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What is the Edward O. Wilson fuss about?

What is the Edward O. Wilson fuss about?


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I have just read this article on E. O. Wilson and I don't understand what the difference is between what he is arguing and "standard" natural selection.

I read "the extended phenotype" some years ago and from what I vaguely remember that argued that everything about selection comes down to genes: they are the units of what is inherited and drive everything else (and their reach can be quite surprising). At first glance that seems inconsistent with the article, since it mentions "group selection". But when you read the details it includes things like

Group selection begins when a colony of creatures develops a behaviour that gives it a competitive advantage over other groups. Initially, this could be down to a random genetic mutation.

which sounds like it's gene-based too (and examples seem to come from ants and the like which I thought were closely genetically-related across a colony too… ).

So what is the fuss about? And how will it be resolved?

Maybe the difference is easier to explain in terms of some difference between mathematical models? If so, that's fine (I hope - it might make more sense than jargon in a field I am unfamiliar with ;o).

[Is this too "general public" for this site? Apologies if so.]


After reading the article, the fuss is about this:

In currently accepted theory Eusociality or "kin selection" explains altruistic behavior (the sacrifice of yourself or resources you control for the betterment of something else besides you) by relating the act to the amount of genetic information passed on.

The relevant equation is Hamilton's rule:

$rB > C$

C is the cost to the actor (the person giving up resources). B is the number of others involved, and r is the relationship value to the actor in terms of genetic similarity.

So if you and two full-siblings (who each share on-average 50% of your genome) and a bus comes straight at the group, and you have the capability to push them out of the way while dying yourself, kin selection suggests you shouldn't because the genetic cost is equivalent. You eliminate yourself from the gene pool, and save the equivalent of yourself for future generations (2 x 1/2 = 1).

However, if you and three siblings were in the situation, then it's evolutionarily advantageous to be altruistic. You would die (a cost of 1), but you would save the equivalent of 1.5x your genome (3 x 1/2 = 1.5) to pass on to future generations.

Thus, communal and social behaviors like those of ants basically boil down to: Everybody is so closely related that spending resources to help your kin is essentially spending resources to ensure the majority of your genome survives (which is the big point of evolution, after all).

Wilson's argument, what I can glean from the small brief of the study and the article, is that you don't need the relatedness equation to explain altruistic behavior in social situations (basically the row is he's saying the currently accepted theory is wrong). All you need to start with is a genetic mutation somewhere along the line that causes the offspring to stick close to home. Once you have a few generations that don't leave the nest, you start to develop social behavior that results in altruism because you've gone from selfish individuals to a group setting.

The article and Wilson don't give any more insight other than altruism apparently develops spontaneously from the formation of groups. Simply being social is the explanation for why some individuals will give resources to others to ensure the success of the others.

Whether or not Wilson is correct isn't really discussed. He openly admits to needing a lot of research, some of which is being performed.


So what is the fuss about?

The fuss isn't so much about biology as it is about the circumstances of the argument. in particular, I gather that there are two complaints people have with E. O. Wilson's (and his collaborators') arguments:

  • The Wilsonians pretend that kin selection (inclusive fitness) is just a quaint, outdated theory which is trivially dismantled because its mathematics don't work, while in reality it represents the view of most people in the of field evolutionary biology, and has for years. Regardless of its actual scientific value, it certainly isn't outdated - it's the majority view among experts.

  • Proponents of kin selection feel that the Wilsonians misrepresent their views by citing and attacking outdated knowledge rather than the state of the art, thus creating a straw man argument. In the same vein, they argue that since Wilsonians obviously don't know the state of the art, they cannot contribute meaningfully to the debate.

In addition, proponents of kin selection argue that group selection theory simply doesn't hold up in theory1. I find those arguments highly compelling. At the same time, I'm not an expert and the Wilsonians argue that kin selection is equally flawed so I won't weigh in on the debate.


1 The article is not written by an expert in the field but it has been endorsed by experts as a lucid explanation of the matter.


35 Who Made a Difference: Edward O. Wilson

Three decades ago, Edward O. Wilson underwent a bittersweet transformation: from accomplished-but-not-famous Harvard biologist to famous-but-vilified prophet. The man who had spent much of his career holed up in an office writing monographs and got his thrills by tramping through jungles in search of ants became a painfully public figure. As he walked across campus, he heard bullhorn-amplified calls for his dismissal. Protesters handed out leaflets at his lectures. He even got a bucket of water dumped on his head at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The cause of it all was the 1975 publication of his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. This weighty (5.5 pounds) tome proclaimed that recent extensions of Darwinian theory would bring a revolution in our understanding of the behavior of animals, notably including people if we wanted to grasp the human predicament and unravel the emotions that push and pull us through life, we had to think about human genes and the process that assembled them, natural selection.

With the project to sequence the human genome essentially completed and newspapers awash in stories about genetics, it may seem hard to believe that juxtaposing "genes" and "human behavior" once aroused grave suspicions. Many incoming Harvard undergraduates have "never even heard there was a controversy," Wilson told me the other day. But in the 1970s, psychology departments were still under the sway of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism—the idea that people are almost infinitely malleable and that characteristics such as jealousy and status-seeking could be eliminated through enlightened child rearing. And political activists on the left were mindful of the unsavory characters who had emphasized biological heredity in the not-too-distant past, from American eugenicists to Adolf Hitler. Thus was Wilson linked to racism and Nazism, notwithstanding the absence of any corroborating evidence.

Vindication often comes posthumously in the world of ideas, but Wilson has lived to see his. Theories he hailed as cornerstones of sociobiology—Robert Trivers' "reciprocal altruism" and "parental investment," and William D. Hamilton's "kin selection"—have become powerful tools in the thriving young field of evolutionary psychology, the attempt to explain human emotions and thought patterns as genetically inherited adaptations. And for the record: Wilson's promised revolution in the study of nonhuman animals—a subject that consumed most of Sociobiology's 697 pages and roughly none of the publicity—is proceeding apace.

So Wilson could be excused if, at age 76, he declared victory and settled into self-satisfied retirement. But he isn't the retiring kind. (His wife, Irene Wilson, has long been tolerant of his no-vacations policy, which is one reason that his 1971 classic, The Insect Societies, is dedicated to "Irene, who understands.") Besides, no sooner had Wilson's left-wing antagonists faded than trouble appeared on the opposite horizon. He says that the religious right's increasingly vocal opposition to Darwinian theory is rooted largely in a "dislike of human sociobiology," especially the idea that human values flow from biology rather than from a nonphysical soul.

He doesn't expect a rapprochement between the two worldviews. When it comes to the "meaning of humanity, the meaning of life, which is what the cultural war is all about," says Wilson, "we do differ drastically, and I think insolubly." But that hasn't stopped him from writing about an alliance between science and religion, to be published next year and tentatively titled The Creation. The alliance is political. He's "calling on the religious community," he says, "to join the scientists and environmentalists to save the creation—the world's biodiversity."

The greater acceptance of Wilson's ideas has not buffered him from criticism. Indeed, challenges now come from some allies in the early struggle, some of whom insist that Wilson's role in "the sociobiology revolution" has been oversold. Not one of the key theories was his, they say. Wilson's defenders emphasize the importance of his intellectual synthesis—of Sociobiology's vast web of data and analysis, encompassing species from bacteria to humans.

In a sense, the question isn't whether Wilson's legacy will be robust, but whether it will be cast more in scientific or literary terms. He has written several bestsellers and landed two Pulitzer Prizes (in 1978 for On Human Nature and in 1990 for a coauthored book, The Ants). And not even his detractors deny his gift for prose that is alternately sweet and pungent, and often brilliantly provocative. "Men would rather believe than know," he wrote in Sociobiology.

But Wilson's sharp pen isn't the only reason the last of those books made him so renowned. There's another virtue he has in rare quantity. His 1998 book, Consilience, about the convergence of diverse scientific fields into a unified explanatory framework, was a blast of Enlightenment-era optimism about the scientific project. Someday, Wilson believes, the cause-and-effect principles of psychology will rest solidly and specifically on those of biology, which will rest with equal security on principles of biochemistry and molecular biology, and so on down the line to particle physics. ("Consilience," with its air of interdisciplinary harmony, sounds much nicer than its rough synonym, "reductionism"—another tribute to Wilson's rhetorical prowess.)

This optimism—or even "faith," as Wilson has unabashedly described his conviction about the unity of knowledge—is what propelled him on the epic exercise that produced Sociobiology. In three years, even while teaching, he wrote half a million words—about four normal-sized books. As a result, Wilson was the one who got to trumpet the coming revolution. His book came out a year before Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, which made much the same argument.

Wilson's fervent faith in scientific progress proved more than a motivator it proved right. Witness advances in fields from neuroscience to genomics to pharmacology—and their increasing interconnection. So even if posterity forgot about Wilson's many contributions to the study of insects and other nonhuman animals, it would have to concede that he is more than a popularizer. He is a visionary, and a visionary whose track record is looking pretty good.

Wilson is a lapsed Southern Baptist—Christianity yielded to Darwinism during his undergraduate years—but in the end his salvation has nonetheless come through faith. And, of course, through works.


What is the Edward O. Wilson fuss about? - Biology

“Homosexuality is normal in a biological sense, that it is a distinctive beneficial behavior that evolved as an important element in human social organization. Homosexuals may be the genetic carriers of some of mankind’s rare altruistic impulses.”

On Human Nature, 1978

  • Harvard University, Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus
  • Board of Directors: Conservation International (1997-present), American Museum of Natural History (1993-present), The Nature Conservancy (1993-present), American Academy for Liberal Education (1992-present), New York Botanical Garden (1992-1995), World Wildlife Fund (1984-1994), Marine Biological Laboratories (1976-1980)
  • Presidential Citation, American Psychological Association, 1999
  • Crafoord Prize, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1990
  • National Medal of Science, 1976
  • Distinguished Service Award, American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1976
  • Pulitzer Prize winning author of On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants (1991)
  • President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, 1973
  • PhD, Biology, Harvard University, 1955
  • MS, Biology, University of Alabama, 1950
  • None found
  1. Is Sexual Orientation Determined at Birth?

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    Publications

    Most all of Wilson&rsquos books were about ants or the biology of other living creatures. Some of his most famous books and the year the book was released are listed below.

    The Theory of Island Biogeography (1967)
    The Insect Societies (1971)
    Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975)
    On Human Nature (1979)
    The Ants (written with Bert Holldobler) (1990)
    Diversity of Life (1992)
    The Biophilia Hypothesis (1993)
    Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)
    Anthill: A Novel (2010)
    Letters to a Young Scientist (2014)
    Half Earth (2016)


    E.O. Wilson's Theory of Altruism Shakes Up Understanding of Evolution

    In 1975 Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson published Sociobiology , perhaps the most powerful refinement of evolutionary theory since On the Origin of Species . Darwin’s theory of natural selection postulated a brutal world in which individuals vied for dominance. Wilson promoted a new perspective: Social behaviors were often genetically programmed into species to help them survive, he said, with altruism— self-destructive behavior performed for the benefit of others—bred into their bones.

    In the context of Darwinian selection, such selflessness hardly made sense. If you sacrificed your life for another and extinguished your genes, wouldn’t the engine of evolution simply pass you by? Wilson resolved the paradox by drawing on the theory of kin selection . According to this way of thinking, “altruistic” individuals could emerge victorious because the genes that they share with kin would be passed on. Since the whole clan is included in the genetic victory of a few, the phenomenon of beneficial altruism came to be known as “inclusive fitness.” By the 1990s it had become a core concept of biology, sociology, even pop psychology.

    So the scientific world quaked last August when Wilson renounced the theory that he had made famous. He and two Harvard colleagues, Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, reported in Nature that the mathematical construct on which inclusive fitness was based crumbles under closer scrutiny. The new work indicates that self-sacrifice to protect a relation’s genes does not drive evolution. In human terms, family is not so important after all altruism emerges to protect social groups whether they are kin or not. When people compete against each other they are selfish, but when group selection becomes important, then the altruism characteristic of human societies kicks in, Wilson says. We may be the only species intelligent enough to strike a balance between individual and group-level selection, but we are far from perfect at it. The conflict between the different levels may produce the great dramas of our species: the alliances, the love affairs, and the wars.

