Edward O Wilson Quotes

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People would rather believe than know.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species
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Edward O. Wilson (The Ants)
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You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand.
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Edward O. Wilson
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One planet, one experiment.
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Edward O. Wilson
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The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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Science and technology are what we can do; morality is what we agree we should or should not do.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Future of Life)
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Sometimes a concept is baffling not because it is profound but because it is wrong.
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Edward O. Wilson
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Human nature is deeper and broader than the artificial contrivance of any existing culture.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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The most successful scientist thinks like a poetβ€”wide-ranging, sometimes fantasticalβ€”and works like a bookkeeper. It is the latter role that the world sees.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Naturalist)
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The true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, an outward expression of the ancient instinct of tribalism.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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The creation myth is a Darwinian device for survival.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.
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David Sloan Wilson
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Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.
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Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia)
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Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.
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Edward O. Wilson
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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.
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Edward O. Wilson (Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
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Destroying forest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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A society that condemns homosexuality harms itself. (254)
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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The human impact on biodiversity, to put the matter as briefly as possible, is an attack on ourselves.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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Socialism really works under some circumstances. Karl Marx just had the wrong species.
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Edward O. Wilson (Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration)
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[E]very major religion today is a winner in the Darwinian struggle waged among cultures, and none ever flourished by tolerating its rivals.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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animals of the land environment are dominated by species with the most complex social systems.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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Real scientists do not take vacations. They take field trips...
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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)
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life)
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to get hold of the human condition, we need next a much broader definition of history than is conventionally used.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life. β€”EDWARD O. WILSON, Biophilia, 1984
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Elisabeth Tova Bailey (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating)
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Very often ambition and entrepreneurial drive, in combination, beat brilliance.
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Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
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They travel long distances to stroll along the seashore, for reasons they can't put into words.
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Edward O. Wilson
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Splendor awaits in minute proportions.
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Edward O. Wilson (Biophilia)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
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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
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
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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?
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Edward O. Wilson (The Biophilia Hypothesis (Shearwater Book))
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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the human condition is a singularity,
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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[Scientific humanism is] the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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 robotsβ€”the outsized equivalents of ants.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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The origin of the human condition is best explained by the natural selection for social interactionβ€”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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything)
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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,
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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. β€”EDWARD O. WILSON, Biophilia,
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Elisabeth Tova Bailey (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating)
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I will be brief. Not nearly so brief as Salvador DalΓ­, who gave the world's shortest speech. He said, 'I will be so brief I am already finished' and sat down.
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Edward O. Wilson
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All of the species that have attained eusociality, as I have stressed, live in fortified nest sites.
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Edward O. Wilson
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What is man? Storyteller, mythmaker, and destroyer of the living world. Thinking
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Edward O. Wilson (Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life)
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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)
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge)
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The Founding Fathers of the United States understood the risk of tribal religious conflict very well. George Washington observed, β€œOf 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 β€œtorrents of blood” that result from religious competition. John Adams insisted that β€œthe government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” America has slipped a bit since then.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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...
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Edward O. Wilson (The social conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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...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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park)
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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).
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park)
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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)
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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, β€œDo not do unto others that which is repugnant to you. All else is commentary.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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
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Edward O. Wilson (The Future of Life: ALA Notable Books for Adults)
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The term β€œhumanities” 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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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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 codeβ€”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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth)
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The second most frequently asked question is, β€œWhat 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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Diversity of Life (Questions of Science))
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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 moodβ€”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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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 selectionβ€”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 protestβ€”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, β€œwith great force,” no less.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)
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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 β€œcreation 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.
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Edward O. Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)