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The Social Conquest of Earth af Edward O.…
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The Social Conquest of Earth (udgave 2013)

af Edward O. Wilson (Forfatter)

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Based on a lifetime of pioneering research, preeminent naturalist Edward O. Wilson gives us a new history of human evolution, presented in an elegant and provocative narrative that promises to have reverberations in fields as diverse as anthropology and social psychology, neuroscience and 21st-century intellectual and religious history. Wilson begins by addressing three "fundamental questions" of religion and philosophy that have fascinated thinkers for centuries: Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Writing that "the origin of modern humanity was a stroke of luck, good for our species for a while, bad for most of the rest of life forever," Wilson traces the rise of Homo sapiens from its infancy, drawing on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to present us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition. Wilson also reveals how "group selection" can be the only model for explaining man's origins and domination, and warns that it has now accelerated--through unregulated and untrammeled growth--to such a point that the planet as we know it is being threatened.--From publisher description.From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson's legendary career.… (mere)
Medlem:Akdeaton
Titel:The Social Conquest of Earth
Forfattere:Edward O. Wilson (Forfatter)
Info:Liveright (2013), Edition: 1, 352 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
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Nøgleord:Ingen

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The Social Conquest of Earth af Edward O. Wilson

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Wilson is such a poetic guy that you almost hate to disagree with him based on prose style alone. Seriously, his sentences have the sorts of graceful rhythms that you associate with British authors that have had an expensive classical education, which makes reading him enjoyable even if, as many seem to feel, he's completely wrong. This book is a typically Wilsonian exploration of the human need to find meaning in our lives that's based on biology but aims at culture. He's never liked C. P. Snow's famous division between hard science and "soft studies", so in his introduction, he used Paul Gaugin's famous painting "D'où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous" ("Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?") as an example of the type of questioning that occupies most philosophy, art, and culture, and, while acknowledging the power of the fruits of these artistic labors, dismissed them as being unable, on their own, to answer those questions. As he's famously said in the past, in one of those imperious statements that tend to polarize readers, most historical philosophy is essentially worthless, being based on "failed models of the brain", and in his view only the techniques of modern science, with their tradition of rigor, empiricism, and dismantling dogma, can deliver even partially true answers to the Big Questions.

The most controversial aspect of the book, from a scientific standpoint, is that after a lifetime of championing kin selection, the current mainstream view of how evolution operates, Wilson has now decided that group selection is the way to go. Essentially he's arguing that eusociality, the collective, collaborative interactions characteristic of humans and ants among very few other species, is the key to understanding ourselves, and that requires understanding where it came from along with a new understanding of evolution. So there are very thought-provoking discussions of humans and ants wrapped in a troubling heresy. In humans, he traced our current dominance to the lucky confluence of a few necessary preadaptations that separate us from our protohuman ancestors and relatives. These are: dwelling on land (even brilliant cetaceans can't develop fire); large body size (tiny creatures just can't get brains large enough for general-purpose intelligence); grasping hands (far superior to claws and fangs for manipulating tools); bipedalism (freeing up our hands to interact with the world more); diet (meat, though hard to hunt, is rich in energy); fire (duh); and division of labor (this is a fascinating link that deserves a book of its own - is Adam Smith-style division of labor itself a source of intelligence, or merely a product of it?).

You may have noticed that very few of those attributes are true of ants; hold that thought. He immediately pivoted towards declaring kin selection a failure and declaring that group selection was a necessary component of a multi-level theory of evolution. I confess that at first I simply didn't understand how he was able to reach that conclusion. As discussed by writers like Richard Dawkins in his excellent The Extended Phenotype, a huge amount of incredibly complicated behavior that reaches all the way up to the level of an organism's interaction with its peers can be explained by the interactions of genes and only genes; there simply is no group-level counterpart of a gene that can be inherited or replicated, and though epigenetic artifacts like memes seem to behave in analogous ways on a "higher" level, they are merely the products of combinations of genes and don't necessarily have a "real" existence independent of the individuals that create them. Cultural markers like religious affiliation, language, sexual practices, sporting traditions, economic arrangements, or conventions on which side of the road to drive on may look like they are the group-level equivalent to genes because they get passed on to succeeding generations, seem to have an effect on the fitness of the groups that practice them, and undergo gene-like mutations and alterations, but they are at base mere phenotypes, and no appeal to "top-down" processes like group selection or "superior culture" are needed to explain them.