    When you published Sociobiology in 1975, you faced enormous resistance, especially to the implication that human nature was genetically based. Now your colleagues are defending one of key tenets in your book—kin selection—while you try to dismantle it. What do you make of the shifting attitudes in your field? Interesting, isn’t it? But I’m not so sure I pivoted that much on kin selection in Sociobiology . If you look at the opening pages, I had a diagram showing how a future science of sociobiology would be built. Kin selection was a nice little part of it in 1975, but Sociobiology went way beyond that. It goes into demography: how groups are formed, how they compete, how communication evolves. Together with ecology and population genetics, it all formed a framework to help explain the origin of social behavior.

    Yet a generation of sociobiologists built their research around the idea of kin selection. How did that happen? They were enchanted by kin selection because it appeared to have a basis in mathematics. It seemed solid and it looked good. It was glamorous.

    Your new paper states that the mathematical underpinning of kin selection, called the Hamilton inequality, does not work. Why not? When analyzed to the bottom of its assumptions–when we ask under what conditions it could hold—it applies only to a very narrow set of parameters that don’t actually exist on Earth. Inclusive fitness turns out to be a phantom measure that cannot be obtained.

    If inclusive fitness is wrong, how do you explain “eusociality”—when individuals reduce their ability to have offspring of their own to raise the offspring of others? It turns out that there’s only one condition that has to be reached in the course of evolution for eusociality to emerge: A mother or father must raise their young within reach of adequate resources at a defensible nest. Getting from the solitary lifestyle to one that includes a defensible nest can be done in one evolutionary step—one gene change. This turns the concept of inclusive fitness on its head, because the gene change and the social behavior came first. Kinship is a consequence of that, not a cause.

    How do these ideas play out in the natural world? Let’s take the example of a bird with helpers at the nest. Supporters of inclusive fitness point to a correlation between the amount of help that the young birds give when they stay at home and how closely they are related to the parents and each other. But the young birds are looking after their extended family only until they have families of their own. By analogy, you might stay home and baby-sit for younger siblings after college, but it’s not out of a sense of kinship toward them. It’s because it makes financial sense until you find a job and move out. What these researchers unwittingly do not mention in their studies is that cases of inclusive fitness are quite unusual in an important way. Each of the bird species lives in an area where nest sites and territories are very scarce, very hard for young birds to get.


    Contents

    E. O. Wilson is an American biologist, specialising in the study of ants, social insects on which he is the world's leading expert. [2] [3] He is known also for his pioneering work on island biogeography, which relates species richness to island size, an important consideration in nature conservation. [4] [5] Wilson however favours group selection over the Neo-Darwinian kin selection as an explanation of co-operation in social animals. [6]

    Publication Edit

    The book was first published in 1975. It has been reprinted at least 14 times up to 2014. It has been translated into languages including Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. An abridged edition was published in 1980. [7]

    Illustrations Edit

    The book is illustrated with 31 halftone figures, 209 line drawings by Sarah Landry, and 43 tables. [8] The drawings of animal societies were considered "informing and attractive". [9]

    Contents Edit

    Part I. Social Evolution Edit

    The section summarizes the concepts of population genetics, a branch of evolutionary theory combining Mendelian genetics and natural selection in mathematical form to explain the pressures on animal societies. In particular, altruism, self-sacrificing behaviour, would die out unless something such as kin or group selection maintains it.

    1. The Morality of the Gene 2. Elementary Concepts of Sociobiology 3. The Prime Movers of Social Evolution 4. The Relevant Principles of Population Biology 5. Group Selection and Altruism

    Part II. Social Mechanisms Edit

    This section describes the types of social behaviour in animals, including the principles of animal communication, aggression, dominance systems, and insect castes.

    6. Group Size, Reproduction, and Time-Energy Budgets 7. The Development and Modification of Social Behavior 8. Communication: Basic Principles 9. Communication: Functions and Complex Systems 10. Communication: Origins and Evolution 11. Aggression 12. Social Spacing, Including Territory 13. Dominance Systems 14. Roles and Castes 15. Sex and Society 16. Parental Care 17. Social Symbioses

    Part III. The Social Species Edit

    The section describes the distribution of social behaviour in different taxa. The theme is that evolution is progressive, with four pinnacles of social evolution, namely the colonial invertebrates such as corals, the social insects, mammals other than humans, and finally humans. The last chapter argues that natural selection has made humans far more flexible in social organisation than any other species.

    18. The Four Pinnacles of Social Evolution 19. The Colonial Microorganisms and Invertebrates 20. The Social Insects 21. The Cold-Blooded Vertebrates 22. The Birds 23. Evolutionary Trends within the Mammals 24. The Ungulates and Elephants 25. The Carnivores 26. The Nonhuman Primates 27. Man: From Sociobiology to Sociology

    Contemporary Edit

    Sociobiology attracted a large number of critical reviews, not only by biologists, but by social scientists who objected especially to Wilson's application of Darwinian thinking to humans, asserting that Wilson was implying a form of biological determinism. [10] [11] It was, unusually, reviewed on the front page of the New York Times in May 1975, [12] [13] and again in November that year as the controversy grew. The paper described the effect as "a period of ferment", naming the "monumental" book as the "yeast" [which caused the brew to bubble]. The Times noted that the debate was an updated version of the nature or nurture argument that had simmered ever since Darwin's time: "The assertion that man's body is a biological machine, subject to biological rules, has never completely shaken the conviction that the human intellect and human behavior are unique, the subject of free will." [14] The paper reported that Wilson's colleague at Harvard, Richard Lewontin, had issued a 5,000 word attack on the book, and that the "meticulous" Wilson had said "I've tried to be extremely cautious in all this". The paper noted that Wilson had nowhere actually said that human behaviour was totally determined by genes, and reported him as saying that a rough figure was 10 percent genetic. [14]

    By biologists Edit

    The theoretical biologist Mary Jane West-Eberhard reviewed the book in detail for The Quarterly Review of Biology as a work "of special significance". She began it with a fable of a "small community of modest scholars called natural historians" who all practised their own sciences, until one day a man who "had been called Entomologist, Ecologist, and even Biochemist" arose among them and pronounced "there shall be a new science". She wrote that Wilson had "assumed god-like powers with this book", attempting to reformulate the foundations of the social sciences, making ethology and comparative psychology obsolete, and restructuring behavioural biology. She marvelled at the "sustained enthusiasm and authoritativeness" across a wide range of fields not Wilson's own, and the usefulness of many of the chapters. "In this book sociobiology is a patchwork neatly stitched from relevant pieces of other fields, without a bold new theoretical pattern of its own". She objected strongly to what she considered Wilson's "confused and misleading" discussion of altruism and group selection, arguing that kin selection provided an alternative (fully Darwinian) explanation and that Wilson was wrong to make it seem that group selection was necessary. [15]

    Charles D. Michener, an entomologist, reviewed the book for BioScience. He observed that its scope was far wider than the social insects of Wilson's previous book The Insect Societies, dealing with "social phenomena from the slime molds to man". He found the review of population biology (Part I) excellent. He noted Wilson's statement that altruism is the central problem of sociobiology, and remarks that Wilson's account in fact indicates the solution, kin selection. He describes the chapter on Man as being "from the viewpoint of a very knowledgeable extraterrestrial visitor recording man's social natural history". [16]

    The ornithologist Herbert Friedmann, reviewing the book for The Journal of Wildlife Management, called the book very important for its coverage of topics including of humans, and its "interpretive attitude". It would be a convenient summary of any of the groups it covers for the student, and the question of bio-ethics of interest to every "intelligent biologist". Friedmann noted that Wilson has "the courage of his convictions" to suggest in the chapter on Man that "human ethics and morality should be expressed biologically rather than philosophically", something that "need not deter the zoologist" since in Friedmann's view ethics does not exist in the human sense "in the nonhuman world". [9]

    David Barash, a psychologist, thought it "about time" students of behaviour were finally becoming Darwinian, starting to turn the "ramshackle" science into something with firmer intellectual foundations. He defended sociobiology, arguing that it does not claim that genes somehow control behaviour, but that they along with experience and culture contribute to it. He speculated that it might be possible to make valid predictions about human behaviour by studying "cross-cultural universals in human behaviour", combining anthropology and evolutionary biology's theorem of fitness maximization. [17]

    By sociologists Edit

    The sociologist Eileen Barker reviewed the book for The British Journal of Sociology. She called it an "impressive tome (it weighs 5 lb)" and "a comprehensive, beautifully laid out and illustrated reference book covering the amazing variety of animal social behaviour". She noted that the final section on "Man" contained "several surprises for most sociologists", and that the book should counter "many of the naive inferences that have recently been made about man's evolutionary heritage." [18]

    Marion Blute, in Contemporary Sociology, noted that it was rare for any book to be reviewed on the front page of the New York Times, or to receive "the extremes of reaction" seen for Sociobiology. She found that "the clarity, breadth and richness of accurately rendered detail in this monograph is really quite breath-taking." However, she objected to the claim that the book covered the biological basis of all social behaviour, as it did not cover what she called the "epigenetic disciplines", the effects of the environment on the embryonic and later development of the individual including learning (nurture, not just nature). She called the gap "unfortunate" and pointed out that "the development problem" and the functioning of the human brain were the frontiers of research. She observed, citing Dobzhansky, that "an evolutionary minded sociology which really appreciated the significance of sociocultural transmission along nongenetic lines would likely see society and culture in a very different way". Despite Wilson's neglect of "epigenetic" and social sciences, she urged sociologists to read "this exceptionally fine book", noting that despite its length it should have been twice as long. She looked forward to seeing sociology coming to terms with the neo-Darwinian synthesis, something that was already under way, which (she argued) would enrich social theory, a much better result than the alternative possibility, a renewed waste of time on the nature-versus-nurture debate. [12]

    Gerhard Lenski, in Social Forces, admitted that sociologists had too often ignored non-human societies, and thought the book should be required reading. Human societies were plainly founded on biology, but this did not imply either biological reductionism or determinism. Comparison with other species would be productive, as nonhuman societies often had traditions handed down from one generation to the next, such as "the flyways of migratory birds or dietary patterns among primates". Issues of conflict and cooperation were similarly illuminated. But in his view the book raised "uncomfortable issues". The first chapter could sound, he argued, like "intellectual imperialism" as Wilson called sociology "an essentially nontheoretical, descriptive science, not unlike taxonomy and ecology forty years ago, before they were 'reshaped entirely . [by] neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory'". Lenski however took Wilson more openly than that, noting Wilson's precursors, Julian Huxley, George Gaylord Simpson, Dobzhansky and others of the modern synthesis. They had tried repeatedly to talk to sociologists, and in Lenski's view that remained necessary. Further, he suggested, the nature-nurture dichotomy was evidently false, so there was no reason for sociologists and biologists to disagree. In his view, continued rejection of biology by sociologists only invited "a reductionist response on the part of biologists." Lenski found the final chapter on Man "disappointing", as Wilson had been unable to penetrate the "barriers" put up by social science against the modern synthesis, and Wilson's overestimation of the influence of genetics compared to culture and technology on human society. All the same, Lenski thought these "flaws" could be mended by dialogue between sociology and biology. [19]

    Allan Mazur reviewed the book for the American Journal of Sociology. He called it an excellent and comprehensive survey, and said he found very few errors, though for instance squirrel monkeys did have dominance hierarchies. But he found the chapter on Man disappointing: it was trite, value-loaded, or wrong used data uncritically, and seemed to be based on "Gerhard and Jean Lenski's introductory textbook". Further, he agreed with Wilson that scientific theories must be falsifiable, and stated "I claim that the bulk of Wilson's theorizing is not falsifiable and therefore is of little value." This was because Wilson's "theorizing" was sometimes tautologous, sometimes hopelessly vague, and sometimes based on unobservable past events. For instance, Mazur argued that Wilson's claim that altruism has evolved in most social species is untestable: Mazur denied that a mother's action to save her baby is altruistic, as (by kin selection) it increases her own fitness. However, Mazur was glad that Wilson has "legitimate[d] the biological approach to sociology", even if other books like Robert Hinde's 1974 Biological Bases of Human Social Behaviour were of more use to sociologists. [20]

    Devra G. Kleiman reviewed the work for Signs. She called it "a remarkable attempt to explain the evolution of social behavior and social systems in animals by a synthesis of several disciplines within biology", but noted that it had been severely criticised by some biologists and social scientists. She observed that "it gives less attention to the environmental control of behavior" than to genetics. But "Wilson's ultimate sin" was to include the final chapter, "unfortunately titled 'Man'", attracting "the wrath of those who would deny the influence of biology on human behavior because of its political and social connotations." She called this a pity, since while his attempt to include humans in his analysis was "admittedly weak and premature", the general principles were correct – for instance, she argued, it was useful to know the genetic relatedness of individuals when assessing social interactions. She considered Wilson "nonrigorous and biased in his application of theory in certain areas". His biases included over-representation of insects, genetics, and the dominance of male mammals over females: Wilson had further exaggerated a bias from an ethology literature written mainly by males. Conversely, he had undervalued co-operative behaviour among mammals, except where it concerned males, ignoring the fact that, Kleiman argued, genetically related females were the core of most mammal societies. Wilson's book was in her view valuable as a framework for future research, but premature as a "Synthesis". [21]

