Edward O Wilson Quotes

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People would rather believe than know.
Edward O. Wilson
Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the 'environmentalist' view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view.
Edward O. Wilson
Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species
Edward O. Wilson (The Ants)
You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand.
Edward O. Wilson
One planet, one experiment.
Edward O. Wilson
The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.
Edward O. Wilson
The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.
Edward O. Wilson
Science and technology are what we can do; morality is what we agree we should or should not do.
Edward O. Wilson (The Future of Life)
Sometimes a concept is baffling not because it is profound but because it is wrong.
Edward O. Wilson
Human nature is deeper and broader than the artificial contrivance of any existing culture.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
In the end ... success or failure will come down to an ethical decision, one on which those now living will be judged for generations to come.
Edward O. Wilson
True character arises from a deeper well than religion. It is the internalization of moral principles of a society, augmented by those tenets personally chosen by the individual, strong enough to endure through trials of solitude and adversity. The principles are fitted together into what we call integrity, literally the integrated self, wherein personal decisions feel good and true. Character is in turn the enduring source of virtue. It stands by itself and excites admiration in others.
Edward O. Wilson
To explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it hope rises on its currents.
Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia)
The most successful scientist thinks like a poet—wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical—and works like a bookkeeper. It is the latter role that the world sees.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
All my life I have placed great store in civility and good manners, practices I find scarce among the often hard-edged, badly socialized scientists with whom I associate. Tone of voice means a great deal to me in the course of debate. I despise the arrogance and doting self-regard so frequently found among the very bright.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
Still, if history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology. Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to biology, which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms. The uncomfortable truth is that the two beliefs are not factually compatible. As a result those who hunger for both intellectual and religious truth will never acquire both in full measure.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
There must be an ability to pass long hours in study and research with pleasure even though some of the effort will inevitably lead to dead ends. Such is the price of admission.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.
David Sloan Wilson
Science, its imperfections notwithstanding, is the sword in the stone that humanity finally pulled. The question it poses, of universal and orderly materialism, is the most important that can be asked in philosophy and religion.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
The creation myth is a Darwinian device for survival.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.
Edward O. Wilson
The true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, an outward expression of the ancient instinct of tribalism.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.
Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia)
Human existence may be simpler than we thought. There is no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life. Demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. Instead, we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world. What counts for long-term survival is intelligent self-understanding, based upon a greater independence of thought than that tolerated today even in our most advanced democratic societies.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Here indeed is a major difference between people and ants: where we send our young men to war, ants send their old ladies. No moral lesson there, unless you are looking for a less expensive form of elder care.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
The competition between the two forces can be succinctly expressed as follows: Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
We need freedom to roam across land owned by no one but protected by all, whose unchanging horizon is the same that bounded the world of our millennial ancestors.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
Destroying forest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.
Edward O. Wilson
A society that condemns homosexuality harms itself. (254)
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
animals of the land environment are dominated by species with the most complex social systems.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
Socialism really works under some circumstances. Karl Marx just had the wrong species.
Edward O. Wilson (Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration)
For the entire course of evolution leading from our primitive mammalian forebears of a hundred million years ago to the single lineage that threaded its way to become the first Homo sapiens, the total number of individuals it required might have been one hundred billion. Unknowingly, they all lived and died for us. (21)
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The human impact on biodiversity, to put the matter as briefly as possible, is an attack on ourselves.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
[E]very major religion today is a winner in the Darwinian struggle waged among cultures, and none ever flourished by tolerating its rivals.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
Social intelligence was therefore always at a high premium. A sharp sense of empathy can make a huge difference, and with it in an ability to manipulate, to gain cooperation, and to deceive.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Despite all of our pretenses and fantasies, we always have been and will remain a biological species tied to this particular biological world. Millions of years of evolution are indelibly encoded in our genes. History without the wildlands is no history at all.
Edward O. Wilson (Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life)
to get hold of the human condition, we need next a much broader definition of history than is conventionally used.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life. —EDWARD O. WILSON, Biophilia, 1984
Elisabeth Tova Bailey (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating)
Real scientists do not take vacations. They take field trips...
Edward O. Wilson
Very often ambition and entrepreneurial drive, in combination, beat brilliance.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
They travel long distances to stroll along the seashore, for reasons they can't put into words.
Edward O. Wilson
Splendor awaits in minute proportions.
Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia)
I believe that in the process of locating new avenues of creative thought, we will also arrive at an existential conservatism. It is worth asking repeatedly: Where are our deepest roots? We are, it seems, Old World, catarrhine primates, brilliant emergent animals, defined genetically by our unique origins, blessed by our newfound biological genius, and secure in our homeland if we wish to make it so. What does it all mean? This is what it all means: To the extent that we depend on prosthetic devices to keep ourselves and the biosphere alive, we will render everything fragile. To the extent that we banish the rest of life, we will impoverish our own species for all time. And if we should surrender our genetic nature to machine-aided ratiocination, and our ethics and art and our very meaning to a habit of careless discursion in the name of progress, imagining ourselves godlike and absolved from our ancient heritage, we will become nothing.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
Nevertheless, an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. The victory can never be complete; the balance of selection pressures cannot move to either extreme. If individual selection were to dominate, societies would dissolve. If group selection were to dominate, human groups would come to resemble ant colonies.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The human mind is a product of the Pleistocene age, shaped by wildness that has all but disappeared. If we complete the destruction of nature, we will have succeeded in cutting ourselves off from the source of sanity itself. Hermetically sealed amidst our creations and bereft of those of the Creation, the world then will reflect only the demented image of the mind imprisoned within itself. Can the mind doting on itself and its creations be sane?
Edward O. Wilson (The Biophilia Hypothesis)
the human condition is a singularity,
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
let’s also promote the humanities, that which makes us human, and not use science to mess around with the wellspring of this, the absolute and unique potential of the human future.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
[Scientific humanism is] the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature.
Edward O. Wilson
Human beings and their social orders are intrinsically imperfectible and fortunately so. In a constantly changing world, we need the flexibility that only imperfection provides.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
All things being equal (fortunately things are seldom equal, not exactly), people prefer to be with others who look like them, speak the same dialect, and hold the same beliefs. An amplification of this evidently inborn predisposition leads with frightening ease to racism and religious bigotry. Then, also with frightening ease, good people do bad things. I know this truth from experience, having grown up in the Deep South during the 1930s
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
If the heuristic and analytic power of science can be joined with the introspective creativity of the humanities, human existence will rise to an infinitely more productive and interesting meaning.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
To make discoveries in science, both small and important, you must be an expert on the topic addressed. To be an expert innovator requires commitment. Commitment to a subject implies sustained hard work.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
The origin of the human condition is best explained by the natural selection for social interaction—the inherited propensities to communicate, recognize, evaluate, bond, cooperate, compete, and from all these the deep warm pleasure of belonging to your own special group.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
raises a fundamental question: are we also evolving genetically? Medical research, added to a deepening analysis of the three billion nucleotide letters of the human genome, has revealed that evolution is indeed still occurring
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Nature is the birthright of everyone on Earth. The millions of species we have allowed to survive are our phylogenetic kin. Their long-term history is our long-term history. Despite all our fantasies and pretensions, we always have been and will remain a biological species tied to this particular biological world.
