Born in Alabama, Wilson grew up around Mobile and also Washington D.C.
Educated at University of Alabama and Harvard University. Professor of Entomology at Harvard, 1955-1996.
Regarded as world's leading entomologist (study of insects). Discovered chemical nature of ant communication via pheromones.
Founder of disciplines of biogeography and sociobiology (a.k.a. evolutionary psychology).
Evolutionary Psychology (Wikipedia) "seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations—that is, the functional products of natural selection . . . in human evolution. . . . Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments."
Some premises of evolutionary psychology:
Human brain evolved to present form app. 30,000 years ago, when social organizations were limited to hunter-gatherer societies of about 50-200 individuals.
Such backgrounds determine human inclinations to think or act tribally (rather than in terms of universal human rights) and to focus on the here and now of survival rather than long-term consequences of actions.
20-1, 82-3, 198-99
Humans can extend "family" or "tribe" to small local institutions like churches, neighborhoods.
Human identity extended to nations is more recent, usually founded on language, religion, and / or ethnic consistency.
USA is an "exceptional nation" in that it is a "nation of many nations" without a stipulated dominant culture. (Historically, the dominant culture is Northern European / Anglo.)
Books by E. O. Wilson:
1967 The Theory of Island Biogeography
1971 The Insect Societies
1975 Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
1978 On Human Nature (Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction)
1981 Genes, Mind, and Culture
1990 The Ants, with Bert Holdobbler (Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction)
1992 The Diversity of Life
1994 Naturalist (autobiography)
1998 Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (re inter-relation of natural and social sciences)
2002 The Future of Life
2003 Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus
2005 From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books
2006The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
2006 Nature Revealed: Selected Writings 1949–2006
2009 The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies
2010 Anthill: A Novel
2010 Kingdom of Ants: Jose Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World
2011 The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct
2012 The Social Conquest of Earth
2014 Letters to a Young Scientist
2014 A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park
2014 The Meaning of Human Existence .
E. O. Wilson: Of Ants and Men (PBS documentary 1 October 2015)
(notes from 3 Nov screening)
group identity: excluded we suffer; included we thrive
football as religion (x 2): traditions, pageantry, pride, passion; respect, tradition
collective ecstasy, group-selected creatures
way of life: "out of yourself and into the team"
cf. gladiators for combat, ritualization of war
territory, prestige, rank, power
cheered on by nubile women
150,000 closest friends and family
greeting = war cry
communion transcends individual selves
religion as something we evolved
biological and cultural adaptations > super-organism
tribalism double-edged: tribal belonging x brutal exclusion
[religion unifies on small scale, divides on large scale
Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Harvard UP, 1978, 2004.
2 . . . to the extent that the new naturalism is true, its pursuit seems certain to generate two great spiritual dilemmas. The first is that no species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history.
. . . the brain exists because it promotes the survival and multiplication of the genes that direct its assembly. The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction, and reason is just one of its various techniques. Steven Weinberg has pointed out that physical reality remains so mysterious even to physicists because of the extreme improbability that it was constructed to be understood by the human mind.
3 The first dilemma, in a word, is that we have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature.
. . . beliefs are really enabling mechanisms for survival. Religions, like other human institutions, evolve so as to enhance the persistence and influence of their practitioners.
5. At this point let me state in briefest terms the basis of the second dilemma . . . : innate censors and motivators exist in the brain that deeply and unconsciously affect our ethical premises; from these roots, morality evolved as instinct. If that perception is correct, science may soon be in a position to investigate the very origin and meaning of human values, from which all ethical pronouncements and much of political practice flow.
5 Philosophers themselves, most of whom lack an evolutionary perspective, have not devoted much time to the problem.
6 Like everyone else, philosophers measure their personal emotional responses to various alternatives as though consulting a hidden oracle. . . .. The challenge to science to to measure the tightness of the constraints caused by the programming, to find their source in the brain, and to decode their significance through the reconstruction of the evolutionary history of the mind. This enterprise will be the logical complement of the continued study of cultural evolution.
6 Success will generate the second dilemma, which can be stated as follows: Which of the censors and motivators should be obeyed and which ones might better be curtailed or sublimated? These guides are at the very core of our humanity. They and not be belief in spiritual apartness distinguish us from electronic computers. At some time in the future we will have to decide how human we wish to remain—in this ultimate, biological sense—because we must consciously choose among the alternative emotional guides we have inherited. To chart our destiny means that we must shift from automatic control based on our biological properties to precise sterring based on biological knowledge.
6 The only way forward is to study human nature as part of the natural sciences, in an attempt to integrate the natural sciences with the social sciences and humanities. I can conceive of no ideological or formalistic shortcut.
7 Although human progress can be achieved by intuition and force of will, only hard-won empirical knowledge of our biological nature will allow us to make optimum choices among the competing criteria of progress.
11 The heart of the scientific
method is the reduction of perceived phenomena to fundamental, testable
principles. . . . Ernst Mach, a physicist and forerunner of the logical
positivists, captured the idea with a definition: “Science may be regarded as a
minimal problem consisting of the completest presentation of facts with the
least possible expenditure of thought.”
12 . . . haplodiploidy causes sisters to be more closely related to each other than mothers are to daughters, and so females may derive genetic profit from becoming a sterile caste specialized for the rearing of sisters. . . . most cases can be classified either as matriarchies, in which queens control colonies of daughters, or as sisterhoods, in which sterile daughters control the egg-laying mothers.
17-18 . . . no intellectual vice is more crippling than defiantly self-indulgent anthropocentrism. I am reminded of the clever way Robert Nozick makes this point when he constructs an argument in favor of vegetarianism. Human beings, he notes, justify the eating of meat on the grounds that the animals we kill are too far below us in sensitivity and intelligence to bear comparison. It follows that if representatives of a truly superior extraterrestrial species were to visit Earth and apply the same criterion, they could proceed to eat us in good conscience. By the same token, scientists among these aliens might find human beings uninteresting, our intelligence weak, our passions unsurprising, our social organization of a kind already frequently encountered on other planets. To our chagrin they might then focus on the ants, because these little creatures, with their haplodiploid form of sex determination [unfertilized eggs= males, fertilized eggs = females] and bizarre female caste systems, are the truly novel productions of the Earth with reference to the Galaxy. We can imagine the log declaring , “A scientific breakthrough has occurred; we have finally discovered haplodiploid social organisms in the one- to ten-millimeter range.”
20-1 Certain general human traits are shared with a majority of the great apes and monkeys of Africa and Asia, which on grounds of anatomy and biochemistry are our closest living evolutionary relatives:
· Our intimate social groupings contain on the order of ten to one hundred adults, never just two, as in most birds and marmosets, or up to thousands, as in many kinds of fishes and insects.
· Males are larger than females. . . .
· The young are molded by a long period of social training, first by closest associations with the mother, then to an increasing degree with other children of the same age and sex.
· Social play is a strongly developed activity featuring role practice, mock aggression, sex practice, and exploration.
21-2 In 1945 the American anthropologist George P. Murdock listed the following characteristics that have been recorded in every culture known to history and ethnography: “ . . . dream interpretation . . . “
25 They [biochemists Mary-Claire King and Allan C. Wilson] found the summed differences between the two species [humans and chimpanzees] to be equivalent to the genetic distance separating nearly indistinguishable species of fruit flies, and only 25 to 60 times greater than that between Caucasian, Black African, and Japanese populations. The chimpanzee and human lines might have split as recently as 20 million years ago, a relatively short span in evolutionary time.