    By other disciplines Edit

    The philosopher of politics Roger D. Masters reviewed the book for the American Political Science Review, stating that it was impossible both to review the book and not to do so, given the "attention" it had received. In his view, the book "has the indisputable merit of showing that the existence of complex societies is a biological phenomenon. By emphasizing the relationships between animal behavior and population genetics, Wilson compels us to recognize the evolutionary significance of events which social scientists often treat without reference to Darwinian biology." But there was "a large gap" between that and the work of most political scientists, and it was too early to attempt to apply sociobiology directly to human social issues in practice. He concluded that the book was fascinating, provocative, and the start of a return to the tradition "as old as Aristotle" where man is seen as "a 'political animal'", since social behaviour had natural origins. [22]

    Philip L. Wagner, a geographer reviewing the book in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, argued that the book proposes a "fundamental thesis" for explaining the size, structure, and spatial arrangements of animal populations, all aspects of geography, and noted that Wilson and MacArthur's 1967 Theory of Island Biogeography had already set out some of these ideas. In his view, the most impressive aspect of the book was its mission to extend "rational deterministic explanation" far more widely. However, he thought the last chapter, extending the ideas to humans, far too brief and premature, as it failed to cover technology or tradition in general, while Wilson's speculations about "tradition drift" elsewhere in the book reinvented the study of diffusion of innovations and appeared unaware of "the now classical Hägerstrand diffusion models." [23]

    The biology teacher Lotte R. Geller, reviewing the book in The American Biology Teacher, thought the book meticulously researched no one would take exception to its thesis, but for the inclusion of man. "[Wilson] is well aware of the difficulties this presents." Geller called the last chapter, relating biology to sociology, a "step from scientific study to speculation". In her view, the most controversial and disturbing thing was the call for scientist and humanists to "temporarily" remove ethics "from the hands of the philosophers and biologize" it. She called it "dangerous to say that biologists should have a monopoly on truth and ethics." [24]

    The anthropologist Frances L. Stewart, writing in the Bulletin of the Canadian Archaeological Association, noted that "An anthropologist reading this book is confronted by statements which contradict anthropological theory. The main argument that all social behavior has a biological basis would be questioned." [25]

    Human biological determinism controversy Edit

    The application of sociobiology to humans (discussed only in the first and last chapters of the book) was immediately controversial. Some researchers, led by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, contended that sociobiology embodied biological determinism. [26] [27] They argued that it would be used, as similar ideas had been in the past, to justify the status quo, entrench ruling elites, and legitimize authoritarian political programmes. They referred to social Darwinism and eugenics of the early 20th century, and other more recent developments, such as the IQ controversy of the early 1970s, as cautionary tales in the use of evolutionary principles as applied to human society. They believed that Wilson was committing the naturalistic fallacy, attempting to define moral principles using natural concepts. Academics opposed to Wilson's sociobiology, including Gould, Lewontin, Jon Beckwith, Ruth Hubbard, and Anthony Leeds created the Sociobiology Study Group of Science for the People to counter his ideas. [10] [28]

    Other critics believed that Wilson's theories, as well as the works of subsequent admirers, were not supported scientifically. Objections were raised to many of the ethnocentric assumptions of early sociobiology (like ignoring female gatherers in favour of male hunters in hunter-gatherer societies [29] ) and to the sampling and mathematical methods used in informing conclusions. Many of Wilson's less well supported conclusions were attacked (for example, Wilson's mathematical treatment of inheritance as involving a single gene per trait, even though he admitted that traits could be polygenic [30] ). Sociobiologists were accused of being "super" adaptationists, or panadaptationist, believing that every aspect of morphology and behaviour must necessarily be an evolutionarily beneficial adaptation. Philosophical debates about the nature of scientific truth and the applicability of any human reason to a subject so complex as human behaviour, considering past failures, raged. Describing the controversy, Eric Holtzmans noted that "Given the baleful history of misuse of biology in justifying or designing social policies and practices, authors who attempt to consider human sociobiology have special responsibilities that are not adequately discharged by the usual academic caveats." [31]

    Wilson and his admirers countered these criticisms by saying that Wilson had no political agenda, and if he had one it was certainly not authoritarian, citing Wilson's environmentalism in particular. [32] They argued that they as scientists had a duty to uncover the truth whether that was politically correct or not. [33] Wilson called the claim that sociobiology is biological determinism "academic vigilantism" [34] and the Sociobiology Study Group response "a largely ideological argument". [35]

    Noam Chomsky, a linguist and political scientist, surprised many by coming to the defense of sociobiology on the grounds that political radicals needed to postulate a relatively fixed idea of human nature in order to be able to struggle for a better society, claiming that leaders should know what human needs were in order to build a better society. [36]

    Retrospective Edit

    With the publication of the 25th anniversary edition in 2000, the historians of biology Michael Yudell and Rob Desalle reviewed the nature-nurture controversy around the book. "Once again", they wrote, "biological reductionism and genetic determinism became the focus of rancorous debates, discussions and diatribes within both academia and popular culture." They pointed out that the quest for a "sociobiologization" of biology was not new, mentioning Darwin's The Descent of Man, R.A. Fisher, and Julian Huxley, all touching on the biological basis of human society, followed by Konrad Lorenz, Desmond Morris and Robert Ardrey in the 1960s, and Richard Dawkins and David Barash in the 1970s. Wilson's choice of title echoed the modern synthesis (named by Huxley in 1942) and, the reviewers argued, meant to build upon and extend it. 25 years on, they noted, most of the discord had gone, and the discipline had been renamed as evolutionary psychology they were surprised to find that Wilson was happy with that, and they called the new discipline pop psychology for people "who like telling just-so stories". [37]

    Concerning the anniversary edition, Yudell and Desalle thought it strange that nothing worth adding had happened in 25 years: the book remained a primary text, and Wilson's failure to develop it weakened the edition's impact. The early chapters still seemed a "lucid and engaging" introduction to population biology, but much of the rest seemed after 25 years to lack "methodological breadth", given that it did not cover the new fields that had emerged while barely mentioning the growing importance of phylogenetic systematics seemed "curious". They pointed out that comparing human and "animal" social evolution "is tantamount to making homology" claims, but Wilson had said nothing about the need for a methodology to test behavioural homology. The reviewers were also troubled by Wilson's attitude to the debate, remaining "contemptuous of his anti-sociobiological opposition" and "opprobrium towards Marxism" (especially Gould and Lewontin). Yudell and Desalle noted the irony that Wilson despised Marxism but advocated an "aggressive paradigm . seeking to blaze an historical path towards the future" (as Marxism did). They argued that by demonising his opponents in this way, Wilson created support for Sociobiology "not necessarily sustainable by his data and methodologies." He was still doing that 25 years on, stated the reviewers. [37]

    An extensive account of the controversy around the book was published at the same time as the new edition, largely supporting Wilson's views. [38] Looking back at Sociobiology 35 years later, the philosopher of biology Michael Ruse called the book "a pretty remarkable achievement" of huge scope, "firmly in the Darwinian paradigm of evolution through natural selection". He found one aspect of the book "very peculiar" in its "metaphysical underpinning", namely that Wilson was committed to the idea of progress in biology, "the idea that organic life has proceeded from the very simple to the very complex, from the value-free to the value-laden, from (as they used to say in the 19th century) the monad to the man." Ruse observed that while producing humans might look like progress, evolution had "also produced smallpox and syphilis and potato blight," raising "serious doubts about whether evolution is progressive." Ruse noted that Gould's 1989 book Wonderful Life was entirely an attack on this idea of progress. [11]


    Edward O. Wilson

    E. O. Wilson Edward Osborne "E. O." Wilson (1929- ) is a naturalist, environmentalist, ecologist, entomologist, and humanist who is acclaimed as the "father of biodiversity." Wilson is a world-renowned expert on ants, but his work in recent years has shifted toward conservation and reconciling the often-competing arenas of religion and science in that effort. His life and career are chronicled in his books, principally, The Theory of Island Biogeography (1967) with Robert H. MacArthur, Naturalist (1994), and The Creation (2006), in which his interests turned to ecology, the environment, and the place of humanity in the web of life on Earth. Most recently, he has promoted the Half-Earth Project, aimed at reserving half of the planet's surface to conservation efforts. E. O. Wilson, 1944 Wilson moved to Brewton, Escambia County, in 1944, and to Decatur, Morgan County, in 1945, where he worked a variety of jobs while to attending Decatur High School. In all, Wilson attended 14 different schools in 11 years. His avid interest in nature, however, never wavered at age 16, he decided to study insects, specifically ants, a field known as myrmecology. Following high school graduation, Wilson attempted to enlist in the Army but was turned down because of his eyesight and a hearing problem that developed during adolescence. He enrolled in the University of Alabama and earned a BS in biology in 1949 and an M.S. in biology in 1950. In 1955, he earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University and that same year married his wife, Renee, with whom he has one daughter. The following year, he joined the Harvard faculty. Wilson's early research took him to Australia and the South Pacific, where his work on the classification and ecology of ants quickly made him the foremost authority on them and earned him the moniker "Dr. Ant." In the late 1950s and the 1960s, he studied the ways in which ants communicate through secreted chemicals known as pheromones. Expanding on this research, and with William H. Bossert, also of Harvard University, and other collaborators, Wilson initiated the field of chemical ecology, which focused on the study of biological chemicals that organisms use for communication and defense. E. O. Wilson, 1971 In 1967, Wilson and Robert H. MacArthur published The Theory of Island Biogeography, which presents the theory that the number of species found on an undisturbed island, one not necessarily surrounded by water, determines immigration, emigration, and extinction. Since that book, Wilson's primary interests have centered on ecological and environmental subjects. In 1975, with the publication of Sociobiology, Wilson branched out from his work on insects to research into the ways in which animals' instincts and genetic make-up interact with their environments to shape the way they live. He sparked controversy in the scholarly and political community because he extended his theories to human society in the final chapter of the book. His ideas that evolution and human sexuality are in part biologically determined and his assertion that human nature owes some of its outcomes to genetics resulted in protests from humanists and feminists. Accused of sexism, racism, and misogyny, Wilson was heckled and scorned, even having a pitcher of water poured over his head at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Two colleagues at Harvard wrote a letter of protest and attempted to get Wilson fired, but his ideas, which were shared by other biologists and life scientists at the time, gradually became more widely proven and accepted. In 1978, Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for On Human Nature, which expanded on the ideas he presented in Sociobiology. His ideas remained controversial, but in a telling sign of the coming shift in views, Wilson won the Distinguished Humanist of the Year award that same year. E. O. Wilson on Dauphin Island As a biological researcher, Wilson is well aware that many species of organisms have yet to be discovered or understood. He has noted that the body of scientific information has generally tended to double at least every 15 years. In an effort to manage this expanding body of knowledge, Wilson suggested, in a 2003 paper called "The Encyclopedia of Life," that the scientific research involving all the species information be gathered in a single electronic online database that would be available free to all. With several million dollars from the MacArthur Foundation and the Sloan Foundation as well as a prize from TED (a nonprofit organization devoted to bringing together ideas from technology, entertainment, and design) that Wilson won, the Encyclopedia of Life became a reality. Wilson now serves at the honorary chair of its Advisory Board. Edward O. Wilson at 2012 AHF Awards Luncheon E. O. Wilson has been hailed by numerous organizations and professional societies as one of the world's 100 leading intellectuals, one of the 100 leading environmentalists, and one of the 25 most influential Americans by Time magazine in 1995. In 2009, He has received more than 100 international medals and awards, including the National Medal of Science, the International Prize for Biology from Japan, the Catalonia Prize of Spain, the Presidential Medal of Italy, the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, given in a field of science not covered by the Nobel Prize. For his work in conservation, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Audubon Medal of the National Audubon Society. In 2014, he received the Kew International Medal, which is given to individuals who have made notable contributions to math and science by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, United Kingdom.

    He is currently University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard, and Honorary Curator in Entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Wilson and his wife live in Lexington, Massachusetts.


