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Dec 20, 2023

Cane Toads & Systems-Level Thinking - In the Field with Michael Muthukrishna (video)

Single-minded solutions that ignore broader systems can wreak havoc and create new problems that require even more solutions.

By Templeton Staff

Michael Muthukrishna's book A Theory of Everyone: The New Science of Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going, draws on research from across the sciences, humanities, and the emerging field of cultural evolution. In tandem with the book, a supplemental video series titled "In the field with Michael Muthukrishna," was produced. Made possible with funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), the series features clips of the author discussing book-related topics at various global locations. This post highlights one of the installments. Follow the series here.

"Systems-level thinking is essential to the creation of permanent change," says Michael Muthukrishna, PhD, Associate Professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics. "One of many cautionary tales about what happens when these interconnections are ignored is the story of cane toads in Australia. This cautionary tale unfolds in the sunny climes of Queensland, where vibrant sugar cane crops once fell prey to the native cane beetle. But this story, as shared in my book, A Theory of Everyone, isn’t just about an ecosystem out of balance — it's a metaphor for our society."

In the video he explains the repercussions of introducing cane toads to address the cane beetle issue in Queensland's sugarcane fields. Despite the initial intent to control the beetles, the toads' unchecked proliferation resulted in a disastrous impact on the ecosystem. "Today cane toads are everywhere in Queensland, and they're a constant reminder of how single-minded solutions that ignore broader systems can wreak havoc and create new problems that require even more solutions," says the author.

A Theory of Everyone explains the way that cultural evolution, cultural-group selection, energy and what Muthukrishna calls the Four Laws of Life come together to explain how we got here and where we're going.

Watch installments from the video series.

Introduction:  A Theory of Everyone

Episodes 1 & 2: Airplanes, Shipping Containers & the Collective Brain

Episode 3: Estonia & Rethinking Education for a Smarter Future

Episode 4: Contrasting Cultural Strategies for Success

Episode 5: Perspectives Beyond WEIRD & the Origins of Behavioral Economics

Michael Muthukrishna is Associate Professor of Economic Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Science and Affiliate in Developmental Economics and Data Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).