The "centrifugal force" of between-group conflict and "centripetal force" of in-group altruism that Wilson devotes much of the book to discussing are, in the mainstream view, no different, and so I had some trouble enjoying the (very interesting and well-written) Out-of-Africa chapters thereof because I was constantly wondering when Wilson was going to circle back around and fully explain his bombshell. There were many points where he brings up evidence that seems like trouble for his group-selection theory, such as when he uses the example of the full competence of Australian aboriginal children brought up by white families - if the 45,000 genetic divergence of native Australians and modern white Australians is able to be so easily overcome by upbringing in a particular culture, how does that disprove the theory that cultural differences are essentially interchangeable epiphenomena of our overwhelmingly similar genes? He cited an insight from the great cybernetician Herbert Simon about the fact that human societies are decomposable into nearly discrete sub-systems shows the advantages of division of labor to a hierarchical society, but mere complexity is not in itself a sign of a qualitatively different type of evolution; Simon himself had a bit in his pioneering The Sciences of the Artificial where he discussed how complex behavior can be merely the result of complexities in the environment, and not in the system directly. For example, Modern France is much more complex than the France of 1500 AD, but any kind of group evolution would have to work on what seems to be implausibly fast levels to have any role in this, and the fact that groups can descend to much lower levels of complexity (e.g. post-Fall Romans, Easter Islanders, the Mayans) without any noticeable changes in the genetic makeup of the populations made me skeptical that group selection is anything other than the interface of genetic epiphenomena with the outside world.

It took until the ant chapters for me to really come to terms with his thesis, maybe because I had fewer preconceived notions and was more open to his theory when it was put in terms of ants rather than people. He explained two criteria for eusociality: first, every eusocial species typically has large investments in nests, with the corollary that some percentage of individuals never leave the nest; second, each eusocial species also has a division of labor, with the corollary that some individuals labor for the good of the collective instead of for direct personal gain. Thus bees have their hives with attendant workers and soldiers, while humans have cities with the same, and this kind of multi-generational investment and specialization ("capital accumulation" and "career paths", in human terms) give individual members of the collective/polity more advantages than if they were simply fending for themselves and had to begin each generation from scratch. This reframing of traditional Adam Smith-style economics is both banal and pretty clever, and it reminded me of Paul Krugman's short essay "What Economists Can Learn from Evolutionary Theorists" on the similarities between neoclassical economic models and their biological counterparts in population simulations and so forth, in that it showed the interesting conclusions you can get by broadening your scope to include other disciplines.

The ant sections are also where Wilson made the clearest preparatory arguments for his group selection thesis by going over the analogous preadaptations that insect species went through in order to develop eusociality: fortified nest sites, protection against predators, and the presence of some incremental advantage to being in a hive versus being solitary. The one bright line appears to be the emergence of a distinct worker caste. With that discussion of the nature of eusociality, Wilson then turned to why individual selection seemed unable to explain it. The distinction between the gene as a unit of heredity and the gene or individual as the unit of selection, phenotype plasticity (the tendency for identical genes to have different phenotypes depending on environmental circumstances, such as humans having distinct fingerprints even though we all have the same finger genes), and the puzzle of why some eusocial species are diploid versus haplodiploid formed the main platform for the discussion of Hamilton's inequality, which is at the heart of kin selection theory. Stated briefly, "rb > c, meaning that an allele prescribing altruism will increase in frequency in a population if the benefit, b, to the recipient of the altruism, times r, the degree of kinship to the altruist, is greater than the cost to the altruist." This had always seemed very reasonable to me, and it still does, though Wilson spent a great deal of time going over its theoretical and empirical shortcomings.

As a layman I'm obviously not qualified enough to fully judge his conclusions, but I did not see a real falsifiable prediction in the book: is it actually impossible for something like a sterile worker caste to evolve using the principle of kin selection? There was a lot of talk about the failings of kin selection in simulations, yet it seemed like the actual proof was left to an appendix that never arrived. Furthermore, it seemed like he was only interested in the question of which type of selection was correct as a way to talk about eusociality, which seemed like putting the cart before the horse. The way he discussed it, eusociality is to individualism roughly as multicellularism is to unicellularism, which makes sense on an analogical level, yet the book just plain needed more about group selection to back that up. However, his discussion of eusociality was awesome, and seemed full of good insights. Much much more could be written about group and individual forces, and the sections that talked about how they interacted in terms of culture were really good, especially when he mentioned art or religion. His insights on how much of art is merely patterns that excite the pattern-recognition systems of the human brain are not new, but the argument gains new meaning in the context of the social purposes of art and what artistic endeavors do for group solidarity.