    E.O. Wilson Is on Top of the World

    By PT Staff published September 1, 1998 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

    The father of SOCIOBIOLOGY and grandfather of EVOLUTIONARYpsychology sounds off on LIFE, death, faith, FREE WILL, the "self"—and his beloved ANTS.

    Einstein and relativity. Edison and the light bulb. Newton and that ripe red apple—falling, it seems, from the tree of knowledge itself. If anyone can change the way we live, scientists can. One such scientist is Edward O: Wilson, the man whose name is wedded forever to the word sociobiology, the study of nature's role in determining human behavior. Wilson, a professor of biology at Harvard University, launched a revolution with his monumental 1975 book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. There were 26 chapters covering the biology and behavior of animals and insects—Wilson is the world's leading authority on the 9,500 species of ants—but it was the 27th, arguing that genes plays a central role in human behavior, that ignited a public fire and remapped our world.

    Like Galileo, who was put under house arrest for saying the earth moves around the sun, Wilson was ostracized before being canonized. Colleagues at Harvard excoriated him as a racist and 15 top scientists damned him in a letter printed in the New York Review of Books for subscribing to the same genetic determinism that led to "the establishment of gas chambers in Nazi. Germany." The two decades since have seen a remarkable turnaround. Wilson has won two Pulitzers, for On Human Nature and The Ants. He's been named to one of the most prestigious professorships at Harvard and elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Today, he is lauded as the world's most eloquent biologist and the grandfather of evolutionary psychology, a field that explores the links between genetic and cultural evolution and that helps explain what makes us what we are.

    In his newest book, Consilience (Knopf), Wilson looks up from the ants once again and argues for the unity of all knowledge. He suggests that a small number of natural laws underlie far-flung disciplines--from the arts and religion to biology, anthropology, and psychology—and that it's time for cross-fertilization. PT's Jill Neimark caught up with the 69-year-old scientist recently at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City for a lively discussion of life, death, the universe, ants, faith, free will, and whether there is even such a thing as the "self."

    PT: Back in 1978, you gave a talk at the Association for the Advancement of Science and were picketed with placards bearing swastikas. An angry young woman even poured a pitcher of water over your head. Twenty years later, you write a cover story for the Atlantic called "The Biology of Morality," and nobody blinks. What's changed in two decades?

    EO: The entire political climate of the world has changed. Twenty years ago, leftist activists in particular felt science was being used to justify the policies of colonialist governments. There was a moral outrage that has now passed almost completely. The fall of the Berlin wall had something to do with that. There's also the mounting evidence from genetics and neurobiology

    PT: Your theory has actually become mainstream.

    EO: It's very respectable now. I was reading a complaint not long ago by an anthropologist who said, "If you want to get a grant, you'd better put some biology in your anthropology." Twenty years ago if you wanted not to get a grant, you put it in.

    PT: You've said that ants have given you everything, and it's to them you always return. What have they taught you?

    EO: One thing is that natural selection is brutal. It is "brutal to see strong, beautiful ant queens and males go forth and to realize that they're all going to be devastated, that one out of 10,000 queens will make it into the ground to start a new colony. Every little advantage that an organism has can make an enormous difference.

    The other thing is that natural selection grinds exceedingly small. It doesn't allow for foul-ups in an ant colony any more than in a hunter-gatherer society. Real biologists who actually do the research will tell you that they almost never find a phenomenon, no matter how odd or irrelevant it looks when they first see it, that doesn't prove to serve a function. The outcome itself may be due to small accidents of evolution.

    Ants are very good for telling us about chemical communication. For instance, one ant may use a heptanone and another a methylheptanone as an alarm substance. What's fascinating is that different species will not intermingle, even though they are so closely related that all that separates them is one isomer of one organic substance. Their gene pools are isolated.

    PT: Are there ever accidental spinoffs of evolution? Could there be some traits that really don't seem to serve an obvious function, but persist anyway?

    EO: There are no accidental spinoffs, and there is very little probability that inferior traits will survive.

    If you told an armchair theorist about the tiny differences in chemical communication in ants, his inclination would be to say, "Well, it's an accident, a spin-off. Evolution is full of accidents." Not when you get down to the nitty-gritty and find that these tiny differences have a major function in separating species.

    PT: But what if one particular variation had such a huge benefit that it generated a huge number of spin-offs and those survived? Like the human brain. The benefit you get from a brain like ours is so large that maybe it can pay for all the spin-offs because of the gain. For instance, is the capacity to make music a spin-off?

    EO: Some scientists suggest that music is an accidental spin-off of rhythmicity and speech. But I feel music has a very important role in ritual activity, and that being able to join in musical activity, along with dancing, could have been necessary at a very early stage of human culture. It probably served then, as it does today, to bind the society together, especially during rites of passage and reaffirmation of tribal communion.

    PT: Could both accounts be true? What if it was initially an accidental spin-off, and then the system found a use for it?

    EO: That's entirely possible. We don't know where rhythm comes from, but we do know it has great meaning for us.

    PT: What was the big evolutionary trigger that produced the human brain?

    EO: That's the mother of all questions. The paleoanthropologists put a lot of emphasis on climate change. I don't believe that for a minute, because geological history is full of vast climatic changes and large numbers of animal species that lived through them unchanged. I think evolution came up with a fairly big animal, the primate, with a fairly big brain, and then this animal somehow got on its hind legs. Once it was erect, it had the freedom of hands. It could carry things. It could try out tools. This was the takeoff point. Nothing like that had ever happened before. Climatic change could have speeded the process, but it was not critical.

    PT: What about dinosaurs? They had hands.

    EO: We don't know why they didn't go the distance. There was one line of dinosaurs that were big-bodied and big-brained, though not as neurally well-endowed as primates, and they had free hands, but they didn't take off the way humans did.

    PT: Can you talk about taking big risks in science? You've called it steering through the blue waters and abandoning sight of land.

    EO: You either hug the coast or you head for blue water.

    PT: Did you start out hugging the coast?

    EO: It started in my twenties. I wrote a very controversial paper showing that it's almost impossible to define a geographic race. If you define a race on skin color, you can do that neatly. Red people here and white people there. But if you throw in noses, you've got white people with short noses and long noses, and then you throw in another trait and pretty soon you've got chaos.

    I published that when I was twentyfour. At that point, I tasted genuine controversy and I liked it. Then when I wrote Sociobiology, I knew what it was like to be in blue water during a typhoon!

    PT: Did you develop your biggest ideas gradually, or did they hit all at once?

    EO: Each time, the whole thing came within minutes. You've got..the beginnings of a pattern in your mind and at first it doesn't seem much out of the ordinary. Then you start expanding the implications, and during the few minutes of expanding, you sense that the: idea may be important. Those moments don't happen very often in a career, but they're climactic and exhilarating.

    PT: In Consilience, you say that our essential spiritual dilemma is that we evolved to accept one truth--God-and discovered another--evolution.

    EO: And the struggle for men's souls in the 21st century will be to choose between the two. The transcendentalist view was so powerfully advantageous in early paleolithic and agricultural societies. If there's anything disagreeable about secular humanism, it's that it's bloodless. Secular humanists can sit around and talk about their love of humanity, but it doesn't stack up against a two-millennium-old funeral high mass. I used a phrase-"evolutionary epic"--back in 1978 to try and convey the grandeur of biology, and it's beginning to catch on. A colleague of mine speaks of "the sacred depths of nature" to evoke that same reverence.

    PT: Scientists are trying to capture the awe that religion has, while theologians have had to move a long way from the communities that they're supposed to represent to make theology consistent with science.

    EO: Theology today is really two separate worlds. There's the world of the fundamentalists who have a set of absolute beliefs that do not need to be justified. They're armored against any logical argument or evidence. If logic seems compelling, it's the voice of the devil.

    Then there is the theology of the searchers, the thinkers about the meaning of human existence. They're trying to accommodate pretty wellrounded views of how the real world works without surrendering the mystery of the Almighty and the need for communal liturgy.

    PT: You've said that the brain is really a kind of ever-shifting network, a republic of responses to information. Yet we walk around with a sense of a core self. Isn't that peculiar?

    EO: I'm aware of you, you're aware of me. There's a sense of self. But there is no transcendental center of the brain somewhere that is in control of the machinery, pulling the levers and possessed of the capacity to float free of our mortal coil when that moment comes.

    PT: How does the brain create that sense of self?

    EO: You'll hear the voice of the neurobiologist emerging from me on this. It's natural we feel there's a self because of the body that we're in. Our brain is mapping the world. Often that map is distorted, but it's a map with constant immediate sensory input. The brain is organized heavily around sensations coming from the body, and that is so intense, so much at the center of conscious experience--including all the input coming from our body--that it's seen as the principal protagonist. That's what the self is.

    PT: One of the most precious beliefs of the "self' is that it has free will.

    EO: A lot of philosophers and thinkers have believed that the human mind was not based in material reality. They had a vague notion of angelic transcendent activity that they never could define because, of course, they coudn't translate it into any materialist terms and make sense.

    That's really the basis of the notion of free will, that there is a whole different faculty, probably true for human beings only, a human quality that helps lift us up above the animals, somewhere between here and the angels.

    PT: But when you talk about free will, you describe it only in the sense that the brain is so complex, so constantly bombarded with input, that it's able to cascade in any direction at any time. That's freedom, but not self-determined free will.

    EO: There are really two meanings of free will. One we all agree on is that you have your own mind, you make your own decisions, your soul is your own. No matter what is done to you, that's the one thing that cannot be surrendered. Of course, now we know that with the right pharmaceutical or biochemical manipulation, you can get people to shift moods, attitudes, and maybe even beliefs. So that view isn't holding up quite so well anymore--but let's say that's what we mean by free will.

    The other kind of free will stops people cold in their attempt at selfunderstanding. We don't know our own minds. We don't know all the processes inside, and we can't predict what kind of responses and decisions we'll eventually make. Even if we believed we could, there is so much chaos in the mind brought about by tiny perturbations or external events. Not even with a gigantic computer could we predict what any of us sitting at this table will do precisely one hour from now.

    PT: So we're free like the weather.

    EO: Or like the wind. We will get up when we are ready to get up. That will be our free will. And we will go out that door and events will happen and we will think about them and make decisions that we can't predict right now. This thing we're walking around in is not in complete control. It could do marvelous things. It could encounter disasters.

    PT: A world where the brain gives rise to the mind is a world where when we die physically, we're dead forever. That's one of the difficult truths of evolutionary biology.

    EO: We've all descended from a common ancestor, and our genes are moving on into future generations in very closely the same manner as they would if you as an individual were the particular conduit. Looked at that way, you get a sense of near immortality from the human species.

    Homo sapiens is 500,000 years old, give or take a hundred thousand years. That's a long time. That's virtual immortality as far as human beings are concerned. If we last another halfmillion years, then that's almost time out of mind, time beyond our personal imagining. However, that notion of immortality is still part of a secularist world view. That's what humanism really is, you know, concentration on the continuity of the human spirit.

    PT: But what do you do as an individual, faced with death? Remember Dylan Thomas' lines, "Do not go gentle into that good night . Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

    EO: I think what he was telling us was, "Stay healthy, don't smoke, and be as vigorous and involved as you can." No. I think that's what he ought to have told us.

    I don't think it would be wise to say that, as the time approaches, you should start raging against death. I don't think there's any greater fear of death among atheists or secularists than there is among the devoutly religious.

    As Francis Bacon has said, "Men fear not death, but the moment of the strike thereof." If I tell you, "It won't be too long before you're dead," that's okay You can imagine a time when there's no consciousness, when there's no you. But if I say, "On May 2nd, 2040, you are going to be executed for having been wrongly accused of murder" or "On that date you are going to die of a huge heart attack"--that's more distressing, isn't it?

    PT: Right. The date itself doesn't matter, but knowing the exact moment does . You call yourself a deist. What do you mean by that?

    EO: A deist is a person who's willing to buy the idea that some creative force determined the parameters of the universe when it began.

    PT: And a theist is someone who believes that God not only set the universe in motion, but is still actively involved.

    EO: I've been doing a kind of Pascalian waffling as a deist. I think being an atheist is to claim knowledge you cannot have. And to say you're agnostic is to arrogantly dismiss the whole thing by saying that it's unknowable. But a provisional deist is someone like myself who leaves it open. You see, evolutionary biology leaves very little room for a theistic God.

    I'd like it to be otherwise. Nothing would delight me more than to have real proof of a transcendental plane.

