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E.O. Wilson's 'The Future of Life'

  1. Oct 7, 2004 #1

    Phobos

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    I just finished E.O. Wilson’s “The Future of Life” and was kind of disappointed by it. It was the first book of his that I have read. Given my interest in evolutionary biology and his 2 Pulitzer prizes writing on the subject of biology, I had high hopes for it. Parts of it were interesting - - and he is a good writer - - but overall, it seemed like a rant of an radical environmentalist (something he calls himself). I suppose if one is to be a radical about anything, then the environment is a good choice…and I can agree with many of his points. However, every now and then he delves into misanthropy, which I found to be disturbing. But he also expresses some optimism for Humanity, which is good. Much of the book was depressing to read (e.g., pages of details on the rates of extinction, the loss of rainforests, etc.) but the last chapter ended on a positive note with some positive trends and suggestions for righting the wrongs. An introduction in the form of a letter to Thoreau was also interesting.
     
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  3. Oct 8, 2004 #2
    1) I wouldn't call it a rant. Wilson provides detailed information in an area where it is usually lacking.

    2) After Sociobiology, Wilson was dubbed as somewhat right wing. I think he feels that this wasn't accurate, so now he tends to lean the other way to redress the balance.
     
  4. Oct 15, 2004 #3

    Phobos

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    (1) I can agree with that to a point. It's important to know about all the environmental problems he outlines, but it does seem more like a broad picture of many examples rather than a detailed account of particular problems. Granted, I have not gone through all the footnotes for more info.

    (2) Interesting. I'll have to take a peek at Sociobiology.
     
  5. Jan 30, 2005 #4
    Interesting review of this book:

    Book review of Edward O. Wilson's The Future of Life, 2002.


    "This latest book by Wilson, in trying to make the argument that we should preserve all extant species and subspecies (which he calls races), is a continuation of the biophilia argument: that humans have emotional, religious, and ecological reasons for promoting the future existence of other organisms over the expansion and prosperity of humans."

    "The book is filled with stories about extinct and soon to be extinct species, and when stripped of any philosophical perspective it may be of interest strictly based on a naturalist interest in organisms. What I want to address however, are Wilson's extension from an interest in other organisms, to the assertion that the welfare of humans and/or the welfare of the earth itself is contingent on preserving species and races of other organisms. His assertions are scattered within the book almost as snippets of dogma, and I will address these as they occurred."
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  6. Feb 4, 2005 #5

    Phobos

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    He does include a rapid-firing of facts throughout the book which would take quite some time to track down references on. He does include a lot of footnotes/references, but I have not researched them further. Many of his assertions seem ok, but there were I few I was surprised at.
     
  7. Feb 4, 2005 #6

    loseyourname

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    Not all of Wilson's books are meant as pure science books. On Human Nature and Biophilia, for instance. He mostly puts forth hypotheses that are scientifically testable, but that doesn't mean he doesn't speculate. In Future he does have a tendency to use a rapid-fire approach, but all of his statistics are good statistics so far as I can tell. The projections are another question. There are, of course, different models that make different predictions of future outcomes based on the continuance of contemporary ecological practices. Plus, even something as basic as the ecological footprint is not exactly uncontentious. There are different ways of calculating the footprint that will give you conflicting accounts of whether or not current population levels and growth rates are sustainable, both long-term and short-term.

    Wilson writes as an authority, but it should be remembered that he really isn't. He is primarily an entomologist and behavioral biologist specializing in social behavior. His knowledge of ecology is certainly well above that of a layperson, but ecology is not an area he has carried out a whole lot of research in (I have no idea whether he's ever taught an ecology class at Harvard). His writing is genuine and is the writing of a man that deeply cares about the subject he writes on and the readers that he writes for, but it's important to remember that the topics he writes on are all topics that are at the very edge of developments in the biological sciences.

    The decrease in biodiversity over the last hundred years or so certainly is startling. The impact that a continuance of current extinction rates will have on man isn't really know. To be sure, there likely have been genes lost that might have been useful to us in some way, and the ecosystem disruption has been dramatic enough to badly hurt many indigenous peoples that relied on them, but all in all, mankind itself has been the better for all of our expansion. Wilson, however, is not only concerned with the impact the loss of biodiversity has on man, but the impact is has on the entire biosphere. He genuinely cares for the species that no longer exist and for the species that are withering on the brink of oblivion. He also appeals to the rest of us to care for our fellow earth-dwellers in this manner, even developing the hypothesis in Biophilia that this love of other species might be genetically programmed into us by evolution. Whether or not that hypothesis is true is a matter for further investigation, and he knows as much. It probably seems counterintuitive to a lot of people (it certainly does to me). But whether or not the love of biodiversity and other species is a part of our progamming has no impact on the ethical question of whether or not we should have this love. Ultimately, if you answer that question in the affirmative, then you will side with Wilson and this book might become an important work for you. If you answer in the negative, then you might very well say "so what, mankind will get along." Wilson also tries to make the case that mankind will not get along so easily if this continues, but that case is not solid. He is correct to say that nature provides for free many services that are being obliterated and must now be provided at a cost, but if the worldwide capitalist revolution continues to increase wealth on this planet, it might very well be that no one is the worse off for it, economically at least. The question of whether or not we should up our efforts to save the biodiversity we still have may very well come down to an aesthetic appeal if it is to have any impact on a person that does not care for other species. Do you prefer to live in a natural world, and do you think future generations should continue to have that option, or are you okay with the increasingly synthetic world that we build ourselves, discarding the prosaic remnants of Darwin's grand idea as we barrel along? It just might come down to that.
     
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