Earth, today

02021-02-06 | Quotes | 4 comments

In his book The Ages of Globalization Jeffrey Sachs quoted E.O. Wilson. I looked up the full paragraph and it’s good food for thought.

Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.

– Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth


  1. Steve

    I remember reading the original paper (from 2010? 2011?), and the book from 2012. It spawned numerous conversations with students and colleagues at the time.

    Apparently, the book/paper from which this quote comes from caused quite a stir in the journal “Nature.”

    Richard Dawkins actually wrote a response to the Wilson’s Nature paper…

    Dawkins Wrote at the time, “…unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory. ”

    Unfortunately in his criticism, Dawkins resorts to argumentum ad populum instead of just addressing Wilson’s hypothesis head on.

    On the other hand, that same year “Scientific American” put it in their “Recommended Books”

    But, in an effort to become more objective about it, consider what Wilson proposes from the perspective of Information Theory (c.f., C. Shannon):

    Our genetic code exists (to borrow a phrase from quantum mechanics) “in superposition.” One part favors individual success, the other, group success. Individual selection yields “sin” and group selection, “virtue.”

    The genetic rule seems to be, selfish *individuals* beat altruistic ones, and altruistic *groups* beat selfish ones. Neither code can completely conquer the other or we’d eventually become biological robots. (c.f., ants). At least that’s the limit case of Wilson’s hypothesis.

    Wilson says, “relentless ambivalence and ambiguity are the fruits of the strange primate inheritance that rules the human mind.”

    And that is (for the most part) what we observe. Heavy on the ambiguity, I’d say.

    And so it goes.

    • ottmar

      Interesting. Thanks for that Steve. I hadn’t heard of Wilson and the uproar around his book.

      I think we can all agree that some of our genetic code is outdated by now; I am thinking of the programming towards intra group cohesiveness and rejection/fighting of outside groups. To be aware of it means to recognize it and to recognize it gives us a chance to avoid it.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    “We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.”

    I guess I would say to Dr. Wilson: Speak for yourself. I’m not confused – I accept my existence with love and gratitude, yes with JOY in each moment!

    Today I found a documentary on YouTube about the wonderful French pianist: “Hélène Grimaud – Living with Wolves.” I have long loved her Performances of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Beethoven. But I discovered today how many dimensions she has. She founded the Wolf Conservation Center in Westchester County, NY, where she also resides. She studies and raises wolves and educates people about the true nature of wolves as opposed to all the beliefs we have had about them. Also that humanity is not separate from the natural world. She speaks eloquently about this and about music.

    I share this because music and nature trump the confusion of theories and other human mind wanderings.

    (A program keeps inserting German words in place of what I type. This is what came in when I typed “wanderings” just now: wanderungsbewegung (means migration, right?) What fun!

    • anne

      women who run with wolves – fantastic!


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