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The Morality of the Gene

An Excerpt from Sociobiology: The New Synthesis By Edward O. Wilson

Reviewed by: A.J. Napier

Biographical Information

E.O. Wilson was born in Birmingham, Alabama in

Biographical Information • • • E.O. Wilson was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1929. His field

1929.

His field of study…

ants (myrmecology).

An Eagle Scout and Nature Director of his

Boy Scout

summer

camp,

he

became

very

interested

in

insects,

and

at

18

was

intent

on

become an

entomologist.

Due to a shortage of insect pins resulting from World

 

War

II,

his

insect collections were limited, so he

began to collect ants which could be kept in vials.

At

the

urging

of

Marion

R.

Smith

of the National

Museum of Natural History in Washington, he began an insect survey of the ant populations of Alabama,

and is credited with the first report of fire ant

populations

Mobile.

in

the United

States, near the

port

in

Biographical Information (cont.)

At an early age, he lost eyesight in one eye due to a fishing accident.

– Fearing

he

might

not

be

able

to

afford

to

attend

university, he attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army. His enlistment was denied due his visual impairment.

• Graduating from high school in 1946, he was able to enroll at the University of Alabama, receiving both a B.S. and an M.S. in Biology in only 4 years. He then received his PhD in Biology from Harvard University in 1955.

Currently holds position at Harvard University as:

– Museum

of

Comparative

Zoology

Faculty

Curator,

Emeritus – Pellegrino University Professor, Emeritus

Theories

Some of Dr. Wilson’s theories include:

– The Epic of Evolution

An

attempt to define the creation reconciling

of the universe while

the

mythos.

religious

and

scientific

into an all-encompassing

– Ants and Social Insects

Dr. Wilson’s study of insect behavior has influenced, and been influenced by, many theoreticians.

• On Karl Marx, Dr. Wilson stated, “[he] was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species.” Ants are forced to work and live communally because they lack reproductive independence, where humans are not so impaired in this manner, i.e. the survival of the queen is directly in line with the survival of the species.

– Consilience

• The uniting of science with the humanities. Human nature, he defines, as a “collection of epigenetic rules,” and states culture is a product of human nature, and not a part. He states elements of human nature such as art appreciation, phobias, and incest taboos can be scientifically studied, and no longer reside within the sole realm of the ‘soft

I am sure some of you have opinions about the automatous nature of the human animal, and it’s relation to the behavioral aspects of social insect populations, so maybe you see where this is going. And so, without further ado, I present his most defining theories…

WAIT!

WHAT

COULD

A

MYRMECOLOGIST POSSIBLY KNOW ABOUT ANTHROPOLOGY?

The Unit & Target of Selection

• The Unit and Target of Selection

– Dr. Wilson argues the “unit of selection is the gene, the basic element of heredity. The target of selection is normally the individual who carries an ensemble of genes of certain kinds.” He states the behavior of insects, and by extension all animals, tends toward almost Darwinian aspects of group selection.

Sociobiology

• Sociobiology

– Defines social behaviors as a product of evolution and attempts to examine social behavior as such. Just as natural selection places pressures on organisms leading to the most ‘fit’ methods of environmental interaction, genetic tendencies toward beneficial social behavior also arise. It views evolution as not only a means to derive the best physical traits given a particular environment, but also as a method by which the most profitable social behaviors are selected for. Dr. Wilson defined sociobiology as the “extension of population biology and evolutionary theory to social organization”.

– Lett defines sociobiology as social “reductionism”, defined as the theory that every complex phenomenon can be explained by analyzing the simplest, most basic physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon. (Dictionary.com)

Sociobiology (cont.)

The basic tenets of the theory are: