“I am often drawn to what appear at first to be ‘dark’ or ‘difficult’ subjects, but which, upon further examination, are always and only reflections of the ways human beings attempt, however clumsily, badly, or well, to connect with others.”
– Marya Hornbacher
We’ve been doing a lot of heavy reading recently. Edward O. Wilson is one of our favorite go-to writers when we want to get lost in the mysteries of humanity.
What better way to galvanize my resolve than to discover that our Wiggin Sessions guest this week, Demetri Kofinas, is also reading the same book at the same time: Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. It’s a page-turner, perfect for a late night snack and a glass of wine. And an early slumber.
Let’s cut to the chase. Demetri and I are reading the book so you don’t have to.
Before I get to the pertinent facts, let me explain how I got on this latest reading kick. Another one of my favorites, Joseph Campbell, suggests in his own book, The Hero’s Journey:
When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written and you will get more education and depth of understanding out of that than reading a scrap here and a scrap there and elsewhere. Then go to people who influenced that writer, or those who were related to him, and your world builds together in an organic way that is really marvelous.
Campbell also says, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” So why, then, read a book actually titled The Meaning of Human Existence?
Oh, the wicked webs we weave.
I’ll give you two quick ideas from Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence, then we can decide whether to pursue them further.
The first he calls “eusociality” — the ability of a species to communicate in common across the entire species. An example: if we send out this email to, say, 2.8 million people, we’re doing a boatload of communicating all at once. Wilson is an evolutionary biologist who has studied ants for something akin to 70 years. He did most of his research, writing and teaching at Harvard. He estimates that in all of the known knowns in natural science… only 20 species have achieved eusociality. Ants and termites are among them. Some large schools of fish. Certain types of bird species that fly together in beguiling patterns.
Other than the mystery of the universe, why does eusociality matter?
Heh. We’re glad you asked.
Wilson contends we’ll never understand politics, economics, financial markets, religion, education, dating, Cardi B or cryptocurrencies… until we understand how the human species is hard-wired to communicate en masse.
The second idea actually gave rise to the new name of our company, Consilience. The word consilience is an Enlightenment-era term that means “the unity of knowledge.”
What point would there be to studying ants for 70 years, for example, if your understanding of how the formicae communicate doesn’t translate to our understanding of human societies?
Academia used to see the connections between facts and figures — and the drives and emotions that created them. The sciences and humanities were not separate disciplines.
Economics, a field we choose to apply our literary pursuits, was forged in the hallowed halls of the humanities. Consider that Adam Smith’s first book, before the ever-popular Wealth of Nations, was a book on the Theory of Moral Sentiments.
In the 20th century, the sciences and the humanities diverged — and practitioners dropped the theory, the moral and the sentiments. Anyone studying economics today better get very comfortable with a logarithmic calculator. And give up on the idea of logic.
Oy, even as I write this, my head hurts a little. Maybe the latest minutes from the Federal Reserve will make me feel better (sic).
Follow your bliss,
Founder, Financial Reserve