E.O. Wilson’s current work: a theory of everything?

November’s Atlantic magazine features an article that looks at the current work of sociobiologist E.O. Wilson. Last year, we read Wilson’s The Future of Life as one of our selections. Now, Professor Wilson is working in Mozambique on a national park conservation project and filming for a school textbook. Howard French, who also wrote about China’s burgeoning role in African development projects for the Atlantic last year, follows Wilson and discusses his recent theory…”of everything.”

I’ll admit it was difficult for me to get the gist of the theory, which rejects kin selection–“that some species arrive at cooperative behavior and a complex division of labor as a matter of reproductive strategy among close relatives”–in favor of a newer model (more controversial among biologists), where “eusocial creatures are driven to cooperate not by their relatedness…but by the advantages that accrue to any group from the division of labor.”

In the article, Wilson explains:

“Within groups, the selfish are more likely to succeed…But in competition between groups, groups of altruists are more likely to succeed. In addition, it is clear that groups of humans proselytize other groups and accept them as allies, and that that tendency is much favored by group selection.” Taking in newcomers and forming alliances had become a fundamental human trait, he added, because “it is a good way to win.”

How might the theory contribute to a public health perspective? It’s something I’ve been mulling over a bit…Wilson is working on book that explores some of these ideas that will be released in April next year.

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2 Responses to E.O. Wilson’s current work: a theory of everything?

  1. bsbnerds says:

    My dreamy side loves this quote from Wilson. My cynical side, however, wants to point out that alliances are only good until one of the allies betrays the rest. One such ‘bad ally,’ from a public health perspective, might be corporate influence over health promotion efforts.

  2. Azra says:

    I think that’s an important distinction to make, especially when considering corporate influence in health promotion for a ph perspective. I’m thinking: from a historical perspective, how many examples have there been where allies have betrayed alliances? While I can think of some drug/vaccination studies that betrayed the public’s trust, how many have succeeded? And how do we move forward fighting the good fight in a world where betrayals have occurred? It’ll be interesting to see how Dr. Wilson’s theory holds upon further scrutiny…

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