Friday, July 13, 2007

Bill Moyers interviews E.O. Wilson

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Bill Moyers Journal

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EO Wilson

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"Every kid has a bug period...I never grew out of mine."

Edward Osborne Wilson grew up off the gulf coast of Alabama and Florida, becoming fascinated at a very early age by the diversity of the natural world surrounding him. After blinding himself in one eye while fishing at the age of 7, Wilson explains that he no longer was very good at bird-watching, so decided to "turn towards the little things in life," namely ants.

antAt 13, he discovered the first U.S. colony of fire ants near the docks of Mobile, Alabama, well on his way to becoming one of the country's foremost myrmecologists (ant biologists), discovering the ways intricate chemical signals affect colony behavior. While a professor at Harvard, Wilson used his insect expertise as the basisfor larger study into animal and human behavior, releasing in 1975, SOCIOBIOLOGY: THE NEW SYNTHESIS, advancing Darwin's study of evolution into the realm of behavior:

"In a Darwinian sense, the organism does not live for itself. Its primary function is not even to reproduce other organisms; it reproduces genes, and it serves as their temporary carrier."

Though highly praised and extremely popular, SOCIOBIOLOGY proved equally controversial, primarily due to its last chapter, which extended analysis of the animal kingdom to human behavior and culture.

"Wilson seems to have been unaware of the full political implications of his final chapter," explains Paul Gross of THE NEW CRITERION online. "He saw no more harm in deploying biology in the study of human behavior than in the study of ants or chimpanzees." Eventually, the controversy subsided, the new field of sociobiology was legitimized, and Wilson was already finishing what could be his most important book, THE DIVERSITY OF LIFE (1992), a 424 page work about the tremendous interconnectivity of Earth's biosphere, and how human civilization is gravely threatening its natural symbiosis. Over half of the world's species could die out by the end of the century due to man-made ecological hardships, what Wilson calls the "sixth extinction."

"This is the only planet we're ever going to have. This planet has taken tens, hundreds of millions of years to create this beautiful natural environment we have that's taken care of us so well that is, in fact, our greatest natural heritage. And we're throwing it away in a matter of a few decades."

EO WilsonBut just as humans have the power to destroy our natural surroundings, Wilson optimistically believes that we too have the power to change our course, and develop a sustainable civilization that maintains the diversity of life on the planet. "Humanity is not suicidal...We are smart enough and have time enough to avoid all environmental catastrophes of civilization-threatening dimensions." His latest book, CREATION, calls on society to put disagreements between science and religion aside for the greater good of the planet. "Science and religion are the two most powerful forces in the world. Having them at not productive."

While accepting his 2007 TED Prize, E.O. Wilson made a wish: "to help create the key tool that we need to inspire preservation of Earth's biodiversity: the Encyclopedia of Life," and many have since answered this call, most notably the MacArthur Foundation, awarding Wilson $20 million dollars to bring the encyclopedia of life into being.

"It's always been a dream of mine, of exploring the living world, of classifying all the species and finding out what makes up the biosphere. We're maybe today about 1/10 through the discovery of species...We live in an unexplored planet."

Find out more about biodiversity, and what other governments around the world are doing to protect the planet.

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