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Moving Behavioral Science from Alchemy to Chemistry

Moving Behavioral Science from Alchemy to Chemistry

by Starling Insights

Starling Insights Editorial Board

May 20, 2024


In a recent interview with the Behavioral Scientist's Evan Nesterak, Michael Muthukrishna, an Associate Professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics, expands upon the arguments made in his book, A Theory of Everyone: The New Science of Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going.

"The theory of everyone, at its core, is that there are four laws that have always governed the evolution of all of life," Muthukrishna says. The laws are: the law of energy; the law of innovation, by which we innovate new and efficient ways to use that energy; the law of cooperation, by which we work together to outcompete others; and the law of evolution, which has three ingredients: diversity, transmission, and selection. These laws drive both genetic and cultural evolution.

"They manifest in different ways for different life, but they are the same laws, and they apply just as much to bacteria as to businesses, to cells and to societies," he explains. “They apply just as much to our individual behavior as they do to our collective behavior.”

Muthukrishna also discusses how behavioral science can move to the next stage of development as a science, "from alchemy to chemistry" as he puts it. "The key insight for pushing forward the behavioral sciences is that humans are a new kind of animal," he says. “We're governed not just by millions of years of genetic evolution that apply across the animal kingdom but also by thousands of years of cultural evolution. That is the deep software that plays out differently in different parts of the world.”

For more from Michael Muthukrishna on how these ideas can inform efforts to lead complex organizations more effectively, don't miss his contribution to our 2024 Compendium, coming June 11th. ▸ Learn More

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