science BIOLOGY – socio-, darwinism, evolution, genetics, psychosomatics, nature/nurture, human nature

Embracing the Poetry of Being Human – A contributor to a special series on decolonizing anthropology rejects the discipline’s colonial and racist roots and instead pursues ways of doing science that center human liberation and possibility.
By DELANDE JUSTINVIL 24 JAN 2023> anthropolgy 7-1-2023 Why humans are kinder than at you think: The philosophy of Rutger Bregman – podcast hosted by Jonathan Bastian talking with Rutger Bregman, historian and author of “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” about the common misperception that humans are selfish and will always act in their own self interest. 

“St. Augustine famously argued that we humans are natural sinners, that we are born with original sin, and this is a version of what some scientists call ‘veneer theory,’” says Bregman. “The notion that our civilization is just a thin veneer, just a thin layer, and that below that lies raw human nature, which is nasty — this is a hugely popular and influential theory in our culture.” 

Throughout our history, humans have shown themselves capable of unspeakable atrocities, genocide, and cruelty, but Bregman says that that dark side of human nature is perpetuated in our culture — across literature, movies, and news feeds — and is not an accurate portrayal of our true nature.

Bregman, one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers, argues that we have been misled. Despite our dark history, there is plenty of science and research indicating that human nature is evolving to be kinder and more cooperative.

“We are the product of survival of the friendliest, which means that for millennia, it was actually the friendliest among us who had the most kids and had the biggest chance of passing on their genes to the next generation,” Bregman says. 

Bregman discusses how a shift in science and some fascinating new research indicates a more hopeful view of human nature inspired him to write his book. He says that society is a reflection of who we are as individuals, and that if we trust each other and are kind, our institutions will be designed to reflect that. Or, as Bregman puts it, “We become the stories we tell ourselves.” 

Delve deeper into life, philosophy, and what makes us human by joining the Life Examined discussion group on Facebook.

science cosmology biology plants black holes - economist 2-2023 5-2-2022 Ideology as Biology – E. O. Wilson corresponded for years with a notorious proponent of race science, advocating for his research behind the scenes. What does it tell us about his most controversial work? by Mark Borrello, David Sheepskin

More than once, he was described as a “modern-day Darwin.” Yet few of his eulogizers cared to dwell on a central preoccupation of his career: the development of the field of “sociobiology” in the mid-1970s, which he defined as the study of the biological aspects of animal behavior. In the years that followed, Wilson became embroiled in a very public controversy over his application of sociobiology to human evolution and behavior. That dispute is very much alive today—and without reckoning with it no account of Wilson’s legacy can be complete.

In 1975, Wilson published a lengthy treatise on the evolution of social behavior in animals titled Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. While Wilson’s primary focus in the book was on nonhuman animals, in its final chapter he extended sociobiological analysis to humans. Here he suggested, among other things, an evolutionary and genetic basis for “the behavioral qualities that underlie the variations between cultures,” as well as for “marked racial differences in locomotion, posture, muscular tone, and emotional response that cannot be reasonably explained as the result of training or even conditioning within the womb.”

The publication of Sociobiology triggered an immediate, fierce reaction from liberal-minded scientists and commentators, in the form of campus protests and charges of racism and sexism. In a group letter responding to a review of Sociobiology in these pages, the signatories, including two of Wilson’s departmental colleagues at Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, contended that Wilson’s “supposedly objective, scientific approach in reality conceals political assumptions,” drawing a line from the biological determinism that supported the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century to Wilson’s latest work. Other scientists, notably Richard Dawkins and Robert Trivers, staunchly defended Wilson and insisted it was, rather, his critics who were “politically motivated.” (Lewontin was an avowed Marxist, and Gould had socialist leanings.) Wilson himself angrily denounced his critics, both publicly and in private correspondence. Refusing to budge on the hereditarian implications for humans outlined in Sociobiology, he published On Human Nature in 1978 to great acclaim. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979.

The aftermath of Wilson’s work in sociobiology and the controversy surrounding it can best be described as an uneasy truce. Eventually, the antagonists moved on to other issues, and Wilson became one of the chief proponents of biodiversity conservation, for which he is now probably best known. The question of whether Wilson espoused racist ideas was left unresolved. So, too, was the larger question of how genetically determined human behavior is, and whether racial categories are even useful for describing genetic variations. Today, it is less common to call the study of racial or hereditarian differences in human behavior “sociobiology,” but fields ranging from evolutionary psychology to anthropology to molecular genetics have been influenced, often subtly, by Wilson’s framework. …”… 12/2021 E. O. Wilson: Extraordinary scholar who warned of biodiversity crisis – Naturalist and ant expert Edward O. Wilson, who died on 26 December, made at least five seminal contributions to ecology and was passionate about finding a more sustainable way for humans to live on Earth – By Doug Tallamy 19-1-2022 Setting the record straight: open letter on E.O. Wilson’s legacy – Response to Scientific American’s “The Complicated Legacy…” Razib Khan