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E.O. Wilson speaks on human behavior, development

Allie Hulcher

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E.O. Wilson, a prominent biologist, theorist and author, tackled questions of religion and philosophy Tuesday night as he spoke to University of Alabama students about life’s big questions.

His lecture last night focused on the three main questions that religion and philosophy try to answer: “Where do we come from? What are we? And where are we going?”

From the onset, Wilson did not shy away from controversy, saying that no two creation stories can be correct.

“None are consistent with our growing knowledge of the universe and the planet,” Wilson said. “Religion will never provide all of the answers, no matter how much we might wish it to.”

Wilson, a graduate of The University of Alabama who has been teaching at Harvard for 60 years, spoke about his recent book, “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

Wilson went on to explain the social behaviors of various animals, including insects, wild dogs and chimpanzees. Wilson’s lecture incorporated slides with large images of animals and the evolutionary ancestors to humans. Wilson touched upon aspects of biology, sociology and anthropology. He explained the hunter-gatherer society and how the development of campsites is directly related to how social humans are today.

“Gossip is a dominant behavior from hunter-gatherer campsites to royal courts,” Wilson said. “We are intensely interested in each other – that is a very human trait.”

Social closeness and working as a team was an essential step in evolutionary human development, according to Wilson. Other essential progressions included division of labor and travelling in tighter groups. This led to being able to recognize the intentions of others and understanding their wants and needs.

“If you have any doubt about the universality of joy and conflict and contest, I ask you to pause for a moment of silence to reflect upon the Southeastern football conference,” Wilson said, before saying simply, “War.”

Stephen Killen, a senior in New College, was impressed by Wilson’s quiet approach.

“It amazes me how effortlessly this comes to him,” Killen said.

Killen said that while he personally appreciates individualism, he learned from the lecture that humans are innately social.

“I learned that being social and working as a group is the best to be successful,” Killen said.

Wilson was born in Birmingham in 1929 and grew up in Mobile. Left blind in one eye from a fishing accident, Wilson turned to studying ants since he could inspect them under a microscope. This led to a greater interest in biology, and he attended The University of Alabama, where he received an undergraduate and a master’s degree. Wilson then received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1955.

Wilson has written 28 books, including his most famous “The Ants” and “The Naturalist.” He won Pulitzer Prizes for both books. Wilson also promoted his new book “Why We Are Here: Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City” and signed copies for those in attendance.

William Alford, a native Tuscaloosan, came to the lecture with two books for Wilson to sign.

“This guy is a science hero; it’s like coming to see Einstein,” Alford said.

Jessica Reynolds, a University of Alabama at Birmingham student, came with a group of fellow biology and Wilson enthusiasts. Reynolds is majoring in biology and studio art and was fascinated with the way Wilson incorporated art into his presentation.

“E.O. Wilson was saying how it’s human nature to create and human nature to explore,” Reynolds said. “It’s just interesting how everything ties in.”

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E.O. Wilson speaks on human behavior, development