His closing contention that space travel is a harmful, expensive mirage annoyed me as a science fiction fan and as someone who thinks that space travel is a logical next step in the long-term evolution of Earth life, but that ending aberrance shouldn't detract from the fascinating meditation on the true nature of our species and its ultimate destination. These sentences in particular touch on a very important theme in all politics: "[A]n iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. The victory can never be complete; the balance of selection pressures cannot move to either extreme. If individual selection were to dominate, societies would dissolve. If group selection were to dominate, human groups would come to resemble ant colonies." Wilson may not have definitively answered the question of Where Are We Going?, but I would love for some further discussion from him, and from the other geneticists who oppose group selection, yet have not given eusociality the kind of treatment it gets here. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Better towards the end... or at least I found it more interesting. Surprised a bit by some redundancies early on. Also thought that he could have done a better job explaining certain concepts within the sections on insects.... Preferred the book on self-righteousness as providing some scientific/evolutionary perspective on human morality. ( )
  maryroberta | Jan 19, 2021 |
I am not scientifically minded as a matter of natural inclination, but this particular book caught my attention as it addresses the field of sociobiology -- looking at questions of psychology, biology, sociology, and philosophy. Much of it requires further reading and study, but as a first glance into the field, I found it fascinating. There is one section where the author states that if all living humans and all living ants were log-stacked into a cube, each cube would measure less than a mile in dimension; this made my head hurt for the rest of the day. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
Wilson, Edward O. (2012). The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: W. W. Norton. 2012. ISBN 9780871404138. Pagine 330. 15,24 €

Edward O. Wilson è un vecchio signore del Sud (è nato a Birmingham in Alabama il 10 giugno 1929 – a proposito, auguri in ritardo!). Ne abbiamo parlato più volte su questo blog, da ultimo qui (mi pare), ma soprattutto recensendo il suo unico romanzo, Anthill. Purtroppo, ho letto gli altri suoi libri in epoca ante-blog e quindi non li ho recensiti qui (né da nessuna altra parte, perché non mi imponevo quella forma di disciplina che il blog ha portato con sé).

Ho però raccontato, nella recensione al romanzo, che questo vecchio signore del Sud dall’aria serena è stato al centro di furiose polemiche per il suo Sociobiology. The New Synthesis del 1975. Adesso è di nuovo al centro delle polemiche per questo libro che, nelle sue intenzioni, voleva essere una sintesi dei suoi studi sugli organismi eu-sociali – come li chiama lui stesso – cioè gli insetti sociali e gli umani.

Il problema è che per fare questo, Wilson ha bisogno di rigettare la teoria della kin selection originariamente formulata da Hamilton e cui Wilson stesso aveva aderito all’epoca di Sociobiology e aderire invece a quella della group selection, vivacemente e ferocemente avversata dai darwiniani puri e duri.

Sorgono spontanee 2 domande:

chi ha ragione nella disputa, Wilson o i suoi oppositori? o meglio: è sostenibile una teoria della group selection? e quella della kin selection è davvero stata smentita?
nell’ipotesi che il libro di Wilson sia affetto da errori teorici gravi, vale la pena egualmente di leggerlo?

* * *

Sulla prima questione, per affrontarla senza troppi tecnicismi, penso sia opportuno partire dal punto specifico del libro di Wilson in cui l’autore abbandona la prospettiva della kin selection:

For almost half a century, it has been popular among serious scientists seeking a naturalistic explanation for the origin of humanity, I among them, to invoke kin selection as a key dynamical force of human evolution. […]
Unfortunately for this perception, the foundations of the general theory of inclusive fitness based on the assumptions of kin selection have crumbled, while evidence for it has grown equivocal at best. The beautiful theory never worked well anyway, and now it has collapsed.
A new theory of eusocial evolution, drawn in part from my collaboration with the theoretical biologists Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, and in part from the work of other researchers, provides separate accounts for the origin of eusocial insects on the one hand and the origin of human societies on the other. [859-866. Il riferimento è come di consueto alle posizioni sul Kindle]

