Cover image for The meaning of human existence
Title:
The meaning of human existence
Author:
Wilson, Edward O., author.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, [2014]
Physical Description:
207 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson examines what makes human beings supremely different from all other species and posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.
General Note:
Includes index.
Language:
English
Contents:
1. The reason we exist: The meaning of meaning -- Solving the riddle of the human species -- Evolution and our inner conflict -- 2. The unity of knowledge: The new enlightenment -- The all-importance of the humanities -- The driving force of social evolution -- 3. Humanity lost in a pheromone world -- The superorganisms -- Why microbes rule the galaxy -- A portrait of E.T. -- The collapse of biodiversity -- 4. Idols of the mind: Instinct -- Religion -- Free will -- 5. A human future: Alone and free in the universe.
ISBN:
9780871401007
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson grapples with these and other existential questions, examining what makes human beings supremely different from all other species. Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called "the rainbow colors" around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Wilson takes his readers on a journey, in the process bridging science and philosophy to create a twenty-first-century treatise on human existence--from our earliest inception to a provocative look at what the future of mankind portends.

Continuing his groundbreaking examination of our "Anthropocene Epoch," which he began with The Social Conquest of Earth, described by the New York Times as "a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere," here Wilson posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.

Once criticized for a purely mechanistic view of human life and an overreliance on genetic predetermination, Wilson presents in The Meaning of Human Existence his most expansive and advanced theories on the sovereignty of human life, recognizing that, even though the human and the spider evolved similarly, the poet's sonnet is wholly different from the spider's web. Whether attempting to explicate "The Riddle of the Human Species," "Free Will," or "Religion"; warning of "The Collapse of Biodiversity"; or even creating a plausible "Portrait of E.T.," Wilson does indeed believe that humanity holds a special position in the known universe.

The human epoch that began in biological evolution and passed into pre-, then recorded, history is now more than ever before in our hands. Yet alarmed that we are about to abandon natural selection by redesigning biology and human nature as we wish them, Wilson soberly concludes that advances in science and technology bring us our greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham.


Author Notes

He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1929. He is currently Pellegrino University Research Professor & Honorary Curator in Entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. He is on the Board of Directors of the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International & the American Museum of Natural History. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Eloquent and caring biologist and humanist Wilson posits that it is our limited biological understanding of our now dominant species that induces us to unthinkingly destroy the biosphere and, therefore, ourselves even as we're developing genetic technologies that will allow us to direct our own evolution. To gain the knowledge we need to navigate these dilemmas, Wilson argues, we must unite the humanities and the sciences to develop a deeper form of history that embraces both biology and culture. In this collection of rigorous yet lyrical essays, themselves models of the science-humanities fusion he envisions, Wilson extends his in-depth analysis of our complex, competitive social behavior launched in The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), nimbly discussing the evolutionary sources of our inborn turmoil. Homo sapiens is an innately dysfunctional species, Wilson avers, due to what he defines as the Paleolithic Curse, genetic adaptations that once helped us thrive but now hold us back. Wilson's suggested solutions to our paradoxical predicaments are firmly rooted in science and finely crafted with tonic common sense, unusual directness, and no small measure of valor.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In his typically elegant style, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist) cannily and candidly probes the nature of human existence. Wilson ranges from natural selection and eusociality to extraterrestrial life and the "all-importance of the humanities," observing that the "origin of the human condition is best explained by the natural selection for social interaction." He explores the conundrum of nature versus culture, pointing out that the two levels of natural selection-individual and group-always oppose each other. Human nature, he argues, is the "ensemble of hereditary regularities in mental development that bias cultural evolution in one direction as opposed to others and thus connect genes to culture in the brain of every person." According to Wilson, "human existence may be simpler than we thought. There is no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life... we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world." Given this freedom to recognize our relationship to nature and to act accordingly, Wilson pleads that we show tolerance to our fellow humans and mercy to the world around us: "We alone among all species have grasped the reality of the living world.... We alone have measured the quality of mercy among our own kind. Might we now extend the same concern to the living world that gave us birth?" (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Wilson (Pelligrino University Professor Emeritus, Harvard Univ.; The Social Conquest of Earth), who is perhaps best recognized as the "father of sociobiology" as well as the world's leading expert on myrmecology, here asks the question that is the logical extension of his life's work: What does it mean to be human? Humans have evolved to instinctively surrender some individuality to the survival of the group, placing them among the rare eusocial species. Wilson has spent considerable energy in past writings defending the theory of group selection over kin selection, and does so again here, emphasizing throughout the book that while individual selfishness in human evolution benefits individuals, altruistic groups have better benefited survival, giving rise to social virtues and cooperation. Wilson also promotes here, as he has in the past, a "new enlightenment" with the goal of progressing toward an intellectual continuum between the hard sciences and the humanities. VERDICT The importance of preserving the biodiversity that gave rise to humanity matters to Wilson, a point he emphasizes by cautioning us against engineering the planet exclusively to serve human needs, a gloomy dystopia he refers to as the "Age of Loneliness." This book will be of interest to the general reader.-Jeffrey J. Dickens, Southern Connecticut State Univ. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

I The Reason We Exist
1 The Meaning of Meaningp. 11
2 Solving the Riddle of the Human Speciesp. 17
3 Evolution and Our Inner Conflictp. 27
II The Unity of Knowledge
4 The New Enlightenmentp. 37
5 The All-Importance of the Humanitiesp. 53
6 The Driving Force of Social Evolutionp. 61
III Other Worlds
7 Humanity Lost in a Pheromone Worldp. 79
8 The Superorganismsp. 92
9 Why Microbes Rule the Galaxyp. 102
10 A Portrait of E. T.p. 110
11 The Collapse of Biodiversityp. 123
IV Idols of the Mind
12 Instinctp. 135
13 Religionp. 147
14 Free Willp. 159
V A Human Future
15 Alone and Free in the Universep. 173
Appendixp. 189
Acknowledgmentsp. 203
Indexp. 204