Even by strictly technical definition as applied to animals, Homo sapiens is what biologists call “eusocial,” meaning group members containing multiple generations and prone to perform altruistic acts as part of their division of labor. In this respect, they are technically comparable to ants, termites, and other eusocial insects. But let me add immediately: there are major differences between humans and the insects even aside from our unique possession of culture, language, and high intelligence. The most fundamental among them is that all normal members of human societies are capable of reproducing and that most compete with one another to do so. Also, human groups are formed of highly flexible alliances, not just among family members but between families, genders, classes, and tribes. The bonding is based on cooperation among individuals or groups who know one another and are capable of distributing ownership and status on a personal basis. The necessity for fine-graded evaluation by alliance members meant that the prehuman ancestors had to achieve eusociality in a radically different way from the instinct-driven insects. The pathway to eusociality was charted by a contest between selection based on the relative success of individuals within groups versus relative success among groups. The strategies of this game were written as a complicated mix of closely calibrated altruism, cooperation, competition, domination, reciprocity, defection, and deceit.
To play the game the human way, it was necessary for the evolving populations to acquire an ever higher degree of intelligence. They had to feel empathy for others, to measure the emotions of friend and enemy alike, to judge the intentions of all of them, and to plan a strategy for personal social interactions. As a result, the human brain became simultaneously highly intelligent and intensely social. It had to build mental scenarios of personal relationships rapidly, both short-term and long-term. Its memories had to travel far into the past to summon old scenarios and far into the future to imagine the consequences of every relationship. Ruling on the alternative plans of action were the amygdala and other emotion-controlling centers of the brain and autonomic nervous system.
Thus was born the human condition, selfish at one time, selfless at another, the two impulses often conflicted. How did Homo sapiens reach this unique place in its journey through the great maze of evolution? The answer is that our destiny was foreordained by two biological properties of our distant ancestors: large size and limited mobility.
Reprinted from The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson. Copyright © 2012 by Edward O. Wilson. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
In The Social Conquest of Earth, Edward Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to argue that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. Wilson shows how the human brain became simultaneously highly intelligent and intensely social, and describes how modern humanity was forged via a series of preadaptations ranging from grasping hands to the addition of meat to our diets. He also draws on insights from his studies on ant behavior to model the evolution of human social behavior. The growth of advanced, “eusocial” ant colonies can teach us much about how human societies grow—not by caring only for our immediate families but for larger groups as well.
With insights on the biological roots of morality, religion and creativity, The Social Conquest of Earth sheds new light on the roots of modern humanity.
Hardcover Book : 352 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton&Co ( April 09, 2012 )
Item #: 13-569564
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 22.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Once I got past the discussion, and pictures, of ants, and just absorbed the message behind that, I found the book to be an informative and worthwhile read.