A Scientist for All Seasons

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Edward O. Wilson, naturalist, theorist and Harvard Professor of Entomology, will be 85 this year: he is showing little sign of slowing down. In an eminent and eclectic career spanning six decades he has become one of the most eloquent public figures in modern science, produced an impressive collection of books, both scholarly and general, and won two Pulitzer Prizes for non-fiction. Most recently, aged 80, he produced his first novel. ‘He is’, says Richard Dawkins, ‘hugely learned, not just in his field of social insects, but in anthropology and other subjects as well. He is an outstanding synthesizer, his knowledge is immense and he manages to bring it all together in a coherent way.’

This talent for synthesis is fully displayed in Wilson’s most enduring and influential theory, which first appeared in 1984 with his book Biophilia. Wilson coined the term ‘biophilia’ to describe what he believes is an innate human affinity with other forms of life. It is innate because our culture and behaviour are partially encoded in our genes, and it has been sustained throughout evolution because human life and death have always depended primarily upon our fellow creatures.

Put simply, we are hard-wired to be interested in living things. Biophilia provides some fascinating evidence for this idea, along with the author’s engaging and erudite reflections on what such a human instinct might mean for life on earth. To Wilson, it means that we are naturalists by nature: an instinct that can and should be exploited to promote conservation.

Indeed, Professor Wilson is himself a passionate conservation advocate. In the past thirty years, he has followed his seminal book with The Diversity of Life (1992), The Biophilia Hypothesis (1993), The Future of Life (2003) and, most recently, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). The growing grandeur of these titles reflects not o

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About the contributor

Catherine Merrick is a biologist and lecturer at Keele University. She spends much of her time trying to instil a rigorous and pragmatic biophilia in undergraduate biologists.

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