Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration

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Beautifully written and illustrated These fifteen chapters are a bustling but well-organized ant heap, full of wonders natural and intellectual. Philip Morrison. The authors subtitled their book 'A Story of Scientific Exploration' and, like all good stories, it has a logical progression and sensible themes and is hard to put down. James E. Lovelock - Times Higher Education Supplement.

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He is also the recipient of the U. Edward O. Preface 1. The Dominance of Ants 2. For the Love of Ants 3.

Journey to the ants

Nor is this shy impression belied on meeting him. At the time I was working, one floor below his, in collaboration with his formidable ideological critic Richard Lewontin — the second of the remarkable triumvirate who inhabit the Museum the third, in the basement, is Stephen Jay Gould. Yet his best known book, the massive Sociobiology: The New Synthesis , was published in a blaze of publicity in , and rapidly became a best-seller.

Indeed, there are times in this book when Wilson manages to reduce the entire debate to a bickering between adjacent offices.

The major sociobiological claim is simply stated. Individual members of many species, humans and ants among them, often act in ways which moral philosophers would describe as self-sacrificing or altruistic, abandoning limb or even life itself seemingly for the benefit of others; or even, in the case of humans, for less tangible causes such as class, faith or nation. Any chance mutant which refused self-sacrifice would breed more successfully than the altruists; its genes would spread, and altruism would die out.

The fact that the group itself might not survive as a result of this selfishness is neither here nor there for natural selection mechanisms of this type: like British capitalists, they are myopically concerned with short-term profit.


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The mathematical resolution of this paradox occurred to the geneticist J. Haldane, in, I believe, the Forties. Reading Hamilton, Wilson might well have complained, as T.

Journey to the ants : a story of scientific exploration in SearchWorks catalog

Here is a life-story which seems to fly arrow-like to its target. The introverted youth, driven out of his home by squabbling and soon-to-be-divorced parents, finds solace in hunting and catching anything that moves, from fish to flies; as he grows older, his limited eyesight and relative poverty makes the close, ground-level observation of the abundant ants the easiest of the choices available.

Sent briefly at age eight to a military academy, Wilson relished the discipline of a life organised around a 6. Later he compensated by becoming an Eagle Scout, and the book proudly displays his photo in full scout regalia. What he enjoyed was both the discipline and the striving to be top. He reasoned that he would improve his performance if he exercised wearing heavy boots, only to fail disastrouslyin — in is eyes — when it came to the final trials.

He would, he realised, never be a champion.


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Even though as a result he turned his attention elsewhere, this failure to transcend his genes, and the lesson it taught him, has remained with him throughout his scientific life. Always a hunter, he extols the joys of the chase in the manner of a 19th-century squire, except that for Wilson the prey are ants and the race is won by the first to identify a species, or to discover a nest in a locale not previously known, or to explain the cause of some piece of ant behaviour.

In her remarkable book Primate Visions , Donna Haraway describes how the hunting and collecting passions of the early American safarists like Teddy Roosevelt were sublimated, among later generations of primatologists, in observation and filming. Puzzlingly, for someone whose later passion has been the protection of biodiversity and whose recent publications include the oddly-titled Biophilia , Wilson never shows any urge here to sublimate his collecting drive; he snaffles and etherises his rare ant specimens with unselfconscious enthusiasm. But identification with his research subjects clearly has its price.

Journey to the Ants A Story of Scientific Exploration

Wilson was born in and brought up in Alabama, in the fundamentalist Christian tradition of the Deep South. Sorry, but we can't respond to individual comments. Recent searches Clear All. Update Location. If you want NextDay, we can save the other items for later.

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