Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Discuss the February 2015 philosophy book of the month, The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson.

How do you rate The Meaning of Human Existence?

1 star - poor, recommend against reading it
0
No votes
2 stars - fair, okay
1
9%
3 stars - good, recommend it
10
91%
4 stars - excellent, amazing
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 11

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Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Scott » February 1st, 2015, 12:17 pm

What is your overall rating and opinion of the February 2015 philosophy book of the month, The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson?

I like the book. I agree with Wilson about a lot of things, but that doesn't really make for enjoyable reading. I did find many parts of the book to be redundant. In good philosophical arguments, I think it is often useful to summarize what has been allegedly proven or argued so far. However, I felt in this book Wilson would repeat the same points without really referencing them as a summary.

What do you think?
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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Alias » February 13th, 2015, 1:58 pm

I think it should have been an essay. There really wasn't enough new content for a whole book. I enjoyed it, just because I like Wilson more, and find him easier to read, than Dawkins. This book had less to say on the unity of knowledge than Consilience, but was more fun.
Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities. - Voltaire

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Greta » February 14th, 2015, 5:35 pm

Around 2/3s of the way through so I can't rate it yet.

However, I disagree strongly with his romantic notion that humans will not fully explore biotechnology as a conscious choice so as to retain our "messiness" - or as EOW puts it, "our gift".

He is surely dreaming (and seemingly hoping). Each technological advancement potentially confers advantages. I am yet to see such broad eschewing of potential advantages in humanity, or in any other animals.

Many people are uncomfortable with the rate of technological change but Moore's Law rolls on. New generations naturally generate new ideas and they would seem unlikely to all embrace the "existential conservatism" that EOW proposes. If there is a threshold, barrier or record to be broken, rest assured, someone will try to surpass or transcend it.

Personally, I think that to be wedded to our messiness and internal contradictions is a luxury of a person living in comfortable circumstances. As populations increase and resources wind down, life will become less comfortable. There may come a time when there will be a significant advantage for those who are more synthetically based through reduced capacity for pain and suffering.
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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by 3uGH7D4MLj » February 18th, 2015, 12:15 pm

Greta wrote:However, I disagree strongly with his romantic notion that humans will not fully explore biotechnology as a conscious choice so as to retain our "messiness" - or as EOW puts it, "our gift".

He is surely dreaming (and seemingly hoping). Each technological advancement potentially confers advantages. I am yet to see such broad eschewing of potential advantages in humanity, or in any other animals.

Many people are uncomfortable with the rate of technological change but Moore's Law rolls on. New generations naturally generate new ideas and they would seem unlikely to all embrace the "existential conservatism" that EOW proposes. If there is a threshold, barrier or record to be broken, rest assured, someone will try to surpass or transcend it.
I agree with this criticism. Stephen Hawking says that editing the DNA will be irresistible.
fair to say

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Greta » February 18th, 2015, 5:43 pm

3uGH7D4MLj wrote:I agree with this criticism. Stephen Hawking says that editing the DNA will be irresistible.
It's already well under way. Only last night I saw how the tardigrade's ability to repair DNA broken down by radiation is being explored so future space travellers will be less vulnerable.

Changing ourselves will be necessary to help secure our future. The Earth periodically undergoes tempestuous periods that wipe out all dominant organisms - it could be meteors, volcanoes or climate change, and in a billion years the Earth will be completely uninhabitable anyway. If the human race (not to mention other organisms) are to have any hope of survival they must move to another planet or moon. Without genetic or synthetic alterations, we won't be able to do this.

One small thing that irritated me in the book was EO Wilson bitchily referring to one of the most important evolutionary biologists in history, Richard Dawkins, as a "journalist". It was a deliberate and calculated put-down based on their longstanding disagreements about group selection vs kin selection. I largely agree with EO on that issue but such lapses in objectivity reduce trust and credibility.

Otherwise, I have otherwise enjoyed and appreciate the recommendation.
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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Parametheus » March 13th, 2015, 11:31 pm

The book pleads the case for Wilson's definition of science to be best placed to define the meaning of human existence. He is in fact arguing that the humanities is represented by religion, which Wilson claims has a wrong-headed view of the meaning of human existence. Wilson suggests that the humanities argue for a creator implying design and intention in the creation. On the other hand, he suggests that the scientific view of life is based on random and accidental events of evolution. Wilson asserts that the scientific nature of evolution is better placed to explain why we exist and that the answer to why we exist is the same as answering the meaning of human existence. But ironically, the more he explained various species the more it seemed to me that there was order and purpose to life that is denied by evolutionists. I am now of the view that science is in a better place to explain the meaning of human existence, but that it is erroneous to suggest that it is all random and accidental. In other words, science has yet to get it right. Turning to the humanities, I find it impossible to accept that randomness and accidents could produce the beauty and wonder of this universe.