    EO: If the neurobiologists came through with enough evidence and said, "There is another plane, and it is quite conceivable that the individual essence somehow implanted there is immortal"--wouldn't you be happy? I'd be very, very happy I'd congratulate my colleagues when they went to Stockholm to get the Nobel Prize for making one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time, and I'd be personally relieved.

    EO: It would mean that human existence really is exalted and that immortality is a prospect, providing this God is not a God of irony and cruelty who is going to send everybody the other way.

    That reminds me of an argument I like to give. Maybe God is sorting the saved from the damned--the opposite of what most traditionalists believe-and the saved will be those ,who have the intellectual courage to press on with skepticism and materialism. They would be His most independent and courageous creations, would they not? Particularly the ones who faced the charges of heresy

    PT: They get to heaven because they still wanted to, even though they believed there was no heaven.EO: Right.

    PT: I would be deeply disappointed if there were a God. The universe looks so stunningly impressive because it can do this trick all by itself. A deity undercuts it.

    EO: I understand what you're saying. That the human soul was selfcreated in such an astonishing way that we're only just beginning to understand.

    PT: A universe that needs a push to get it right every now and then--that's just a second class universe.

    EO: So the universe that made itself after it got started, however it got started, is a first class universe. This is what I say, actually, in Consilience. We're free, thank God.

    For many the urge to believe in transcendental existence and immortality is overpowering. Transcendentalism, especially when reinforced by religious faith, is psychically full and rich it feels somehow right. In comparison empiricism seems sterile and inadequate. That is why, even as empiricism is winning the mind, transcendentalism continues to win the heart. Science has always defeated religious dogma point by point when the two have conflicted. But to no avail. In the United States there are fifteen million Southern Baptists, the largest denomination favoring literal interpretation of the Christian Bible, but only five thousand members of the American Humanist Association, the leading organization devoted to secular and deistic humanism .

    Science has taken us far from the personal God who once presided over Western civilization. It has done little to satisfy our instinctual hunger. The essence of humanity's spiritual dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another. Is there a way to erase the dilemma, to resolve the contradictions between transcendentalist and empiricist world views?

    No, unfortunately, there is not . For centuries the writ of empiricism has been spreading into the ancient domain of transcendentalist belief, slowly at the start but quickening in the scientific age. The spirits our ancestors knew intimately first fled the rocks and trees, then the distant mountains. Now they are in the stars, where their final extinction is possible. But we cannot live without them. People need a sacred narrative. They must have a sense of larger purpose, in one form or another, however intellectualized. They will find a way to keep ancestral spirits alive.

    The true evolutionary epic, retold as poetry, is as intrinsically ennobling as any religious epic. Material reality discovered by science already possesses more content and grandeur than all the religious cosmologies combined. The continuity of the human line has been traced through a period of deep history a thousand times older than that conceived by the Western religions. Its study has brought new revelations of great moral importance. Such are the conceptions, based on fact, from which new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved.


    What is the Edward O. Wilson fuss about? - Biology

    Interview: Edward O. Wilson

    By learning about tiny animals, Edward O. Wilson has become one of the giants of twentieth-century science. Many biologists are specialists who choose experimental organisms to fit questions in a particular research field. Edward Wilson's style is different: He has followed a group of organisms, the ants, into many fields of biology by studying their diversity, behavior, evolution, and ecology. Dr. Wilson has also helped synthesize entirely new disciplines, including sociobiology, which seeks evolutionary explanations for the social behavior of animals. Perhaps Dr. Wilson's greatest contribution is his influence in restoring the study of whole organisms to the center of biology. In the past few years, he has built on that influence to become a leading activist for the conservation of biological diversity.

    Dr. Wilson has received most of the major national and international scientific prizes, including the National Medal of Science, the International Prize for Biology, the Eminent Ecologist Award, and the Crafoord Prize, generally considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for ecologists and evolutionary biologists. Wilson's students at Harvard have honored him with both of the outstanding teacher awards available, and he was recently named University Professor, one of only 15 on the Harvard faculty. Professor Wilson has also shared his view of life with general audiences in several books, two of which won the Pulitzer Prize. In one of his most recent books, the autobiographical Naturalist (Island Press, 1994), Dr. Wilson explains his lifelong interest in ants: "Most children have a bug period, and I never grew out of mine." That was evident when I met Professor Wilson in his Harvard office, which is cohabited by thousands of leaf-cutter ants marching between plastic boxes over a bowed tree branch that functions as an arched bridge.

    In Naturalist you write that images from your youth created a "gravitational force" that pulled your research career and still defines you as a scientist. What were some of those formative experiences?

    I had the good fortune of growing up in the beautiful environment of the Gulf Coast states, which remained relatively unexplored in natural history when I was a boy. Many species of frogs, salamanders, and fishes (not to mention insects) were still unknown to science. At a very early age I felt the excitement of an explorer-naturalist. I was able to have that experience before I reached high school age, and I had my career set. It has consisted substantially of trying to repeat these early experiences through one cycle after another of research.

    Once you embraced nature and became an explorer-naturalist, how did your interest become focused on insects?

    When I was seven years old, I lost the sight in my right eye in an accident. I therefore grew up with vision in only one eye, but fortunately it was relatively acute, particularly for objects at a short distance. Since I was predestined to be a naturalist and biologist, my disability directed me toward insects, for which you do not need great distance vision, and I made the most of it.

    Why did you specialize in ants?

    I include ants among what I like to call the little things that run the Earth. They, and many other groups of abundant insects, are extremely important in maintaining the balance of nature in the land environment as predators, scavengers, feeders on vegetation, and soil workers. Worldwide, they are more important than earthworms in the role of soil workers. Ants are essential to our existence. We tend to overlook them because they are hard to see—the ant is only about one-millionth the size of the human being—but they are there in vast numbers. I have made an estimate, or educated guess I suppose, that at any given time there are somewhere between a million million and 10 million million (10 12 -10 13 ) ants alive. Remarkably, that immense legion adds up to approximately the same total mass as humanity.

    You established yourself early in your research career as an ant taxonomist. What is it that you find so satisfying about taxonomy, and why do you think taxonomy is still of such fundamental importance to biology?

    I believe that the taxonomist, more than any other specialist, is able daily to look upon the face of creation, by which I mean the immense variety of life. The taxonomist doesn't just identify and classify, but serves as the steward of the group on which he works whether it is deep-sea fishes or ants or orchids or any of hundreds of other groups. The taxonomist, as his expertise broadens and deepens, becomes interested in the marvelous intricacies of anatomy and physiology, and, in the case of animals, behavior. He is a leading authority on that group overall. This sense of mastering a part of the creation creates constant excitement, as do the vast unknown phenomena that await the taxonomist upon further investigation in the field and within the laboratory. As a taxonomist, I know that I will be able to make a discovery of some kind or another—a new species, a new idea about relationships, a new anatomical structure—almost every day. When I go out in the field, the flow of discoveries increases. You know, in most disciplines of science the research stays inside, most activities of biology included. The number of important discoveries per investigator per year is dropping off steadily. In most fields, teams and great expense are needed. In particle physics, the teams often consist of a hundred or more people working together. In molecular biology, commonly a half-dozen or more. To be able to work alone, or at most with a single collaborator, with a steady flow of discoveries—that is exceptionally rewarding!

    From your work as an ant taxonomist, your interests extended to general evolutionary theory. What influence drove that trend in your research?

    I always wanted to do more than just natural history. I think that there is in me a need to put order into whatever I encounter in life. Someone once remarked that among scientists as well as nonscientists, there appear to be two classes of people: those who upon discovering disorder wish to convert it into order, and those who discovering order wish to reduce it to disorder. There are successful scientists in both genres in evolutionary biology. I have a passion for creating order. But beyond that, I have the ambition to create new theoretical systems in evolutionary biology. Taxonomy and natural history provide a tremendous background of information for creating new theory.

    In Naturalist, you write that "unlike experimental biologists, evolutionary biologists well versed in natural history already have an abundance of answers from which to choose. What they need most are the right questions." Can you explain?

    I believe that the best evolutionary biologists are naturalists. The physical scientists and molecular biologists like to work from questions towards solutions on a single track. These questions take them deeper and deeper through molecular levels. But a naturalist tries to learn all that he can about the group of organisms or about a particular ecosystem. All forms of information regarded by the naturalist have value.

    I was a typical naturalist throughout my career. I compiled information of all kinds about ants, and I had access to information from others' work. Patterns began to emerge in which generalities could be drawn. Evolutionary biology is full of patterns, rules, and trends. What then becomes important is: "What do these patterns, rules, and trends reveal?" In order to extend this mode of investigation, the naturalist has to go to the answers already before him and ask the right questions about the evolutionary process, about the history of the world. This has been by far the most important procedure in the history of evolutionary biology. For example, it is the process that Darwin followed when he developed the theory of evolution by natural selection, which has dominated evolutionary biology since his time.

    When you speak about patterns and rules and trends and evolution, that all sounds very mathematical, and yet you have held yourself up as an example of a scientist who has made it in spite of "math anxiety." What encouraging words do you have for science students who are not math wizards?

    I think I can give some good advice to young, would-be biologists. Some mathematics is important in pursuing a career in evolutionary biology — at the very least, models entailing probability theory and statistics. I am not a gifted mathematician. I discovered this the hard way, through years of study and lack of notable success. My greatest success in quantitative theory came when I deliberately teamed up with first-class mathematicians who then found my knowledge in natural history equally valuable. That is a fine way to do evolutionary biology—a mathematician teaming with an evolutionary biologist.

    Furthermore, in certain areas of evolutionary biology, mathematical ability of a high level is not necessary. I have a rule that I follow: for every level of mathematical ability the biologist possesses, there exists a field within biology still poorly enough worked so that that level of ability is sufficient to do first-class theoretical work. Therefore, the advice I give to young biologists is, do not in your career rush to where most of the scientists are already gathered. Look for the less popular subjects where you will have the greatest chance to innovate.

    And we can find some of these opportunities in natural history and evolutionary biology?

    Modern biology consists of two major fronts of advance. One of them addresses the physical and chemical basis of life's operation and the development of organisms. The other addresses the behavior and the living together of organisms, as studied in behavioral biology and ecology, increasingly with a new emphasis on biodiversity. These latter areas—behavioral biology and ecology, or evolutionary biology for short—are attaining new importance to society. They also present some of the most intriguing unsolved problems of science. The main route into these fields is by way of natural history.

    Your work on the natural history of ants catalyzed your interest in animal behavior, especially social behavior. What led you to write Sociobiology, which synthesized a new field?

    There is a common feeling that I had some grand vision of producing an overarching theory and worked toward it in my career, but that isn't true at all. I started with ants and natural history. I followed a rule of research strategy while working with ants that goes as follows: For every group of organisms there is a set of problems with solutions for which that group is ideally suited. So having become fascinated with ants, I became increasingly fascinated with social behavior. At the same time, I was also gaining an interest in population biology because I saw this was a broad road into advanced theory of evolution. I saw at this point that the way to synthesize what we knew about ants and other social insects was to treat colonies as populations and to apply all the techniques and ideas of population biology to the colony of insects. The result was a book about social insects in 1971. I pulled the study of sociobiology, as I now called it, from natural history and population biology.

    After finishing the book, The Insect Society, I decided that this approach, which proved to be successful with insects, should also apply to vertebrate animals, including birds. So I set out to extend all that I had done to the vertebrates. I wrote the book Sociobiology, the New Synthesis primarily to cover the social insects and vertebrate animals. I then saw that I could not leave out the most familiar vertebrate animal, Homo sapiens. I didn't intend to stir up the hornet's nest of controversy that in fact the book did create. I included two chapters in Sociobiology on human beings primarily for completeness. I admit that as I wrote the chapters I realized that many of the ideas coming from evolutionary biology and the current study of animal societies would find relevance in the social clime. I expected the book would have an impact, but I didn't expect it would have as controversial a result in the social science community as it did.

    And with the benefit of retrospect, why do you think Sociobiology did trigger such strong reactions, not only from some social scientists but also from some biologists?

    Certain biologists had strong political convictions. You must remember that Sociobiology came out in the middle of the 1970s, a time when most scholars in the social sciences believed not only that heredity has no importance in human social behavior, but that it is dangerous to speak of it because it might imply that human destiny is fixed, and that there is nothing we can do about social ills. This was a primary reason for resistance both from social scientists, who had already settled on a sociocultural explanation, and from some biologists. Since the 1970s, the evidence for genetic influence, certainly not genetic determination in a rigid sense but strong genetic influence on human social behavior, has grown very substantially. It is now perhaps a mainstream of thinking.