Edward O. Wilson (A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park)
There is no solution available, I assure you, to save Earth's biodiversity other than the preservation of natural environments in reserves large enough to maintain wild populations sustainably. Only Nature can serve as the planetary ark.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
Another principle that I believe can be justified by scientific evidence so far is that nobody is going to emigrate from this planet not ever....It will be far cheaper, and entail no risk to human life, to explore space with robots. The technology is already well along....the real thrill will be in learning in detail what is out there...It is an especially dangerous delusion if we see emigration into space as a solution to be taken when we have used up this planet....Earth, by the twenty-second century, can be turned, if we so wish, into a permanent paradise for human beings...
Edward O. Wilson (The social conquest of Earth)
To give in completely to the instinctual urgings born from individual selection would be to dissolve society. At the opposite extreme, to surrender to the urgings from group selection would turn us into angelic robots—the outsized equivalents of ants.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn't choose human beings for the job. But here's an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it. It's an unnerving thought that we may be living the universe's supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously. Because we are so remarkably careless about looking after things, both when alive and when not, we have no idea-- really none at all-- about how many things have died off permanently, or may soon, or may never, and what role we have played in any part of the process. In 1979, in the book The Sinking Ark, the author Norman Myers suggested that human activities were causing about two extinctions a week on the planet. By the early 1990s he had raised the figure to about some six hundred per week. (That's extinctions of all types-- plants, insects, and so on as well as animals.) Others have put the figure ever higher-- to well over a thousand a week. A United Nations report of 1995, on the other hand, put the total number of known extinctions in the last four hundred years at slightly under 500 for animals and slightly over 650 for plants-- while allowing that this was "almost certainly an underestimate," particularly with regard to tropical species. A few interpreters think most extinction figures are grossly inflated. The fact is, we don't know. Don't have any idea. We don't know when we started doing many of the things we've done. We don't know what we are doing right now or how our present actions will affect the future. What we do know is that there is only one planet to do it on, and only one species of being capable of making a considered difference. Edward O. Wilson expressed it with unimprovable brevity in The Diversity of Life: "One planet, one experiment." If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-- and by "we" i mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp. We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviorally modern human beings-- that is, people who can speak and make art and organize complex activities-- have existed for only about 0.0001 percent of Earth's history. But surviving for even that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune. We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that, almost certainly, will require a good deal more than lucky breaks.
Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything)
The crucial first step to survival in all organisms is habitat selection. If you get to the right place, everything else is likely to be easier. —EDWARD O. WILSON, Biophilia,
Elisabeth Tova Bailey (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating)
Possibly here in the Holocene, or just before 10 or 20 thousand years ago, life hit a peak of diversity. Then we appeared. We are the great meteorite.
Edward O. Wilson
All of the species that have attained eusociality, as I have stressed, live in fortified nest sites.
Edward O. Wilson
Original discoveries, to remind you, are what counts the most. Let me put that more strongly: they are all that counts. They are the silver and gold of science.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.
Edward O. Wilson (Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life)
The great religions are also, and tragically, sources of ceaseless and unnecessary suffering. They are impediments to the grasp of reality needed to solve most social problems in the real world.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
It should not be thought that war, often accompanied by genocide, is a cultural artifact of a few societies. Nor has it been an aberration of history, a result of the growing pains of our species’ maturation. Wars and genocide have been universal and eternal, respecting no particular time or culture.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Jungles and grasslands are the logical destinations, and towns and farmland the labyrinths that people have imposed between them sometime in the past. I cherish the green enclaves accidentally left behind.
Edward O. Wilson
By 1998, members of the United States National Academy of Sciences, an elite elected group sponsored by the federal government, were approaching complete atheism. Only 10 percent testified to a belief in either God or immortality. Among them were a scant 2 percent of the biologists. In modern civilizations, there is no overwhelming importance in the general populace to belong to an organized religion. Witness,
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Moreover, we look in vain to philosophy for the answer to the great riddle. Despite its noble purpose and history, pure philosophy long ago abandoned the foundational questions about human existence. The question itself is a reputation killer. It has become a Gorgon for philosophers, upon whose visage even the best thinkers fear to gaze. They have good reason for their aversion. Most of the history of philosophy consists of failed models of the mind. The field of discourse is strewn with the wreckage of theories of consciousness. After the decline of logical positivism in the middle of the twentieth century, and the attempt of this movement to blend science and logic into a closed system, professional philosophers dispersed in an intellectual diaspora. They emigrated into the more tractable disciplines not yet colonized by science – intellectual history, semantics, logic, foundational mathematics, ethics, theology, and, most lucratively, problems of personal life adjustment. Philosophers flourish in these various endeavors, but for the time being, at least, and by a process of elimination, the solution of the riddle has been left to science. What science promises, and has already supplied in part, is the following. There is a real creation story of humanity, and one only, and it is not a myth. It is being worked out and tested, and enriched and strengthened, step by step. (9-10)
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Overall, it seems now possible to draw a reasonably good explanation of why the human condition is a singularity, why the likes of it has occurred only once and took so long in coming. The reason is simply the extreme improbability of the preadaptations necessary for it to occur at all. Each of the evolutionary steps has been a full-blown adaptation in its own right. Each has required a particular sequence of one or more preadaptations that occurred previously. Homo sapiens is the only species of large mammal – thus large enough to evolve a human-sized brain – to have made every one of the required lucky turns in the evolutionary maze. (45)
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
A typical battlefield of this struggle is Hawaii, America’s most deceptively beautiful state. For most residents and visitors, it seems an unspoiled island paradise. In actuality it is a killing field of biological diversity. When
Edward O. Wilson (The Future of Life)
The predisposition to religious belief is an ineradicable part of human behavior. Mankind has produced 100,000 religions. It is an illusion to think that scientific humanism and learning will dispel religious belief. Men would rather believe than know... A kind of Darwinistic survival of the fittest has occurred with religions... The ecological principle called Gause's law holds that competition is maximal between species with identical needs... Even submission to secular religions such as Communism and guru cults involve willing subordination of the individual to the group. Religious practices confer biological advantage. The mechanisms of religion include (1) objectification (the reduction of reality to images and definitions that are easily understood and cannot be refuted), (2) commitment through faith (a kind of tribalism enacted through self-surrender), (3) and myth (the narratives that explain the tribe's favored position on the earth, often incorporating supernatural forces struggling for control, apocalypse, and millennium).
Edward O. Wilson
We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The term “humanities” includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism, and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
There is no dispute between me and Richard Dawkins and there never has been, because he’s a journalist, and journalists are people that report what the scientists have found and the arguments I’ve had have actually been with scientists doing research.
Edward O. Wilson
It is quite simple: put passion ahead of training. Feel out in any way you can what you most want to do in science, or technology, or some other science-related profession. Obey that passion as long as it lasts. Feed it with the knowledge the mind needs to grow. Sample other subjects, acquire a general education in science, and be smart enough to switch to a greater love if one appears. But don’t just drift through courses in science hoping that love will come to you. Maybe it will, but don’t take the chance. As in other big choices in your life, there is too much at stake. Decision and hard work based on enduring passion will never fail you.