26 . . . no chimp genius has accomplished the equivalent of joining the sentences “Mary gives me apple” and “I like Mary” into the more complex proposition “Mary’s giving me apple is why I like her.” . . . But the capacity to communicate by symbols and syntax does lie within the ape’s grasp.
34 . . . most of the genetic evolution of human social behavior occurred over the five million years prior to civilization, when the species consisted of sparse, relatively immobile populations of hunter-gatherers. On the other hand, by far the greater part of cultural evolution has occurred since the origin of agriculture and cities approximately 10,000 years ago.
34 The power of a scientific theory is measured by its ability to transform a small number of axiomatic ideas into detailed predictions of observable phenomena . . . .
39 The most likely direct mechanism [for women giving birth to males under best conditions, to females under adverse conditions] is the selectively greater mortality of male fetuses under adversity, a phenomenon that has been documented in numerous species of mammals.
48 . . . most scientists have long recognized that it is a futile exercise to try to define discrete human races. Such entities do not in fact exist.
56 The mosquito is an automaton.
It can afford to be nothing else. There are only about one hundred thousand
nerve cells in its tiny head, each one has to pull its weight. The only way to
run accurately and successfully through a life cycle in a matter of days in by
instinct, a sequence of rigid behaviors programmed by the genes to unfold
swiftly and unerringly from birth to the final act of oviposition. [action of
68 The less rational but more important the decision-making process, . . . the more emotion should be expended in conducting it. The biologist can restate the relationship as follows: much of mental development consists of steps that must be taken quickly and automatically to insure survival and reproduction. Because the brain can be guided by rational calculation only to a limited degree, it must fall back on the nuances of pleasure and pain mediated by the limbic system and other lower centers of the brain.
. . phobias . . . . most often evoked by snakes, spiders, rats, heights, close
spaces, and other elements that were potentially dangerous in our ancient
environment, but only rarely by modern artifacts such as knives, guns, and
electrical outlets. In early human history such phobias might have provided the
extra margin needed to insure survival: better to crawl away from a cliff,
nauseated by fear, than to walk its edge absent-mindedly.
70 Culture elaborates the rites of passage—initiation, marriage, confirmation, and inauguration—in ways perhaps affected by still hidden biological prime movers. In all periods of life there is an equally powerful urge to dichotomize, to classify other human beings into two artificially sharpened categories. We seem able to be fully comfortable only when the remainder of humanity can be labeled as members versus nonmembers, kin versus nonkin, friend versus foe. Erik Erikson has written on the proneness of people everywhere to perform pseudospeciation, the reduction of alien societies to the status of inferior species, not fully human, who can be degraded without conscience. These and other of the all-too-human predispositions make complete sense only when valuated in the coinage of genetic advantage. Like the appealing springtime songs of male birds that serve to defend territories and to advertise aggression, they possess an esthetic whose true, deadly meaning is at first concealed from our conscious minds.
71 It is tempting to think that deep within the brain lives a soul, a free agent that takes account of the body’s experience but travels around the cranium on its own accord, reflecting, planning, and pulling the levers of the neuromotor machinery. . . . The agent itself is created by the interaction of the genes and the environment.
74 Consciousness consists of immense numbers of simultaneous and coordinated, symbolic representations by the participating neurons of the brain’s neocortex.
75 Since the mind recreates
reality from the abstractions of sense impressions, it can equally well simulate
reality by recall and fantasy. The brain invents stories and runs imagined and
remembered events back and forth through time, destroying enemies, embracing
lovers, carving tools from blocks of steel, traveling easily into the realms of
myth and perfect.
75-6 The compromise solution might lie in recognizing what cognitive psychologists call schemata or plans. A schema is a configuration within the brain, either inborn or learned, against which the input of the nerve cells is compared. The matching of the real and expected patterns can have one or the other of several effects. The schema can contribute to a person’s mental “set,” the screening out of certain details in favor of others, so that the conscious mind perceives a certain part of the environment more vividly than others and is likely to favor one kind of decision over another . It can fill in details that are missing from the actual sensory input and create a pattern of the mind that is not entirely present in reality.
77 The mind is too complicated a
structure, and human social relations affect its decisions in too intricate and
variable a manner, for the detailed histories of individual human beings to be
predicted in advance by the individuals affected or by other human beings. You
and I are consequently free and responsible persons in this fundamental sense.
79 . . . biological evolution is always quickly outrun by cultural change. Yet the divergence cannot become too great, because ultimately the social environment created by cultural evolution will be tracked by biological natural selection.
share many traits that are directly adaptive to their rugged way of life. They
form bands of a hundred or less that roam over large home ranges and often
divide or rejoin each other in the search for food. . . . Intertribal
aggression, escalating in some cultures to limited warfare, is common enough to
be regarded as a general characteristic of hunter-gatherer social behavior.
84 autocatalysis model. Autocatalysis is a term that originated in chemistry; it means any process that increases in speed according to the amount of the products it has created. The longer the process runs, the greater its speed.
85 With mental capacity and the tendency to use artifacts increasing through mutual reinforcement, the entire materials-based culture expanded. Now the species moved onto the dual track of evolution: genetic evolution by natural selection enlarged the capacity for culture, and culture enhanced the genetic fitness of those who made maximum use of it.
85 The sharing of game and other food contributed to the honing of social skills. In modern hunter-gatherer bands, it is an occasion for constant palavering and maneuvering.
85-6 The natural selection generated by such exchanges might have been enhanced by the more sophisticated social behavior required by the female’s nearly continuous sexual accessibility. Because a high level of cooperation exists within the band, sexual selection would be linked with hunting prowess, leadership, skill at tool making, and other visible attributes that contribute to the strength of the family and the male band. At the same time aggressiveness would have to be restrained and the phylogenetically ancient forms of overt primate dominance replaced by complex social skills. Young males would find it profitable to fit into the group by controlling their sexuality and aggression and awaiting their turn at leadership. The dominant male in these early hominid societies was consequently most likely to possess a mosaic of qualities that reflect the necessities of compromise. Robin Fox has suggested the following portrait: “Controlled, cunning, cooperative, attractive to the ladies, good with the children, relaxed, tough, eloquent, skillful, knowledgeable and proficient in self-defense and hunting.” Because there would have been a continuously reciprocating relationship between the more sophisticated social traits and breeding success, social evolution could continue indefinitely without additional selective pressures from the environment.
87 Autocatalytic reactions never expand to infinity, and biological processes themselves normally change through time to slow growth and eventually bring it to a halt. But almost miraculously, this has not yet happened in human evolution. The increase in brain size and refinement of stone artifacts point to an unbroken advance in mental ability over the last two to three million years. During this crucial period the brain evolved in either one great surge or a series of alternating surges and plateaus. No organ in the history of life has grown faster. When true men diverged from the ancestral man-apes, the brain added one cubic inch—about a tablespoonful—every hundred thousand years. The rate was maintained until about one quarter of a million years ago, when, at about the time of the appearance of the modern species Homo sapiens, it tapered off. Physical growth was then supplanted by an increasingly prominent cultural evolution. . . . Starting about ten thousand years ago agriculture was invented and spread, populations increased enormously in density, and the primitive hunter-gatherer bands gave way locally to the relentless growth of tribes, chiefdoms, and states. Finally, after A.D. 1400 European-based civilization shifted gears again, and the growth of knowledge and technology accelerated to world-altering levels.