    In writing about sociobiology, you once claimed that some day biology must serve as part of the foundation of the social sciences. Has that started to happen as you predicted?

    Yes, I believe that sociobiology has already had a profound influence in some social sciences. For example, it has spawned a whole new and quite successful field in psychology called evolutionary psychology, which deals with biological components of human behavior. It has had considerable influence in anthropology, especially in the developing field of comparative studies of nonhuman primate species in relation to human social organization. It has had some influence in economics in the consideration of human choice behavior. And in legal theory, sociobiology has begun to influence thinking about matters such as adoption rights.

    Is this all part of a generally increasing awareness about the relationship of science to society?

    Science is no longer just a fun thing, like landing on the moon or discovering a new species of bird. It is vital—and people know it. They see science as a major part of modern ethics and legislative action. They also see the environment as something that they have got to know about.

    You helped attract attention to biodiversity. What does the term mean?

    Biologists define biodiversity in the broadest sense as meaning all of the variety of life—from the different genes at the same chromosome position within populations, up through different species of organisms, on up to different aggregations of species in ecosystems. The emphasis in this definition is on levels of biological organization. It is very important to study each one in turn and to understand fully how they are related to each other: the genes, the species, and the ecosystems.

    Given your lifelong interest in biological diversity, how do you account for the timing of your relatively recent emergence as a major activist for conserving biodiversity?

    I was a bit slow in becoming an activist. I was aware of the dangers to biodiversity even during my student days in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially when I began fieldwork in Cuba and other tropical countries where the destruction was well advanced. But I held off becoming an activist until finally in the late 1970s. More precise information on the rate of the deforestation was becoming available then. And I and others were able to use the model of island biogeography that Robert McArthur and I developed to make at least a crude estimate of the rate of species extinction caused by habitat destruction in the case of rain forests. That did it for me. I realized that I should not leave conservation advocacy to others. I and other scientists should become more involved. The issue was just too important.

    In one of your books, The Diversity of Life, you articulate an environmental ethic. What is it, and how is it derived?

    Let me give you the brief description of my own ethic, and that is to make every effort to save all species. This will not be possible in every case everywhere in the world. We are destined to lose a substantial fraction, 10% or more, of the world's biodiversity, no matter what we do. But we should never knowingly allow a species to go extinct if appropriate measures can save it. That, in essence, is the biodiversity ethic.

    How many species are known, and what other estimates are there as to how many actually exist?

    Roughly 1.5 million species of organisms have been described and given formal scientific names to date. Beyond that, biologists do not know with certainty to the nearest order of magnitude how many species actually exist. Most would agree that there are at least 10 million alive on Earth today, the largest numbers of which are insects and other arthropods and microorganisms like bacteria. But estimates have been made closer to 100 million, and I tend to be one of the radicals who believes that it probably approaches that number. One of the most fascinating problems of evolutionary biology, therefore, is exactly how many — or even approximately how many—kinds of organisms there are on Earth. The second great unsolved problem of evolutionary biology is: Why?

    Is a near-complete catalog of species a realistic goal?

    It is widely believed among biologists that biodiversity is so great, and so little is known about it, that it is impossible to study at all. But the fact is that a total global survey could be conducted by as few as 25,000 systematists devoting a lifetime career to the subject. Even if we stored this information the old-fashioned way, in books on library shelves, by devoting each page in a book to one species, the complete cataloguing of 100 million species would still occupy only 6 kilometers of library shelving — about as much as is in a medium-sized public library.

    You once said, "The key to taking measure of biodiversity lies in a downward adjustment of scale." Can you explain what you mean?

    The smaller the organism, the less we know about it. Probably fewer than one-tenth of the species of insects on Earth have been given a scientific name. It is obvious that it is far easier to find and study a bird or a mammal than a tiny insect. The percentage of identified bacterial species is probably much smaller yet. There may be up to 5000 species of bacteria in a single gram of forest soil, almost all of which are unknown to science. Bacteria are in the world of the very small, so they are the greatest challenge of biodiversity study.

    You have said that the study and cataloguing of biodiversity is a great responsibility. Why is it so important?

    Only by creating a complete catalogue of biodiversity, with information on the traits and the geographic distribution of all the species, can we fully understand the function of ecosystems and locate the most endangered species.

    You have also called biodiversity our most valuable but least appreciated resource. What is the value of biodiversity, and why is it worth conserving?

    The value of biodiversity is immense to the extent of being immeasurable. In future years it will be the source of countless new pharmaceuticals, genes for disease resistance, petroleum substitutes, and other products vital to human survival. The great majority of species have not even been considered with reference to the many contributions they can make to science and economic wealth. One reason we should study and maintain biodiversity is the great benefit that it can provide. Once lost, the species and its library of genetic information, with potential importance to the ecosystem, is gone forever and cannot be retrieved.

    How does the current extinction rate compare to historical rates?

    Using data from the fossil records, I have estimated that species are becoming extinct today at a rate of 1000 to 10,000 times faster than was the case before humanity evolved.

    We are doing more damage than asteroids!

    We are. The human species is our own home-grown asteroid.

    Some conservation organizations now embrace what you call a "new environmentalism." How are approaches to conservation biology changing, particularly in light of economic impact in developing countries?

    I introduced the term "new environmentalism" to denote the movement that began in the late 1970s and early 1980s to combine conservation efforts with local economic development. Conservationists realize that it is quite possible to combine the preservation of natural environments with the use of those natural environments in ways that actually contribute to the economic growth of local regions. Therefore, a lot of the efforts of conservation organizations are now devoted to the twin goals of saving species and habitats as always, but also of devising ways to make that compatible with economic development.

    You've written about a haunting dream you have. What happens in that dream?

    Well, everyone has anxiety dreams, and mine takes a peculiar naturalist turn. I find myself in the dream on an island in the South Pacific. That's where some of my main research efforts were in the early part of my career. In the dream I realize that I have not gotten around to exploring the ends of the island, but my plane is due to leave later that day. The dream consists of looking for natural habitats however, as I go searching in the dream, I can never find them. What looks like the edge of a forest turns into a hedgerow planted by people. When I wake up from that particular anxiety dream, I usually feel not only anxious but also guilty and disappointed. You can take that as a kind of metaphor of what the modern conservationists feel—that we never, never do enough.

    If there is any encouraging word in the biodiversity crisis, it is biophilia, a term you coined. What does it mean?

    Biophilia was the offspring of sociobiology. I realized in the early 1980s that there was growing evidence for a genetic predisposition for many kinds of human behavior. I and others believed that there was such a thing as a human preference for certain types of natural habitats and an inherent tendency to affiliate with other forms of life. Since then more evidence has accumulated, and the idea of biophilia has become a popular subject in science as well as in conservation circles. The reason the phenomenon is so important if it does exist (and I believe it exists) is that it will provide a powerful base for an environmental ethic. In my opinion, we need to value biodiversity for the contribution made to the satisfaction of human nature and not just for the physical welfare it provides us.

    At the end of Naturalist, you distill your philosophy down to three truths. What are they?

    Quite simply they are: that the human species is a product of biological evolution that human beings arose in an arena of natural environments and biodiversity, and that therefore natural environments are a precious part of human heritage and finally, that neither philosophy nor religion can ever make much sense unless they take the first two points into consideration.


    ©2005 Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Benjamin Cummings


    E. O. Wilson’s Theory of Everything

    At 82, the famed biologist E. O. Wilson arrived in Mozambique last summer with a modest agenda—save a ravaged park identify its many undiscovered species create a virtual textbook that will revolutionize the teaching of biology. Wilson’s newest theory is more ambitious still. It could transform our understanding of human nature—and provide hope for our stewardship of the planet.

    M y first glimpse of E. O. Wilson came in July, in the late afternoon, when the light fades and dies with alarming speed in Mozambique. He had emerged from his cabin within Gorongosa National Park, one of southern Africa’s great, historic game reserves, just as the nightly winter chill was bestirring itself, and across an expanse of garden, he appeared almost spectral: tall, gaunt, white-haired, and possessed of a strange gait—slow and deliberate, yet almost woozy in the faint swerve described by each long-legged stride.

    Wilson’s head was cocked sharply downward as he walked, as if he suffered a neck condition. (Later he would tell me this habit grew from a lifetime of scanning the ground for insect life.) In his right hand, he carried a flowing white net, like what Vladimir Nabokov might have used to pursue butterflies by Lake Geneva. Without fanfare, just before dark, on the first evening of his first visit to Africa below the Sahara, he had begun his first bug-collecting expedition.

    If one had to give E. O. Wilson a single label, evolutionary biologist would be as good as any. Sociobiologist, lifelong naturalist, prolific author, committed educator, and high-profile public intellectual might all also serve. But amidst his astonishing range and volume of intellectual output, Wilson’s reputation, and most of his big ideas, have been founded primarily on his study of ants, most famously his discoveries involving ant communication and the social organization of ant communities. As I caught up with him, intending to introduce myself, he stooped down low toward the garden’s dirt path to pick one up, pronouncing its scientific name with the raw delight of a boy hobbyist, and exclaiming, “I think I’ll keep that one. Let me go get a vial and some alcohol to put it in.”

    Many more collecting forays would follow over the next two weeks, most of them more concerted than this. But other motives had also lured Wilson, age 82, so far from his home in Lexington, Massachusetts. It is hard to order such things with any precision, so varied and intertwined are Wilson’s interests, but the principal attractions, he told me, involved the chance to explore a rare and imperiled African ecosystem—one largely cut off from scientific study until late last year—and to play an advisory role in its conservation. What made this park, at the southern extremity of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, of particular interest to him was the chance to revisit a field that he helped invent—biogeography, and specifically the special ecology and biodiversity of islands.

    Gorongosa’s heavily wooded mountain of the same name was effectively incorporated into the park, by national decree, only last December. It is home to the only largely intact rain forest in all of Mozambique, a semitropical country roughly the size of Texas and Oklahoma. Solitary and broad-shouldered, the mountain rises more than 6,000 feet above the surrounding plains, providing a local climate unlike any other for hundreds of miles around it. It draws its water from the warm, moist winds that blow in from the nearby Indian Ocean, kissing its cool upper flanks and sustaining a unique ecosystem of rare orchids, mountain cypress, and rich bird life like the green-headed oriole, along with any number of other species yet to be identified.

    For many years, the religious taboos of local residents kept the mountain from being opened to scientists and tourists, and also offered some measure of environmental protection. Nonetheless, a helicopter ride I recently took revealed the mountain to be under steady attack by locals setting fires to clear fields for farming and to smoke out wild edibles, from bushmeat to insect delicacies. Time and again, Wilson has come back to the subject of ecological hot spots like this in his writing. More than half of the planet’s plant and animal species live in tropical rain forests, which occupy a mere 6 percent of the world’s land surface—territory roughly the size of the lower 48 American states. Across these unique havens of biodiversity, Wilson has estimated that an area equivalent to half the state of Florida is being destroyed each year.

    Wilson described Mount Gorongosa’s rain forest to me as “an island in a sea of grasslands,” and said that “biologists should be straining to get there,” to study it and to save it, just as they would some new reef system discovered in an underexplored part of the Pacific. Of the need to thoroughly survey places like Gorongosa, he wrote in his 1984 book, Biophilia: “No process being addressed by modern science is more complicated or, in my opinion, more important.”

    Wilson’s first book, The Theory of Island Biogeography, published in 1967, became one of the most influential works in ecological studies. It offered a formula that mathematically predicts a geometric reduction in the biodiversity of a given habitat as the size of the habitat shrinks. Part of Wilson’s work at Gorongosa involved launching a survey of life on the mountain, and also seeking to understand the special dynamics of a park that is small by the standards of its continent, but that nonetheless may contain thousands of species never before discovered, many of them unique to this lonely peak.

    Throughout Wilson’s stay here, a team of filmmakers, whose presence attested to a different purpose, trailed him from day to day. Together, Wilson and the filmmakers have selected the park as one of the backdrops for an online, interactive digital textbook called Life on Earth that the Harvard professor emeritus hopes will revolutionize the teaching of biology in secondary schools worldwide.

