Wilson establishes his usual allegory between human society and the eusocial animals, insects mainly. Readers will be aware that there remains significant controversy with his theories in this area, which he in part acknowledges, but this does not deride from his central premise anyway. Nit-picking is easy – I had some difficulty with a scientist including ‘particle spin’, which has precise and not continuous values, amongst the continua which science studies. There similarly seems to be some internal contradiction in the precise areas in which he sees eye to eye with Richard Dawkins on the role of kin selection. He says that philosophers say that they “will attend to (the topic of free will) when we’re ready and have time”. In fairness, there is hardly a more kicked around topic in philosophy than that of free will. Nevertheless, rather than weaken it, these statements enliven Wilson’s commentary. His summation that “the history of philosophy when boiled down consists mostly of failed models of the brain” is, well, kind of tough but more than a little true.
Wilson pulls it all together in his final chapter, “A Human Future”. The ‘hard-wiring’ flaws of our evolved brains and some dogmatic and often selfish legacies of our societal evolution: these are not hurdles for the species to overcome as much as realities to understand and integrate into our world view as we realise humanity’s future. This is an articulate and accessible treatise on human potential. Is it ‘singing to the choir’? Perhaps, but, alas, that seems also to be how some of the obstacles to human enlightenment have become entrenched.