Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features wide-ranging, thought-provoking articles in English on any subject under the sun. Its objective is to present new, mind-changing ideas as well as to show to serious students of English how the various tools of the language can be felicitously harnessed to report a momentous or life-changing finding or event, to espouse or oppose an idea, or to express a deeply felt view about the world around us.

The outstanding English-language expositions to be featured here will mostly be presented through links to the websites that carry them. To put a particular work in better context, links to critiques, biographical sketches, and various other material about the author and his or her works will usually be also provided.

Sweeping account of how humanity dominated Earth’s biosphere

In a new book, The Social Conquest of Earth (Liveright, 352 pages), Edward O. Wilson, the preeminent biologist and naturalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, caps his distinguished scientific and literary career with a sweeping account of how humanity came to dominate Earth’s biosphere, wrapping it up with broad reflections on art, ethics, language and religion.

Social Conquest of Earth

Dr. Wilson argues in the book that what has powered the spectacular success of humans as a species is group selection—the tendency of evolution to favor groups that work together altruistically, beyond what might be predicted by simple genetic relatedness—and not kin selection—in which evolution favors the genes of individuals who sacrifice themselves for the sake of relatives.

Group selection is a highly controversial theory in biology, so Dr. Wilson’s embrace of it this late in his scientific career has triggered a firestorm of controversy that has mystified and dismayed his colleagues in the scientific community—and all the more so because Dr. Wilson himself had greatly popularized kin-selection theory in his 1975 book Sociobiology, a major work that was hailed by many scientists as a landmark—if controversial—effort to explain behaviors like altruism, aggression, and parental care as products of natural selection.

But Dr. Wilson is unruffled by the criticism of his change of outlook in favor of group selection, which he first articulated in a 2010 paper he had co-written with mathematicians Martin A. Nowak and Corina E. Tarnita. “I don’t mind it…I actually expect it for any important change. No pain, no gain,” he says.

Indeed, on the matter of success in the sciences, Dr. Wilson ruminates in The Social Conquest of Earth: “The successful scientist thinks like a poet but works like a bookkeeper. He writes for peer review in hopes that ‘statured’ scientists, those with achievements and reputations of their own, will accept his discoveries. Science grows in a manner not well appreciated by nonscientists: it is guided as much by peer approval as by the truth of its technical claims… But in the long term, a scientific reputation will endure or fall upon credit for authentic discoveries. The conclusions will be tested repeatedly, and they must hold true. Data must not be questionable, or theories crumble. Mistakes uncovered by others can cause a reputation to wither. The punishment for fraud is nothing less than death—to the reputation, and to the possibility of further career advancement. The equivalent capital crime in literature is plagiarism.”

Says Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, in a review of Dr. Wilson’s latest book: “At the core of The Social Conquest of Earth is the unresolved, unresolvable tension in our species between selfishness and altruism. Wilson brilliantly analyzes the force, at once creative and destructive, of our biological inheritance and daringly advances a grand theory of the origins of human culture. This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the intersection of science and the humanities.”

Read an excerpt from E.O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth in now!

Read Jennifer Schuessler’s “Lessons From Ants to Grasp Humanity,” a review of The Social Conquest of Earth, in The New York Times now!

Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist and naturalist with focus on research in sociobiology and biodiversity, and with myrmecology—the study of ants—as his biological specialty. The author of more than 20 books, he is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his The Ants and The Naturalist. He is professor emeritus at Harvard University where he was research professor in entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology until his retirement. A fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and a humanist laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, Dr. Wilson earned renown as “the father of sociobiology” and for his environmental advocacy and his secular-humanist and deist ideas pertaining to religion and ethics.

In “Evolution has given humans a huge advantage over most other animals: middle age,” an article he wrote for New Scientist magazine, David Bainbridge, University of Cambridge lecturer and author of Middle Age: A Natural History (Portobello, 304 pages), says people in middle age are used to dismissing their fifth and sixth decades as a negative chapter in their lives, perhaps even a cause for crisis. “But recent scientific findings have shown just how important middle age is for every one of us, and how crucial it has been to the success of our species,” Bainbridge argues. “Middle age is not just about wrinkles and worry. It is not about getting old. It is an ancient, pivotal episode in the human life span, preprogrammed into us by natural selection, an exceptional characteristic of an exceptional species.”

Middle Age

Read David Bainbridge’s “Evolution has given humans a huge advantage…” in now!

In “The All-Time TIME 100 of All Time,” a humorous companion essay to Time Magazine’s selection of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World,” Joel Stein says he has decided to compile a list that tells the story of the human race: the All-Time TIME 100 of All Time™. “It is a list, I assume, that will be carved in stone, put in every time capsule and projected by lasers into space,” he explains. “The only thing you need to know about this list is that, like the TIME 100, people are not listed in order of importance. So if you’re a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew or a Zoroastrian, you have no reason to get upset. I’m hoping, however, that no Scientologists see this.”

Read Joel Stein’s “The All-Time TIME 100 of All Time” in now!

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