88-9 The question of interest, then, is the extent to which the hereditary qualities of hunter-gatherer existence have influenced the course of subsequent cultural evolution. . . . the emergence of civilization has everywhere followed a definable sequence. . . . As band changed to tribe, true male leaders appeared and gained dominance, alliances between neighboring groups were strengthened and formalized, and rituals marking the changes of season became general. With still denser populations came the attributes of generic chiefdom: the formal distinction of rank according to membership in families, the hereditary consolidation of leadership, a sharper division of labor, and the redistribution of wealth under the control of the ruling elite. As chiefdoms gave rise in turn to cities and states, these basic qualities were intensified. The hereditary status of the elite was sanctified by religious beliefs. Craft specialization formed the basis for stratifying the remainder of society into classes. Religion and law were codified, armies assembled, and bureaucracies expanded. Irrigation systems and agriculture were perfected, and as a consequence populations grew denser. . . . The sacred rites of statehood became the central focus of religion.
89 In my opinion the key to the emergence of civilization is hypertrophy, the extreme growth of pre-existing structures. . . . the basic social responses of the hunter gatherers have metamorphosed from relatively modest environmental adaptations into unexpectedly elaborate, even monstrous forms in more advanced societies.
89-91 One example in its early stages is the subordination of women in elementary cultures. [Kung! Culture] . . . only a single lifetime is needed to generate the familiar pattern of sexual domination in a culture.
92 Most and perhaps all of the other prevailing characteristics of modern societies can be identified as hypertrophic modifications of the biologically meaningful institutions of hunter-gatherer bands and early tribal sates. Nationalism and racism, to take two examples, are the culturally nurtured outgrowths of simple tribalism.
92 Even the beneficiaries of the hypertrophy have found it difficult to cope with extreme cultural change, because they are sociobiologically equipped only for an earlier, simpler existence. Where the hunter-gatherer fills at most one or two informal roles out of only several available, his literate counterpart in an industrial society must choose ten or more out of thousands, and replace one set with another at different periods of his life or even at different times of the day.
93 Erving Goffman: Self then is not an entity half-concealed behind events, but a changeable formula for managing oneself during them.
93 Little wonder that the identity crisis is a major source of modern neuroticism, and that the urban middle class aches for a return to a simpler existence.
96 The most extreme and significant hypertrophic segment is the gathering and sharing of knowledge. . . . Pure knowledge is the ultimate emancipator. . . . But I do not believe it can change the ground rules of human behavior or alter the main course of history’s predictable trajectory. Self-knowledge will reveal the elements of biological human nature from which modern social life proliferated in all its strange forms. It will help to distinguish safe from dangerous future courses of action with greater precision. We can hope to decide more judiciously which of the elements of human nature to cultivate and which to subvert, which to take open pleasure with and which to handle with care. We will not, however, eliminate the hard biological substructure until such time, many years from now, when our descendants may learn to change the genes themselves.
Ch. 5 Aggression
99 Throughout history, warfare, representing only the most organized technique of aggression, has been endemic to every form of society, from hunter-gatherer bands to industrial states. . . . Virtually all societies have invented elaborate sanctions against rape, extortion, and murder, while regulating their daily commerce through complex customs and laws designed to minimize the subtler but inevitable forms of conflict.
101 Because there is a complex scale instead of a simple, reflex-like response, psychoanalysts and zoologists alike have had an extraordinarily difficult time . . .
102 . . . necessary to specify which of the particular forms of aggressive behavior is of interest.
103 . . . no evidence that a widespread unitary aggressive instinct exists.
103 . . . we are far from being the most violent animal. Recent studies of hyenas, lions, and langur monkeys . . . have disclosed that individuals engage in lethal fighting, infanticide, and even cannibalism at a rate far above that found in human socieities.
104 Hyena packs even clash in deadly pitched battles that are virtually indistinguishable from primitive human warfare.
104 . . . alongside ants, which conduct assassinations, skirmishes, and pitched battles as routine business, men are all but tranquilized pacifists.
105 Richard G. Sipes, anthropologist: practice of war is accompanied by a greater development of combatant sports and other lesser forms of violent aggression.
106 . . . we are strongly predisposed to slide into deep, irrational hostility under certain definable conditions. Aggression does not resemble a fluid that continuously builds pressure against the walls of its containers, nor is it like a set of active ingredients poured into an empty vessel. It is more accurately compared to a preexisting mix of chemicals ready to be transformed by specific catalysts that are added, heated, and stirred at some later time.
107 The resident animal defends the territory far more vigorously than intruders attempt to usurp it . . . .
110-111 War can be defined as the violent rupture of the intricate and powerful fabric of the territorial taboos observed by social groups. The force behind most warlike policies is ethnocentrism, the irrationally exaggerated allegiance of individuals to their kin and fellow tribesmen. In general, primitive men divide the world into two tangible parts, the near environment of home, local villages, kin, friends, tame animals, and witches, and the more distant universe of neighboring villages, intertribal allies, enemies, wild animals, and ghosts. This elemental topography makes easier the distinction between enemies who can be attacked and killed and friends who cannot. The contrast is heightened by reducing enemies to frightful and even subhuman status.
114 . . . an innate predisposition to manufacture the cultural apparatus of aggression, in a way that separates the conscious mind from the raw biological processes that the genes encode.
116 Quincy Wright: Out of the warlike peoples arose civilization, while the peaceful collectors and hunters were driven to the ends of the earthy . . . .
117 Civilizations have been propelled by the reciprocating thrusts of cultural evolution and organized violence . . . . In Abba Eban’s memorable words on the occasion of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, men use reason as a last resort.
117-118 . . . the full evolution of warfare can be reversed . . . . According to Andrew Vayda, an expert on primitive war, the prime mover of Maori warfare was ecological competition. . . . Alliances were based on kinship; the Maoris consciously and explicitly expanded against the territories of the genealogically most distant lineages. . . . The major effect of these territorial wars was stabilization of the population. . . . The Maori population was a constantly shifting mosaic of tribal groups held at a level density overall . . .
118-119 This terrible equilibrium was finally disrupted and reversed when European firearms were introduced. . . . The arms race soon became self-limiting. Even the victors paid a heavy price. To obtain more muskets, the Maoris devoted inordinate amounts of their time to producing flax and other goods that could be traded to the Europeans for guns. And in order to grow more flax many moved to the swampy lowlands, wehre large numbers died of disease. During the approximately twenty years of musket war, fully one quarter of the population died from one cause or another related to the conflict. By 1830 the Nga Puhi had begun to question the use of fighting for revenge. The old values crumbled soon afterward. In the late 1830s and early 1840s the Maoris as a whole converted rapidly and massively to Christianity, and warfare among the tribes ceased entirely.
119 To recapitulate the total argument, human aggression cannot be explained as either a dark-angelic flaw or a bestial instinct. Nor is it the pathological symptom of upbringing in a cruel environment.
119 The learning rules of violent aggression are largely obsolete. We are no longer hunter-gatherers who settle disputes with spears, arrows, and stone axes. But to acknowledge the obsolescence of the rules is not to banish them. We can only work our way around them.
120 To provide a more durable foundation for peace, political and cultural ties can be promoted that create a confusion of cross-binding loyalties.
Chapter 6. Sex
121 . . . sex is not designed primarily for reproduction. Evolution has devised much more efficient ways for creatures to multiply than the complicated procedures of mating and fertilization. . . . Nor is the primary function of sex the giving and receiving of pleasure.
122 Moreover, sex is in every sense a gratuitously consuming and risky activity. . . . Courtship activities are prolonged beyond the minimal needs of signaling. They are energetically expensive and even dangerous, to the degree that the more ardent are put at greater risk of being killed by rivals or predators. At the microscopic level, the genetic devices by which sex is determined are finely tuned and easily disturbed.