Naturalmente, abbandonare una posizione cui si era aderito in passato è perfettamente lecito: solo gli imbecilli, si dice, restano attaccati alle proprie idee contro ogni evidenza come patelle agli scogli. Quello che però Wilson non dice – e questo io lo trovo particolarmente grave in un libro rivolto al pubblico non specialistico – è che l’articolo di Nowak, Tarnita & Wilson “The evolution of eusociality“, pubblicato nel 2010 sul numero 466 di Nature, ha suscitato un vespaio di polemiche: sia perché l’articolo non sarebbe transitato attraverso il normale processo di peer review grazie all’autorevolezza di Wilson (succede anche a Nature, evidentemente), sia perché le conclusioni cui giunge sono state contestate da circa 150 scienziati in 5 risposte al paper di Nowak, Tarnita & Wilson. Quello che questi scienziati sostengono è che la teoria della kin selection e della inclusive fitness sono tutt’altro che crollate, come invece Wilson dà per assodato.

Questo spiega ampiamente perché The Social Conquest of Earth sia stato accolto con molte critiche e poco entusiasmo. Ne riassumo qualcuna di quelle con cui sono entrato in contatto.

Michael Gazzaniga sul Wall Street Journal del 6 aprile 2012 (Evolution Revolution) paragona la delusione provata leggendo quest’ultima prova di Wilson con quella che gli appassionati di jazz sono destinati a provare, prima o poi, per i loro beniamini:

At a certain point in their careers, great jazz musicians are almost bound to disappoint their fans. Think of John Coltrane venturing into free jazz in the late 1960s or Miles Davis going electric a few years later. The vision that made them great the first time pushes them into new territory, and the magnitude of their early accomplishments – and the number of admirers they have attracted – makes their public’s sense of betrayal all the more bitter. All they can do is keep playing, undaunted by the dissent.

La metafora jazzistica è anche funzionale a notare che (purtroppo) Wilson procede per improvvisazione, per grandi pennellate, nascondendoci il dettaglio del ragionamento che lo ha portato ad abbandonare il modello della inclusive fitness. ed evitando di rispondere alle critiche dei 150 scienziati che hanno contestato il suo modello su Nature.

Jazz artists improvise. Mr. Wilson does too as he goes through his argument in “The Social Conquest of Earth.” I say “improvise” because he chooses not to give the reader the complete story, properly annotated with references that would capture the huge controversies that accompany almost all the facts he reviews. […] While Mr. Wilson may have tired of all the rancor, it would have been intriguing to have his full account of how he arrived at his conclusions.

Jennifer Schuessler sul New York Times dell’8 aprile, più che una recensione, ci offre un ritratto di Edward O. Wilson (Lessons From Ants to Grasp Humanity) che non rifugge però dal riassumere i termini della controversia:

If no one is quite ready to dump a pitcher of water over Dr. Wilson’s head, many colleagues are mystified and dismayed by his late-life embrace of group selection – a highly controversial notion among biologists – and rejection of the kin-selection theory that he helped popularize in “Sociobiology.”
“ ‘Sociobiology’ is still a very great book, and now he’s trashing it all,” said Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. “It’s crazy.” Dr. Coyne was one of more than 150 scientists who signed four letters published last spring in the journal Nature criticizing a 2010 paper by Dr. Wilson, written with the mathematicians Martin A. Nowak and Corina E. Tarnita, outlining his group-selection arguments.
But Dr. Wilson, putting on a fleece vest under his professorial green tweed jacket in preparation for a rainy walk through Central Park, seemed unruffled by the fracas, which is only passingly acknowledged in the new book. “I don’t mind it,” he said of the criticism, adding that he had full confidence in his co-authors’ complex math. “I actually expect it for any important change. No pain, no gain.”

Un concetto simile era già stato espresso da Wilson in un articolo di Jonah Lehrer comparso sul numero del 5 marzo 2012 del New Yorker (Kin and Kind. A fight about the genetics of altruism):

“I’ve always been an ambitious synthesizer,” he told me. “But I’m now wise enough to know the limitations of that approach.” These days, he regards the books that made him famous – ”Sociobiology” and “On Human Nature” (1979) – as flawed accounts of evolution, marred by their uncritical embrace of inclusive fitness.