Edward O. Wilson
The cost of scientific advance is the humbling recognition that reality was not constructed to be easily grasped by the human mind. This is the cardinal tenet of scientific understanding: Our species and its ways of thinking are a product of evolution, not the purpose of evolution.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
The great religions are also, and tragically, sources of ceaseless and unnecessary suffering. They are impediments to the grasp of reality needed to solve most social problems in the real world. Their exquisitely human flaw is tribalism. The instinctual force of tribalism in the genesis of religiosity is far stronger than the yearning for spirituality. People deeply need membership in a group, whether religious or secular. From a lifetime of emotional experience, they know that happiness, and indeed survival itself, require that they bond with others who share some amount of genetic kinship, language, moral beliefs, geographical location, social purpose, and dress code—preferably all of these but at least two or three for most purposes. It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
The Founding Fathers of the United States understood the risk of tribal religious conflict very well. George Washington observed, “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing and ought most to be deprecated.” James Madison agreed, noting the “torrents of blood” that result from religious competition. John Adams insisted that “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” America has slipped a bit since then.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
...successful research doesn't depend on mathematical skill, or even the deep understanding of theory. It depends to a large degree on choosing an important problem and finding a way to solve it, even if imperfectly at first. Very often ambition and entrepreneurial drive, in combination, beat brilliance.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
Human beings appear to be sufficiently selfish and calculating to be capable of indefinitely greater harmony and social homeostasis. This statement is not self-contradictory. True selfishness, if obedient to the other constraints of mammalian biology, is the key to a more nearly perfect social contract. - pg. 157
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
In modern industrialized countries, networks grew to a complexity that has proved bewildering to the Paleolithic mind we inherited. Our instincts still desire the tiny, united band-networks that prevailed during the hundreds of millennia preceding the dawn of history. Our instincts remain unprepared for civilization.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
the genes of modern-day Africans are a treasure house for all humanity. They possess our species’ greatest reservoir of genetic diversity, of which further study will shed new light on the heredity of the human body and mind. Perhaps the time has come, in light of this and other advances in human genetics, to adopt a new ethic of racial and hereditary variation, one that places value on the whole of diversity rather than on the differences composing the diversity. It would give proper measure to our species’ genetic variation as an asset, prized for the adaptability it provides all of us during an increasingly uncertain future. Humanity is strengthened by a broad portfolio of genes that can generate new talents, additional resistance to diseases, and perhaps even new ways of seeing reality. For scientific as well as for moral reasons, we should learn to promote human biological diversity for its own sake instead of using it to justify prejudice and conflict.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
innate censors and motivators exist in the brain that deeply and unconsciously affect our ethical premises; from these roots, morality evolved as instinct. If that perception is correct, science may soon be in a position to investigate the very origin and meaning of human values, from which all ethical pronouncements and much of political practice flow.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
HISTORY IS A bath of blood,” wrote William James,
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
I will be brief. Not nearly so brief as Salvador Dalí, who gave the world's shortest speech. He said, 'I will be so brief I am already finished' and sat down.
Edward O. Wilson
Someone has defined insanity as an inability to choose among false alternatives. In dreams we are insane. We wander across our limitless dreamscapes as madmen.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE today, not just in cell biology and ecology but in all of science, is the accurate and complete description of complex systems.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
Human beings were made for music. Its thrill and rapture are picked up almost immediately by little children
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Natural selection, the driving force of biological evolution in both individual and group selection, is captured in a single phrase: mutation proposes, the environment disposes.
Edward O. Wilson (Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies)
the biological mind is the essence and the very meaning of the human condition.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
phenotypic plasticity,
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The best way to live in this real world is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.
Edward O. Wilson
Where do we come from?" "What are we?""Where are we going?
Paul Gauguin (Paul Gauguin: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?)
if our conception of human nature is to be altered, it must be by means of truths conforming to the canons of scientific evidence and not a new dogma however devoutly wished for.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
Original discoveries, to remind you, are what count the most. Let me put that more strongly: they are all that counts. They are the silver and gold of science.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
Perhaps the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized - made part of the new synthesis.
Edward O. Wilson
we are chemosensory idiots. By comparison most other organisms are geniuses.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
The theory of inclusive fitness, in opposition to the standard theory of natural selection,
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Much of culture, including especially the content of the creative arts, has arisen from the inevitable clash of individual selection and group selection.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
The learning of complex information and its storage in memory are deliberate, painstaking processes, but the loss of information seems to take place with no trouble at all. Damping
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The greater problems of history are not solved; they are merely forgotten.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
A distinguished researcher once commented to me that a real scientist is someone who can think about a subject while talking to his or her spouse about something else.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
Like the sunlight and the firelight that guided our birth, we need a unified humanities and science to construct a full and honest picture of what we truly are and what we can become.
Edward O. Wilson (The Origins of Creativity)
I don’t believe I can let this subject pass by leaving my own conflicted emotions unconfessed. When Carl Sagan won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1978, I dismissed it as a minor achievement for a scientist, scarcely worth listing. When I won the same prize the following year, it wondrously became a major literary award of which scientists should take special note.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Unfortunately a religious group defines itself foremost by its creation story, the supernatural narrative that explains how humans came into existence. And this story is also the heart of tribalism. No matter how gentle and high-minded, or subtly explained, the core belief assures its members that God favors them above all others. It teaches that members of other religions worship the wrong gods, use wrong rituals, follow false prophets, and believe fantastic creation stories. There is no way around the soul-satisfying but cruel discrimination that organized religions by definition must practice among themselves. I doubt there ever has been an imam who suggested that his followers try Roman Catholicism or a priest who urged the reverse.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
The second most frequently asked question is, “What can we learn of moral value from the ants?” Here again I will answer definitively. Nothing. Nothing at all can be learned from ants that our species should even consider imitating. For one thing, all working ants are female. Males are bred and appear in the nest only once a year, and then only briefly. They are unappealing, pitiful creatures with wings, huge eyes, small brain, and genitalia that make up a large portion of their rear body segment. They do no work while in the nest and have only one function in life: to inseminate the virgin queens during the nuptial season when all fly out to mate. They are built for their one superorganismic role only: robot flying sexual missiles. Upon mating or doing their best to mate (it is often a big fight for a male just to get to a virgin queen), they are not admitted back home, but instead are programmed to die within hours, usually as victims of predators. Now for the moral lesson: although like almost all well-educated Americans I am a devoted promoter of gender equality, I consider sex practiced the ant way a bit extreme.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
People are prone to ethnocentrism. It is an uncomfortable fact that even when given a guilt-free choice, individuals prefer the company of others of the same race, nation, clan, and religion. They
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
I believe that the ten billion people expected to be present at the end of the century will enjoy a far better quality of life if we conserve half of the planet for nature than if we consume nature entirely.