122 Thus sex itself lends no straightforward Darwinian advantage. Moreover, sexual reproduction automatically imposes a genetic deficit. If an organism multiplies without sex, all of its offspring will be identical to itself. If, on the other hand, an organism accepts sexual partnership with another, unrelated individual, half the genes in each of its offspring will be of alien origin. . . . Why then has sex evolved?
The principal answer is that sex creates diversity. And diversity is the way a parent hedges its bets against an unpredictably changing environment.
123 It is also possible to have hundreds of sexes, which is the mode among some fungi. But a two-sex system prevails through most of the living world. This system appears to permit the most efficient possible division of labor.
125 . . . one male can fertilize many females but a female can be fertilized by only one male. . . . It pays males to be aggressive, hasty, fickle, and undiscriminating. In theory it is more profitable for females to be coy, to hold back until they can identify males with the best genes.
125-6 moderately polygynous, with males initiating most of the changes in sexual partnership. About three-fourths of all human societies permit the taking of multiple wives . . . . In contrast, marriage to multiple husbands is sanctioned by less than one percent of societies.
126 Anatomy bears the imprint of the sexual division of labor. Men are on the average 20 to 30 percent heavier than women.
127 . . . running and throwing, the archaic specialties of the ancestral hunter-gatherer males. . . . Male champions are always between 5 and 20 percent faster than women champions . . . . the best women athletes are bertter than most male athletes . . . . The leading woman marathon runner in the U S in 1975 . . . would have ranked 752d in the national men’s listing.
127 . . . women match or surpass men in a few other sports, and these are among the ones furthest removed from the primitive techniques of hunting and aggression: long-distance swimming, the more acrobatic events of gymnastics, precision (but not distance) archery, and small-bore rifle shooting.
128 History records not a single society in which women have controlled the political and economic lives of men. . . . Lineage is reckoned exclusively through the male line at least five times more frequently than it is through the female line. Men have traditionally assumed the positions of chieftains, shamans, judges, and warriors.
129 . . . modest genetic differences exist between the sexes; the behavioral genes interact with virtually all existing environments to create a noticeable divergence in early psychological development, and the divergence is almost always widened in later psychological development by cultural sanctions and training. Societies can probably cancel the modest genetic differences entirely by careful planning and training, but the convergences will require a conscious decision based on fuller and more exact knowledge than is now available.
The evidence for a genetic difference in behavior is varied and substantial. In general, girls are predisposed to be more intimately sociable and less physically venturesome. From the time of birth, for example, they smile more than boys. This trait may be especially revealing since, as I showed earlier, the infant smile, of all human behaviors, is most fully innate in that its form and function are virtually invariant. . . . Frequent smiling then becomes one of the more persistent of female traits and endures through adolescence and maturity. By the age of six months, girls also pay closer attention to sights and sounds used in communication than they do to nonsocial stimuli. Boys of the same age make no such distinction.
132 . . . the universal existence of sexual division of labor is not entirely an accident of cultural evolution. But . . . the enormous variation among societies in the degree of that division is due to cultural evolution.
134 From the time of the greatest upsurge of the kibbutz movement, in the 1940s and 1950s, its leaders promoted a policy of complete sexual equality, of encouraging women to enter roles previously reserved for men. In the early years it almost worked. The first generation of women were ideologically committed, and they shifted in large numbers to politics, management, and labor. But they and their daughters have regressed somewhat toward traditional roles, despite being trained from birth in the new culture. . . . They now demand and receive a longer period of time each day with their children, time significantly entitled “the hour of love.”
135 Another residue to be weighed and measured in biological social theory is the family. The nuclear family, based on long-term sexual bonding, geographical mobility, and female domesticity, is declining at this moment in the United States. Between 1967 and 1977 the divorce rate doubled, and the number of households headed by women increased by a third. . . . The American birth rate has declined precipitously, from 3.80 per family in 1957 to 2.04 in 1977.
139 Human beings, as typical large primates, breed slowly. . . . It is to the advantage of each woman of the hunter-gatherer band to secure the allegiance of men who will contribute meat and hides while sharing the labor of child-rearing. It is to the reciprocal advantage of each man to obtain exclusive sexual rights to women and to monopolize their economic productivity. . . . the exchange has resulted in near universality of the pair bond and the prevalence of extended families with men and their wives forming the nucleus.
140 Human beings are unique among the primates in the intensity and variety of their sexual activity. Among other higher mammals they are exceeded in sexual athleticism only by lions. The external genitals of both men and women are exceptionally large and advertised by tufts of pubic hair. . . .
Women are extraordinary in lacking the estrus, or period of heat. The females of most other primate species become sexually active, to the point of aggressiveness, only at the time of ovulation. Their genitals even swell and change color. A change in odor is probably also a general occurrence . . . . None of this happens in women. Their ovulation is hidden, to such a degree that it is difficult to initiate pregnancies or to avoid them even when the time of insemination is carefully selected. Women remain sexually receptive, with little variation in the capacity to respond, throughout the menstrual cycle. . . . In the course of evolution they have eliminated the estrust by diffusing it evenly through time.
140-1 Why has sexual responsiveness become nearly continuous? The most plausible explanation is that the trait facilitates bonding; the physiological adaptation conferred a Darwinian advantage by more tightly joining the members of primitive human clans. . . . It also reduced aggression among the males. In baboon troops and other nonhuman primate societies male hostility is intensified when females come into heat. The erasure of estrus in early human beings reduced the potential for such competition and safeguarded the alliances of hunter males.
141 Human beings are connoisseurs of sexual pleasure. The indulge themselves by casual inspection of potential partners, by fantasy, poetry, and song, and in every delightful nuance of flirtation leading to foreplay and coition. This has little if anything to do with reproduction. It has everything to do with bonding . . . The species that have evolved long-term bonds are also, by and large, the ones that rely on elaborate courtship rituals.
141-2 The biological significance of sex has been misinterpreted by the theoreticians of Judaism and Christianity. . . . The Church takes its authority from natural-law theory, which is based on the idea that immutable mandates are placed by God in human nature. This theory is in error. The laws it addresses are biological, were written by natural selection, require little if any enforcement by religious or secular authorities, and have been erroneously interpreted by theologians writing in ignorance of biology. All that we can surmise of humankind’s genetic history argues for a more liberal sexual morality, in which sexual practices are to be regarded first as bonding devices and only second as means for procreation.
142 Judeo-Christian morality is based on the Old Testament, written by the prophets of an aggressive pastoral nation whose success was based on rapid and orderly population growth enhanced by repeated episodes of territorial conquest.
143 . . . a strong possibility that homosexuality si normal in a biological sense, that it is a distinctive beneficent behavior that evolved as an important element of early human social organization. Homosexuals may be the genetic carriers of some of mankind’s rare altruistic impulses.
144 Homosexuality is above all a form of bonding. It is consistent with the greater part of heterosexual behavior as a device that cements relationships.
144-5 How can genes predisposing their carriers toward homosexuality spread through the population if homosexuals have no children? One answer is that the close relatives could have had more children as a result of their presence. . . . Freed from the special obligations of parental duties, they would have been in a position to operate with special efficiency in assisting close relatives. They might further have taken the roles of seers, shamans, artists, and keepers of tribal knowledge. If the relatives—sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and others—were benefitted by higher survival and reproduction rates, the genes these individuals shared with the homosexual specialists would have increased at the expense of alternative genes. Inevitably, some of these genes would have been those that predisposed individuals toward homosexuality. A minority of the population would consequently always have the potential for developing hemophilic preferences. Thus it is possible for homosexual genes to proliferate through collateral lines of descent, even if the homosexuals themselves do not have children. This conception can be called the “kin-selection hypothesis” of the origin of homosexuality.
