project is headed by EI co-founder Jerry Lieberman and resulted in a workshop that was held in Oslo on October 23 2013. The reception was highly positive and resulted in an invitation to speak at the annual conference of a Norwegian think tank called the Manifest Center for Social Analysis, which is closely allied with Norway’s labor unions.

Labor unions played a key role in Norway’s development as a nation and remain a strong political force, unlike their waning influence in the United States. My challenge was to communicate the relevance of evolutionary theory to the concerns of a largely non-academic audience.

There is no reason why evolutionary theory in relation to human affairs can’t become part of mainstream discourse of any nation or culture. It is certainly easier to understand than economic theory. Jerry Lieberman and I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Norwegian colleagues to understand why Norway works so well as a nation and how to navigate its future.

Look for more about meetings Jerry Lieberman and David Sloan Wilson participated in with labor leaders, legislators, historians, and party leaders next Monday!

Published On: May 12, 2012

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, both in his own research and as director of EvoS, a unique campus-wide evolutionary studies program that recently received NSF funding to expand into a nationwide consortium. His books include Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, and The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time and Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. .

2 Comments

  • Bryan Atkins says:

    Greetings Dr. Wilson and Dr. Hessen,

    Thank you for this insight, and for your additional works.

    Regarding higher-level social controls in an accelerating complexity context, I would add what I think is an important insight that I stumbled upon a few years ago and have been developing.

    In the transition from simple hunter-gatherer social structures to the exponentially more complex city-state social structures, per the accrued knowledge of cultural evolution that generated agriculture, etc., we added writing, legal, etiquette, and monetary coding structures to the cultural genome, to process complex network relationship information with greater efficacy.
    I’m arguing from an integrated physics / evolution perspective:  that survival is a function of processing complex network relationship information (CNRI) with sufficient speed, accuracy, and power; and that coding structures, whether genetic, legal, monetary, moral, software, etc., expedite the processing of CNRI and are fundamental infrastructure, scaffolding for the generation of increasingly complex structures. Coding structures may be entropy generated? I don’t know.
    Further, in line with developing greater social control mechanisms, I’m arguing that, due to exponentially accelerating complexity, our current cultural genome is woefully inadequate. Our cultural coding mechanisms don’t match the cultural network’s expanding and accelerating reach across the geo, eco, bio, cultural, and tech network — nor can they process all the new relationships generated by this reach with sufficient speed, accuracy, and power, thereby securing functional levels of pan-network homeostasis. I think this contributes significantly to the disruption of networks, whether it manifests as climate change, obesity, species extinction, etc. As in the complexity transition to agri-culture, think we need to add new coding structures to the cultural genome.
    Okay, this is getting too long: To those interested, please see my lead article, “Complexity, Coding Evolution, and Survival” at postgenetic dot com (There will be some repetition, but it’s more complete.) Thank you.

  • Helga Vieirch says:

    Two problems (and both echo to some small extent the remarks in the first comment):

    1) “…The whole point of adding man-made renewables is to try to keep what we have today longer. But if the system is collapsing, the whole plan is futile. We end up extracting more coal and oil today, in order to add wind or solar PV to what will soon become a useless grid electric system. The grid system will not last long, because we cannot pay workers and we cannot maintain the grid without a financial system. So if we add man-made renewables, most of what we get is their short-term disadvantages, with few of their hoped-for long-term advantages.

    The analysis that comes closest to the situation we are reaching today is the 1972 analysis of limits of a finite world, published in the book “The Limits to Growth” by Donella Meadows and others. It models what can be expected to happen, if population and resource extraction grow as expected, gradually tapering off as diminishing returns are encountered. The base model seems to indicate that a collapse will happen about now…”http://ourfiniteworld.com/2015/08/26/deflationary-collapse-ahead/

    2) the climate projections based on our current levels of atmospheric carbon indicate that we are facing conditions like those BEFORE the genus Homo evolved. This suggests that we are in for more than a period of rapid cultural evolution: we are facing a major species-level selection event.
    – The last time carbon levels reached 400 ppm, and “mean global temperatures were substantially warmer for a sustained period,” was probably 2-3 million years ago, in the Mid-Pliocene era.
    – Arctic temperatures were between 10-20 ˚C hotter.
    – Sea levels were, on average, between 50 and 82 feet higher.
    – Arctic ice was “ephemeral”, as in, not permanent, and melted in the warm season…

    – Australopithecus afarensis, an early hominid at the time, roamed East Africa and slept in trees, eating mostly fruit, seeds, roots, and insects with the occasional lizard and scavenged meat…

    The prehistoric environment described above is not compatible with modern-day civilization and its billions of infrastructure and supply chain-dependent people. Billions will perish without the technological exoskeleton that houses, feeds, and nurtures them. …We have gone a long way in undermining this foundation and now hold the dubious honor of being this planet’s first sentient beings to predict, document, and witness their own self-inflicted demise.”
    http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/tag/tim-garrett/

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