My new book, The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, was published by Little, Brown last Wednesday and featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition today.
My main objective in writing the book is to show how evolutionary science can be used to improve our lives in a practical sense, at scales both small and large. This has been the thrust of my own research over the past five years, both locally in my hometown of Binghamton, New York, and globally through the formation of the Evolution Institute, the first think tank for formulating public policy from an evolutionary perspective.
I use my personal odyssey as a narrative vehicle, but The Neighborhood Project is written as much for my academic colleagues as for the general public. Some of the foundational issues that I address include rethinking evolutionary psychology, cultural change as an evolutionary process, evolution as a new paradigm for economic policy, and how the meaning systems of the future can combine the best of current-day science and religion.
The trade-off between basic and applied science is typically imagined to be negative, as if the most interesting research isn’t very practical over the short term and the most practical research isn’t very interesting. I have discovered that for human-related evolutionary science, the trade-off is positive: The best basic scientific research is on people from all walks of life, as they go about their daily lives, which is also most relevant for solving real-world problems.
Putting evolution to work in the real world might even cause more people in America to accept it. Science is accepted when it becomes engineering. The reason that everyone accepts physics and chemistry is not because they are supported by more facts than evolution, but because we use these sciences on a daily basis. We can’t build the physical infrastructure of our society without them. Once we realize the utility of evolutionary science for improving our personal and social infrastructures, it will be accepted just as easily. This is not just an optimistic wish but my experience on a daily basis. When I sit around a table with others to solve a practical problem in my city of Binghamton, we don’t care about each other’s religious or political beliefs. We care about our commitment to solving the problem and the resources that we bring to the table. My business card reads “Evolutionist” and most people are happy to have me sit at the table, because I’m committed to helping out and bring useful tools for the job.