- Biologist, Professor at Harvard
- Made famous by work with ants, discovering the pheromones used in their communication
- Previously discussed on MC Philo for his work Consilience
Positions Defended: Unity of scientific thought, Reductionism, Truth in Nature
Those Who are Wrong: Deconstructionists, Rorty, Religions, Rationalists, Skeptics
Work Discussed: On Human Nature
- In Wilson's work Consilience, we saw how he was promoting the unifying of the sciences such that the human species could ultimately attain the most basic and beautiful of understandings of our world and universe. It would be an understanding based on mathematical representations of the world such that they corresponded exactly to phenomena and their systems. In this work, On Human Nature, we are taking a step back in time, to an earlier work of his mostly focusing on his new concept "sociobiology". In 1975, Wilson published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a scientific tome of his new idea that biology affects the social life of species, in which he also included human beings as animals whose societal functions were ultimately due to their biology. Outrage from social scientists and humanities professors soon ensued, with harsh charges of social darwinism, and other characterizations. This work, On Human Nature, is a more lay-person friendly account of this theory and a defense of his true meanings.
In order to understand sociobiology, we first must understand the tenets of evolution (hopefully, dear reader, you have a basic knowledge of this, for I shan't go over all the ins and outs and whathaveyous). How humans came to be how they are, and how all animals came to be, is due to the process of natural selection in which genetic changes made in a species that were most advantageous and receptive to change were passed along. We can see traces of it in old bones dug up, like our Friend above, that were ancestors of ours who weren't as badass (to use a Stephenson term). And sometimes these old genes can be seen in modern people:
- Evolution has been responsible for amazingly intricate processes in animal and plant bodies. Perhaps the most amazing product is the brain, and the most badass of those is the human brain. Knowing that the human brain is a product of evolution, we must then infer that the reason for its current form is because it gave some advantage to early humans. We have the tendency to think of the mind as an elusive, sometimes non-material, thinking entity in the brain - a place where senses resonate and higher-minded functions occur. But there is no difference between the brain and the mind, and the brain has evolved for a plethora of reasons, "The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction, and reason is just one of its various techniques."
A common way to think of this is if you think of the brain as represented by a large factory with many pipes. The pipes all work in concert with each other to perform many different functions necessary to keep the factory as a whole functioning. If we think of the neurons as these pipes, then we can envision how, on a much smaller yet more complicated scale, they interact to perform all the functions necessary for survival. The thought is, if we could only enlarge the neurons in the brain to this size, the mystery of the "mind" would be destroyed.
- Once we realize that our brains, and thus what we think of as our "mind", is a fully material substance that evolved for very specific reasons, it is easier to understand certain patterns in human beings. Humans are animals that needed to survive and reproduce and though it's more complicated than that, other actions in the brain are correlated to those very basic functions.
"There are three basic components of genetic fitness: increased personal survival, increased personal reproduction, and the enhanced survival and reproduction of close relatives who share the same genes by common descent."
- So if our brains are composed of material stuff and that material stuff was formed because it was most advantageous to our specific species, then there will be a level to which these brains function in similar ways. Mutation and change within a species is healthy and natural, so not all people are exactly the same - our brains all have different, unique aspects. But there are many functions of the brain that will be similar for all people, and it is here that we find Human Nature.
"Particularities in decision making distinguish one human being from another. But the rules followed are tight enough to produce a broad overlap in the decisions taken by all individuals and hence a convergence powerful enough to be labelled human nature."
- There is a reason why we all have the same exact reactions to happy or pleasurable experiences...
- Our genes are patterned to program us in a way that can only be described as Human. Luckily for us, the traits that make us human are more limited and idiosyncratic than probably all other animals in the world. But, according to Wilson, that there are traits that make us act specifically human is without doubt.
-After this brush-up on materialism, next we will focus on how this evolutionarily formed human nature interacts with society.
Next Up: Wilson and Sociobiology