An exploration of what it means to be human by the noted sociobiologist and naturalist, twice the winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
According to Wilson (A Window on Eternity: Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, 2014, etc.), our species was created not by a supernatural intelligence but by chance and necessity out of millions of species in Earth’s biosphere. No destiny or purpose is assigned to us, and no afterlife awaits us. The meaning of human existence, writes the author, lies in “the epic of the species, begun in biological evolution and prehistory, passed into recorded history, and urgently now, day by day, faster and faster into the indefinite future.” Social intelligence, enhanced by natural selection for social action, made us what we are today. Our most vital possession is not science but the humanities. The humanities, writes Wilson, describe the human condition and address in detail all the ways that human beings relate to one another and to the environment. Science takes a larger view: the general principles of the human condition and why the species exists and where it fits in the universe. While science and the humanities are fundamentally different, they are complementary. Wilson’s last word is that if the analytic power of the one can be joined with the creative power of the other, “human existence will rise to an infinitely more productive and interesting meaning.” Perhaps the human species will even take up the cause of biodiversity, on which its very existence depends. For readers wondering where religion fits into this, the author notes that throughout prehistory and most of history, people required religion to explain natural phenomena and provide cohesion to the tribe. Conceding that there is strong evidence from neuroscience that a religious instinct does exist, Wilson asserts that the instinctual force of tribalism is far stronger.
A little book with a big message, bound to produce discussion among scientists and discomfort in devout churchgoers.