Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review: The Meaning of Human Existence

The Meaning of Human Existence
Edward O. Wilson
Science, philosophy

Edward Wilson is a fine writer--a Pulitzer Prize winner--an original thinker, and a first-class scientist. The Meaning of Human Existence showcases all of those talents . . . in spots. It does not, however, synthesize them into a coherent narrative. The book reads like a collection of essays, which in part it is.

Mind you, the individual essays are in many places excellent. The sections on the behaviors of Wilson's beloved ants are riveting, for example, and the discussion of different models of group evolution is fascinating (at least, it's fascinating for anyone with a deep enough level of knowledge and interest). It's just not easy to see how they relate to one another, or to the many places where he presents bald assertions as fact, or to the scattershot and largely unsurprising conclusions.

I largely agree with those conclusions, for the record. I wish, however, that Wilson had chosen a less aggressive title, or provided a more coherent defense of it. As it is, the book is not likely to influence or interest anyone who doesn't already buy into Wilson's worldview.


  1. I'm sure that I would exp ect a lot more than "42" for the answer to the question of life the universe and everything. For those of us not in the know, what are the models of group evolution you mention?

    1. I was going to reply, but my reply ended up being much longer than the original post. It's here.