As we prepare for the return of students for the spring semester, I decided to go to Barnes and Noble for a few books to read. I usually look for some of the favorite novels of all-time, but lately I have been moving towards the recent New York Times Bestsellers. I chose to read The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson.
Wilson provides a contrary view to the creationist theory, maybe I’m not capturing him correctly – he reiterates throughout the book that religion serves the purpose of making people feel good in a ‘communal way,’ having each other to support and commiserate during difficult times in life, and religion (at its worse), “makes good people do bad things”. While he and I don’t share the same belief, it is always helpful for me to read the opposing view, and in this case Wilson presents multiple times WHY there is no God, and how we evolved from chimpanzees. Wilson, a renowned biologist and author of more than twenty books, is an emeritus professor at Harvard University and has spent years studying various species (even identifying 20+ new species of ants) which leads him to outline a series of arguments that share many of the lessons learned throughout his lifetime.
The book begins with an overview on why we exist, with a great deal of data on the various forms of life including the development of aspects of nature. Wilson puts forth the argument that the sciences and the humanities need to be more jointly combined as they are coming together through new discoveries each day. The book flows from his early work with ants to the differences among homo sapiens and other life forms. Some of the other issues covered in the book include: the social nature of man; how our senses differ greatly from other living species; how we gain our knowledge as homo sapiens; what the worlds outside of earth can teach us; the last chapters focus on instinct, religion, and free will.
Wilson’s book serves as a philosophical treatise on all he has learned in his life, almost a “this is the truth – damnit!” and his last chapter sums up the future, “in the technoscientific age, freedom has acquired a new meaning. Like an adult emerging from childhood. We have a vastly wider range of choices but also a comparably larger number of risks and responsibilities”. Yes we do. Just look around at chemical warfare, an unknown outcome for climate change, religious zealots, and the loss of numerous species of living organisms every year. Is the future bright? Wilson believes humans are the smartest species and CAN fix all, but our complicated natures may make it impossible. While he provides hope, like most scientists, he attempts to map out the “how” in doing so. A brilliant man offering a compelling dissertation (of sorts) in having humans be more thoughtful on the role we play on the evolution of the future. A heavy dense read, but couldn’t put it down.