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The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O.…

The Meaning of Human Existence

by Edward O. Wilson

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Science can show us the meaning of our existence, not religion.
The humanities can help us understand ourselves.
We need to overcome our hardwired primitive way of responding to problems.
We are ultimately responsible for the fate of humankind; no god will come and save us.

Many examples to illustrate biological and sociological adaptations to survival stress.
Note to self: See my notes in folder "Books" on my computer. ( )
  jack2410 | Feb 2, 2017 |
The title of the book is a very daunting mission. Wilson uses science, not religion or myth to explain humans got to where we are now. He explores our needs to be a part of a tribe or groups. He examines the role of religion and alludes to some of the evils it has created (wars, violence etc). His chapter of what ET may be like was interesting though he doubts there will ever be any contact if there are other life forms like us on other planets. He is skeptical about that possibility.

I found some of the book to be above my head. Science and biology books and topics are not part of my normal reading fare. But I get his essential point. There is no after life, there are no second chances---this is it! ( )
  writemoves | Jan 30, 2017 |
Interesting, but somewhat repetitive and disjointed. I really think you only need the first and last chapter to understand his themes. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This book should have been titled "The Condition of Human Existence." There is nothing here about meaning, or how it might be created. This is just a biologist reminding everyone again that evolution by natural selection is scientifically factual, and creation myths and folktales are not. Here and there, he flits back and forth between insisting that the sciences and the humanities need each other, but then extolling the sciences as superior. Well, okay.

The sciences are undoubtedly superior for describing and classifying the phenomena that we experience, including ourselves. But recognizing the evolutionary bases of the human condition says nothing about the meaning of our existence—it only clears away the authority of mythological accounts that are rooted in supernatural revelation. (And his discussion of those accounts, while appropriately dismissive, is still irritatingly simplistic.) Remaining open is the question of whether, given the condition of the human species as a product of natural selection, anything resembling meaning or purpose is possible, and, if so, how we might discover or create it. Wilson has nothing to say on that question, and fails even to acknowledge that it might be asked.

He does suggest an interesting idea, which is that "individual selection favors what we call sin and group selection favors virtue" (p. 179), but it's not clear how that ought to affect the question of meaning. Undoubtedly, we humans experience a troubling conflict between our individuality and our need for social support, but that is a condition of our existence, not its meaning.

If you are looking for another restatement that, yes, evolution by natural selection really does have more explanatory power than supernaturalist creation myths for establishing the conditions of human existence, then this is a decent little book. But it offers nothing further, particularly if you are excited by the title and the prospect of tackling the problem of meaning. And for those who are not already persuaded of our evolutionary nature, I doubt this book will shift your view; he's preaching to the choir. ( )
  peterwall | Oct 31, 2016 |
In this series of essays, Edward O. Wilson sounds (at least to me) like an angry optimist. Humanity is impressive. We are the only species on Earth that can attempt to understand itself from anything resembling an objective perspective. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The forces that shaped us have left us prone to a wide range of traits that may not be conducive to our continued survival, and considering how many obstacles we have already overcome, how many times we have narrowly avoided extinction, that, I think, would be a shame and a terrible waste of potential. This is not exactly how he says it, but it is the message I'm getting from what he has said. I agree and I share his concerns.

The reason I've subjectively rated this a 3 stars (I liked it) as opposed to four stars (I REALLY like it) is that it does carry an angry almost frustrated tone. I liked it because I agree with his observations and conclusions. It's not likely to convince anyone who does not. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
In our own day, no biologist has been more persistent or eloquent in correcting our misapprehensions about human origins than Edward O. Wilson.... we should be grateful that Wilson, so late in his illustrious career, still appeals to reason and imagination in hopes of enlightening us about our nature and inspiring us to change our destructive ways.
added by danielx | editWashington Post, SR Sanders (Nov 1, 2014)
Since TLS reviews are behind a paywall, but I retain the copyright, I’ve decided to post it here
In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson sets out to explain what makes us human, and to answer the fundamental questions of where we come from, what we are and where are we going. He is clear on where the answers lie: not in philosophy or the humanities, and certainly not in religion, which he sees as purveying “unsupportable claims about supernatural causes of reality”. No, the answers must come from biology, since, to Wilson, human nature is essentially a product of evolution. And he sees the most critical aspect of human nature to be our conflicted status as both selfless and selfish creatures. While we may intercept bullets to save our loved ones, co-operate to build houses for the homeless and drop money in a beggar’s cup, we also cheat on our spouses and our taxes, and battle with others for money and status. How can evolution explain these contradictions?
Wilson argues that these conflicting tendencies result from fundamentally different forms of natural selection.
"Mr. Wilson’s slim new book is a valedictory work. The author, now 85 and retired from Harvard for nearly two decades, chews over issues that have long concentrated his mind: the environment; the biological basis of our behavior; the necessity of science and humanities finding common cause; the way religion poisons almost everything; and the things we can learn from ants, about which Mr. Wilson is the world’s leading expert." The point of this story is, in a way, the point of this entire book: “We are all genetic chimeras, at once saints and sinners, champions of the truth and hypocrites — not because humanity has failed to reach some foreordained religious or ideological ideal, but because of the way our species originated across millions of years of biological evolution.”
added by danielx | editNew York Times (pay site)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0871401002, Hardcover)

How did humanity originate and why does a species like ours exist on this planet? Do we have a special place, even a destiny in the universe? Where are we going, and perhaps, the most difficult question of all, "Why?"

In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson grapples with these and other existential questions, examining what makes human beings supremely different from all other species. Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called "the rainbow colors" around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Wilson takes his readers on a journey, in the process bridging science and philosophy to create a twenty-first-century treatise on human existence—from our earliest inception to a provocative look at what the future of mankind portends.

Continuing his groundbreaking examination of our "Anthropocene Epoch," which he began with The Social Conquest of Earth, described by the New York Times as "a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere," here Wilson posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.

Once criticized for a purely mechanistic view of human life and an overreliance on genetic predetermination, Wilson presents in The Meaning of Human Existence his most expansive and advanced theories on the sovereignty of human life, recognizing that, even though the human and the spider evolved similarly, the poet's sonnet is wholly different from the spider's web. Whether attempting to explicate "The Riddle of the Human Species," "Free Will," or "Religion"; warning of "The Collapse of Biodiversity"; or even creating a plausible "Portrait of E.T.," Wilson does indeed believe that humanity holds a special position in the known universe.

The human epoch that began in biological evolution and passed into pre-, then recorded, history is now more than ever before in our hands. Yet alarmed that we are about to abandon natural selection by redesigning biology and human nature as we wish them, Wilson soberly concludes that advances in science and technology bring us our greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:33 -0400)

In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson examines what makes human beings supremely different from all other species and posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.… (more)

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