Edward Osborne Wilson

Edward Osborne Wilson

Wilson, Edward Osborne, 1929-, American sociobiologist, b. Birmingham, Ala. Founder of sociobiology, Wilson was educated at the Univ. of Alabama and Harvard, joined the Harvard faculty in 1956, and later became a professor of zoology. His exhaustive study of ants and other social insects, on which he is the world's chief authority, led to his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975), a controversial work on the genetic factors in human behavior in which Wilson argued that all human behavior, including altruism, is genetically based and therefore "selfish." He later called for careful study of "gene-cultural co-evolution." Critics have called sociobiology a dangerously reductive determinism that could be used to defend notions of racial superiority and eugenics; others have defended Wilson's evidence and biological reasoning.

Wilson's On Human Nature (1978) won the Pulitzer Prize; Biophilia (1984) suggests that human attraction to other living things is innate; Consilience (1998) urges wider integration of the sciences; and The Creation (2006) pleads for a unified effort by secular and religious thinkers to save the earth's biodiversity. Other books by Wilson are Insect Societies (1971), The Diversity of Life (1992), The Ants, with Bert Hölldobler (1990; Pulitzer Prize), The Future of Life (2002), and The Superorganism, also with Hölldobler (2008).

See his autobiography (1994).

(born June 10, 1929, Birmingham, Ala., U.S.) U.S. biologist. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he taught from 1956. Recognized as the world's leading authority on ants, he discovered their use of pheromone for communication. His The Insect Societies (1971) was the definitive treatment of the subject. In 1975 he published Sociobiology, a highly controversial and influential study of the genetic basis of social behaviour in which he claimed that even a characteristic such as unselfish generosity may be genetically based and may have evolved through natural selection, that preservation of the gene rather than the individual is the focus of evolutionary strategy, and that the essentially biological principles on which animal societies are based apply also to human social behaviour. In On Human Nature (1978, Pulitzer Prize) he explored sociobiology's implications in regard to human aggression, sexuality, and ethics. With Bert Hölldobler he wrote the major study The Ants (1990, Pulitzer Prize). In The Diversity of Life (1992) he examined how the world's species became diverse and the massive extinctions caused by 20th-century human activities. In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998) he proposed that all of existence can be organized and understood in accordance with a few fundamental natural laws.

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