La recensione di Steven Mithen – appena pubblicata su The New York Review of Books, nel numero datato 21 giugno 2012 (How Fit Is E.O. Wilson’s Evolution?) – ha il pregio, secondo me, di mettere chiaramente in luce le responsabilità dello scienziato che scrive per il vasto pubblico e non per gli specialisti e i colleghi:

My greater concern is about the responsibility of the scientist writing for the general reader, especially a scientist of Wilson’s academic reputation. Such readers, the type targeted by Wilson and his publisher, may never have heard of Nature and would be unlikely to consult endnotes. Such readers, owing to his failure to acknowledge the extent of opposition to his views, would be entirely misled into thinking that Wilson had indeed “demonstrated that inclusive fitness theory, often called kin selection theory, is both mathematically and biologically incorrect.”
[…] I cannot avoid the impression that the manner in which Wilson presents his views verges toward polemic rather than providing a responsible work of popular science.

Ho lasciato di proposito per ultima la recensione più completa, e anche la più feroce: quella di Richard Dawkins pubblicata su Prospectdel 24 maggio 2012 (The descent of Edward Wilson. A new book on evolution by a great biologist makes a slew of mistakes). Suggerirei, se il vostro inglese lo consente (ma se non lo consentisse probabilmente non leggereste questo blog), di leggere l’articolo di Dawkins nella sua interezza, per almeno 3 motivi:

Dawkins scrive bene e in modo molto chiaro e articolato;
Dawkins è un polemista pungente ed efficacissimo (a tratti uno prova anche un po’ pena per il malcapitato Wilson);
La spiegazione di Dawkins dei motivi per cui ritiene corretta la teoria della kin selection ed erronea quella della group selection.

Per i più pigri (e per mio gusto) metterò qui i punti essenziali:

[I]it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution [social insects and humans], but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory. In particular, Wilson now rejects “kin selection” (I shall explain this below) and replaces it with a revival of “group selection” – the poorly defined and incoherent view that evolution is driven by the differential survival of whole groups of organisms.
[…]
Then there’s the patrician hauteur with which Wilson ignores the very serious drubbing his Nature paper received. He doesn’t even mention those many critics: not a single, solitary sentence. Does he think his authority justifies going over the heads of experts and appealing directly to a popular audience, as if the professional controversy didn’t exist – as if acceptance of his (tiny) minority view were a done deal? “The beautiful theory [kin selection, see below] never worked well anyway, and now it has collapsed.” Yes it did and does work, and no it hasn’t collapsed. For Wilson not to acknowledge that he speaks for himself against the great majority of his professional colleagues is – it pains me to say this of a lifelong hero – an act of wanton arrogance.
[…]
“Inclusive fitness” was coined as a mathematical device to allow us to keep treating the individual organism (“vehicle”) as the level of agency, when we could equivalently have switched to the gene (“replicator”). You can say that natural selection maximises individual inclusive fitness, or that it maximises gene survival. The two are equivalent, by definition. On the face of it, gene survival is simpler to deal with, so why bother with individual inclusive fitness? Because the organism has the appearance of a purpose-driven agent in a way that the gene does not. Genes lack legs to pursue goals, sense organs to perceive the world, hands to manipulate it. Gene survival is what ultimately counts in natural selection, and the world becomes full of genes that are good at surviving. But they do it vicariously, by embryologically programming “phenotypes”: programming the development of individual bodies, their brains, limbs and sense organs, in such a way as to maximise their own survival. Genes programme the embryonic development of their vehicles, then ride inside them to share their fate and, if successful, get passed on to future generations.
So, “replicators” and “vehicles” constitute two meanings of “unit of natural selection.” Replicators are the units that survive (or fail to survive) through the generations. Vehicles are the agents that replicators programme as devices to help them survive. Genes are the primary replicators, organisms the obvious vehicles. But what about groups? As with organisms, they are certainly not replicators, but are they vehicles? If so, might we make a plausible case for “group selection”?
It is important not to confuse this question – as Wilson regrettably does – with the question of whether individuals benefit from living in groups. Of course they do. Penguins huddle for warmth. That’s not group selection: every individual benefits. Lionesses hunting in groups catch more and larger prey than a lone hunter could: enough to make it worthwhile for everyone. Again, every individual benefits: group welfare is strictly incidental. Birds in flocks and fish in schools achieve safety in numbers, and may also conserve energy by riding each other’s slipstreams – the same effect as racing cyclists sometimes exploit.
Such individual advantages in group living are important but they have nothing to do with group selection. Group selection would imply that a group does something equivalent to surviving or dying, something equivalent to reproducing itself, and that it has something you could call a group phenotype, such that genes might influence its development, and hence their own survival.
[…]
Edward Wilson has made important discoveries of his own. His place in history is assured, and so is Hamilton’s. Please do read Wilson’s earlier books […]. As for the book under review, the theoretical errors I have explained are important, pervasive, and integral to its thesis in a way that renders it impossible to recommend. To borrow from Dorothy Parker, this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force. And sincere regret.

