cover image The Meaning of Human Existence

The Meaning of Human Existence

Edward O. Wilson. Norton/Liveright, $23.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-87140-100-7

In his typically elegant style, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Wilson (Letters to a Young Scientist) cannily and candidly probes the nature of human existence. Wilson ranges from natural selection and eusociality to extraterrestrial life and the “all-importance of the humanities,” observing that the “origin of the human condition is best explained by the natural selection for social interaction.” He explores the conundrum of nature versus culture, pointing out that the two levels of natural selection—individual and group—always oppose each other. Human nature, he argues, is the “ensemble of hereditary regularities in mental development that bias cultural evolution in one direction as opposed to others and thus connect genes to culture in the brain of every person.” According to Wilson, “human existence may be simpler than we thought. There is no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life... we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world.” Given this freedom to recognize our relationship to nature and to act accordingly, Wilson pleads that we show tolerance to our fellow humans and mercy to the world around us: “We alone among all species have grasped the reality of the living world.... We alone have measured the quality of mercy among our own kind. Might we now extend the same concern to the living world that gave us birth?” (Oct.)