146 . . . in western industrial societies, homosexual men score higher than heterosexuals on intelligence tests and are upwardly mobile to an exceptional degree. They select white collar professions disproportionately and regardless fo their initial socioeconomic status are prone to enter specialties in which they deal directly with other people. They are more successful on the average within their chosen professions. Finally, apart from the difficulties created by the disapproval of their sexual preferences, homosexuals are considered by others to be generally well adapted in social relationships.
147 Through the instruments of education and law, each society must make a series of choices concerning sexual discrimination, the standards of sexual behavior, and the reinforcement of the family. . . . One way or the other, intuitively or with the aid of science, evolutionary history will be entered in the calculations, because human nature is stubborn and cannot be forced without a cost.
Chapter 7. Altruism
149 Generosity without hope of reciprocation is the rarest and most cherished of human behaviors, subtle and difficult to define, distributed in a highly selective pattern, surrounded by ritual and circumstance, and honored by medallions and emotional orations. We sanctify true altruism in order to reward it and thus to make it less than true, and by that means to promote its recurrence in others.
151 Other than man, chimpanzees may be the most altruistic of all mammals. In addition to sharing meat after their cooperative hunts, they also practice adoption. Jane Goodall has observed . . . orphaned infants taken over by adult brothers and sisters. It is of considerable interest . . . that the altruistic behavior was displayed by the closest possible relatives rather than by experienced females with children of their own . . . .
151 In spite of a fair abundance of such examples among vertebrates, it is only in the lower animals, and in the social insects particularly, that we encounter altruistic suicide comparable to man’s. Many members of ant, bee, and wasp colonies are ready to defend their nests with insane charges against intruders.
152 [honeybees] From the point of view of the colony as a whole, the suicide of an individual accomplishes more than it loses. The total worker force consists of 20,0000 to 80,0000 members, all sisters born from eggs laid by the mother queen. Each bee has a natural ife span of only about fifty days, after which it dies of old age. So to give a life is only a little thing, with no genes being spilled.
152-3 Sharing the capacity for extreme sacrifice does not mean that the human mind and the “mind” of an insect (if such exists) work alike. But it does mean that the impulse need not be ruled divine or otherwise transcendental, and we are justified in seeking a more conventional biological explanation. A basic problem immediately arises in connection with such an explanation: fallen heroes do not have children. If self-sacrifice results in fewer descendants, the genes that allow heroes to be created can be expected to disappear gradually from the population. A narrow interpretation of Darwinian natural selection would predict this outcome . . . .
153 How then does altruism persist? In the case of social insects, there is no doubt at all. Natural selection has been broadened to include kin selection.
153 . . . do the emotions we feel, which in exceptional individuals may climax in total self-sacrifice, stem ultimately from hereditary units that were implanted by the favoring of relatives during a period of hundreds or thousands of generations? This explanation gains some strength from the circumstance that during most of mankind’s history the predominant social unit was the immediate family and a tight network of other close relatives. Such exceptional cohesion, combined with detailed kin classifications made possible by high intelligence, might explain why kin selection has been more forceful in human beings than in monkeys and other mammals.
154 Lives of the most towering heroism are paid out in the expectation of great reward, not the least of which is a belief in personal immortality. . . . Near the end of Pilgrim’s Progress we learn of the approaching death of Valiant-for-Truth: . . . “My marks and my scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.”
154 Compassion is selective and often ultimately self-serving.
155-6 “hard-core” altruism, a set of responses relatively unaffected by social reward or punishment beyond childhood. . . . We would expect hard-core altruism to serve the altruist’s closest relatives and to decline steeply in frequency and intensity as relationships become more distant. “Soft-core” altruism, in contrast, is ultimately selfish. The “altruist” expects reciprocation from society for himself or his closest relatives. His good behavior is calculating, often in a wholly conscious way . . . .
156 Through the convention of reciprocation, combined with a flexible, endlessly productive language and a genius for verbal classification, human beings fashion long-remembered agreements upon which cultures and civilizations can be built.
157 . . . David Hume’s striking conjecture that reason is the slave of the passions. . . . to what biological end are the contracts made, and just how stubborn is nepotism.
157 Human beings appear to be sufficiently selfish and calculating to be capable of indefinitely greater harmony and social homeostasis. This statement is not self-contradictory. True selfishness, if obedient to the other constraints of mammalian biology, is the key to a more nearly perfect social contract.
158-9 Individual behavior, including seemingly altruistic acts bestowed on tribe and nation, are [sic] directed, sometimes very circuitously, toward the Darwinian advantage of the solitary human being and his closest relatives. The most elaborate forms of social organization, despite their outward appearance, serve ultimately as the vehicles of individual welfare.
159 Milton M. Gordon: “man defending the honor or welfare of his ethnic group is man defending himself.”
159 The primacy of egocentrism over race has been most clearly revealed by the behavior of ethnic groups placed under varying conditions of stress. For example, Sephardic Jews from Jamaica who emigrate to England or America may, according to personal circumstances, remain fully Jewish by joining the Jews of the host society, or may abandon their ethnic ties promptly, marry gentiles, and blend into the host culture. Puerto Ricans who migrate back and forth between San Juan and New York are even more versatile. A black Puerto Rican behaves as a member of the black minority in Puerto Rico and as a member of the Puerto Rican minority in New York. If given the opportunity to use affirmative action in New York he may emphasize his blackness. But in personal relationships with whites he is likely to minimize the color of his skin by references to his Spanish language and Latin culture. And like Sephardic Jews, many of the better educated Puerto Ricans sever their ethnic ties and quickly penetrate the mainland culture.
161-2 From his own Caribbean research, and from comparable studies by other sociologists, [Orlando] Patterson has drawn three conclusions about allegiance and altruism: (1) When historical circumstances bring the interests of race, class, and ethnic membership into conflict, the individual maneuvers to achieve the least amount of conflict. (2) As a rule the individual maneuvers so as to optimize his own interests over all others. (3) Although racial and ethnic interests may prevail temporarily, socioeconomic classes are paramount in the long run.
162 To search for hard elements [of altruism], one must probe very close to the individual, and no further away than his children and a few other closest kin.
162 Honor and loyalty are reinforced by the stiffest codes. It seems probable that learning rules, based on innate, primary reinforcement, lead human beings to acquire these values and not others with reference to members of their own group. The rules are the symmetrical counterparts to the canalized development of territoriality and xenophobia . . . .
163 . . . predictable group responses . . . . One such generalization is the following: the poorer the ingroup, the more it uses group narcissism as a form of compensation. Another: the larger the group, the weaker the narcissistic gratification that individuals obtain by identifying with it, the less cohesive the group bonds, and the more likely individuals are to identify with smaller groups inside the group.
Human beings are consistent in their codes of honor but endlessly fickle with reference to whom the codes apply. . . . The important distinction is . . . between the ingroup and the outgroup, but the precise location of the dividing line is shifted back and forth with ease. Professional sports thrive on the durability of this basic phenomenon. For an hour or so the spectator can resolve his world into an elemental physical struggle between tribal surrogates. The athletes come from everywhere and are sold and traded on an almost yearly basis. The teams themselves are sold from city to city. But it does not matter; the fan identifies with an aggressive ingroup, admires teamwork, bravery, and sacrifice, and shares the exultation of victory.
