Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

E. O. Wilson, fully Edward Osborne "E.O." Wilson

American Biologist (myrmecology), Researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), Theorist (consilience, biophilia), Naturalist (conservationist) and Author, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, known for his career as a scientist, advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist and deist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters

"Important science is not just any similarity glimpsed for the first time. It offers analogues that map the gateways of unexplored terrain."

"Human beings live - literally live, as if life is equated with the mind - by symbols, particularly words, because the brain is constructed to process information almost exclusively in their terms."

"Nothing comes harder than original thought. Even the most gifted scientist spends only a tiny fraction of his waking hours doing it, probably less than one tenth of one percent. the rest of the time his mind hugs the coast of the known, reworking old information, adding lesser data, giving reluctant attention to the ideas of others (what use can I make of them?), warming lazily to the memory of successful experiments, and looking for a problem - always looking for a problem, something that can be accomplished, that will lead somewhere, anywhere."

"You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give."

"When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all."

"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely."

"A very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic. "

"In the end ... success or failure will come down to an ethical decision, one on which those now living will be judged for generations to come."

"The essence of humanity's spiritual dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another. Is there a way to erase the dilemma, to resolve the contradictions between the transcendentalist and the empiricist world views? "

"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos. "

"It's obvious that the key problem facing humanity in the coming century is how to bring a better quality of life -- for 8 billion or more people -- without wrecking the environment entirely in the attempt."

"Theology made no provision for evolution. The biblical authors had missed the most important revelation of all! Could it be that they were not really privy to the thoughts of God?"

"Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction."

"True character arises from a deeper well than religion. It is the internalization of moral principles of a society, augmented by those tenets personally chosen by the individual, strong enough to endure through trials of solitude and adversity. The principles are fitted together into what we call integrity, literally the integrated self, wherein personal decisions feel good and true. Character is in turn the enduring source of virtue. It stands by itself and excites admiration in others"

"Culture is created by the communal mind, and each mind in turn is the product of the genetically structured human brain. Genes and culture are therefore inseverably linked. But the linkage is flexible, to a degree still mostly unmeasured. The linkage is also tortuous: Genes prescribe epigenetic rules, which are the neural pathways and regularities in cognitive development by which the individual mind assembles itself."

"Belief in the intrinsic unity of knowledge ? the reality of the labyrinth ? rides ultimately on the hypothesis that every mental process has a physical grounding and is consistent with the natural sciences."

"A spider spinning its web intends, whether conscious of the outcome or not, to catch a fly. That is the meaning of the web. The human brain evolved under the same regimen as the spider?s web. Every decision made by a human being has meaning in the first, intentional sense. But the capacity to decide, and how and why the capacity came into being, and the consequences that followed, are the broader, science-based meaning of human existence."

"In languages around the world, three-fourths of all the words describing sensory impressions refer to hearing and vision. The remaining minority of words are divided among the other senses, including smell, taste, and touch, as well as sensitivity to temperature, humidity, and electrical fields."

"In ordinary usage the word ?meaning? implies intention, intention implies design, and design implies a designer. Any entity, any process, or definition of any word itself is put into play as a result of an intended consequence in the mind of the designer. This is the heart of the philosophical worldview of organized religions, and in particular their creation stories. Humanity, it assumes, exists for a purpose. Individuals have a purpose in being on Earth. Both humanity and individuals have meaning. There is a second, broader way the word ?meaning? is used and a very different worldview implied. It is that the accidents of history, not the intentions of a designer, are the source of meaning. There is no advance design, but instead overlapping networks of physical cause and effect. The unfolding of history is obedient only to the general laws of the Universe. Each event is random yet alters the probability of later events. During organic evolution, for example, the origin of one adaptation by natural selection makes the origin of certain other adaptations more likely. This concept of meaning, insofar as it illuminates humanity and the rest of life, is the worldview of science. Whether in the cosmos or in the human condition, the second, more inclusive meaning exists in the evolution of present-day reality amid countless other possible realities."

"Premier among the consequences is the capacity to imagine possible futures, and to plan and choose among them. How wisely we use this uniquely human ability depends on the accuracy of our self-understanding. The question of greatest relevant interest is how and why we are the way we are and, from that, the meaning of our many competing visions of the future."

