The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time
David Sloan Wilson
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After decades studying creatures great and small, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson had an epiphany: Darwin's theory won't fully prove itself until it improves the quality of human life in a practical sense. And what better place to begin than his hometown of Binghamton, New York? Making a difference in his own city would provide a model for cities everywhere, which have become the habitat for over half of the people on earth.
Inspired to become an agent of change, Wilson descended on Binghamton with a scientist's eye and looked at its toughest questions, such as how to empower neighborhoods and how best to teach our children. He combined the latest research methods from experimental economics with studies of holiday decorations and garage sales. Drawing upon examples from nature as diverse as water striders, wasps, and crows, Wilson's scientific odyssey took him around the world, from a cave in southern Africa that preserved the dawn of human culture to the Vatican in Rome. Along the way, he spoke with dozens of fellow scientists, whose stories he relates along with his own.
Wilson's remarkable findings help us to understand how we must become wise managers of evolutionary processes to accomplish positive change at all scales, from effective therapies for individuals, to empowering neighborhoods, to regulating the worldwide economy.
With an ambitious scope that spans biology, sociology, religion, and economics, The Neighborhood Project is a memoir, a practical handbook for improving the quality of life, and an exploration of the big questions long pondered by religious sages, philosophers, and storytellers. Approaching the same questions from an evolutionary perspective shows, as never before, how places define us.
should get tough and force them to face reality. Finally, they want you to know that atheists are a persecuted minority and should come bursting out of the closet to claim their rights. I agree with two of these propositions. As an atheist myself, I also believe that supernatural agents don’t exist—at least, not the ones that actively intervene in the affairs of people. The vast majority of religion scholars also function as atheists when they adopt methodological naturalism, regardless of their
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In one clever experiment, Stim painted the head of a dead male strider with latex paint. When the paint dried, he peeled it off, and it became a tiny mask that he could put on the head of a living male strider. Masked striders could move around and tell the difference between male and female striders, proving that they were not relying on vision. But were they relying on ripples? And how could Stim prove it? Stim’s lifelong love of making things came in handy. A galvanometer is an instrument for
to poke your head out of your shell. Then you are lucky enough to find a more nurturing social environment. Can you immediately cast off your shell? Possibly not. Some survival skills acquired early in life might not be that easy to change later in life, especially if they were orchestrated by complex mechanisms operating beneath conscious awareness, similar to the innate component of the immune system. Finally, even though some kids who score low on prosociality might be like turtles in their
Census and the city that had become a part of our ever-accumulating database. Two variables correlated with trustworthiness at a level that was statistically highly significant: the kids who cooperated as second movers in response to a cooperative first mover tended to come from neighborhoods with low population density and high mixed land use, such as residential housing located close to businesses. We also received our first indication of a cultural difference: the ethnic heterogeneity of a