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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can change your view of human nature
In this book Wilson considers how various aspects of human nature can be explained by evolution. The book changed my world view more than any other I've read. Unfortunately it's written in a rather inaccessible style - Wilson seems to prefer to use an obscure word when there's a perfectly good alternative that won't require you to reach for the dictionary. He also allows...
Published on 30 Sep 2006 by P. Roberts

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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sociobiology: Wonderful idea, wrong species
Sociobiology is a sub-branch of biology studying social behaviour among animals from an extreme Neo-Darwinist perspective. That in itself could be controversial, but hardly outside a small circle of scientists. The real problem started when sociobiologists extended their perspective to include humans. Edward O. Wilson is often (wrongly) considered to be the founder of...
Published on 5 Dec 2010 by Ashtar Command


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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can change your view of human nature, 30 Sep 2006
By 
P. Roberts (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
In this book Wilson considers how various aspects of human nature can be explained by evolution. The book changed my world view more than any other I've read. Unfortunately it's written in a rather inaccessible style - Wilson seems to prefer to use an obscure word when there's a perfectly good alternative that won't require you to reach for the dictionary. He also allows himself to vier off the subject he was discussing at times. But don't let this put you off - the content is worth it.

If someone is strongly critical of this book I would suspect them of being a religious fundamentalist (one topic discussed is religious belief) and/or having a poor ability to understand science.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book, 26 Jun 2006
This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
Alan Michael Forrester seems to completely misunderstand the genetic basis for behaviour in his review. The mechanisms that cause XYY men to end up in prison more often than normal men are completely irrelevant - the simple fact that they do is enough to show that variation between people at the genetic level contributes to variation in their behaviour.

Edward Wilson was one of the key scientists and most important intellectuals in the development of the "new sciences of Human Nature" (as Steven Plinker calls the social and biological sciences that relate to human nature), and this is an important book in that development.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Classic in the subject, 4 Jun 2013
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J. Bacik (Edinburgh, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: ON HUMAN NATURE (Kindle Edition)
The book is well written, interesting and quite often surprising. It does include a lot of common sense, but it is also written in a manner that sticks to the pages.

Obviously considering the year of publication (1978), there are some old examples such as outdated comparison to a future computer power or description of tattooing as 'body mutilation' being 'substitute for aggression'. Nevertheless these outdated examples support the whole point of the book - the evolution of many cultural aspects and not just the biology.

E.O. Wilson presents a very interesting explanations for many human phenomena and compares the human behaviours to these of other species. He shows that the culture and the society, its perceptions and social moods, are mostly elongation of the biological evolution. His examples are well-referenced, explained and surprising. Easy and non-technical read.

This classic book is strongly recommended to everyone interested in human behaviour, instincts and the answer to the nature-nurture debate.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 'The Evolution Myth', 28 Mar 2011
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This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
The ability of science to explain phenomena previously only accounted for philosophically is well established and unstoppable. Wilson's field - the biology of social species - is one of the areas where this tendency has proved particularly dramatic.

In this book he makes a compelling case to accept that the scientific paradigm of evolutionary biology has now invaded sociology and philosophy so profoundly that these disciplines can now be regarded as contiguous, indeed fused.

Notwithstanding the inevitable limits to science, beyond which the speculative and the intuitive must prevail, Wilson's case is irresistable : `The evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have'.

The implication is that its importance will continue to grow; and, as it does so, more of the arts' territory will become science's.

Written over thirty years ago, the work remains an absolute classic
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5.0 out of 5 stars An essay by a true humanist, 26 Feb 2011
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
This hard-hitting, thought provoking book should be read by everyone.
The author sides with S.J. Gould who states that evolution has no goal (no anthropic cosmological principle). Species evolve by natural selection. The brain exists because it promotes survival and multiplication of the genes. He goes even further: the capacities to select particular esthetic judgments and religious beliefs must have arisen by natural selection. He argues that human beings are innately aggressive and fight wars to gain long-term reproductive success.
He hits hard at the interpretation of sexuality by Judaism and Christianity: the sex rules are biological and written by natural selection. In that way, he defends homosexuality.
Facing human nature as it is and evolves, how can we make life better? by the true Promethean spirit of science to liberate man by giving him knowledge and some measure of dominion over himself and his environment.

It will be difficult to refute the strong arguments of the author. He forces us to face the real realities of life and nature. The only solution is knowledge in order that mankind can take the necessary measures to save this planet.
By the way, he sneers at T. Roszak, who didn't find it necessary to replace God by reason; for E. Wilson, this is pure obscurantism.

A great read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic from a legend, 24 Jan 2011
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Magnus Johnson (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
When I was reading this I had to keep checking to remind myself that it was written in 1978. Now 30 years old, it's beautifully written, still thought provoking and still contemporary. Wilson's breadth is staggering as he cites literary and scientific sources to colour his argument. His simple arguments for the existence of homosexuality and our predilection for unsubstantiated belief in fantastic beings that created the world are brilliant.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sociobiology: Wonderful idea, wrong species, 5 Dec 2010
This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
Sociobiology is a sub-branch of biology studying social behaviour among animals from an extreme Neo-Darwinist perspective. That in itself could be controversial, but hardly outside a small circle of scientists. The real problem started when sociobiologists extended their perspective to include humans. Edward O. Wilson is often (wrongly) considered to be the founder of sociobiology, because of his book "Sociobiology. The New Synthesis". It was first published in 1975, and while most of the book is about animals, the last chapter also deals with man. In 1978, Wilson published a more popularized book, "On Human Nature". As indicated by the title, it deals almost exclusively with humans.

