A Conversation with E.O. Wilson – Sex Works, Philosophy 101, and the Patron Saint of Psychology

Now that I have your undivided attention, on Tuesday March 3, 2009,  Pulitzer Prize winning author and legendary biologist E.O. Wilson – Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University – gave a Distinguished Lecture Series presentation to the public at Severance Hall.

Prof. Wilson, who will be 80 in June,  began with several light moments, one of which was his characterization on creativity: ” Mathematicians peak in their teens; physicists  in their twenties; biologists and chemists in their thirties and forties; and philosophers – never peak.”  (At the end he observed that “…the history of philosophy is a history of failed models of the human brain” .)

He covered the life of Charles Darwin, and recommended that we we read his four major works in sequence: ” …Voyage of the Beagle”, “Origins…”, ” Descent…”, and” The expressions of the emotions in man and animals”.

Two principles of modern biology:

I: ” All biological processes are based on physics and chemistry” – functional biology.

II: ”  Natural Selection” – evolution.

He discussed the modern synthesis, unifying biology in this century, group selection, and the great dilemma of social evolution: when natural selection favors a trait at one level, and disfavors it at another.

He observed that some describe Darwin as the “Patron Saint of psychology”, but since I don’t use such language in mixed company, I won’t quote that.

“The end of the era of reductionism is at hand”.

He took questions from the audience – but not quite enough questions.

I had the privilege of walking out  with Prof. Patricia Princehouse, Director of the Institute for Scientific Origins at CWRU, whom I asked the question I was unable to at the general session: ” Does the discovery of genes which ‘encourage’ cooperation mitigate against social philosophies such as rugged individualism, etc?”  “Good question, we’ll have a discussion on that another time.”  she replied.

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on; Nor all thy Piety nor Wit

shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Trivia question: “What English authors were born in 1809 and first published in 1859?”  Answer: Charles Darwin, and Edward Fitzgerald – the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – see above.

N.B.: Severance Hall – is the home of the world famous Cleveland Orchestra, and was the location of my college commencement.

“From Wikipedia:

” Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929) is an American biologist, researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), naturalist (conservationism) and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology.

He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters.[1]

As of 2007, he is Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism[2],[3].”

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