Read ON HUMAN NATURE by Edward O. Wilson Free Online
Book Title: ON HUMAN NATURE|
Date of issue: November 1st 2012
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
The author of the book: Edward O. Wilson
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 952 KB
Edition: Harvard University Press
Read full description of the books ON HUMAN NATURE:OBSERVING THE HUMAN ANIMAL
Many animals, especially mammals, have evolved social mechanisms to aid in survival. But a few exceptional species, such as wasps, bees and ants, have taken this to the extreme and these are the species that dominate the planet today. They can only be termed as "UltraSocial”.
Humans can also be included in this elite list of earth conquerors. After all, we live in the ‘Anthropocene’ now.
Wilson asks us to view humans as not an completely exceptional species, in spite of their great achievements and in spite of the natural bias that arises from the fact that they are our own species. If we truly want to understand the human species, understanding that they form part of a continuum in nature is essential - socially, cognitively and genetically.
If they are truly unique, then they are a lost cause.
Instead, being extra humble and situating the human emotions and social inclinations (including violence) in a larger framework of ‘possibilities,’ is what Wilson proposes to do in this book. By ‘possibilities’ he means behavioral and social options/range that has been exhibited by the many species - identify this entire range and then try to understand where the human species is situated. Even if precariously!
"Morality has no other demonstrable ultimate function" than to keep intact the genetic material.
To Wilson, morality, altruism, generosity, self-sacrifice and even pleasure, and all other human ‘virtues’ are evolutionary outgrowths of the structure of the human brain, which itself was evolved as a survival mechanism. Since all social structures, including political structure and religions, then evolve from this basic raw material, they are all manifestations of our basic nature. (Further discussion of Cognitivism & Religion. Linked.)
However, even as they are manifestations of our basic nature, Wilson tells that they are not direct manifestations of our genetic imperatives, as it is the ‘super’ insects. Instead, our ‘extreme’ social traits are in fact hypertrophied versions of our instincts. The social instincts exist but our societies take them to either extremes - achieving heights of classical civilizations and also the depths of cannibalism in the same ‘civilization’. This is due to the fact that our ‘Ultrasociality’ is not natural. It is an uneasy amalgam of hypertrophied traits and needs to be propped up with care.
The Impatient Species
It is this uneasy Ultrasociality that makes human societies a tough act to pull off consistently. We are not naturally ultrasocial. Unlike ants who evolved it genetically, over millions of years, we went part of the distance genetically, then got impatient and went on a fast-forward culturally.
The leap to agriculture and state societies some 8,000 years ago represented a rare but highly successful evolutionary transition to “ultrasociality,” a type of social organization seen in only a handful of species, including ants and termites. Ultrasociality is characterized by a full-time division of labor, specialists who do not aid in food production, sharing of information, collective defense, and complex city-states.
So we end up with an even more organized structure than what the ants have, but have not their ultra-instincts that make it a breeze for them to keep up their ultrasociality. We are not wiling to submit our individuality for the group. Of course, we have a strong tendency to do so — Experiments have shown that it is shockingly easy to elicit a sense of solidarity among a group of strangers. Just tell them they’ll be working together as a team, and they immediately start working together as a team, all the while attributing to each other a host of positive qualities like trustworthiness and competence. But in spite of our team-building capabilities, we always think of number one eventually.
[ On the other hand, Ant societies don't go into massive societal/cultural collapses and dream of the past glories of their own Roman Empires of yore. ]
Also, we are not consistent in defining our groups - unlike ants who base it on strong evolutionary grounds, our cultural evolution has allowed us softer more nebulous decision-making capacities about group-formation. So we can define arbitrary ‘others’ and launch wars, and can even defy our own in-groups and go psychopath against our own societies!
This analysis points to the source of constant conflict in human societies — of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and more importantly of ‘us vs ‘me’. And in the final analysis, what human conflict cannot be slotted into these two categories?
Science as a Substitute for Instincts
All this leads us to the depressing analysis that we cannot depend on cultural evolution alone to solve our problems. While an optimist like Pinker can point to statistical evidence to show that violence is ‘declining’, we should also realize that humans have a historic record of violent pendulum swings in violence - and this ties in very nicely with Wilson’s thesis that social evolution tries to reign in individual genetic tendencies with a variety of means but eventually they reassert themselves and civilization breaks down again. So the famous ‘Fear of Decline’ that we mock scholars/historians of having could very well be a natural tendency of human societies - because our social instincts just cannot match up to our social ambitions!
What hope then?
The best alternative would be to initiate sufficiently thorough investigation into these very instincts and evolutionary predispositions. So that we can build our societies in a more informed fashion. Stressing the virtues of cooperation can be a more nuanced approach to human nature than the “selfish gene”/economic man worldview, but the dark side to human cooperation must be understood if we are to realistically assess our present circumstances.
This is where a discipline like Sociobiology is of great value - The best way to correct mistakes in our social evolution is to understand our mental evolution and the best way to do this is by accepting ourselves as animals and conducting comparative studies through the discipline of Sociobiology… We should figure out what level of social and institutional complexity our brains (instincts) can tolerate and take a step back and build our future societies around that.
The sociobiological perspective put forward by Wilson is quite sound and holds up well even decades after being canonized as a classic work. If any criticism can be leveled, it would have to be at his refusal to use politically correct language. This is deliberate because Wilson considers there is no scope for political correctness in science, especially when the need for a harsh and unalloyed look at Human Nature is more urgent than ever.
This book is a must read precisely because it fully lives up to that highly ambitious title!
Read information about the authorEdward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters. He is Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.
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