The idea that human behaviour is more or less genetically determined was intensely controversial, and Wilson was even physically attacked by a Maoist group (PL-InCAR) during a meeting of the AAAS. At a convention of the American Anthropological Association, a motion proposed the banning of "Sociobiology", but it was defeated after an intervention by Margaret Mead, ironic since Mead has become one of the main villains in sociobiological mythology. Equally ironic, Wilson was actually a moderate liberal in political matters, and later became an outspoken environmentalist. And while many of his opinions are surely wrong, his way of putting them forward has always been less dogmatic than that of the inevitable epigones (some of whom seem to have "seen the light"). I admit that I somehow like good old Eddie!

But is he right? And is sociobiology in general right? The shortest answer I can think of is: Absolutely not. It denies the problem that needs answering. A theory that "explains" reality by wishing a large chunk of it away, really doesn't explain anything. Rather, it borders on sheer pseudoscience. Many, perhaps all, sociobiologists argue that war, patriarchy and hierarchy are human universals. From this, they build their grand theories about the adaptive value of territorial aggression, male dominance and status. Let's put the political issues aside for the moment, and only look at the scientific evidence.

The problem, of course, is that war, patriarchy and hierarchy are *not* human universals. Gender roles in different societies show a remarkable degree of variation. The Iroquis were a warrior society where the men were chiefs and warriors, and yet the women had considerable power in their own right. They owned all the land, their children belonged to them in case of divorce, and the most powerful women had the right to veto political appointments. Indeed, 19th century anthropologists considered the Iroquis to be matriarchal! In the West African kingdom of Dahomey, the army consisted of both men and women. In a certain tribe in the Philippines, both men and women were hunters. I mention these particular examples since they are about societies were women to some extent filled "male" roles.

Archaeological excavations show that even some high cultures, which were presumably hierarchic, were nevertheless peaceful. This is true of the Indus Valley Civilization, which lasted too long and covered too large an area for the fact to be explained away. It may possible be true also of the Norte Chico civilization in South America. At least some Neolithic cultures were also peaceful for millennia, Catalhöyük being a well-known example. It's also interesting to note that male deities are almost absent from most of these cultures, whose religion seems to have combined female deities and some kind of nature or animal worship. This is suggestive of a more matrifocal society.

Another central concept of sociobiology is "kin selection", the idea that living organisms aid their closest kin ahead of more distant kin, or non-related individuals. The idea was first developed to explain the existence of sterile worker castes among social insects, including ants. It's well known to Wilson, who is a myrmecologist. But can the principle be applied to humans? The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins demonstrated already in 1976, in his book "The Use and Abuse of Biology", that many cultures around the world have a kinship structure that doesn't confirm to sociobiological expectations. There are many examples of cultures where siblings belong to different clans, and are counted as adversaries, while more distant kin or even illegitimate children are considered members of the family! Sociobiologists have decided to ignore Sahlins' book, or only quote statements from it that are frankly irrelevant.

As long as sociobiologists turn a blind eye to these scientific findings, little progress will be made. If human behaviour is genetic and adaptive, then sociobiologists must find a Neo-Darwinian answer to the fact that humans can construct both peaceful realms such as the Indus Valley Civilization, and warring militaristic city-states or empires, as those of the Indo-Europeans. If no genetic explanation can be found, we must bid adieu to sociobiology. The problem will not go away! 40 years later, the facts, like stubborn Trobriand spirit children, haven't moved.

Sociobiology? Wonderful idea, wrong species.
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19 of 90 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Superficial Nonsense, 30 Mar 2005
By 
Alan Michael Forrester "I exist." (Northampton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: On Human Nature (Paperback)
This book is superficial uncritical pseudoscience. I find it difficult to summarise all the non-sequiturs in this book in a single capsule review. So let me use just one example. Wilson says that men born with two Y chromosomes are more likely to end up in prison and this proves that genetic differences create behavioural differences among humans. What he doesn't mention is that men with two Y chromosomes are very tall and tend to have acne. Being tall can give you an advantage in a fight and having acne tends to get you mocked in our culture. So perhaps we should not be surprised that men with two Y's end up in prison more often than those without two Y's but it doesn't really have much to do with genetics. This book is an argument for Wilson's thesis that it is possible to reduce the social sciences to the natural sciences. He singularly fails to seriously consider that he might be wrong and so fails to consider criticisms of his position, like the one above.
A more accurate view is that while biology prevents us from performing certain physical tasks (like drinking large amounts of alcohol and then walking in a straight line), people can and do come up with new ideas through conjecture and criticism. If you want to understand human nature I recommend the work of Thomas Szasz, Jeffrey Schaler and Stanton Peele and to a lesser extent that of Karl Popper and F. A. Hayek (Hayek's book 'the Sensory Order' is a neglected classic). There are good books on human nature, but Wilson's book is not among them.
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On Human Nature
On Human Nature by Edward O Wilson (Paperback - 22 Oct 2004)
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