Arcturus
Volume 1 Issue 1
Fall 2003/Winter 2004

 

"Dr. Edward O. Wilson is one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. His groundbreaking research, original thinking, and scientific and popular writing have changed the way humans think of nature, and our place in it. Currently he is a research professor and museum curator at Harvard University. He has received many of the world's leading prizes for his research in science, his environmental activism, and his writing. Wilson has been a leader in the fields of entomology (the study of insects), animal behavior and evolutionary psychology, island biogeography, biodiversity, environmental ethics, and the philosophy of knowledge. He has written groundbreaking books and articles on all of these subjects. Two of his non-fiction books, The Ants (1990, with Bert Hölldobler) and On Human Nature (1978), have won Pulitzer Prizes. The Diversity of Life (1992) and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), two of his more recent books, have been applauded for their graceful, creative and constructive approaches to challenging subjects. In The Diversity of Life and The Future of Life he conveys his deep concern for humanity's bewildering degradation of our planet's ecosystems. His commitment to protecting our natural heritage has brought him to the forefront of environmental activism."

from http://www.saveamericasforests.org/wilson/bio.htm

Life Is A Narrative

E.O. Wilson

From 'The Best American Science and Nature Writing:
2001', 'Introduction: Life is a Narrative' by Edward O. Wilson pp. xv-xvi

"Science, like the rest of culture, is based on the manufacture of narrative. That is entirely natural, and in a profound sense is a Darwinian necessity. We all live by narrative, every day and every minute of our lives. Narrative is the human way of working through a chaotic and unforgiving world bent on reducing our bodies to malodorous catabolic molecules. It delays the surrender of our personal atoms and compounds back
to the environment the assembly of more humans, and ants.

"By narrative we take the best stock we can of the world and our predicament in it. What we see and recreate is seldom the blinding literal truth. Instead, we perceive and respond to our surroundings in narrow ways
that most benefit our organismic selves. The narrative genius of Homo sapiens is an accommodation to the inher­ent inability of the three pounds of our sensory system and brain to process more than a minute fraction of the information the envi­ronment pours into them. In order to keep the organism alive, that fraction must be intensely and accurately selective. The stories we tell ourselves and others are our survival manuals.

"With new tools and models, neuroscientists are drawing close to an understanding of the conscious mind as narrative generator. They view it as an adaptive flood of scenarios created continuously by the working brain. Whether set in the past, present or future, whether fictive or reality based, the free-running constructions are our only simulacrum of the world outside the brain. They are everything we will ever possess as individuals. And, minute by minute they determine whether we live or die.

"The present in particular is constructed from sensations very far in excess of what can be put into the simulacrum. Working at a frantic pace, the brain summons memories — past scenarios — to help screen and organize the incoming chaos. It simultaneously creates imaginary scenarios to create fields of competing options, the process we call decision-making. Only a tiny fraction of the narrative fragments-the focus-is selected for higher-order processing in the prefrontal cortex. That segment constitutes the theater of running symbolic imagery we call the conscious mind.

"During the story-building process, the past is reworked and returned to memory storage. Through repeated cycles of recall and supplementations the brain holds on to shrinking segments of the former conscious
states. Across generations the most important among these fragments are communicated widely and converted into history, literature, and oral tradition. If altered enough, they become legend and myth. The rest disappear. The story I have just told you about Mesozoic ants is all true as I can reconstruct it from my memory and notes. But it is only a little bit of the whole truth, most of which beyond my retrieval no matter how hard I might try."

Leading Light

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