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Alias » March 14th, 2015, 12:19 am

What if, for "randomness and accidents" you substituted "serendipity"? See, how it really works is: a random accident happens that makes someone a tiny little bit different, in a way that's just that little bit more attractive, more dexterous, stronger, faster, smarter, more suited to the environment - just that tiny little bit more competitive than the next entity. Then everybody jumps on the band-wagon and tries to have/do/be that new thing. There is nothing random about the train of events or the outcome; they all make perfect sense.
Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities. - Voltaire

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Lagayscienza » March 15th, 2015, 1:28 am

I enjoyed the The Meaning of Human Existence even though E.O.Wilson had said most of what he had to say in it previous works such as The Social Conquest of Earth.

I was particularly interested in the appendix in which he discusses a recent mathematical analysis of the theory of inclusive fitness which in his words "attempts to find a universal design principle for evolution that applies at the level of the individual". This recent mathematical analysis shows that it fails to do so. I wonder what Richard Dawkins (who Wilson in the present book refers to as a "science journalist" - not a scientist, mind) will have to say about this. When E.O. Wilson argued for group selection in The Social Conquest of Earth (as he does in the present book) Dawkins went ballistic in his review of it in Prospect magazine telling readers to toss the book away forcefully. Surely this mathematical analysis is a blow for Dawkins who freely admits that he's no mathematician. Although I admire Dawkins' work I think has become a bit dogmatic in his later years and needs to be more open to the possibility of selection at the group level which now seems plausible and has increasingly widespread support.

I highly recommend The Meaning of Human Existence.

-- March 16th, 2015, 2:03 pm --
Greta wrote:Around 2/3s of the way through so I can't rate it yet.

However, I disagree strongly with his romantic notion that humans will not fully explore biotechnology as a conscious choice so as to retain our "messiness" - or as EOW puts it, "our gift".

He is surely dreaming (and seemingly hoping). Each technological advancement potentially confers advantages. I am yet to see such broad eschewing of potential advantages in humanity, or in any other animals.

Many people are uncomfortable with the rate of technological change but Moore's Law rolls on. New generations naturally generate new ideas and they would seem unlikely to all embrace the "existential conservatism" that EOW proposes. If there is a threshold, barrier or record to be broken, rest assured, someone will try to surpass or transcend it.

Personally, I think that to be wedded to our messiness and internal contradictions is a luxury of a person living in comfortable circumstances. As populations increase and resources wind down, life will become less comfortable. There may come a time when there will be a significant advantage for those who are more synthetically based through reduced capacity for pain and suffering.
Yes, I found his idea that "humans will not fully explore biotechnology as a conscious choice so as to retain our "messiness"" a bit fanciful.

I think that if we survive it is almost inevitable that at some stage we will install our brain in, and even upload our minds to, machines that are physically much more robust and which don't need the very specific environment currently found on earth to function and flourish. We could achieve and discover and experience so much more if we were not so earthbound and still retain our "humanity" as we do so. I find the idea very exciting. A sort of immortality for atheists.
La gaya Scienza

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Jklint » April 25th, 2015, 11:35 pm

Lagayscienza wrote: I think that if we survive it is almost inevitable that at some stage we will install our brain in, and even upload our minds to, machines that are physically much more robust and which don't need the very specific environment currently found on earth to function and flourish. We could achieve and discover and experience so much more if we were not so earthbound and still retain our "humanity" as we do so. I find the idea very exciting. A sort of immortality for atheists.
Supposing that this will happen. We can't be certain that it won't. But would this actually be a good thing or is it merely spreading our own toxins within our immediate vicinity and by that I mean our quadrant of the galaxy. It's not just new technologies which are indispensable for such a dispensation of ourselves to whatever degree but much more so and with much more difficulty the creation of a new mind, a metanoia (however enclosed) which makes the journey going forward as constructive as we idealistically imagine it to be.

More likely it's to be a continuation of the human as we know him now hitching a ride by whatever means futuristic technologies will allow...as any successful virus would.

...But think of all the followed
upon creation of the Master Man,
no tragedy before or after
only a farce that long began.

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Lagayscienza » April 26th, 2015, 12:48 am

Jklint wrote:Supposing that this will happen. We can't be certain that it won't.
Indeed, some say that it's inevitable. It's certainly possible in principle and some argue that, given enough time, anything that can happen will happen. (Deutsch) If that is true then we will eventually become immortal if we wish to be. However, I suppose there is always the possibility that we will met up with an even more advanced species who will want to destroy us. But if there really is a necessary connection between the development of scientific knowledge and moral progress (Pinker, Shermer) then we can expect the science/moral connection to be seen in other advanced species. Thus, we may not have too much to worry about in that respect. And, anyway, the universe is a big place and there's probably room for us all.


