The Dawdler’s Philosophy

E33: Massimo Pigliucci’s Hard Problems - Multi-Level Selection & Cultural Evolution

June 23, 2019

Times change and the recent past can sometimes become obsolete as the gaze of the mainstream world focuses on its new moment. But it wasn’t long ago when Richard Dawkins was calling for “militant atheism” and Dubya Bush stood on an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”. Heck, there was a time when the 90’s did a collective eye roll at the 80’s. Tigers once roamed Ireland’s economy and it was *Columbia* that was unstable while Venezuela was a working democracy.

In this episode, Ryan brings to the table a recent exchange between two evolutionary biologists, David Sloan Wilson and Massimo Pigliucci ( These two have been involved in much development of the field and it’s always a treat to see such engagement about topics not so completely related to the present moment. This time, the two VIPs spar over the application of multi-level selection theory to cultural evolution and the Dawdlers attempt to explore it further.

That said, we are the Dawdlers and we can be goofy and silly and, well, not always super charitable. But, Ryan at least, hopes listeners think of our takes and views the way a comedian’s impression of another person is sometimes a sign of appreciation and not scorn.

Let yourself be bashful, we’re flirting with a mode of discourse seen much less these days. 

00:03:20 – Ryan’s nostalgia for this episode’s context // A disagreement between David Sloan Wilson and Massimo Pigliucci on Twitter and

00:09:10 – The letters // Ancient Greek alerts // Guilt trips and gadflies

00:20:56 – Massimo opens the doors for a bigger picture // What is reproduction? What is a group? What is an individual? Whence memes?

00:37:49 – A fidelity and permeability framework for evolutionary change // Harland is having a difficult time understanding Ryan’s genius

00:58:39 – MLS1 and MLS2 // Penguin huddles // Perhaps the Peloponnesian War is an MLS1 scenario

01:13:36 – Conscious volitional decision making

01:17:31 – “Falling Fast” by Cheeki

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