Edward O. Wilson (A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park)
TO FORM GROUPS, drawing visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship, and to defend the group enthusiastically against rival groups—these are among the absolute universals of human nature and hence of culture.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
When the great theologian and philosopher Rabbi Hillel was challenged to explain the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot, he replied, “Do not do unto others that which is repugnant to you. All else is commentary.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
In a nutshell, individual selection favors what we call sin and group selection favors virtue. The result is the internal conflict of conscience that afflicts all but psychopaths, estimated fortunately to make up only 1 to 4 percent of the population. The products of the opposing two vectors in natural selection are hardwired in our emotions and reasoning, and cannot be erased. Internal conflict is not a personal irregularity but a timeless human quality. No such conflict exists or can exist in an eagle, fox, or spider, for example, whose traits were born solely of individual selection, or a worker ant, whose social traits were shaped entirely by group selection.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
if our genes are inherited and our environment is a train of physical events set in motion before we were born, how can there be a truly independent agent within the brain? The agent itself is created by the interaction of the genes and the environment.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
We are all genetic chimeras, at once saints and sinners, champions of the truth and hypocrites – not because humanity has failed to reach some foreordained religious or ideological ideal, but because of the way our species originated across millions of years of biological evolution.
Edward O. Wilson
To express this increasingly complex subject as succinctly as possible, the ancestors of our species developed the brain power to connect with other minds and to conceive unlimited time, distance, and potential outcomes. This infinite reach of imagination, put quite simply, is what made us great.
Edward O. Wilson (The Origins of Creativity)
Successful research doesn't depend on mathematical skill, or even the deep understanding of theory. It depends to a large degree on choosing an important problem and finding a way to solve it, even if imperfectly at first. Very often ambition and entrepreneurial drive, in combination, beat brilliance.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
We are a biological species arising from Earth’s biosphere as one adapted species among many; and however splendid our languages and cultures, however rich and subtle our minds, however vast our creative powers, the mental process is the product of a brain shaped by the hammer of natural selection upon the anvil of nature.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
Somewhere close I knew spear-nosed bats flew through the tree crowns in search of fruit, palm vipers coiled in ambush in the roots of orchids, jaguars walked the river's edge; around them eight hundred species of trees stood, more than are native to all of North America; and a thousand species of butterflies, 6 percent of the entire world fauna, waited for the dawn.About the orchids of that place we knew very little. About flies and beetles almost nothing, fungi nothing, most kinds of organisms nothing. Five thousand kinds of bacteria might be found in a pinch of soil, and about them we knew absolutely nothing. This was wilderness in the sixteenth-century sense, as it must have formed in the minds of the Portuguese explorers, its interior still largely unexplored and filled with strange, myth-engendering plants and animals. From such a place the pious naturalist would send long respectful letters to royal patrons about the wonders of the new world as testament to the glory of God. And I thought: there is still time to see this land in such a manner.
Edward O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life)
Out of the warlike peoples arose civilization, while the peaceful collectors and hunters were driven to the ends of the earth, where they are gradually being exterminated or absorbed, with only the dubious satisfaction of observing the nations which had wielded war so effectively to destroy them and to become great, now victimized by their own instrument.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
the great majority of people worldwide remain in the thrall of tribal organized religions, led by men who claim supernatural power in order to compete for the obedience and resources of the faithful. We are addicted to tribal conflict, which is harmless and entertaining if sublimated into team sports, but deadly when expressed as real-world ethnic, religious, and ideological struggles. There are other hereditary biases. Too paralyzed with self-absorption to protect the rest of life, we continue to tear down the natural environment, our species’ irreplaceable and most precious heritage. And it is still taboo to bring up population policies aiming for an optimum people density, geographic distribution, and age distribution.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
For most of history, organized religions have claimed sovereignty over the meaning of human existence. For their founders and leaders the enigma has been relatively easy to solve. The gods put us on Earth, then they told us how to behave. Why should people around the world continue to believe one fantasy over another out of the more than four thousand that exist on Earth? The answer is tribalism,
Edward O. Wilson (Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies)
The internal conflict in conscience caused by competing levels of natural selection is more than just an arcane subject for theoretical biologists to ponder. It is not the presence of good and evil tearing at one another in our breasts. It is a biological trait fundamental to understanding the human condition, and necessary for survival of the species. The opposed selection pressures during the genetic evolution of prehumans produced an unstable mix of innate emotional response. They created a mind that is continuously and kaleidoscopically shifting in mood—variously proud, aggressive, competitive, angry, vengeful, venal, treacherous, curious, adventurous, tribal, brave, humble, patriotic, empathetic, and loving. All normal humans are both ignoble and noble, often in close alternation, sometimes simultaneously.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
For every problem in a given discipline of science, there exists a species or other entity or phenomenon ideal for its solution. (Example: a kind of mollusk, Aplysia, proved ideal for exploring the cellular base of memory.) Conversely, for every species or other entity or phenomenon, there exist important problems for the solution of which it is ideally suited. (Example: bats were logical for the discovery of sonar.)
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
When an individual is cooperative and altruistic, this reduces his advantage in competition to a comparable degree with other members but increases the survival and reproduction rate of the group as a whole. In a nutshell, individual selection favors what we call sin and group selection favors virtue. The result is the internal conflict of conscience that afflicts all but psychopaths, estimated fortunately to make up only 1 to 4 percent of the population.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Scientists by nature tend to be cautious in anything they say about religion, even when expressing skepticism. The distinguished physiologist Anton (Ajax) J. Carlson, when asked what he thought of the 1950 ex cathedra (that is, infallible) pronouncement by Pius XII that the Virgin Mary ascended bodily into heaven, is reported to have responded that he couldn’t be sure because he wasn’t there, but of one thing he was certain, that she passed out at thirty thousand feet.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Obviously no two creation stories can both be true. All of those invented by the many known thousands of religions and sects in fact have certainly been false. A great many educated citizens have realized that their own faiths are indeed false, or at least questionable in details. But they understand the rule attributed to the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger that religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
In America, for example, it is possible in most places to openly debate different views on religious spirituality—including the nature and even the existence of God, providing it is in the context of theology and philosophy. But it is forbidden to question closely, if at all, the creation myth—the faith—of another person or group, no matter how absurd. To disparage anything in someone else’s sacred creation myth is “religious bigotry.” It is taken as the equivalent of a personal threat.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
With complexity, however, comes vulnerability, and that brings me to one of the other superorganism superstars, the domestic honeybee, and a moral lesson. When disease strikes solitary or weakly social animals that we have embraced in symbiosis, such as chickens, pigs, and dogs, their lives are simple enough for veterinarians to diagnose and fix most of the problems. Honeybees, on the other hand, have by far the most complex lives of all our domestic partners. There are a great many more twists and turns in their adaptation to their environment that upon failing could damage some part or other of the colony life cycle. The intractability thus far of the honeybee colony collapse disorder of Europe and North America, which threatens so much of crop pollination and humanity’s food supply at the present time, may represent an intrinsic weakness of superorganisms in general. Perhaps, like us, with our complex cities and interconnected high technology, it is their excellence that has put them at greater risk.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
I advise you to look for a chance to break away, to find a subject you can make your own. That is where the quickest advances are likely to occur, as measured by discoveries per investigator per year. Therein you have the best chance to become a leader and, as time passes, to gain growing freedom to set your own course. If a subject is already receiving a great deal of attention, if it has a glamorous aura, if its practitioners are prizewinners who receive large grants, stay away from that subject. Listen to the news coming from the hubbub, learn how and why the subject became prominent, but in making your own long-term plans be aware it is already crowded with talented people. You would be a newcomer, a private amid bemedaled first sergeants and generals. Take a subject instead that interests you and looks promising, and where established experts are not yet conspicuously competing with one another, where few if any prizes and academy memberships have been given, and where the annals of research are not yet layered with superfluous data and mathematical models.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
The main shortcoming of humanistic scholarship is its extreme anthropocentrism. Nothing, it seems, matters in the creative arts and critical humanistic analyses except as it can be expressed as a perspective of present-day literate culture. Everything tends to be weighed by its immediate impact on people. Meaning is drawn from that which is valued exclusively in human terms. The most important consequence is that we are left with very little to compare with the rest of life. The deficit shrinks the ground on which we can understand and judge ourselves.