* * *

Ecco, Dawkins risponde negativamente alla mia seconda domanda (nell’ipotesi che il libro di Wilson sia affetto da errori teorici gravi, vale la pena egualmente di leggerlo?). Io sono però di diverso parere, e penso che invece possa essere letto fruttuosamnente, anche se con qualche cautela.

Il breve capitolo 5, intitolato Threading the evolutionary maze, è un capolavoro di sintesi che riassume i 2 pagine l’origine dell’umanità da una prospettiva evoluzionistica.

E la metafora del labirinto evoluzionistico è un efficacissiomo esempio di intuition pump:

The possible evolution of a species can be visualized as a journey through a maze. As a major advance such as the origin of eusociality is approached, each genetic change, each turn in the maze either makes the attainment of that level less likely, or even impossible, or else keeps it open for access to the next turn. In the earliest steps that keep other options alive, there is still a long way to go, and the ultimate, far distant attainment is least probable. In the last few steps, there is only a short distance to go, and the attainment becomes more probable. The maze itself is subject to evolution along the way. Old corridors (ecological niches) may close, while new ones may open. The structure of the maze depends in part on who is traveling through it, including each of the species. [414]

Ma nel libro ci sono anche altri spunti profondi, che aprono vaste prospettive di riflessione. Ad esempio sulla divisione del lavoro, all’origine della crescita economica e del progresso:

Along with fireside campsites came division of labor. It was spring-loaded: an existing predisposition within groups to self-organize by dominance hierarchies already existed. There were in addition earlier differences between males and females and between young and old. Further, within each subgroup there existed variations in leadership ability, as well as in the proneness to remain at the campsite. The inevitable result emerging quickly out of all these preadaptations was a complex division of labor. [811]

O la riflessione che, l’acquisto di informazione ha un costo, la sua perdita è gratis:

For the neuroscientist, this explanation of an ethical decision by the would-be knifer has one very attractive feature: it involves only the loss of information, not its effortful acquisition or storage. The learning of complex information and its storage in memory are deliberate, painstaking processes, but the loss of information seems to take place with no trouble at all. Damping any one of the many mechanisms involved in memory can explain the blurring of identity required by this theory. [3981]

Ci sono poi le incursioni nei campi dell’economia …

Additional studies suggest (but have not yet conclusively proved) that leveling is beneficial even for the most advanced modern societies. Those that do best for their citizens in quality of life, from education and medical care to crime control and collective self-esteem, also have the lowest income differential between the wealthiest and poorest citizens. Among twenty-three of the world’s wealthiest countries and individual U.S. states, according to an analysis in 2009 by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Japan, the Nordic countries, and the U.S. state of New Hampshire have both the narrowest wealth differential and the highest average quality of life. At the bottom are the United Kingdom, Portugal, and the remainder of the United States. [4037]

… della politica …

If personal benefit from group memberships rises high enough or, alternatively, if selfish leaders can bend the colony to serve their personal interests, the members will be prone to altruism and conformity. Because all normal members have at least the capacity to reproduce, there is an inherent and irremediable conflict in human societies between natural selection at the individual level and natural selection at the group level. [911]

… della religione …

The evidence that lies before us in great abundance points to organized religion as an expression of tribalism. Every religion teaches its adherents that they are a special fellowship and that their creation story, moral precepts, and privilege from divine power are superior to those claimed in other religions. […] The goal of religions is submission to the will and common good of the tribe. [4186-4192]

For outsiders openly to doubt such dogmas is regarded an invasion of privacy and a personal insult. For insiders to raise doubt is punishable heresy. [4197]

… della musica …

Patel has referred to music as a “transformative technology.” To the same degree as literacy and language itself, it has changed the way people see the world. Learning to play a musical instrument even alters the structure of the brain, from subcortical circuits that encode sound patterns to neural fibers that connect the two cerebral hemispheres and patterns of gray matter density in certain regions of the cerebral cortex. Music is powerful in its impact on human feeling and on the interpretation of events. It is extraordinarily complex in the neural circuits it employs, appearing to elicit emotion in at least six different brain mechanisms. [4583]

Ci sono poi alcune frasi fulminanti nella loro profondità:

[…] from diversity comes opportunity […] [480]

In a constantly changing world, we need the flexibility that only imperfection provides. [3887]

[…] prepared learning, the inborn propensity to learn something swiftly and decisively. [1009]

E infine, “semplici” esempi di divertito “bello scrivere”.

