Top critical review
Interesting, but Not Persuasive
Reviewed in Canada on May 25, 2004
The thesis of Wilson's book is that DNA and the genome project are the underlying feature of all knowledge, bringing unity or consilience among so-called disparate studies.
For example, in the study of culture: "culture helps to determine which of the prescribing genes survive and multiply from one generation to the next. Successful new genes alter the epigegentic rules of populations. The alter epigenetic rules change the direction and effectiveness of the channels of cultural acquisition."
The social sciences should study genetic populations not individuals, because universal behavior is that which is most persistent and relevant to human behavior. Individual variants, while interesting in themselves, must be variants of universal human behavior in order to be fully understood and known in their relative context. Our knowledge, therefore, is limited to universals, not specifics.
The imaginative arts starts with the real world genetics, claims Wilson, and builds upon it with coherent metaphors that give art and science their vibrance. The creative impulse is the flip side of science that must build itself up with archetypes, themes, and symbols that inspire relaxation and reinforce science's advancements.
Religion is a hold over from centuries of man's evolution, in that, in the wild pre-man had to worry about being killed as well as killing other species. This holdover of genetic dominance and subordination finds its expression in the fear of some mythical beast, in this case of god. Our evolutionary hardwire leads individuals to substitute the myth that some supernatural being exists, even though the logical and positivistic basis for such a dominant being are now rationally debunked.
The book is articulate, provocative, and covers a wide spectrum of ideas, but I didn't find all the arguments particularly persuasive. I thought the argument on the arts more of a meditation on archetypes than an argument of universal knowledge through genetics. The social sciences too was seemingly lame; knowledge as that limited to universals is a throw back to Aristotle. and seems to limit the daunting variety of humankind. The most successful was the religion and ethics; one can easily be ethical without a supreme being handing out punishment and rewards, and belief in god gets people nowhere but false comfort. One thing that irritated me was the lack of specific footnotes for the copious use of others' works; instead they are summarized in notes at the end of the book.