Edward O. Wilson (The Origins of Creativity)
The advances of science and technology will bring us to the greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham: how much to retrofit the human genotype. Shall it be a lot, a little bit, or none at all? The choice will be forced on us because our species has begun to cross what is the most important yet still least examined threshold in the technoscientific era. We are about to abandon natural selection, the process that created us, in order to direct our own evolution by volitional selection—the process of redesigning our biology and human nature as we wish them to be.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
There is a principle to be learned by studying the biological origins of moral reasoning. It is that outside the clearest ethical precepts, such as the condemnation of slavery, child abuse, and genocide, which all will agree should be opposed everywhere without exception, there is a larger gray domain inherently difficult to navigate. The declaration of ethical precepts and judgments made from them requires a full understanding of why we care about the matter one way or the other, and that includes the biological history of the emotions engaged. This inquiry has not been done. In fact, it is seldom even imagined. With deepened self-understanding, how will we feel about morality and honor? I have no doubt that in many cases, perhaps the great majority, the precepts shared by most societies today will stand the test of biology-based realism. Others, such as the ban on artificial conception, condemnation of homosexual preference and forced marriages of adolescent girls, will not. Whatever the outcome, it seems clear that ethical philosophy will benefit from a reconstruction of its precepts based on both science and culture. If such greater understanding amounts to the “moral relativism” so fervently despised by the doctrinally righteous, so be it.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
You are from alone in the community of scientists, and here is a professional secret to encourage you: many of the most successful scientists in the world today are mathematically no more than semiliterate. A metaphor will clarify the paradox in this statement. Where elite mathematicians often serve as architects of theory in the expanding realm of science, the remaining large majority of basic and applied scientists map the terrain, scout the frontier, cut the pathways, and raise the first buildings along the way. They define the problems that mathematicians, on occasion, may help solve. They think primarily in images and facts, and only marginally in mathematics.
Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
All of the stimuli of awe and wonder, whose capacity is invested in the human mind, have been appropriated by religious faiths across centuries, in masterpieces of literature, the visual arts, music, and architecture. Three thousand years of Yahweh have wrought an aesthetic power in these creative arts second to none. There is nothing in my own experience more moving than the Roman Catholic Lucernarium, when the lumen Christi (light of Christ) is spread by Paschal candlelight into a darkened cathedral; or the choral hymns to the standing faithful and approaching procession during an evangelical Protestant altar call. These benefits require submission to God, or his Son the Redeemer, or both, or to His final chosen spokesman Muhammad. This is too easy. It is necessary only to submit, to bow down, to repeat the sacred oaths. Yet let us ask frankly, to whom is such obeisance really directed? Is it to an entity that may have no meaning within reach of the human mind—or may not even exist? Yes, perhaps it really is to God. But perhaps it is to no more than a tribe united by a creation myth. If the latter, religious faith is better interpreted as an unseen trap unavoidable during the biological history of our species. And if this is correct, surely there exist ways to find spiritual fulfillment without surrender and enslavement. Humankind deserves better.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
In 2010, the dominance of inclusive fitness theory was finally broken. After struggling as a member of the small but still muted contrarian school for a decade, I joined two Harvard mathematicians and theoretical biologists, Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, for a top-to-bottom analysis of inclusive fitness. Nowak and Tarnita had independently discovered that the foundational assumptions of inclusive fitness theory were unsound, while I had demonstrated that the field data used to support the theory could be explained equally well, or better, with direct natural selection—as in the sex-allocation case of ants just described. Our joint report was published on August 26, 2010, as the cover article of the prestigious journal Nature. Knowing the controversy involved, the Nature editors had proceeded with unusual caution. One of them familiar with the subject and the mode of mathematical analysis came from London to Harvard to hold a special meeting with Nowak, Tarnita, and myself. He approved, and the manuscript was next examined by three anonymous experts. Its appearance, as we expected, caused a Vesuvian explosion of protest—the kind cherished by journalists. No fewer than 137 biologists committed to inclusive fitness theory in their research or teaching signed a protest in a Nature article published the following year. When I repeated part of my argument as a chapter in the 2012 book The Social Conquest of Earth, Richard Dawkins responded with the indignant fervor of a true believer. In his review for the British magazine Prospect, he urged others not to read what I had written, but instead to cast the entire book away, “with great force,” no less.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
So it came to pass that humans are forever conflicted by their prehistory of multilevel selection. They are suspended in unstable and constantly changing positions between the two extreme forces that created us. We are unlikely to yield completely to either force as the ideal solution to our social and political turmoil. To give in completely to the instinctual urgings born from individual selection would be to dissolve society. At the opposite extreme, to surrender to the urgings born from group selection would turn us into angelic robots--the outsized equivalent of ants. The external conflict is not God's test of humanity. It is not a machination of Satan. It is just the way things worked out. The conflict might be the only way in the entire Universe that human-level intelligence and social organization can evolve. We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil, and perhaps find pleasure in viewing it as the primary source of our creativity.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
It has become fashionable to speak of the Enlightenment as an idiosyncratic construction by European males in a bygone era, one way of thinking among many different constructions generated across time by a legion of other minds in other cultures, each of which deserves careful and respectful attention. To which the only decent response is yes, of course - to a point. Creative thought is forever precious, and all knowledge has value. But what counts most in the long haul of history is seminality, not sentiment. If we ask whose ideas were the seeds of the dominant ethic and shared hopes of contemporary humanity, whose resulted in the most material advancement in history, whose were the first of their kind and today enjoy the most emulation, then in that sense the Enlightenment, despite the erosion of its original vision and despite the shakiness of some of its premises, has been the principal inspiration not just of Western high culture but, increasingly, of the entire world.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
Our joint report was published on August 26, 2010, as the cover article of the prestigious journal Nature. Knowing the controversy involved, the Nature editors had proceeded with unusual caution. One of them familiar with the subject and the mode of mathematical analysis came from London to Harvard to hold a special meeting with Nowak, Tarnita, and myself. He approved, and the manuscript was next examined by three anonymous experts. Its appearance, as we expected, caused a Vesuvian explosion of protest—the kind cherished by journalists. No fewer than 137 biologists committed to inclusive fitness theory in their research or teaching signed a protest in a Nature article published the following year. When I repeated part of my argument as a chapter in the 2012 book The Social Conquest of Earth, Richard Dawkins responded with the indignant fervor of a true believer. In his review for the British magazine Prospect, he urged others not to read what I had written, but instead to cast the entire book away, “with great force,” no less.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
I don’t believe it too harsh to say that the history of philosophy when boiled down consists mostly of failed models of the brain. A few of the modern neurophilosophers such as Patricia Churchland and Daniel Dennett have made a splendid effort to interpret the findings of neuroscience research as these become available. They have helped others to understand, for example, the ancillary nature of morality and rational thought. Others, especially those of poststructuralist bent, are more retrograde. They doubt that the “reductionist” or “objectivist” program of the brain researchers will ever succeed in explaining the core of consciousness. Even if it has a material basis, subjectivity in this view is beyond the reach of science. To make their argument, the mysterians (as they are sometimes called) point to the qualia, the subtle, almost inexpressible feelings we experience about sensory input. For example, “red” we know from physics, but what are the deeper sensations of “redness”? So what can the scientists ever hope to tell us in larger scale about free will, or about the soul, which for religious thinkers at least is the ultimate of ineffability?