    For all of his projects here, Wilson has a benefactor whose enthusiasm runs as deep as his pockets: Greg Carr, a boyish 51-year-old who grew up in Idaho Falls and made a fortune in the 1980s and ’90s by developing corporate voice-mail systems. Since then, Carr has undertaken a variety of philanthropic activities, including the endowment of a human-rights center at Harvard that bears his name. But in recent years he has made the rehabilitation of Gorongosa Park his personal mission. Since he assumed joint operational control of the park in 2004, in partnership with the Mozambique government, Carr has spent, by his own estimate, perhaps $25 million on the park.

    In its heyday in the early 1970s, the park, with its savannas and floodplains, provided one of the richest nature- and game-viewing experiences anywhere in Africa, due particularly to the abundance of its so-called charismatic animals—lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, wildebeests, zebras, and more. Back then, it was said that one day spent in Gorongosa was equivalent to three in South Africa’s larger and more famous Kruger National Park. In 1977, however, a rebel movement named Renamo launched a civil war from headquarters in Gorongosa, and things went calamitously downhill.

    Nearly a million Mozambicans died as a result of the war, and five times that many people were displaced. “Basically every day, there was fighting in this area, and soldiers slaughtered the animals for food, while ordinary people hunted them because it was impossible to farm,” said Domingos João Muala, a Mozambican park worker and ethnologist. This led to the wholesale elimination of both large grazing mammals and their predators, although I chanced on a pride of lions, rare within the park today, on one cold morning as we emerged from a Land Rover by the ruins of an old park lodge fittingly known as the Lion House.

    Mozambique’s civil war came to a negotiated end in 1992, and multiparty elections followed two years later. Rehabilitation work on the park began in 1994, including the hiring of staff and the reopening of roads. Poaching has been gradually suppressed but remains a problem even now. Carr’s ambition is to restore as much of the original ecosystem as possible, all the way up to the apex predators, like cheetahs, four of which his foundation recently acquired for release onto park plains already teeming again with antelope, warthog, and baboon.

    Wilson’s faith in the power of conservation movements to restore and preserve places like Gorongosa waxed and waned during the week I spent with him. He talked about the impact of China’s burgeoning appetite for natural resources from Africa, and worried about Africa’s booming population, which is projected to go from roughly 1 billion today to twice that by mid-century. And he offered a dark caution about global warming and the unpredictable impact it will have on many ecosystems, no matter how carefully we try to protect them.

    Yet these moments of pessimism gradually came to be overshadowed by an abiding optimism, which seemed to grow stronger as he articulated what he saw as a workable vision of this region’s future. “When I flew in by helicopter, one of the things that impressed me the most was the agriculture,” he said. “Those people are really using the poorest methods to eke out a living, and very little technology. Well, it wouldn’t take all that much to change this. With the introduction of fertilizers and better irrigation and more machinery, the yields could go up pretty quickly, and so would people’s incomes. And with that, what you would see is people moving to cities, and new cities forming, which is the way to relieve pressure on the land. It should be noted that presently, Africa is the world’s fastest-urbanizing continent.”

    In many of his writings, Wilson places hope in arguments that range from the ethical (humankind will ultimately awaken to its responsibility to the Earth), to the genetic (our evolutionary background has conditioned us to yearn for such things as unspoiled savannas and wilderness), and finally to a kind of naturalist’s spiritualism. “For the naturalist, every entrance into a wild environment rekindles an excitement that is childlike in spontaneity, [and] often tinged with apprehension,” he wrote in his 2002 book, The Future of Life. Every such experience, he continued, reminds us of “the way life ought to be lived, all the time.”

    Over dinner on Wilson’s first night at Gorongosa, Carr asked whether the park stood any chance of still retaining all the species it now contains when his young niece reaches her 90s. Wilson’s answer was an exuberant “Yes!” Eventually, the conversation between the biologist and the billionaire turned to the possibility of dramatically expanding the park to create a protected corridor all the way to the Indian Ocean. It was an idea whose logic flows directly from the precepts of island biogeography, which show a dramatic correlation between the size of a habitat and both its diversity and its sustainability. “I see no reason why not,” Wilson enthused. “By all means, you should do it!”

    C onversations like these might give the impression that Wilson—one of the most driven and prolific biologists of his generation—has mellowed and is shifting now to a quieter, more retiring, if not truly retired, phase of life, settling into the easy-fitting robes of scientific eminence and mostly lending endorsements and encouragement to the good works of others. And his bug collecting could easily be misinterpreted as a mere enthusiasm, a nostalgic return to the field. But Wilson had rebuked me in our very first encounter, after he had picked up the ant for close inspection, pointedly declaring that he was interested in “more than ants,” and his travel here, like almost everything he does, is bound up with ideas and themes that he has doggedly pursued for decades. (Even in his recently published first novel, the best-selling Anthill, his 24th book, readers schooled in evolutionary science cannot miss the play of long-gestating Wilsonian theories, and linkages to his latest work.)

    Indeed, while we sat in camp chairs talking about conservation and ants and countless other subjects, a dispute was raging among evolutionary biologists half a world away, one of the most hotly contested in that field in years—and Wilson was at its center. Christopher X J. Jensen, a Pratt Institute biologist who has blogged about the conflict, described it as a “scientific gang fight.” Its outcome could have big implications for how we understand ourselves and our motivations—and particularly the complex interplay of selfish and altruistic behavior in human nature.

    This is hardly the first scientific controversy surrounding Wilson. An even bigger fight erupted around him in the 1970s, as he laid out his ideas on sociobiology in three landmark books, The Insect Societies, Sociobiology, and On Human Nature. At issue throughout were his claims that our genes not only are responsible for our biological form, but help shape our instincts, including our social nature and many other individual traits.

    These contentions drew fierce criticism from all across the social sciences, and from prominent specialists in evolution such as Wilson’s late Harvard colleague, Stephen Jay Gould, who helped lead the charge against him.

    Wilson defined sociobiology for me as “the systematic study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior in all organisms.” Gould savagely mocked both Wilson’s ideas and his supposed hubris in a 1986 essay titled “Cardboard Darwinism,” in The New York Review of Books, for seeking “to achieve the greatest reform in human thinking about human nature since Freud,” and Wilson still clearly bears a grudge.

    “I believe Gould was a charlatan,” he told me. “I believe that he was … seeking reputation and credibility as a scientist and writer, and he did it consistently by distorting what other scientists were saying and devising arguments based upon that distortion.” It is easy to imagine Wilson privately resenting Gould for another reason, as well—namely, for choosing Freud as a point of comparison rather than his own idol, Darwin, whom he calls “the greatest man in the world.”

    “Darwin is the one who changed everything, our self-conception greater than Copernicus,” Wilson told me. “This guy is irritatingly correct, time and time again, even when he has limited evidence.” In Darwin’s mold, the thrust of Wilson’s life work has been aimed at changing humankind’s self-conception. Indeed it can be difficult, from today’s vantage point, to see what much of the fuss of the 1970s was about, so thoroughly has the Wilsonian idea that our genes shape our nature penetrated the mainstream.

    This reality is illustrated, among countless possible examples, in Francis Fukuyama’s most recent book, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. Rejecting the views of classic political philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau that primitive humankind started out as a collection of scattered, unorganized individuals, Fukuyama writes: “Human sociability is not a historical or cultural acquisition, but something hardwired into human nature.” Nowhere is Wilson, who pioneered this view, even mentioned.

    The current controversy results from another bid by Wilson to overturn conventional scientific wisdom. For more than four decades, evolutionary biology has been dominated by a school of thought known as “kin selection,” which postulates that some species arrive at cooperative behavior and a complex division of labor as a matter of reproductive strategy among close relatives. In other words, self-sacrifice and other forms of altruism are really driven by what might be described as a coolly selfish calculation: cooperation among related individuals favors the reproduction of kin and hence the propagation of shared genes. This notion was established in a famous mathematical rule laid out by W. D. Hamilton in 1964, Rb>c, which means that genetic benefits (b) realized by helping a relative (R) pass on his or her genes must be greater than the cost (c) of assisting that relative in order for the behavior to be favored by natural selection.

    Wilson believes that this whole theory has been a wrong turn, intellectually, and that this bedrock concept, with major implications for understanding our own nature, is overdue for radical revision.

    The furor erupted with the publication, in the scientific journal Nature in August 2010, of an article written by Wilson and two co-authors, Martin A. Nowak and Corina E. Tarnita, both of Harvard. Titled “The Evolution of Eusociality,” it amounted to a frontal challenge to a key concept of kin-selection theory, called “inclusive fitness.” Among other things, inclusive fitness says that species like ants have become highly social, and that the sisters that make up the overwhelming bulk of any colony cede the right to reproduce to the queen, because of the extraordinarily high degree of genetic relatedness between the sisters, which surpasses even that between mother and daughter.

    Ants and humans are among the very few “eusocial” animals—the most highly social creatures in the history of life on Earth, capable of building complex societies in which individuals specialize in various activities and sometimes act altruistically. Darwin himself, in his most influential book, The Origin of Species, recognized the vexing question of why female ants would sacrifice the right to reproduce rather than seek to pass along their own genes as the greatest challenge to his theory of evolution. Now, employing advanced mathematics involving evolutionary game theory and population genetics, the authors of the controversial Nature article have shaken up the evolutionary-biology establishment by rejecting kin selection, and claiming that the close genetic similarity of sister ants is not mathematically necessary to explain their “eusociality”—and, indeed, is not the cause of it.

    The mathematical heavy lifting comes from Nowak and Tarnita, showing, in the words of Nowak, that “simple versions of Hamilton’s rule … are almost always wrong,” and that recent efforts to create more-generalized versions of the rule are of no help in explaining evolution. But the proposed new interpretation of what causes ants and a few other species to become highly social, to the point of intricate specialization and even self-sacrifice, or altruism, is classic Wilson. “The causative agent,” the authors wrote, “is the advantage of a defensible nest.” Eusocial creatures are driven to cooperate not by their relatedness, in other words, but by the advantages that accrue to any group from the division of labor. As natural circumstance forced individuals to interact, certain cooperative traits became advantageous, and proliferated, in a handful of cases.

    In support of their attack on kin selection, the authors invoke the rarity of eusociality across the animal kingdom, even among species in which the genetic similarity of kin is extremely high. Among species that use clonal reproduction, for example, only one major group, the gall-making aphids, are known to be eusocial. What’s more, eusocial behavior can occur—even among insects—in the absence of kinship. One example is the propensity of certain solitary bees to behave like eusocial bees when they are forced to live together in the laboratory. “The coerced partners proceed variously to divide labor in foraging, tunneling, guarding.”

    The authors conclude that a very small number of species simply seem to be genetically “spring-loaded,” or “strongly predisposed” to the development of eusociality in conditions where natural selection favors it. The article then ropes humans into the picture in its last and most provocative sentence: “We have not addressed the evolution of human social behavior here, but parallels with the scenarios of animal eusocial evolution exist, and they are, we believe, well worth examining.” Until now, the conventional wisdom on the social evolution of humans has focused on the growth and development of the brain, not on the existence of a social gene or set of such genes that may have spring-loaded humans for civilization—or for altruism. Yet Wilson and his co-authors imply that such genes very likely exist.

    The outcry from the evolutionary-theory establishment, including luminaries in the field ranging from Richard Dawkins to Robert Trivers, was exceptionally fierce, including unusually personal attacks. One of several critical letters to the editor published by Nature was signed by 137 scientists. Another letter called the authors’ findings “largely irrelevant.”

    Elsewhere, commentators objected that Nature should never have published the article, and only did so because Wilson’s name was attached to it. Some claimed that the authors had not fully understood or had willfully misrepresented kin-selection theory. One commentator even wrote off Wilson for his “senescence.” On his blog, Jerry A. Coyne, a leading figure in the field and a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, voiced pity for Tarnita, a Romanian theoretical mathematician who works at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. Calling the paper “dreck,” he said that it “will always cast a shadow over her career.”

    “Nowak et al.,” as the authors are called in the Nature back-and-forth, have firmly held their ground. “Inclusive fitness theory,” they wrote in their published response, “is neither useful nor necessary to explain the evolution of eusociality or other phenomena.” In an e-mail to me, Tarnita wrote about the criticisms directed at her:

    In collaborating with Nowak and Tarnita, Wilson was in effect reprising a tactic that led to his first major theoretical triumph, with island biogeography—joining forces with talented mathematicians. In that instance, in the early 1960s, he teamed up with the late Robert H. MacArthur, whose work on population growth and competition, Wilson says, made him the most important ecologist of his generation.