"Resistance to empiricism is also due to a purely emotional shortcoming of the mode of reasoning it promotes: It is bloodless. People need more than reason. They need the poetry of affirmation; they crave an authority greater than themselves at rites of passage and other moments of high seriousness. A majority desperately wish for the immortality the rituals seem to underwrite."

"Emotion is not just a perturbation of reason but a vital part of it."

"Environmental problems are essentially ethical because the solutions we attempt depend on our self-perception as a species, and on the future we envision for ourselves and our descendants. And from these considerations flow our prescription of what is good for humanity and for the environment."

"Epigenesis, originally a biological concept, means the development of an organism under the joint influence of heredity and environment. Epigenetic rules? are innate operations in the sensory system and brain. They are rules of thumb that allow organisms to find rapid solutions to problems encountered in the environment. They predispose individuals to view the world in a particular innate way and automatically to make certain choices as opposed to others"

"Humanity... arose entirely on its own through an accumulated series of events during evolution. We are not predestined to reach any goal, nor are we answerable to any power but our own. Only wisdom based on self-understanding, not piety, will save us."

"Human minds do not create culture but are themselves the product of culture."

"If enough species are extinguished, will the ecosystem collapse, and will the extinction of most other species follow soon afterward? The only answer anyone can give is: possibly. By the time we find out however, it might be too late. One planet, one experiment."

"Scientists look for four qualities in theory generally? parsimony: the fewer the units and process used to account for the phenomenon, the better? second, generality: the greater the range of phenomena covered by the model, the more likely it is to be true? Consilience: units and process of a discipline that conform with solidly verified knowledge in other disciplines have proven consistently superior in theory and practice to units and processes that do not conform? Predictiveness: those theories endure that are precise in the predictions they make across phenomena and whose predictions are easiest to test by observation and experiment."

"The greatest obstacle in consilience by synthesis, the approach often loosely called holism, is the exponential increase in complexity encountered during the upward progress through levels of organization."

"Scientific evidence is accretionary, built from blocks of evidence joined artfully by the blueprints and mortar of theory. Only very rarely, as in the theories of natural selection and relativity, does an idea change our conception of the world in one quantal leap."

"The brain constantly searches for meaning, for connections between objects and qualities that cross-cut the senses and provide information about external existence? In order to grasp the human condition, both the genes and culture must be understood, not separately in the traditional manner of science and the humanities, but together, in recognition of the realities of human evolution."

"The more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility and acquire the knowledge on which an enduring ethic, a preferred direction, can be built."

"Today the greatest divide within humanity is not between races, or religions, or even, as widely believed, between the literate and illiterate. It is the chasm that separates scientific from pre-scientific cultures."

"Science is neither a philosophy nor a belief system. It is a combination of mental operations that has become increasingly the habit of educated peoples, a culture of illuminations hit upon by a fortunate turn of history that yielded the most effective way of learning about the real world ever conceived."

"The message from geneticists to intellectuals and policy-makers is this: Choose the society you want to promote, then prepare to live with its heritabilities. Never favor the reverse, of promoting social policies just to change heritabilities. For best results, cultivate individuals, not groups."

"The problem of collective meaning and purpose is both urgent and immediate because, if for no other reason, it determines the environmental ethic."

"The most distinctive qualities of the human species are extremely high intelligence, language, culture, and reliance on long-term social contracts. In combination they gave early Homo sapiens a decisive edge of all competing animal species, but they also exacted a price we continue to pay, composed of the shocking recognition of the self, of the finiteness of personal existence, and the chaos of the environment."

"What is human nature? It is not the genes, which prescribe it, or culture, its ultimate product. Rather, human nature is something else for which we have only begun to find expression. It is the epigenetic rules, the hereditary regularities of mental development that bias cultural evolution in one direction as opposed to another, and thus connect the genes to culture."

"Will it ever be possible to assess the ongoing loss of biological diversity? I cannot imagine a scientific problem of greater immediate importance to humanity."

"Works of art communicate feeling directly from mind to mind, with no intent to explain why the impact occurs. In this defining quality, the arts are the antithesis of science."