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Among the most virulent of all such cultural parasite-equivalents is the religion-based denial of organic evolution. About one-half of Americans (46 percent in 2013, up from 44 percent in 1980), most of whom are evangelical Christians, together with a comparable fraction of Muslims worldwide, believe that no such process has ever occurred. As Creationists, they insist that God created humankind and the rest of life in one to several magical mega-strokes. Their minds are closed to the overwhelming mass of factual demonstrations of evolution, which is increasingly interlocked across every level of biological organization from molecules to ecosystem and the geography of biodiversity. They ignore, or more precisely they call it virtue to remain ignorant of, ongoing evolution observed in the field and even traced to the genes involved. Also looked past are new species created in the laboratory. To Creationists, evolution is at best just an unproven theory. To a few, it is an idea invented by Satan and transmitted through Darwin and later scientists in order to mislead humanity. When I was a small boy attending an evangelical church in Florida, I was taught that the secular agents of Satan are extremely bright and determined, but liars all, man and woman, and so no matter what I heard I must stick my fingers in my ears and hold fast to the true faith. We are all free in a democracy to believe whatever we wish, so why call any opinion such as Creationism a virulent cultural parasite-equivalent? Because it represents a triumph of blind religious faith over carefully tested fact. It is not a conception of reality forged by evidence and logical judgment. Instead, it is part of the price of admission to a religious tribe. Faith is the evidence given of a person’s submission to a particular god, and even then not to the deity directly but to other humans who claim to represent the god. The cost to society as a whole of the bowed head has been enormous. Evolution is a fundamental process of the Universe, not just in living organisms but everywhere, at every level. Its analysis is vital to biology, including medicine, microbiology, and agronomy. Furthermore psychology, anthropology, and even the history of religion itself make no sense without evolution as the key component followed through the passage of time. The explicit denial of evolution presented as a part of a “creation science” is an outright falsehood, the adult equivalent of plugging one’s ears, and a deficit to any society that chooses to acquiesce in this manner to a fundamentalist faith.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson performed a rather bizarre experiment on ants that may supplement Paul’s illustration (Rom 6:1-14). After noticing that it took ants a few days to recognize one of their crumpled nestmates as having died, he determined that ants identified death by clues of smell, not visually. As the ant’s body began to decompose, other ants would infallibly carry it out of the nest to a refuse pile. After many tries, Wilson narrowed down the precise chemical clue to oleic acid. If the ants smelled oleic acid, they would carry out the corpse; any other smell, they ignored. Their instinct was so strong that if Wilson daubed oleic acid on bits of paper, other ants would dutifully carry the paper to the ant cemetery. In a final twist, Wilson painted oleic acid on the bodies of living ants. Sure enough, their nestmates seized them and marched them, their legs and antennae wriggling in protest, out to the ant cemetery. Thus deposited, the indignant 'living dead' cleaned themselves off before returning to the nest. If they did not remove every trace of the oleic acid, the nestmates would promptly seize them again and return them to the cemetery. They had to be certifiably alive, judged solely by smell, before being accepted back into the nest. I think of that image, 'dead' ants acting very much alive, when I read Paul’s first illustration in Romans 6. Sin may be dead, but it stubbornly wriggles back to life.
Philip Yancey (What's So Amazing About Grace?)
The earlier Aryan invaders of the Gangetic Plain presided over feasts of cattle, horses, goats, buffalo, and sheep. By later Vedic and early Hindu times, during the first millenium B.C., the feasts came to be managed by the priestly caste of Brahmans, who erected rituals of sacrifice around the killing of animals and distributed the meat in the name of the Aryan chiefs and war lords. After 600 B.C., when populations grew denser and domestic animals became proportionately scarcer, the eating of meat was progressively restricted until it became a monopoly of the Brahmans and their sponsors. Ordinary people struggled to conserve enough livestock to meet their own desperate requirements for milk, dung used as fuel, and transport. During this period of crisis, reformist religions arose, most prominently Buddhism and Jainism, that attempted to abolish castes and hereditary priesthoods and to outlaw the killing of animals. The masses embraced the new sects, and in the end their powerful support reclassified the cow into a sacred animal. So it appears that some of the most baffling of religious practices in history might have an ancestry passing in a straight line back to the ancient carnivorous habits of humankind. Cultural anthropologists like to stress that the evolution of religion proceeds down multiple, branching pathways. But these pathways are not infinite in number; they may not even be very numerous. It is even possible that with a more secure knowledge of human nature and ecology, the pathways can be enumerated and the directions of religious evolution in individual cultures explained with a high level of confidence.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
Another way of expressing the history of religion is that faith has hijacked religious spirituality. The prophets and leaders of organized religions, consciously or not, have put spirituality in the service of groups defined by their creation myths. Awe-inspiring ceremonies and sacred rites and rituals and sacrifices are given the deity in return for worldly security and the promise of immortality. As part of the exchange the deity must also make correct moral decisions. Within the Christian faith, among most of the denominational tribes, God is obliged to be against one or more of the following: homosexuality, artificial contraception, female bishops, and evolution. The Founding Fathers of the United States understood the risk of tribal religious conflict very well. George Washington observed, “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing and ought most to be deprecated.” James Madison agreed, noting the “torrents of blood” that result from religious competition. John Adams insisted that “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” America has slipped a bit since then. It has become almost mandatory for political leaders to assure the electorate that they have a faith, even, as for the Mormonism of Mitt Romney, if it looks ridiculous to the great majority. Presidents often listen to the counsel of Christian advisers. The phrase “under God” was introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and today no major political candidate would dare suggest it be removed.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
I wondered what was going on in neuroscience that might bear upon the subject. This quickly led me to neuroscience’s most extraordinary figure, Edward O. Wilson. Wilson’s own life is a good argument for his thesis, which is that among humans, no less than among racehorses, inbred traits will trump upbringing and environment every time. In its bare outlines his childhood biography reads like a case history for the sort of boy who today winds up as the subject of a tabloid headline: DISSED DORK SNIPERS JOCKS. He was born in Alabama to a farmer’s daughter and a railroad engineer’s son who became an accountant and an alcoholic. His parents separated when Wilson was seven years old, and he was sent off to the Gulf Coast Military Academy. A chaotic childhood was to follow. His father worked for the federal Rural Electrification Administration, which kept reassigning him to different locations, from the Deep South to Washington, D.C., and back again, so that in eleven years Wilson attended fourteen different public schools. He grew up shy and introverted and liked the company only of other loners, preferably those who shared his enthusiasm for collecting insects. For years he was a skinny runt, and then for years after that he was a beanpole. But no matter what ectomorphic shape he took and no matter what school he went to, his life had one great center of gravity: He could be stuck anywhere on God’s green earth and he would always be the smartest person in his class. That remained true after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in biology from the University of Alabama and became a doctoral candidate and then a teacher of biology at Harvard for the next half century. He remained the best in his class every inch of the way. Seething Harvard savant after seething Harvard savant, including one Nobel laureate, has seen his reputation eclipsed by this terribly reserved, terribly polite Alabamian, Edward O. Wilson. Wilson’s field within the discipline of biology was zoology; and within zoology, entomology, the study of insects; and within entomology, myrmecology, the study of ants. Year after year he studied
Tom Wolfe (Hooking Up)
(Writers of Earth-invader science fiction, please remember to provide all your aliens with soft grasping hands or tentacles or some other fleshy fat appendages.)
