Thursday, October 14, 2010

From Ants to Human Behavior

At a time when I`m grappling with the prevailing `theories` in the Social Sciences, it was a great to see this wonderful video on the life and work of E.O. Wilson.

He spent a lifetime studying ants but to describe him as just a naturalist would perhaps be akin to calling Einstein a patent office clerk. About 40 years ago, at that time sociologists had come to a consensus that the human brain is a blank slate; that human behavior, including social behavior is determined by accidents of cultural evolution and by learning alone, and that instincts do no exist and that there was no such thing as human nature, EOW published a book titled Sociobiology, which suggested that human behavior is affected by genetic traits.

All hell broke loose. It was, of course, a very politically incorrect thing to say - even for a Harvard academic. But today, after much evidence has been collected, the consensus in Social Sciences has shifted to accommodate EOW`s ideas.

Here is the video (NOVA - PBS): 


E.O. Wilson

Pheidole - most abundant genus of ants in the Western hemisphere. EOW discovered nearly half of the 600 -odd species of this genus

Oleic Acid - the "smell of death". One the many pheromones used by ants to communicate. Dead insects 'smell' of oleic acid. So if a live ant is dabbed with it, its companions will just grab it and dump it out of the colony, into their garbage heap!
The Encyclopedia of Life - A project initiated by EOW, it is meant to be an online compendium of all life on earth. About 1.8 million life-forms are 'known' to man - this is a fraction (~1/10) of what is still 'unknown'. "Our present understanding of life on earth", EOW says, "is like trying to diagnose a man when you know only 10% of his organs!"

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