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EO Wilson has spent his life (after discovering dozens of ants and developing evolutionary biology in the 1960's and 1970's) writing about consilience- the bringing together of science and the humanities. If you've read his other books on the subject - and I have - you'll see this one as part of that effort. As such, it is very good, full of the usual insights and charming writing style we have come to love.
But Wilson is now ancient, nearly 90, and his ferocious grasp on his subject is beginning to get a bit repetitive and rambling. This is really a longish essay, not a proper Wilson book, but it does succeed in summing up his basic thinking. You can only understand human beings if you understand that we are clever monkeys who have evolved from more primitive ancestors. As the humanities studies the why of humanity without understanding the what that science provides, they fall disastrously short. The need to integrate humanities (the why) with science (the what when and how) is pressing and beginning to take shape. The fact that so many people are unaware of this, and prefer the absurdity of religion vexes the great man. Wilson doesn't mind spiritual religion but he rejects specialist creation theories which mean only one is right. He is the apostle of reason in every sense, with a twinkly humanity to everything he touches.
So this is not the place to start reading Wilson - Sociobiology and Consilience are. Try Origins, another excellent late Wilson book. He is one of our greatest thinkers and he will be missed. But he has left a legacy of discover and insight almost unmatched among public intellectuals and hard scientists.
J'ai trouvé ce livre décevant (édition en anglais). Je pensais trouver une réflexion sur la créativité d'un point de vue biologique mais le livre est plein de digressions sur les humanités, sur la passion de l'auteur pour les insectes et la nature et autres, ce qui n'est pas inintéressant mais hors sujet à mon avis. Un certain nombre de chapitres, 12 par exemple, reviennent à la biologie per se, mais je reste sur ma faim quand même.
3.0 out of 5 starsA meandering but readable account
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 7, 2017
Reading through this I was initially underwhelmed. In a book ostensibly about creativity I kept expecting the author to break new ground on this topic, and was disappointed when he didn't.
About halfway through, though, I realised that I had misinterpreted the title of the book. This is a book about biology, what it means to be human and human evolution. It is a book that a biologist would write about creativity. Which really shouldn't be a surprise.
Wilson meanders somewhat through his subject matter - although the book is very short I think it could have benefited from a more rigorous edit, perhaps just to give it a bit more structure.
And in my view the author overreaches in his argument. His central thesis is that the humanities take too little account of human evolution in searching for the origins of creativity. He argues that it is only by combining science and the humanities in a 'third enlightenment' that we can properly account for the biological foundations of creative sparks in the humanities.
Yet such synthesis already occurs, particularly in the fields of neuroscience, philosophy of mind, social psychology and related areas. In my view Wilson's proposal isn't as radical and groundbreaking as he thinks it is.
Ultimately, though, this is still worth a read. For me, he is one of the most lucid writers alive on the nature and workings of evolution by natural selection. Where he links this to our seemingly innate desires for certain landscapes, visual art, music and stories, he brings real insight.
4.0 out of 5 starsThe Title 'What EO Wilson Has Been Thinking About Lately' was rejected by the Marketing Department.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 5, 2017
My Father-in Law is an academic author, but in a niche so small (Third World town planning, since you ask) that his work has no chance of ever gaining any popular appeal. This is a mixed blessing, as on one hand the royalty cheques are negligible, but on the other hand, his publishers don't try to flog his work as humorous, witty, surprisingly readable, or any of the other marketing-speak that any academic text with an outside chance of mainstream appeal gets larded with.
So the caveat here is that 'The Origins Of Creativity' isn't really much about the origins of creativity,( that probably being the most catchy title that they could come up with) It does start off discussing that idea, but develops into a somewhat discursive manifesto for a greater synthesis of the humanities and sciences, not really a new idea, of course. I do hesitate to disagree with someone who's about a thousand times smarter than I am, but one could argue that,rather than in the abstruse fields of endeavour Mr Wilson sees a a need of that synthesis - evolutionary biology, fr'instance - we could look at something like computer game design as an advanced form of humanities/science synthesis. There's a lot of that ivory tower thinking here, like his argument that all the money spent on religious worship should be diverted to enhancing creative progress. How would that work, then?
However, having said all that it's a book brimming with original ideas and curious facts about nature, and while it's somewhat rambling and inconclusive, it is indeed Surprisingly Readable.
4.0 out of 5 starsInteresting attempt to bring together science and the humanities
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 20, 2017
The biologist author is said to be the world's leading authority on ants, though he ranges far wider here. Basically he is calling for much greater understanding between the sciences and the humanities, a sort of updated version of C.P.Snow's "two cultures" thesis of the 1950s. He gives many fascinating examples in the world of nature, for example (taking one at random) the herring gull, seeing a huge artificial egg placed by its nest, will attempt to roll it into the nest. The author demonstrates that, among all living creatures, it is only human beings, with their development of language, who can create concepts like metaphor and irony. As an example of the latter, he devotes an entire chapter (4 pages) to the song "Send in the Clowns" from the musical "A Little Light Music". Taken in context, this is a deeply ironic song and he considers 9 seperate versions of it, concluding that only one singer performs it perfectly (hint: not Frank Sinatra, who is the wrong gender). Where I do take issue with Wilson is his comments on organised religion, a subject he brings up because he feels it consumes resources which could better be devoted more directly to the humanities. He defines religion according to its creation myth. But surely a "creation myth", such as that described at the beginning of the Book of Genesis (common to all the Abrahamic faiths) is usually very much a peripheral part of the central message of any one faith. Overall, a very interesting book with some fascinating facts from the world of nature.
4.0 out of 5 starsAn entertaining, creative collection of thoughts
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 17, 2017
More a collection of thoughts and essays than a coherent book, this publication explores two main ideas. The first is Wilson's forte, of course; that everything, absolutely everything about biology is the product of evolution. That means form, behaviour, culture, and humanity. As for creativity, it gets little mention outside of the first few pages, so don't be misled by the title.
The second idea is that "the humanities", as opposed to "the sciences" are crippled by their focus on what humans do with language, and the baleful influence of religious thought. Alas, his grasp of what makes religions operate seems weak, and he is over-concerned with creation stories. Wilson believes that the humanities have the potential to expand, and cover not just the "how" but also the "why" of their subject matter. In places, this seems rather like academic nit-picking, but overall is fascinating, because there are so many anecdotes, examples, and glimpses of amazing things that evolution has done. It isn't at all a heavy treatment, and wanders off into popular (American) song, a sort of sixth-form essay on simple archetypal themes in motion pictures, and the adventure and fascination of discovering new species of ants.
Not at all a book that needs study, it makes a great holiday read or a good birthday present for anyone with a little scientific knowledge.
4.0 out of 5 starsAn exploration of ideas linking creativity and science
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 4, 2020
This book has been described a more of an essay than a book. The author Edward O. Wilson has had a long career and is recognised as one of the world’s pre-eminent biologists and naturalists. he has at east twenty books published and is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. This book is about human origins and creativity, rather what I expected. He is arguing that we don’t yet understand the true origins of creativity because we do not yet understand or know enough about our origins as human beings. He believes that the fault lies in us having separated humanities form science. that we need to combine the two together in order to know and understand ourselves. Without including science we are making the humanity studies weak, and rootless.
This is a very thoughtful piece of writing and best book to be read slowly and digested. I liked some parts but also found other parts felt somewhat dated. I do like this writers belief that we need to put science and humanities together.