The Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) has provided funding for the Evolution Institute’s Prosocial project as part of its Diverse Intelligences initiative. The grant will expand Prosocial’s capacity to improve the efficacy of groups and unite them into multi-group “cultural ecosystems” around the world.

The grant is part of TWCF’s “Morality in the Machine Age” program within its Diverse Intelligences initiative. The connection to Prosocial is that intelligence can be defined as any system that receives information as input and results in meaningful action as output. This definition of intelligence is highly contextual: It means that every species will evolve its own special brand of intelligence, adapted to its particular environment. The same goes for different human cultures. This is what it means to study “Diverse Intelligences” from an evolutionary perspective.

For a group to be intelligent as a collective unit, is must be a unit of selection. This goes without saying for biological groups such as social insect colonies, which are products of colony-level selection and indubitably have group minds1. It is equally true for human groups as products of cultural group selection, although this is not as widely recognized2. Moral systems are the psychological and sociological “glue” that holds human groups together as adaptive units, at the scale defined by the moral system, establishing a fundamental connection between morality and group-level intelligence3.

Technological innovations have been part of cultural multilevel selection throughout human history4. The Internet Age is merely the latest round. In all cases, technological innovations can either enhance or disrupt moral systems and collective intelligence, depending upon how the benefits are distributed along a nested hierarchy of social units. For example, corruption almost always takes the form, not of individual selfishness, but individuals cooperating within smaller social units in a way that is disruptive for larger social units. Even the most enlightened nations can become corrupt with respect to the welfare of the Earth5. Global intelligence can be achieved only by making global welfare the target of selection6.

Prosocial is a practical framework for working with groups to make them more efficacious at achieving their objectives—in other words, more intelligent—and for helping them become cooperative agents in larger, multi-group cultural ecosystems. It is a synergistic blend of face-to-face and computer-assisted social interactions, and therefore counts as an example of establishing “Morality in the Machine Age”.  Notably, all members take part in the thinking of the group, avoiding dystopian versions of collective intelligence in which the thinking process is restricted to machines or human elites.

Part of the grant will be used to communicate the “big picture” outlined above to the general public, scientists and scholars, and policy experts of all stripes.  The rest will be used to expand Prosocial’s capacity to work with groups around the world. Because Prosocial is based on Core Design Principles that all groups need to achieve collective goals7, and fostering the psychological flexibility needed to ensure engagement8, there is no limit to the diversity of groups that we can work with, such as schools, neighborhoods, churches, corporations, agencies, nonprofits, and voluntary associations. Our practical efforts will also lead to a scientific database that will enable us to study the process of multilevel cultural evolution that we are attempting to manage.

Our ideal partners will have their own capacities to work with groups that can be leveraged with Prosocial. Examples include a hospital administration seeking to improve its many subgroups, a foundation seeking to improve the performance of the groups that it funds, a consortium of conservation organizations, a network of charter schools, or a cooperative extension service seeking to organize a local food economy. The collaborations will involve training facilitators to work with groups and become part of our growing community of facilitators and groups guided by a unified theoretical framework and methodology for “evolving the future9”.

So if you are:

  1. Already experienced in using Prosocial with groups, or
  2. An experienced facilitator who understands Acceptance and Commitment Training,
  3. With access to groups who want to implement Prosocial.

Please contact Paul Atkins at paul@prosocialpsychology.com .

For current examples of Prosocial in action, visit the project’s online magazine.

  1. Seeley, T. D. (2010). Honeybee Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  2. Wilson, D. S. (2015). Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  3. Boehm, C. (2011). Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. New York: Basic Books.
  4. Turchin, P. (2015). Ultrasociety: How 10,000 years of war made humans the greatest cooperators on earth. Storrs, CT: Baresta Books.
  5. Wilson, D. S., & Hessen, D. (2014). Blueprint for the Global Village. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from https://evolution-institute.org/focus-article/blueprint-for-the-global-village/?source=sef
  6. Wilson, D. S., & Gowdy, J. (2015). Human Ultrasociality and the Invisible Hand: Foundational Developments in Evolutionary Science Alter a Foundational Concept in Economics. Journal of Bioeconomics.
  7. Wilson, D. S., Ostrom, E., & Cox, M. E. (2013). Generalizing the core design principles for the efficacy of groups. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 90, S21–S32. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2012.12.010
  8. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd edition). New York: Guilford Press.
  9. Wilson, D. S., Hayes, S. C., Biglan, A., & Embry, D. (2014). Evolving the Future: Toward a Science of Intentional Change. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 395–460. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24826907.


Published On: June 25, 2018

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson is president of Prosocial World and SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life, through Prosocial World and in his own research and writing.  A complete archive of his work is available at www.David SloanWilson.world. His most recent books include his first novel, Atlas Hugged: The Autobiography of John Galt III, and a memoir, A Life Informed by Evolution.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.