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
more efficient than vegetable food.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
The integrative powers of the brain for the sensations that come from handling objects spills out into all other domains of intelligence.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Meat yields higher energy per gram eaten than does vegetation.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
While our species continues to manufacture its radically different and untested all-human world, the rest of life should be allowed to endure, for our own safety. While preserving our own deep history, it will, if we choose to let it, continue on its own trajectory through evolutionary time. By thus maintaining two parallel worlds on the planet, humanity will ensure the survival and continued advanced of the rest of life, and of ourselves.
Edward O. Wilson (A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park)
Like most other mammals, human beings display a behavioral scale, a spectrum of responses that appear or disappear according to particular circumstances.
Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature)
HISTORY MAKES LITTLE SENSE WITHOUT PREHISTORY, AND PREHISTORY MAKES LITTLE SENSE WITHOUT BIOLOGY. KNOWLEDGE OF PREHISTORY AND BIOLOGY IS INCREASING RAPIDLY, BRINGING INTO FOCUS HOW HUMANITY ORIGINATED AND WHY A SPECIES LIKE OUR OWN EXISTS ON THIS PLANET.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Close attention to mollusks and frigate birds and wolves makes us aware not only of our own human identity but also of how much more there is, an assertion of our imperfect hunger for mystery. “Without mystery life shrinks,” wrote biologist Edward O. Wilson. “The completely known is a numbing void to all active minds.
Ellen Meloy (Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild)
When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here.
Edward O. Wilson
But history shows that logic launched from introspection alone lacks thrust, can travel only so far, and usually heads in the wrong direction.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
If I could do it all over again, and relieve my vision in the twenty-first century, I would become a microbial ecologist. Ten billion bacteria live in a gram of ordinary soil, a mere pinch held in between thumb and forefinger. They represent thousands of species, almost none of which are known to science. Into that world I would go with the aid of modern microscopy and molecular analysis. I would cut my way through clonal forests sprawled across grains of sand, travel in an imagined submarine through drops of water proportionately the size of lakes, and track predators and prey in order to discover new life ways and alien food webs. All this, and I need venture no farther than ten paces outside my laboratory building. The jaguars, ants, and orchids would still occupy distant forests in all their splendor, but now they would be joined by an even stranger and vastly more complex living world virtually without end. For one more turn around I would keep alive the little boy of Paradise Beach who found wonder in a scyphozoan jellyfish and a barely glimpsed monster of the deep.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
scientists, I believe, are divided into two categories: those who do science in order to be a success in life, and those who become a success in life in order to do science. It is the latter who stay active in research for a lifetime.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
I am now convinced that it is better to work from science into literature than to try the reverse, though many have done so with distinction. To understand the scientific culture deeply and, even more, to express the emotions that attend scientific exploration require that the writer inhabit science for a substantial part of his life, intent upon making important discoveries and placing them within the canon.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
What happened, what we think happened, in distant memory, is built around a small collection of dominating images. In one of my own from the age of seven, I stand in the shallows off Paradise Beach, staring down at a huge jellyfish in water so still and clear that its every detail is revealed as though it were trapped in glass. The creature is astonishing. It existed outside my previous imagination.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
ALMOST ALL MY LIFE I HAVE DREAMED OF THE TROPICS. MY fantasies drifted far beyond the benign temperate zone of Thoreau and Muir.
Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
Where scientific observation addresses all phenomena existing in the real world, scientific experimentation addresses all possible real worlds, and scientific theory addresses all conceivable real worlds, the humanities encompass all three of these levels and one more, the infinity of all fantasy worlds.
Edward O. Wilson
Meanwhile, it needs to be recognized, and talked about more frankly, that for philosophy the elephant in the kitchen is organized religion. More precisely, the understanding of human condition often foretold by the blending of science and religion is inhibited by the intervention of supernatural creation stories, each defining a separate tribe. It is one thing to hold and share the elevated spiritual values of theological religion, with a belief in the divine and trust in the existence of an afterlife. It is another thing entirely to adopt a particular supernatural creation story. Faith in a creation story gives comforting membership in a tribe. But it bears stressing that not all creation stories can be true, no two can be true, and most assuredly, all are false. Each is sustained by blind tribalistic faith alone. The study of religion is an essential part of the humanities. It should nonetheless be studied as an element of human nature, and the evolution thereof, and not, in the manner of Christian bible colleges and Islamic madaris, a manual for the promotion of a faith defined by a particular creation story.
Edward O. Wilson (The Origins of Creativity)
If science depended on rhetoric and polls, we would still be burning objects with phlogiston and navigating with geocentric maps. [Criticizing Richard Dawkins]
Edward O. Wilson
Dawkins is an eloquent science journalist. What else is he? I mean journalism is a high and influential profession. But he’s not a scientist, he’s never done scientific research. My definition of a scientist is that you can complete the following sentence: ‘he or she has shown that…’ I don’t want to go on about this because he and I were friends. There is no debate between us because he’s not in the arena. I’m sorry he’s so upset. He could have distinguished himself by looking at the evidence, that’s what most science journalists do. When a journalist named Dawkins wrote a review in Prospect urging people not to read my book, I thought the last time I heard something like that I think it came from an 18th-century bishop.
Edward O. Wilson
[S]elfish members win within groups, but groups of altruists best groups of selfish members. (63)
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
The early stages of a creative thought, the ones that count, do not arise from jigsaw puzzles of specialization. The most successful scientist thinks like a poet—wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical—and works like a bookkeeper. It is the latter role that the world sees.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
So what could the hypothetical aliens learn from us that has any value to them? The correct answer is the humanities.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Thousands of times greater in space and time is the third of our worlds, the biosphere, the totality of all life, plastered like a membrane over all of earth. The biosphere has its own epic cycles. Humanity, one of the countless species forming the biosphere, can perturb it, but we cannot leave it or destroy it without perishing ourselves. The cycles of the other species can be destroyed, and the biosphere corrupted. But for each careless step we take, our species will ultimately pay an unwelcome price—always.
Edward O. Wilson (Anthill)
No one knows the number of bacterial species. About 5,000 species have been characterized and another 10,000 have been partially identified. Biodiversity authority Edward O. Wilson has estimated that biology has identified no more than 10 percent of all species and possibly as little as 1 percent. Wilson’s reasoning would put the total number of bacterial species at 100,000, probably a tenfold underestimate. Most environmental microbiologists believe that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all bacteria can currently be grown in laboratories so that they can be identified. Microbial geneticist J.
