Brett Williams's Reviews > The Meaning of Human Existence

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
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A pleasant book, having little to do with its title.

This book is a confusion of definitions, a dismissal of beliefs held by the masses Wilson hopes will save the planet, and a good read when he sticks to science. Wilson opens by conflating meaning with function, purpose, or cause. “A spider spinning its web intends…to catch a fly,” he writes. “That is the meaning of the web.” No, that is the purpose of the web. Nor is evolution as the cause of the human species the meaning of human existence. Meaning comes from outside us as a measure of worth. So strong this need, we’ll invent gods to care for us. This irrationality irritates Wilson early and late in this volume. “There is no way around the soul-satisfying but cruel discrimination that organized religions by definition must practice,” writes Wilson. But are true communities with exclusionary factors like religion always cruel? The Amish? Orthodox Jews? Can we let these people have traditional communities without modernity’s blanket assault on tradition? Wilson seems to say, we know the human condition results from evolutionary development, so be something else and forget that silly need for belonging written in your genes.

With his lauding of the humanities throughout, he appears unaware of Gauchet’s Disenchantment of the World, noting our myths as the “the illogical solution to our illogical condition” of being alive and having to die. From the standpoint of scientific logic - which Wilson understandably reveres - our death and that of loved ones makes complete sense. Which is no sense at all. Per Gauchet, humans hold dear the myth’s Wilson assails, not because they are true in a scientific sense, but because they are not. When Wilson and we rationalists read scriptures literally, they appear notoriously immoral, fabulously self-contradictory, and occasionally an excuse on which to murder. As were the guarantee of social utopias responsible for sixty-million slaughtered outside of war by atheists Stalin and Mao. Religion has no corner on crime, and when Wilson urges his utopian vision as, “the greatest goal of our time, the unity of the human race,” I begin to worry.

There are serious threats to reason and science in America, and Wilson feels it. From teaching religion in science class, to science deniers as chairman heads of House and Senate science and technology committees, America sounds like 12th century Islam that fought the same battle. Science lost. But believers won’t read this book to get their conversion, so it will resonant only among Wilson’s tribe. For those of us in his group, you’ll find individual and group selection in tandem responsible for vice and virtue, among other interesting gems in this book.

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Reading Progress

June 6, 2016 – Started Reading
June 6, 2016 – Shelved
June 17, 2016 – Finished Reading

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