164 hypertrophy, the cultural inflation of innate human properties.
165 Mark: “Those who believe [the Good News] and receive baptism will find salvation; those who do not believe will be condemned.” There lies the fountainhead of religious altruism. Virtually identical formulations, equally pure in tone and perfect with respect to ingroup altruism, have been urged by the seers of every major religion, not omitting Marxism-Leninism.
165-6 “If only it were all so simple!,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
166 Lawrence Kohlberg, six sequential stages of ethical reasoning
1 Simple obedience to rules and authority to avoid punishment
2 conformity to group behavior to obtain rewards and exchange favors
3 good-boy orientation, conformity to avoid dislike and rejection by others
4. duty orientation, conformity to avoid censure by authority, disruption of order, and resulting guilt
5 legalistic orientation, recognition of the values of contracts, some arbitrariness in rule formation to maintain the common good
6 conscience or principle orientation, primary allegiance to principles of choice, which can overrule law in cases the law is judged to do more harm than good.
167 . . . the great majority of people reach stages four or five and are thus prepared to exist harmoniously—in Pleistocene hunter-gatherer camps.
167 . . . stage six is the most nearly nonbiological and hence susceptible to the greatest amount of hypertrophy. The individual selects principles against which the group and the law are judged.
167 . . . to the extent that principles are chosen by knowledge and reason remote from biology, they can at least in theory be non-Darwinian. . . . Can the cultural evolution of higher ethical values gain a direction and momentum of its own and completely replace genetic evolution. I think not. The genes hold culture on a leash.
167 The brain is a product of evolution. Human behavior . . . is the circuitous technique by which human genetic material has been and will be kept intact. Morality has no other demonstrable ultimate function.
Chapter 8. Religion
169 . . . humanity migrates toward knowledge by logotaxis, an automatic orientation toward information . . .
170 August Comte: religious superstition can be defeated at its source. . . society replacing God as the Grand Being to worship
170-1 Today, scientists and other scholars, organized into learned groups such as the American Humanist Society and Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, support little magazines distributed by subscription and organize campaigns to discredit Christian fundamentalism, astrology, and Immanuel Velikovsky. Their crisply logical salvos, endorsed by whole arrogances of Nobel Laureates, pass like steel-jacketed bullets through fog. The humanists are vastly outnumbered by true believers, by the people who follow Jeane Dixon but have never heard of Ralph Wendell Burhoe. Men, it appears, would rather believe than know. They would rather have the void as purpose, as Nietzsche despairingly wrote so long ago when science was at its full promise, than be void of purpose.
171 “process theology,” in which God’s presence is inferred from the inherent properties of atomic structure. As conceived originally by Alfred North Whitehead, God is not to be viewed as an extraneous force, who creates miracles and presides over the metaphysical verities. He is present continuously and ubiquitously. . . . Process is reality, reality process, and the hand of God is manifest in the laws of science.
172 But all this, the reader will immediately recognize, is a world apart from the real religion of the aboriginal corroboree and the Council of Trent.
[corroboree = native dance of Australian aborigines]
[Council of Trent = 1545-63; responses to Protestantism]
172 Our schizophrenic societies progress by knowledge but survive on inspiration derived from the very beliefs which that knowledge erodes.
172 religious practices can be mapped onto the two dimensions of genetic advantage and evolutionary change.
175 A kind of cultural Darwinism also operated during the competition among sects in the evolution of more advanced religions. Those that gain adherents grow; those that cannot, disappear. Consequently religions are lik other human institutions in that they evolve in directions that enhance the welfare of the practitioners.
175 There is a principle in ecology, Gause’s law, which states that maximum competition is to be found between those species with identical needs. In a similar manner, the one form of altruism that religions seldom display is tolerance of other religions.
175 If the mind is to any extent guided by Kantian imperatives, they are more likely to be found in religious feeling than in rational thought.
175 . . . religion is one of the major categories of behavior undeniably unique to the human species.
176 . . . the key learning rules and their ultimate, genetic motivation are probably hidden from the conscious mind, because religion is above all the process by which individuals are persuaded to subordinate their immediate self-interest to the interests of the group. Votaries are expected to make short-term physiological sacrifices for their own long-term genetic gains. . . . Decisions are automatic and quick, there being no rational calculus by which groups of individuals can compute their genetic fitness on a day-to-day basis and thus know the amount of conformity and zeal that is optimum for each act. Human beings require simple rules that solve complex problems, and they tend to resist any attempt to dissect the unconscious order and resolve of their daily lives. The principle has been expressed in psychoanalytic theory by Ernest Jones as follows: “Whenever an individual considers a given (mental) process as being too obvious to permit of any investigation into its origin, and shows resistance to such an investigation, we are right in suspecting that the actual origin is concealed from him—almost certainly on account of its unacceptable nature.”
177 nosism = self-centered behavior as a group
177 Religious practices that consistently enhance survival and procreation of the practitioners will propagate the physiological controls that favor acquisition of the practices during single lifetimes.
178 the definition of religious behavior must be broadened to include magic and the more sanctified tribal rituals, as well as the more elaborate beliefs constructed around mythology.
179 The sacred rituals are the most distinctively human. Their elementary forms are concerned with magic, the active attempt to manipulate nature and the gods. . . . Probably the function was sympathetic magic, derived from the notion that what is done with an image will come to pass with the real thing. The anticipatory action is comparable to the intention movements of animals, which in the course of evolution have often been ritualized into communicative signals. The waggle dance of the honeybee is actually a miniaturized rehearsal of the flight from the hive to the food.
180 Rituals also regularize relationships in which there would otherwise be ambiguity and wasteful imprecision. The best examples of this mode of communication are rites of passage. . . . The rite of passage eliminates this ambiguity by arbitrarily changing the classification from a continuous gradient into a dichotomy. It also serves to cement the ties of the young person to the adult group that accepts him.
181 The proneness of the human mind to attack problems by binary classification is also manifested in witchcraft.
181 The epidemic of witchhunting in Tudor and Stuart England is one fo the better documented examples . Before this period (1560-1680) the Catholic Church had offered the citizenry a well-organized system of ritual precautions against evil spirits and malevolent spells. The Church had, in effect, practiced positive witchcraft. The Reformation removed this psychological protection. Protestant ministers denounced the old religious practices while reaffirming the existence of evil magic.
184 When the gods are served, the Darwinian fitness of the members of the tribe is the ultimate if unrecognized beneficiary.
186 As Rappaport has succinctly expressed it: “Sanctification transforms the arbitrary into the necessary, and regulatory mechanisms which are arbitrary are likely to be sanctified.”
188 In the midst of the chaotic and potentially disorienting experiences each person undergoes daily, religion classifies him, provides him with unquestioned membership in a group claiming great powers, and by this means gives him a driving purpose in life compatible with his self interest. . . The theologian and sociologist Hans J. Mol has aptly termed this key process the “sacralization of identity.” The mind is predisposed—one can speculate that learning rules are physiologically programmed—to participate in a few processes of sacralization which in combination generate the institutions of organized religion.
188 The first mechanism is objectification, the description of reality with images and definitions that are easily understood and invulnerable to contradictions and exceptions. . . . Objectification creates an attractive framework on which to festoon symbols and myths.
188-9 Commitment is the second process of religion-making. . . . Commitment is attained by ceremonies, in which the arbitrary rules and sacred objects are consecrated and repetitively defined until they seem as much a part of human nature as love or hunger.