We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. [201]

Now, except for behaving like apes much of the time and suffering genetically limited life spans, we are godlike. [4639]

[…] the response of Samuel Foote to John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, when warned that he would die either by venereal disease or by the hangman’s noose. Foote responded, “My Lord, that will depend upon whether I embrace your lordship’s mistress or your lordship’s morals.” [4028]

* * *

PS: mentre mi accingevo a esporre questo post sulla bacheca è sceso in campo (c ( )
  Boris.Limpopo | Apr 29, 2019 |
Wilson, authoritatively as one would expect, tackles the questions "Where do we come from?", "What are we?", and "Where are we going?". Some of the salient points: Whereas some insects attained eusociality through evolution of instinct, prehumans did it through evolution of intelligence. Human nature, which includes innate tribalism and bellicosity, is best explained epigenetically. Natural selection at the individual level has promoted intra-group selfishness, while selection at the group level has promoted intra-group altruism and inter-group enmity. "We, all of us, live out our lives in conflict and contention." (p 290) For our environmental crimes (global warming, etc), "we will be despised by our descendants." (p294) "The conflict between scientific knowledge and organized religions is irreconcilable." (p 295)
  fpagan | Apr 24, 2019 |
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Wilson’s book, however, is not devoid of merit. There are interesting titbits about biology and anthropology, including fascinating descriptions of how diverse cultures divide up the colour spectrum in similar ways, and how incest taboos, which avert genetically based birth defects, are enforced even by cultures that don’t understand the genetic consequences. Yet the good bits are ultimately scuppered by Wilson’s attempt to feed questionable biological ideas to the public while ignoring the criticisms of his peers. The result is that readers will be seriously misled about human evolution and the evolution of social behaviour as a whole.

It is puzzling that, at the end of a distinguished career, Edward Wilson has chosen to repudiate fertile and long-standing ideas about evolution in favour of alternatives that are deeply flawed. His immense achievements have made his legacy secure, but it will be tarnished by this misguided attempt to explain social behaviour in insects and humans.
tilføjet af jimroberts | RedigerTimes Literary Supplement 4731, J. A. Coyne (Feb 1, 2013)
 
Edward Wilson has made important discoveries of his own. His place in history is assured, and so is Hamilton’s. Please do read Wilson’s earlier books, including the monumental The Ants, written jointly with Bert Hölldobler (yet another world expert who will have no truck with group selection). As for the book under review, the theoretical errors I have explained are important, pervasive, and integral to its thesis in a way that renders it impossible to recommend. To borrow from Dorothy Parker, this is not a book to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force. And sincere regret.
tilføjet af jimroberts | RedigerProspect, Richard Dawkins (May 24, 2012)
 
Sandwiched between his discussion of evolution and a concluding statement called “A New Enlightenment” is a series of chapters on language, culture, morality, religion and art. This section is intended to answer the “What are we?” question, but it is disappointing. Each chapter is only about a dozen pages and mainly summarizes the proposals of other scholars. While Wilson is never boring, there are few new insights here. The feeling you get recalls a remark once made by Roger Ebert about an artsy horror movie: there is foreboding and there is afterboding, but no actual boding.
tilføjet af rybie2 | RedigerNew York Times, Paul Bloom (May 11, 2012)
 

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Based on a lifetime of pioneering research, preeminent naturalist Edward O. Wilson gives us a new history of human evolution, presented in an elegant and provocative narrative that promises to have reverberations in fields as diverse as anthropology and social psychology, neuroscience and 21st-century intellectual and religious history. Wilson begins by addressing three "fundamental questions" of religion and philosophy that have fascinated thinkers for centuries: Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Writing that "the origin of modern humanity was a stroke of luck, good for our species for a while, bad for most of the rest of life forever," Wilson traces the rise of Homo sapiens from its infancy, drawing on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to present us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition. Wilson also reveals how "group selection" can be the only model for explaining man's origins and domination, and warns that it has now accelerated--through unregulated and untrammeled growth--to such a point that the planet as we know it is being threatened.--From publisher description.From the most celebrated heir to Darwin comes a groundbreaking book on evolution, the summa work of Edward O. Wilson's legendary career.

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