E.O. Wilson, Eusociality & the Limits of Science

While a post-doc at Penn State (2011-13), renowned sociobiologist E.O. Wilson gave a lecture on eusociality – an understanding of the evolution of social cooperation and alturism among insects, such as ants, through: i) cooperative care of offspring; ii) overlapping generations within a colony of adults; and iii) a division of labour into reproductive and non-reproductive groups. Wilson extends these observations to human interactions and evolution.

To explain the link to human sociality, Wilson used Paul Gauguin’s “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” According to Wilson, Gauguin’s three questions are the central questions of religion and philosophy. However neither is equipped to answer them.


“Paul Gauguin – D’ou venons-nous” by Paul Gauguin – Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Wilson asserts that religions do not have the necessary scientific understanding of the universe. And since the decline of logical positivism, philosophy has “scattered in a kind of intellectual diaspora and into those areas not yet colonized by science”. Not afraid of a non-sequitur, Wilson concludes – “by default therefore, the solution to the great riddle, if it has an answer, has been left to science”.

Wilson claims that eusociality and evolutionary biology provide the best answer to Gauguin’s questions. Rather than address the veracity and usefulness of Wilson’s eusociality, I want to focus on the type of answer that Wilson’s eusociality is and whether it address Gauguin’s questions.

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Judging Books by Their Titles

Today while shelving books at the library, two titles caught my attention for opposite reasons.

The first, How to Get Your Dream Job Using the Internet: The Only Book That Takes You Straight to Thousands of Jobs Worldwide!, made me laugh and think of Homer Simpson. This book is 350 pages long, surely someone who wants to make money off/through the internet isn’t going to have the attention span to read such a long book. Incidentally it is selling for $0.01 on Amazon if anyone is interested.

The second book however, The Anthropologists’ Cookbook, sounded so interesting that I borrowed it. It is an edited work comprised of leading anthropologists detailing recipes from the regions where they have worked. The only problem is that most of the recipes take a very long time to prepare and with ingredients that aren’t readily available at Coles. Although “corrupted” versions of the recipes are given. There are even instructions on how to make Earth Ovens for roasting dogs. This is selling for $50.00 on Amazon.