189 Finally, there is myth: the narratives by which the tribe’s special place in the world is explained in rational terms consistent with the listener’s understanding of the physical world. . . . Their actions explain a little bit of how nature works and why the tribe has a favored position on earth.
189-90 Belief in such high gods is not universal. Among eight-one hunter-gatherer societies surveyed by John W. M. Whiting, only twenty-eight, or 35 percent, included high gods in their sacred traditions. The concept of an active, moral God who created the world is even less widespread. Furthermore, this concept most commonly arises with a pastoral way of life. The greater the dependence on herding, the more likely the belief in a shepherd god of the Judeo-Christian type. In other kinds of society the belief occurs in 10 percent or less of those whose religion is known.
190 The God of monotheistic religions is always male; this strong patriarchal tendency has several cultural sources. Pastoral societies are highly mobile, tightly organized, and often militant, all features that tip the balance toward male authority.
190 role of mythology in modern life . . . conflict between three great mythologies: Marxism, traditional religion, and scientific materialism.
190-1 Marx, Engels, and all the disciples and deviationists after them, however sophisticated, have operated on a set of larger hidden premises about the deeper desires of human beings and the extent to which human behavior can be molded by social environments.
191 Marxism is sociobiology without biology.
192 But make no mistake about the power of scientific materialism. It presents the human mind with an alternative mythology that until now has always, point for point in zones of conflict, defeated traditional religion.
192 Every part of existence is considered to be obedient to physical laws requiring no external control. The scientist’s devotion to parsimony in explanation excludes the divine spirit and other extraneous agents. Most importantly, we have come to the crucial stage in the history of biology when religion itself is subject to the explanations of the natural sciences.
192 If this interpretation is correct, the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competitor, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline. But religion itself will endure for a long time as a vital force in society.
192-3 While explaining the biological sources of religious emotional strength, it is unable in its present form to draw on them, because the evolutionary epic denies immortality to the individual and divine privilege to the species. Humanists will never enjoy the hot pleasures of spiritual conversion and self-surrender; scientists cannot in all honesty serve as priests. So the time has come to ask: Does a way exist to divert the power of religion into the services of the great new enterprise that lays bare the sources of that power?
Chapter 9. Hope
195 . . . the seemingly fatal deterioration of the myths of traditional religion and its secular equivalents . . . a loss of moral consensus, a greater sense of helplessness about the human condition, and a shrinking of concern back toward the self and the immediate future.
195 The mind will be more precisely explained as an epiphenomenon of the neuronal machinery of the brain. That machinery is in turn the product of genetic evolution by natural selection acting on human populations for hundreds of thousands of years in their ancient environments. By a judicious extension of the methods and ideas of neurobiology, ethology [study of animal behavior], and sociobiology a proper foundation can be laid for the social sciences, and the discontinuity still separating the natural sciences on the one side and the social sciences and humanities on the other might be erased.
195-6 lead directly to the second dilemma: the conscious choices that must be made among our innate mental propensities. The elements of human nature are the learning rules, emotional reinforcers, and hormonal feedback loops that guide the development of social behavior into certain channels as opposed to others.
196 . . . all human choices represent only a tiny subset of those theoretically possible. Human nature is . . . a hodgepodge of special genetic adaptations to an environment largely vanished, the world of the Ice-Age hunter-gatherer. Modern life, as rich and rapidly changing as it appears to those caught in it, is nevertheless only a mosaic of cultural hypertrophies [enlargements] of the archaic behavioral adaptations. And at the center of the second dilemma is found a circularity: we are forced to choose among the elements of human nature by reference to value systems which these same elements created in an evolutionary age now long vanished.
Fortunately, this circularity of the human predicament is not so tight that it cannot be broken through an exercise of will. The principal task of human biology is to identify and to measure the constraints that influence the decisions of ethical philosophers and everyone else, and to infer their significance through neurophysiological and phylogenetic reconstruction of the mind. . . . fashion a biology of ethics, which will make possible the selection of a more deeply understood and enduring code of moral values.
196-7 In the beginning the new ethicists will want to ponder the cardinal value of the survival of human genes in the form of a common pool over generations. Few persons realize the true consequences of the dissolving action of sexual reproduction and the corresponding unimportance of “lines” of descent. The DNA of an individual is made up of about equal contributions of all the ancestors in any given generation, and it will be divided about equally among all descendants at any future moment. All of us have more than two hundred ancestors who were living in 1700—each of whom contributed far less than one chromosome to the living descendant—and, depending on the amount of outbreeding that took place, up to millions in 1066. . . . Go back another few thousands of years—only a tick in the evolutionary clock—and the gene pool from which one modern Briton has emerged spreads over Europe, to North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. The individual is an evanescent combination of genes drawn from this pool, one whose hereditary material will soon be dissolved back into it. Because natural selection has acted on the behavior of individuals who benefit themselves and their immediate relatives, human nature bends us to the imperatives of selfishness and tribalism. But a more detached view of the long-range course of evolution should allow us to see beyond the blind decision-making process of natural selection and to envision the history and future of our own genes against the background of the entire human species. A word already in use intuitively defines this view: nobility. Had dinosaurs grasped the concept they might have survived. They might have been us.
198 I believe that a correct application of evolutionary theory also favors diversity in the gene pool as a cardinal value. If variations in mental and athletic ability is influenced to a moderate degree by heredity, as the evidence suggests, we should expect individuals of truly extraordinary capacity to emerge unexpectedly in otherwise undistinguished families, and then fail to transmit these qualities to their children.
198 Truly exceptional individuals, weak or strong, are, by definition, to be found at the extremes of statistical curves, and the hereditary substrate of their traits come together in rare combinations that arise from random processes in the formation of new sex cells and the fusion of sex cells to create new organisms. Since each individual produced by the sexual process contains a unique set of genes, very exceptional combinations of genes are unlikely to appear twice even within the same family. So if genius is to any extent hereditary, it winks on and off through the gene pool in a way that would be difficult to measure or predict. Like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up and over to the top of the hill only to have it tumble down again, the human gene pool creates hereditary genius in many ways in many places only to have it come apart the next generation. The genes of the Sisyphean combinations are probably spread throughout populations. For this reason alone, we are justified in considering the preservation of the entire gene pool as a continent primary value until such time as an almost unimaginably greater knowledge of human heredity provides us with the option of a democratically contrived eugenics.
198-9 Universal human rights might properly be regarded as a third primary value. The idea is not general; it is largely the invention of recent European-American civilization. I suggest that we will want to give it primary status not because it is a divine ordinance . . . but because we are mammals. Our societies are based on the mammalian plan: the individual strives for personal reproductive success foremost and that of his immediate kind secondarily; further grudging cooperation represents a compromise struck in order to enjoy the benefits of group membership.
199 The search for values will . . . go beyond the utilitarian calculus of genetic fitness. Although natural selection has been the prime mover, it works through a cascade of decisions based on secondary values that have historically served as the enabling mechanisms for survival and reproductive success. These values are defined to a large extent by our most intense emotions: enthusiasm and a sharpening of the senses from exploration, exaltation from discovery, triumph in battle and competitive sports; the restful satisfaction from an altruistic act well and truly placed; the stirring of ethnic and national pride; the strength from family ties; and the secure biophilic pleasure from the nearness of animals and growing plants.
199-200 There is a neurophysiology of such responses to be deciphered, and their evolutionary history awaits reconstruction. A kind of principle of the conservation of energy operates among them, such that the emphasis of anyone over others still retains the potential summed power of all.
200 Mary Barnard’s Sappho:
Some say a cavalry corps,
of our fleet are the finest
200 Recent evidence suggests that dreams are produced when giant fibers in the brainstem fire upward through the brain during sleep, stirring the cerebral cortex to activity. In the absence of ordinary sensory information from the outside, the cortex responds by calling up images from the memory banks and fabricating plausible stories. In an analogous manner the mind will always create morality, religion, and mythology and empower them with emotional force. When blind ideologies and religious beliefs are stripped away, others are quickly manufactured as replacements. If the cerebral cortex is rigidly trained in the techniques of critical analysis and packed with tested information, it will reorder all that into some form of morality, religion, and mythology. If the mind is instructed that its pararational activity cannot be combined with the rational, it will divide itself into two compartments so that both activities can continue to flourish side by side.
200-01 This mythopoeic drive can be harnessed to learning and the rational search for human progress if we finally concede that scientific materialism is itself a mythology defined in the noble sense. So let me give again the reasons why I consider the scientific ethos superior to religion: its repeated triumphs in explaining and controlling the physical world; its self-correcting nature open to all competent to devise and conduct the tests; its readiness to examine all subjects sacred and profane; and now the possibility of explaining traditional religion by the mechanistic models of evolutionary biology. The last achievement will be crucial. If religion, including the dogmatic secular ideologies, can be systematically analyzed and explained as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power as an external source of morality will be gone forever and the solution of the second dilemma will have become a practical necessity.
201 The core of scientific materialism is the evolutionary epic. Let me repeat its minimum claims: that the laws of the physical sciences are consistent with those of the biological and social sciences and can be linked in chains of causal explanation; that life and mind have a physical basis; that the world as we know it has evolved from earlier worlds obedient to the same laws; and that the visible universe today is everywhere subject to these materialist explanations. The epic can be indefinitely strengthened up and down the line, but its most sweeping assertions cannot be proved with finality.
What I am suggesting, in the end, is that the evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have. It can be adjusted until it comes as close to truth as the human mind is constructed to judge the truth. And if that is the case, the mythopoeic requirements of the mind must somehow be met by scientific materialism so as to reinvest our superb energies.
201-2 The great British biologist J. B. S. Haldane said of science and literature, “I am absolutely convinced that science is vastly more stimulating to the imagination than are the classics, but the products of the stimulus do not normally see the light because scientific men as a class are devoid of any perception of literary form.”
203 Yet, astonishingly, the high culture of Western civilization exists largely apart from the natural sciences. In the United States intellectuals are virtually defined as those who work in the prevailing mode of the social sciences and humanities. Their reflections are devoid of the idioms of chemistry and biology, as though humankind were still in some sense a numinous spectator of physical reality. In the pages of [leading literary journals], articles dominate that read as if most of basic science had halted during the nineteenth century. . . . Modern science is still regarded as a problem-solving activity and a set of technical marvels, the importance of which is to be valuated in an ethos extraneous to science.
203 The desired shift in attention could come more easily now that the human mind is subject to the network of causal explanation. Every epic needs a hero: the mind will do.
204 .. . . the human brain is the most complex device that we know and the crossroads of investigation by every major natural science. The social scientists and humanistic scholars, not omitting theologians, will eventually have to concede that scientific naturalism is destined to alter the foundations of their systematic inquiry by redefining the mental process itself.
204 . . . biology, and especially neurobiology and sociobiology, will serve as the antidiscipline of the social sciences. . . . scientific materialism . . . will . . . serve as a kind of antidiscipline to the humanities.
204 I hope that as this syncretism proceeds, a true sense of wonder will reinvade the broader culture.
205 [The rituals of religion] will certainly continue to be practiced long after their etiology ahs been disclosed. The anguish of death alone will be enough to keep them alive.
206-7 Above all, I am not suggesting that scientific naturalism be used as an alternative form of organized formal religion. My own reasoning follows in a direct line from the humanism of the Huxleys, Waddington, Monod, Paul, Dobzhansky, Cattell, and others who have risked looking this Gorgon in the face. Each has achieved less than his purpose, I believe, for one or the other of two reasons. He has either rejected religious belief as animism or else recommended that it be sequestered in some gentle preserve of the mind where it can live out its culture-spawned existence apart from the mainstream of intellectual endeavor. Humanists show a touching faith in the power of knowledge and the idea of evolutionary progress over the minds of men. I am suggesting a modification of scientific humanism through the recognition that the mental processes of religious belief—consecration of personal and group identity, attention to charismatic leaders, mythopoeism, and others—represent programmed predispositions whose self-sufficient components were incorporated into the neural apparatus of the brain by thousands of generations of genetic evolution. As such they are powerful, ineradicable, and at the center of human social existence. They are also structured to a degree not previously appreciated by most philosophers. I suggest further that scientific materialism must accommodate them on two levels: as a scientific puzzle of great complexity and interest, and as a source of energies that can be shifted in new directions when scientific materialism itself is accepted as the more powerful mythology.
207 That transition will proceed at an accelerating rate. Man’s destiny is to know, if only because societies with knowledge culturally dominate societies that lack it. Luddites and anti-intellectuals do not master the different equations of thermodynamics or the biochemical cures of illness. They stay in thatched huts and die young. Cultures with unifying goals will learn more rapidly than those that lack them, and an autocatalytic growth of learning will follow because scientific materialism is the only mythology that can manufacture great goals from the sustained pursuit of pure knowledge.
207 I believe that a remarkable effect will be the increasingly precise specification of history. One of the great dreams of social theorists—Vico, Marx, Spencer, Spengler, Teggart, and Toynbee, among the most innovatice—has been to devise laws of history that can foretell something of the future of mankind. Their schemes came to little because their understanding of human nature had no scientific basis; it was, to use a favored expression of scientific reporting, orders of magnitude too imprecise. The invisible hand remained invisible; the summed actions of thousands or millions of poorly understood individual human beings was not to be computed. Now there is reason to entertain the view that the culture of each society travels along one or the other of a set of evolutionary trajectories whose full array is constrained by the genetic rules of human nature. While broadly scattered from an anthropocentric point of view, this array still represents only a tiny subset of all the trajectories that would be possible in the absence of the genetic constraints.
208 As the social sciences mature into predictive disciplines, the permissible trajectories will not only diminish in number but our descendants will be able to sight farther along them.
208 Then mankind will face the third and perhaps final spiritual dilemma. Human genetics is now growing quickly along with all other branches of science. In time, much knowledge concerning the genetic foundation of social behavior will accumulate, and techniques may become available for altering gene complexes by molecular engineering and rapid selection through cloning. At the very least, slow evolutionary change will be feasible through conventional eugenics. The human species can change its own nature. What will it choose? Will it remain the same, teetering on a jerrybuilt foundation of partly obsolete Ice-Age adaptations? Or will it press on toward still higher intelligence and creativity, accompanied by a greater—or lesser—capacity for emotional response? New patterns of sociality could be installed in bits and pieces. It might be possible to imitate genetically the more nearly perfect nuclear family of the white handed gibbon or the harmonious sisterhoods of the honeybees. But we are talking here about the very essence of humanity. Perhaps there is something already present in our nature that will prevent us from every making such changes. In any case, and fortunately, this third dilemma belongs to later generations.
209 The true Promethean spirit of science means to liberate man by giving him knowledge and some measure of dominion over the physical environment. But at another level, and in a new age, it also constructs the mythology of scientific materialism, guided by the corrective devices of the scientific method, addressed with precise and deliberately affective appeal to the deepest needs of human nature, and kept strong by the blind hopes that the journey on which we are now embarked will be farther and better than the one just completed.