Anne E. Maczulak (Allies and Enemies: How the World Depends on Bacteria)
La mejor forma de ilustrar el origen de la condición humana es a través de la interacción social producto de la selección natural: las tendencias hereditarias a comunicarnos, reconocer, evaluar, cooperar, competir, establecer vínculos afectivos y, a partir de todas ellas, el inmenso y cálido placer de pertenecer a un grupo particular. La inteligencia social, mejorada gracias a la selección grupal, hizo del Homo sapiens la primera especie totalmente dominante de la historia de la Tierra.
Edward O. Wilson (El sentido de la existencia humana (EXTENSIÓN CIENTÍFICA nº 416232))
People must have a tribe. It gives them a name in addition to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world. It makes the environment less disorienting and dangerous. The social world of each modern human is not a single tribe, but rather a system of interlocking tribes, among which it is often difficult to find a single
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Si nuestra especie tiene un alma, ésta reside en las humanidades.
Edward O. Wilson (El sentido de la existencia humana (EXTENSIÓN CIENTÍFICA nº 416232))
Somos la única especie que ha comprendido la realidad del mundo viviente, que ha visto la belleza de la naturaleza y que le ha dado valor al individuo. Sólo nosotros hemos valorado la cualidad de la misericordia entre los de nuestra clase. Ahora, ¿podríamos preocuparnos también por el mundo viviente que nos dio a luz?
Edward O. Wilson (El sentido de la existencia humana (EXTENSIÓN CIENTÍFICA nº 416232))
Science owns the warrant to explore everything deemed factual and possible, but the humanities, borne aloft by both fact and fantasy, have the power of everything not only possible but also conceivable.
Edward O. Wilson (The Origins of Creativity)
The function of anthropocentricity—fascination about ourselves—is the sharpening of social intelligence, a skill in which human beings are the geniuses among all Earth’s species. It arose dramatically in concert with the evolution of the cerebral cortex during the origin of Homo sapiens from the African australopith prehumans. Gossip, celebrity worship, biographies, novels, war stories, and sports are the stuff of modern culture because a state of intense, even obsessive concentration on others has always enhanced survival of individuals and groups. We are devoted to stories because that is how the mind works—a never-ending wandering through past scenarios and through alternative scenarios of the future. If gods of the ancient Greek tradition
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
One of its most distinguished practitioners, Alexander Rosenberg, has recently argued that philosophy in fact addresses just two issues: the questions that the sciences—physical, biological, and social—cannot answer, and the reasons for that incapacity.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
It follows that most people would very much like science to prove the existence of God but not to take the measure of His capacity.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
embrace of the technocratic future leaves us bereft of the magic of the forest from whence we came. In his book, Nature Revealed, Edward O. Wilson writes, “Human nature today remains Paleolithic even in the midst of accelerating technological advance. Thus corporate CEOs impelled by stone-age emotions work international deals with cellular telephones at 30,000 feet.” Open wilderness formed us. We are wild in nature, made of the same stuff as the dolphins and whales, the island foxes, sea birds, and every other creature – bones and sinew, muscle and blood.
Christian Beamish (The Voyage of the Cormorant)
In such an endeavor it is not enough to say that history unfolds by processes too complex for reductionistic analysis. That is the white flag of the secular intellectual, the lazy modernist equivalent of The Will of God. On the other hand, it is too early to speak seriously of ultimate goals, such as perfect green-belted cities and robot expeditions to the nearest stars. It is enough to get Homo sapiens settled down and happy before we wreck the planet. A great deal of serious thinking is needed to navigate the decades immediately ahead. We are gaining in our ability to identify options in the political economy most likely to be ruinous. We have begun to probe the foundations of human nature, revealing what people intrinsically most need, and why. We are entering a new era of existentialism, not the old absurdist existentialism of Kierkegaard and Sartre, giving complete autonomy to the individual, but the concept that only unified learning, universally shared, makes accurate foresight and wise choice possible. In the course of all of it we are learning the fundamental principle that ethics is everything. Human social existence, unlike animal sociality, is based on the genetic propensity to form long-term contracts that evolve by culture into moral precepts and law. The rules of contract formation were not given to humanity from above, nor did they emerge randomly in the mechanics of the brain. They evolved over tens or hundreds of millennia because they conferred upon the genes prescribing them survival and the opportunity to be represented in future generations. We are not errant children who occasionally sin by disobeying instructions from outside our species. We are adults who have discovered which covenants are necessary for survival, and we have accepted the necessity of securing them by sacred oath. The search for consilience might seem at first to imprison creativity. The opposite is true. A united system of knowledge is the surest means of identifying the still unexplored domains of reality. It provides a clear map of what is known, and it frames the most productive questions for future inquiry. Historians of science often observe that asking the right question is more important than producing the right answer. The right answer to a trivial question is also trivial, but the right question, even when insoluble in exact form, is a guide to major discovery. And so it will ever be in the future excursions of science and imaginative flights of the arts.
Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
From the freedom to explore comes the joy of learning. From knowledge acquired by personal initiative arises the desire for more knowledge. And from mastery of the novel and beautiful world awaiting every child comes self-confidence. The growth of a naturalist is like the growth of a musician or athlete: excellence for the talented, lifelong enjoyment for the rest, benefit for humanity.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
A cheerful faith in human destiny dismisses the rest of life through successive denials.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
The original level of biodiversity is not likely to be regained in any period of time that has meaning for the human mind.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
Science has become the most democratic of all human endeavors. It is neither religion nor ideology. It makes no claims beyond what can be sensed in the real world. It generates knowledge in the most productive and unifying manner contrived in history, and it serves humanity without obeisance to any particular tribal deity.
Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
States, the final step up in the cultural evolution of societies, have a centralized authority.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
eusociality, the most advanced state of social behavior,
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
the origin of eusociality requires the preadaptation of a constructed and guarded nest site.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good?
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
the eloquent science journalist Richard Dawkins
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
or
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
With more and more decision making and work done by robots, what will be left for humans to do? Do we really want to compete biologically with robot technology by using brain implants and genetically improved intelligence and social behavior? This choice would mean a sharp departure away from the human nature we have inherited, and a fundamental change in the human condition. Now we are talking about a problem best solved within the humanities, and one more reason the humanities are all-important. While I’m at it, I hereby cast a vote for existential conservatism, the preservation of biological human nature as a sacred trust. We are doing very well in science and technology. Let’s agree to keep it up, and move both along even faster. But let’s also promote the humanities, that which makes us human, and not use science to mess around with the wellspring of this, the absolute and unique potential of the human future.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
It has been the universal practice to denounce such challenges to the core doctrines of particular faiths as blasphemous. Yet it would be far from irrational in today’s better-informed world to reverse the practice, and charge with blasphemy any religious or political leader who claims to speak with or on behalf of God. The idea is to place the personal dignity of the believer above the dignity of the belief that demands his unquestioning obedience. It might eventually be possible to hold seminars on the historical Jesus in evangelical churches, and even to publish images of Muhammad without risking death.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
Earth relates to the Universe as the second segment of the left antenna of an aphid sitting on a flower petal in a garden in Teaneck, New Jersey, for a few hours this afternoon.
Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
What drove the hominins on through to larger brains, higher intelligence, and thence language-based culture? That, of course, is the question of questions.
Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)