Jklint wrote:But would this actually be a good thing or is it merely spreading our own toxins within our immediate vicinity and by that I mean our quadrant of the galaxy.
Well,I suppose that will depend upon whether, as mentioned above, our moral progress keeps pace with our scientific and technological progress. I agree with Pinker and Shermer that there has been moral progress and that that progress has been a corollary of the Enlightenment and the burgeoning scientific understanding that has taken place over the last few centuries. I don't see why that moral progress should not continue. So if we do expand out into the galaxy I expect (or at least hope) we'll take care not to hurt others the way we did when we expanded out of Africa, then out of Asia and Europe to other continents.
La gaya Scienza

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Jklint » April 26th, 2015, 3:56 am

My own view would be that if we are as successful in dealing with ourselves as we are with the planet - the prime infrastructure upon which the totality of ours is based - then clearly the obvious direction is down. If we have indeed gotten more moral as espoused by some, it still remains an exceedingly relative term based on what it's applied to, for what purpose and by whom all conjoining in defining morality as an abstraction at best and at worst as justifications for the sake of expediency and power. In that respect morality serves as a secular form of religion. Governments in order to convince or win confidence give their arguments a moral edge almost every time often for the most immoral of reasons.

The "meaning of human existence", as written by humans according to their individual perspectives, defaults to nothing more than interpretation since any such overt meaning never existed in the first place though some are more insightful than others. I found E.O. Wilson's arguments somewhat trite and repetitive with a thoroughly un-Nietzschean title to the book . There didn't seem to be much new here and appears more like a short story for a lot of money.

Any statements made for the "Meaning of human existence" are best made indirectly and it's in that sense that I much prefer the essays of Lewis Thomas and definitely Nietzsche.

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Lagayscienza » April 26th, 2015, 4:17 am

Yes, Jklimt, to some extent I agree with you. E.O.Wilson did not go to great lengths in this book to argue for moral progress. As others have said, there wasn't much that was new in it - the book might best be seen as a drawing together of threads - a type of summary of his previous work.

BTW, Neitzsche is an old favorite of mine, too. I'll have to have a look at Lewis Thomas. From what you say he sounds like a writer I should get to know.

Cheers
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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Alan Jones » June 25th, 2015, 8:54 am

Much of the book is a (sometimes disjointed) restatement or supplementing of ideas found in previous works. Still, I enjoyed the revisions and very much agree with Wilson that the most important change humans must make is in how they think [how they make their meanings]. "Only wisdom based on self-understanding, not piety, will save us." The understanding will need to be based on thinking that has replaced the either/or with continua. Religious and other forms of ideological-tribal thinking must be set aside. "If the heuristic and analytic power of science can be joined with the introspective creativity of the humanities, human existence will rise to an infinitely more productive and interesting meaning." Unlike Wilson, I hope that genetic modifications will become available that will help mitigate human cognitive biases, that will help make all who wish it more free and more critical thinkers.
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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Platos stepchild » September 14th, 2015, 3:46 am

I'll admit that The Meaning of Human Existence isn't Wilson at his best. I found him overly sanguine about the synthesis of the humanities and science; and yes, he was occasionally redundant. Also, the argument that scientific knowledge, which has been advancing exponentially will level out wasn't convincing. (It seemed, in fact to be a foil for his unsubstantiated optimism for the aforementioned synthesis). However, Wilson has properly ensconced man in his parochial, sensory niche. We are all but blind and deaf, insentient to the world, save a tiny sliver of perception. Given our parochial access to the world, via our (feeble) senses, Wilson nailed the hubris of religious (and even secular) leaders whose legitimacy is based on religious narratives, which presume knowledge beyond what can be justified. (In doing so, he thereby shows why his refutation of the dogma of inclusive fitness makes sense).

Wilson argues persuasively that the engine of evolution is the dynamic-tension between individual survival, and group survival. (Tyrants who traffic in religious legitimacy, in fact are exploiting our genetically-derived propensities for group identity). Wilson has helped to reveal the theoretical inadequacies of so-called inclusive fitness. This laid the groundwork for what he calls a paradigm shift in Evolutionary Theory. In lieu of Biologist Richard Dawkins' selfish gene, we see that group fitness can profit at the expense of individual fitness. (Note: as the dynamic-tension between the group and the individual, the survival of both depend on a complex, kaleidoscopic interplay of their opposing agendas). This improvement in evolution's explanatory powers is, to me the true greatness of the book.

-- September 15th, 2015, 6:20 pm --

I wish to retract my opinion.

-- September 16th, 2015, 7:30 pm --

Please delete this post.

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Re: Overall Rating of "The Meaning of Human Existence"

Post by Ireeesh » September 28th, 2015, 11:14 am

Life is like driving down a highway. Hurtling along at 60-70 miles per hour only mere feet from equally opposing and admittedly unknown elements. We all, mostly, do this in a perfectly relaxed manner. Some people stay inside and avoid venturing out and are considered crazy. Conventional wisdom is nothing if not conventional.

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