October 20, 2021
5 Minutes

The Meaning Of Human Existence

Book summary of The Meaning Of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson. Read this book summary to review the important takeaways and lessons from the book.

Wilson On Belief Systems

  • There is no way around the cruel discrimination of organised religions. I doubt there ever has been an imam who suggested that his followers try Roman Catholicism or a priest who urged the reverse.

  • Religious faith offers enormous psychological benefit to believers.

  • Faith is the one thing that makes otherwise good people do bad things.

  • The Founding Fathers of the US understood tribal religious conflict.

  • It's almost mandatory for political leaders to assure the electorate of their faith, even if it looks ridiculous.

  • The phrase 'under God' was introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and today no major political candidate would dare suggest its removal.

  • The best way to live is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.

  • In almost all societies, there exists a relation between music and religion.

  • Throughout history, people needed religion to explain the occurrence of most phenomena.

  • Art is the lie that shows us the truth - Picasso.

Wilson On Community

  • As humans, we have an urge to belong to groups.

  • The existence of competition is a hallmark of society.

  • Each person scrolling through social media continuously reviews past experiences, while imagining the consequences of future scenarios.

  • Humans have an overpowering and instinctual urge to belong to groups.

  • A person's membership in their group is a large part of their identity.

  • People prefer to be with others who look like them, speak the same dialect, and hold the same beliefs.

  • Close kinship is a primary factor of advanced social evolution.

  • People need membership in a group.

  • Of the nearly seven thousand languages spoken worldwide, fewer than a thousand people speak 28 per cent, and 473 are on the edge of extinction.

Wilson On Competitiveness

  • When an individual is cooperative and kind, this reduces their advantage in the competition with other members. But, it increases the survival and reproduction rate of the group as a whole.

  • It's impossible to predict the outcome of a process without making prior assumptions.

Wilson On Consciousness

  • A spider spinning its web intends to catch a fly, whether or not it's conscious of the outcome. The human brain has evolved under the same regimen as a spider's web.

  • Humans are not pre-programmed to reach any goal, nor are we answerable to any power but our own.

Wilson On Human Behaviour

  • People are interested in the behaviour of those around them.

  • With complexity comes vulnerability.

  • Phobias take a long time to remove.

  • Phobias can be acquired with a single experience.

  • Human beings are born gossips. Gossip is how we shape our social network.

  • We are fascinated by the histories and emotional responses of others.

  • The early stages of a creative thought don't arise from specialisation.

  • Music served early humanity as a means of integrating societies and heightening emotions.

  • Our minds consist of storytelling.

  • A choice is made in the unconscious part of the brain, before it arrives in the conscious part.

Wilson On Human Evolution

  • Humanity arose through an accumulated series of events during evolution.

  • The final part of creation began with the habilis two million years ago.

  • Human history must comprise both biological and cultural influences.

  • The ancestors of sapiens were mostly vegetarians.

  • Each of us is inherently conflicted.

  • We're a biological species adapted to live in a biological world - self-made, alone and fragile.

  • Specialists rule Western intellectual life.

  • The creation of groups from intimate mutual knowledge is the unique achievement of humanity.

  • Social intelligence enhanced by group selection made sapiens the first dominant species on Earth.

  • Evolutionary innovations made us dominant, but left us sensory cripples.

  • Almost all human beings seek their destiny.

  • The collective human mind shrivels without frontiers.

  • After we have made all of the cultural knowledge available, and after we have built robots that can outperform us, what will humanity possess? There is only one answer: we will retain the messy, self-contradictory, conflicted, endlessly creative human mind that exists today.

  • It's believed that human behaviour has a strong genetic component.

  • We were created not by a supernatural intelligence, but by chance and necessity as one species out of millions of species in Earth's biosphere.

  • The human and chimpanzee lineages split from common stock in Africa about six million years ago.

  • The problem holding everything up thus far is that sapiens are a dysfunctional species.

  • The expansion of the human brain was one of the most rapid episodes of complex tissue evolution.

  • The human brain is the most complex system known in the universe.

  • All of man's troubles have arisen from the fact that we do not know what we are and do not agree on what we want to be - Jean Bruller.

Wilson On Prime Locations

  • The preferred choice of land for humans has three factors: the ideal vantage point is on the rise looking down, a vista of parkland comprising grassland sprinkled with trees and hedges, and proximity to a body of water, whether stream, pond, lake, or ocean.

  • Turn to those with a great deal of money, to learn what people prefer when given free rein.

  • As architects and high-end real estate agents will tell you, the rich prefer habitations set on a rise that looks out over parkland next to a body of water. None of these qualities has practical value, but people with sufficient means will pay any price to have them.

Wilson On Science

  • Scientific knowledge has been doubling every ten to twenty years.

  • Successful scientists thinks like poets and works like bookkeepers.

  • Nearly everything that can be called science is less than five centuries old.

  • The number of discoveries per researcher per year has declined.

  • For the next few decades, most major technological advances are likely to occur in BNR: biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics.

Wilson On Space

  • Our planet was born about 4.54 billion years ago.

  • To colonise a habitable planet, aliens would first have to destroy all the life.

  • Some believe that humanity can go to another planet after using this one. They should heed this universal principle. There exists only one habitable planet. We have one chance at immortality.

  • If there were no fungi of the right kind, there would be no antibiotics. Without wild plants with edible stems, fruit, and seeds available for selective breeding, there would be no cities and no civilisation.

Wilson On Species

  • Though represented by fewer than twenty thousand of the million known living insect species, ants and termites compose more than half of the world's insect body weight.

  • The number of all known species of organisms on Earth is about 2 million. The actual number, combining known and unknown, is estimated to be at least three times that.

  • A bird is among the few creatures that share our dependence for audiovisual communication.

  • Ants can separate nest-mates from aliens in tenths of a second with sweeps of their two antennae over the bodies of approaching workers.

  • Slavery is widespread in ants of the north temperate zone. It starts when colonies of the slave-making species conduct raids on other ant species.

  • Ants are possibly the most advanced pheromonal creatures on Earth.

  • Fourteen of the twenty high achievers in social organisation are insects.

  • Large numbers of species are going extinct before being discovered.

Wilson On The Five Senses

  • Our species detects only twenty to twenty thousand hertz (cycles of air compression per second).

  • We walk through nature like a deaf person on the streets of New York, sensing only a few vibrations, able to interpret almost nothing.

  • Human have one of the poorest senses of smell of all the organisms.

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