    “Nothing is more attractive to me than a muddled domain awaiting its first theory,” Wilson wrote in Biophilia:

    W ilson told me the new proposed evolutionary model pulls the field “out of the fever swamp of kin selection,” and he confidently predicted a coming paradigm shift that would promote genetic research to identify the “trigger” genes that have enabled a tiny number of cases, such as the ant family, to achieve complex forms of cooperation. His next book, The Social Conquest of Earth, expands on his theories—and takes up the question left dangling at the end of the Nature article. “It starts with posing the questions that I call the most fundamental of philosophy and religion,” he said. “Where did we come from, what are we, and where are we going?”

    Wilson explained the book, which will be released in April, during an animated two-hour discussion on a day that he’d previously set aside for rest. Earlier that morning, he had turned up in his usual baggy, sagging khaki pants and installed himself at a table outside the Gorongosa camp restaurant, slumping silently into a flimsy plastic chair. Soon he could be seen jotting ideas in his small, neat hand, on a yellow legal pad. Once in a while he would tear off a sheet, number it, fold it carefully, and put it in the side pocket of the same blue-striped sport coat he wore every day.

    Later he told me that he’s done all of his writing that way, relying on Kathleen M. Horton, the assistant who has worked with him for 45 years, to enter material into a computer and help edit his writing. “Most people are now aware that the digital age is upon us,” he said, with a twinkle in his left eye, the other sightless from a boyhood accident. “It has left me behind. I haven’t had time to learn iPhones and tablets, or even how to run a computer properly, but it’s arrived.”

    Wilson told me he’d worked for a decade on the ideas he presents in Social Conquest, drawing on the primary literature in a wide variety of fields to refine his views. These ranged, he said, from molecular genetics and ecology to anthropology and cognitive science. In the book, he proposes a theory to answer what he calls “the great unsolved problem of biology,” namely how roughly two dozen known examples in the history of life—humans, wasps, termites, platypodid ambrosia beetles, bathyergid mole rats, gall-making aphids, one type of snapping shrimp, and others—made the breakthrough to life in highly social, complex societies. Eusocial species, Wilson noted, are by far “the most successful species in the history of life.” Humankind, of course, has thoroughly transformed the environment, achieving a unique dominion. And ants, by some measures, are more successful still. (If you were to weigh all the animals on the planet, you would find that the mass of ants exceeds that of all other insects combined, and also that of all terrestrial nonhuman vertebrates.)

    “Wow, the butterflies are out,” Wilson interjected mid-sentence, as a pretty, modestly sized, yellow-and-black creature floated dizzily around his chair.

    Wilson announced that his new book may be his last. It is not limited to the discussion of evolutionary biology, but ranges provocatively through the humanities, as well. Summarizing parts of it for me, Wilson was particularly unsparing of organized religion, likening the Book of Revelation, for example, to the ranting of “a paranoid schizophrenic who was allowed to write down everything that came to him.” Toward philosophy, he was only slightly kinder. Generation after generation of students have suffered trying to “puzzle out” what great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Descartes had to say on the great questions of man’s nature, Wilson said, but this was of little use, because philosophy has been based on “failed models of the brain.”

    Answers to the fundamental mysteries of human nature can only be found elsewhere, Wilson told me—in science, and most particularly in genetics and evolution.

    Wilson had begun this particular conversation promising to answer the question of what caused the shift from the genus Australopithecus to Homo and led to the line that ultimately became human. But now he asked, “Can we have lunch before I tell you?,” clearly enjoying playing up the drama.

    His theory draws upon many of the most prominent views of how humans emerged. These range from our evolution of the ability to run long distances to our development of the earliest weapons, which involved the improvement of hand-eye coordination. Dramatic climate change in Africa over the course of a few tens of thousands of years also may have forced Australopithecus and Homo to adapt rapidly. And over roughly the same span, humans became cooperative hunters and serious meat eaters, vastly enriching our diet and favoring the development of more-robust brains.

    By themselves, Wilson says, none of these theories is satisfying. Taken together, though, all of these factors pushed our immediate prehuman ancestors toward what he called a huge pre-adaptive step: the formation of the earliest communities around fixed camps.

    “When humans started having a camp—and we know that Homo erectus had campsites—then we know they were heading somewhere,” he told me. “They were a group progressively provisioned, sending out some individuals to hunt and some individuals to stay back and guard the valuable campsite. They were no longer just wandering through territory, emitting calls. They were on long-term campsites, maybe changing from time to time, but they had come together. They began to read intentions in each other’s behavior, what each other are doing. They started to learn social connections more solidly.”

    Wilson’s “campsite” theory, of course, connects us directly back to the species described in the Nature article, and helps him lump humans together with the handful of other known species to have made it across what he calls the evolutionary “bottleneck” toward highly structured social life. “The humans become consistent with all the others,” he said, and the evolutionary steps were likely similar—beginning with the formation of groups within a freely mixing population, followed by the accumulation of pre-adaptations that make eusociality more likely, such as the invention of campsites. Finally comes the rise to prevalence of eusocial alleles—one of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation, and are found at the same place on a chromosome—which promote novel behaviors (like communal child care) or suppress old, asocial traits. Now it is up to geneticists, he adds, to “determine how many genes are involved in crossing the eusociality threshold, and to go find those genes.”

    But the story does not end here. In his new book, Wilson posits that two rival forces drive human behavior: group selection and what he calls “individual selection”—competition at the level of the individual to pass along one’s genes—with both operating simultaneously. “Group selection,” he said, “brings about virtue, and—this is an oversimplification, but—individual selection, which is competing with it, creates sin. That, in a nutshell, is an explanation of the human condition.

    “Our quarrelsomeness, our intense concentration on groups and on rivalries, down to the last junior-soccer-league game, the whole thing falls into place, in my opinion. Theories of kin selection didn’t do the job at all, but now I think we are close to making sense out of what human beings do and why they can’t settle down.”

    By settling down, Wilson said, he meant establishing a lasting peace with each other and learning to live in a sustainable balance with the environment. If Wilson’s new paradigm holds up—“and it will,” he insisted in an e-mail exchange several weeks after visiting Gorongosa—its impact on the social sciences could be as great as its importance for biology, advancing human self-understanding in ways typically associated with the great philosophers he criticized.

    “Within groups, the selfish are more likely to succeed,” Wilson told me in a telephone conversation. “But in competition between groups, groups of altruists are more likely to succeed. In addition, it is clear that groups of humans proselytize other groups and accept them as allies, and that that tendency is much favored by group selection.” Taking in newcomers and forming alliances had become a fundamental human trait, he added, because “it is a good way to win.”

    Kin-selection theory would explain nepotism, but not the more complex rivalries and alliances that we see throughout human history. If Wilson is right, the human impulse toward racism and tribalism could come to be seen as a reflection of our genetic nature as much as anything else—but so could the human capacity for altruism, and for coalition- and alliance-building. These latter possibilities may help explain Wilson’s abiding optimism—about the environment and many other matters. If these traits are indeed deeply written into our genetic codes, we might hope that we can find ways to emphasize and reinforce them, to build problem-solving coalitions that can endure, and to identify with progressively larger and more-inclusive groups over time.

    Once the book comes out, Wilson said, he expects parts of the biological mainstream to howl on cue. He is just as certain, though, that there will be many converts. “I am going to get fuselaged—you know, bombarded,” he said, laughing. “I don’t care, though, because I feel so secure about the theory and interpretation.”

    I n Gorongosa, Wilson’s study of complex social behavior was centered on the termite, an insect that seemed to obsess him at times during his stay. Termites are unrelated to ants rather, they are distant cousins of cockroaches. As such, their reproductive strategy is entirely dissimilar to that of ants. But like ants, they are on the shortlist of eusocial animals. For Wilson, how such different creatures ended up creating highly structured societies, replete with castes and the complex division of labor, remains a source of fascination and ongoing study.

    Nonetheless, during much of his stay, termite research was crowded out by the broader conservation effort that had brought him here, and by the Life on Earth project—and indeed, the two often ran together, as film crews shadowed him, recording material for the textbook.

    One morning, I traveled with him to Mount Gorongosa for an event billed as a “bio blitz,” which combined a classic natural-history specimen-gathering exercise, textbook-filming, and an educational opportunity for the scores of village children who were enlisted in the effort. Normally events like these bring together a diverse team of biologists, but Wilson, who was seated at a table in a makeshift shelter beside a clear stream and just above a waterfall, was on his own this time, and clearly relished being the center of the action.

    “You will be seen by other students in many places,” he explained through a translator, as video crews filmed. “Because we wish to help science, we wish to know what is all around here, what species exist here. It is good for your education to see how studies in science can be done, how you can do studies in science.”

    Ziploc-style bags were passed out, and Wilson told the children, who sat on the ground before him, to collect all the “creatures, little animals, insects, spiders” they could find, and bring them to him for identification. With that, the children, let loose on the mountainside, threw themselves into the task with abandon, tromping through the stream, seizing bugs in the tall grass, and pursuing other creatures up the hillsides.

    As the bagged bugs, lizards, scorpions, and other creatures they brought forth began to pile high, Wilson became almost giddy, seemingly reliving the thrills of his Alabama childhood, when his avid specimen-hunting fostered a growing fascination with nature, and eventually a love of science. For minutes at a time, the white-haired scientist resembled nothing so much as a grandmaster smiting a score of enthusiastic challengers at a speed-chess exhibition, as he quickly named each animal brought to him:

    “And here we have—very good—a lycaenid butterfly. Probably that’s a new species, but I’m not going to keep it. Who got that butterfly? … What is this? Wait a minute, where is my magnifying glass, I’ll tell you. Oh yeah, that one I know. I know the genus. That one is a Tetragnatha. … Now the ants … This is an important one. Can you be sure to get that one? All right, wait a minute. I want that one. It’s different. That’s a reduviid, an assassin bug … That’s a—wait a minute, it’ll come to me. This is a coccinellid.”

    This medley, one of many, concluded with Wilson saying: “Wow, this is the way to make a real collection, if you are an entomologist. Get a bunch of kids around. No, seriously.”

    Later, in a quieter moment, I asked Wilson how he managed to name so many of the creatures, particularly ones far outside his specialty, and on a continent he’s never visited before. He told me that he’d prepped intensively for the experience for two months, consulting both reference books and experts, committing the descriptions of thousands of species to memory. Silently, I recalled a critic’s recent characterization of him as senescent.

    A few days earlier, Wilson, remarkably, had taken his very first helicopter ride, a shuttle run that brought him from the nearby port city of Beira to the park’s immense floodplain, dotted by riverine pools thick with caucusing hippos and crocodiles, and finally to a close view of the mountain itself. “Mount Gorongosa!” he exclaimed to me later. “It has always loomed in my imagination as this dark, brooding mountain, but boy, is it magnificent so bright, so full of life!”

    With that, I asked Wilson what made this place so special for him. “Every place is special,” he answered. “But this is—even among all the varieties of natural history that you can get in parks around the world—this one stands out because of its tragic history. The destruction that is being healed, largely through the efforts of one man, this Greg Carr, showing what can be done.”

    After a few days here, Wilson amended his vow not to write more books, saying he would like to return next year to work on a book about Gorongosa and its mountain, tentatively titled Gorongosa: The Park as a Window on Eternity. In lieu of producing any more big, theoretical works, though, Wilson tells me, he longs to spend more of his time traveling. Soon, he said, he plans to go to Yosemite National Park to study a rare ant, and late this year he is planning a seven-week expedition in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. He wants to relive his exploits as a 25-year-old naturalist, when he explored the region as part of a 10-year stint of fieldwork during which he worked out the classification of hundreds of species of ants throughout the Pacific region and elsewhere. “These are the things I want to do—travel, visit the places I’ve wanted to go,” he says.

    In such a full life, I asked him how he made sense of his own achievements. “How successful you are depends on a small number of qualities and activities, and one of them is luck,” he answered, laughing. Then the man who had told me, a few days earlier, that he was interested in more than ants confided that he was lucky to have settled on them at a young age.

    “For every organism, there exists a problem, for the solution of which that organism is ideally suited,” Wilson said. We had been talking over lunch for about two hours, and Wilson had barely touched his food. He paused for a moment, taking a bite of chicken. “A lot of my work was done with pheromones then came island biogeography, because I could collect enough ants in a short enough period of time to get an idea of the nature of fauna on different islands.” Only then “came the question, ‘What are the driving forces of evolution?’” He put down his fork, and gave a slight smile. “Ants are always there, and this has given me an edge,” he said. “I’ve ridden ants the whole way.”


    Watch the video: . Wilson interview 2002 - The Best Documentary Ever (November 2022).