Quotes from David Sloan Wilson – on Evolutionary Social Constructivism, from a chapter in Evolution, Literature, Film: A Reader (2010).

Also – Donald Campbell and DK Simonton on: BVSR (Blind Variation and Selective Retention) in Creativity…!

 Social constructivists, postmodernists and  `deconstructivists’ all have problems with sociobiology / evolutionary psychology/Literary Darwinism, and consilience.

Mainly because: as postmodernists, they’re wrong. See: 

StoryAlity#129 – Post-Modernist `Theory’ is dead as disco 

Because, as David Sloan Wilson writes:


`Among the sophisticates, the controversy [around evolutionary theory] does not centre on the basic fact of evolution but on certain consequences, such as the importance of natural selection and especially the relevance of evolution to human affairs.

The intellectual positions most fiercely opposed to “sociobiology” and “evolutionary psychology” include social constructivism, postmodernism and deconstructivism.

These positions are different from each other but united in their commitment to the idea that individuals and societies have enormous flexibility in what they can become, in contrast to the inflexibility and determinism attributed to evolutionary approaches to human behaviour.’

(D.S. Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 111-2)

BVSR (Blind Variation and Selective Retention) is a crucial part of human creativity (and biological creativity too… both work via: the evolutionary algorithm: Selection, Variation, Transmission [or: Transmission can also be called Retention/Heredity])

`The late social psychologist Donald Campbell never tired of using the phrase “blind variation and selective retention” to describe the essence of evolution and its relevance to psychological and cultural processes, including the process of scientific enquiry, in addition to genetic evolution.’

(DS Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, p. 113)

Seems those po-mo folks – with their ideology – forgot about science. And human nature. And, how creativity works (i.e. via, natural selection, and the evolutionary algorithm).

Also – you know what is a brilliant article..?

“Creative thought as blind-variation and selective-retention: Combinatorial models of exceptional creativity” by DK Simonton (2010). You should read it. Seriously.

If you are a pomo, you should read it. Seriously.

Here is the Abstract:

`Campbell (1960) proposed that creative thought should be conceived as a blind-variation and selective-retention process (BVSR).
This article reviews the developments that have taken place in the half century that has elapsed since his proposal, with special focus on the use of combinatorial models as formal representations of the general theory.

After defining the key concepts of blind variants, creative thought, and disciplinary context, the combinatorial models are specified in terms of individual domain samples, variable field size, ideational combination, and disciplinary communication.

Empirical implications are then derived with respect to individual, domain, and field systems. These abstract combinatorial models are next provided substantive reinforcement with respect to findings concerning the cognitive processes, personality traits, developmental factors, and social contexts that contribute
to creativity. The review concludes with some suggestions regarding future efforts to explicate creativity according to BVSR theory.’

(Simonton 2010)

When Simonton mentions individual, domain, and field systems he is referring to the systems model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, 1996, etc) 

The Feature Film Domain as a System (derived from Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

The Feature Film Domain as a System (derived from Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

And here is an excerpt from the Simonton (2010) article:

`2.2. Creative Thought
Creative thought is defined as the process or set of processes that generate ideas that are both (a) original, novel, or surprising and (c) useful or adaptive.

The first criterion distinguishes creativity from the conventional or routine, whereas the second criterion separates creativity from psychopathology, which can also produce originality.

Moreover, creativity is a multiplicative rather than additive function of originality and utility, each of which can be considered ratio scaled variables [184]. Such a multiplicative function demands that if an idea lacks either originality or utility, then the idea also lacks creativity. Someone who reinvents the wheel (zero originality but high utility) or makes a wheel entirely out of soap bubbles (high originality but zero utility) cannot be considered creative.
Finally, it is necessary to distinguish ordinary creativity from exceptional creativity ([170]; see also [11]). Where the former refers to everyday problem solving, the latter is confined to creativity that yields products that contribute to a particular discipline, whether in the arts or sciences.

Examples include journal articles, patents, computer programs, paintings, poems, novels, musical compositions, motion pictures, video games, and architectural designs. The more extensive and enduring the contribution, the more exceptional is the creativity.

The current review article concentrates on exceptional creativity because the latter is most likely to engage BVSR mechanisms. It should be apparent that the definition of creative thought closely parallels Campbell’s [15] concept of blind variation and selective-retention.

The blind variation generates the originality of an idea whereas the selective retention determines the idea’s utility.

(Simonton 2010)

Also here is another great article by Simonton: Assessing Scientific Creativity: Conceptual Analyses of Assessment Complexities (2012). (Creativity works the same in Science as in the Arts, when you consider the systems [DIFi] model of creativity.)

So, at any rate, genes (our `evolutionary legacy/heritage’) mean that: our human psychology is programmed: i.e. In [this] situation… react/behave [this way]… (ie an IF > THEN logic statement).

Execute Order 66

Execute Order 66

There are loads of these loops running in the background of our minds at all times, and sometimes we can override them, with conscious effort. And, so yes – we have free will/choices – and `agency’, with agency and structure – People have: adaptive behavioural flexibility. It’s clearly not all just: the genes. Anyone who thinks so is ignoring the `cultural’ in `bio-cultural’.

So, stop it.

Bioculturalism - 2 ways to view it (Velikovsky 2013)

Bioculturalism – 2 ways to view it (Velikovsky 2013)

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.*

*(But – probably not from pomo’s… as I don’t have time for that unfashionable nonsense…)


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



D S Wilson in Boyd, B, Carroll, J & Gottschall, J (2010) Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader, Columbia University Press, New York.

Simonton, DK (2010), ‘Creative thought as blind-variation and selective-retention: Combinatorial models of exceptional creativity’, Physics of Life Reviews, Vol. 7 (June), no. 2, pp. 156-79.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

One thought on “StoryAlity #83 – David Sloan Wilson on Evolutionary Social Constructivism, and BVSR

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity#137 – Culturology & the CES (Cultural Evolution Society) | StoryAlity

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