The Meaning of Human Existence – Wilson

This book is dangerous in that it promotes false logic and rationality. It’s the kind of fake news attitude that America has seen arise. Where flawed logic is not flawed thought.

To get a quick sense of my thoughts of this book here are the notes I wrote on my kindle, you don't even need to see the referring paragraph to understand.

  • "Not true."
  • "He erroronoudly confuses the advantage to forming groups with a genetic selection at a group level. Genetic and kin selection dont exclude an individuals ability to be in a group."
  • "This is a romanticised and emotionally charged view of complex behaviour in a complex system. Also it implies a why (design)."
  • "We are animals."
  • "Perfect example of how wrong."
  • "No."
  • "Woah no we havent!"
  • "Big call. How about the decadence of roman empire?"
  • "Dubious as fuck"
  • "????"
  • "Lol"
  • "Can you separate them?"
  • "Lol"
  • "Cirular."
  • "FALSE"


  • Wilson talks a lot in very emotive language that conceals his logical fallacies.
  • To say that selection works at the group level when multiple groups conflict, is ignoring what is being selected. While group behaviour does improve certain collections of animals to survive, the “selection” is occurring on the individual/genetic level. The people in the group who didn’t reproduce (due to self-sacrifice or low standing) don’t shape the future behaviour of the group.
  • The above maybe highlights what Wilson is trying to get at, but has done through much conflation and inaccuracy.
  • Cultural evolution (norms and structures) can mean that the organisms who do not genetically reproduce, still effect the future behaviour of the group, despite their genes not being present in the future group.
  • He clearly states that selection happens on the genetic level a few paragraphs later :S. I guess he is construing terminology earlier when he says that selection happens on “multiple levels, the group and the individual”.
  • I get the sense that he misunderstands kin selection as being something other than the above gene selection. Kin selection is a mathematical consequence of genetic selection, not a further form of selection.
  • Where he is going with the whole thing is trying to prove altruism. He says that human life is based on “some degree of altruistic behaviour”. However the things he references (like hunter-gatherer societies that help each other out) are still representative of systems where each node in the system helps other nodes out to the extent that it helps it survive.
  • THis is a perfect example of his flawed logic. ~“At a certain point in human history, individual selection conflicted with group level selection as the increasing threat of group conflict arose. The later force promoted altruism.” Here he has not defined altruism and relied on some fluffy feeling of the word. If was to define it from the above example it would be: Altruism is when an individual cooperates with other group members to ensure its survival against rival groups. In other words, his very example of altruistic behaviour is given in the context where it makes more genetic sense for an individual to cooperate with other group members than to fight with them as that poses the bigger threat to genetic propogation.
  • Fuck I hate circular (tautological?) arguments. “Individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.” The very definition of virtue here is doing good to other group members. Morality (hence virtue) is a trait of a group. So ofcourse group selection increases group properties.
  • He positions the conflict between ”individual selection” and “group selection” as an “inbourne conflict”. However that is taking a religious implicit view that virtue is collaboration and sin is not. However, when viewed scientifically from a genetic point of view, both are one and the same. THat doesn’t make us inherently “bad” (no such thing exists unless you implicitly take a religious moral stance), if anything it removes the need to differentiate the two in such judgemental ways.
  • HE consistently will throw in a false view as a “if you prefer to view it as” kind of statement which only exaggerates confusion. “We are a very special species, perhaps the chosen species if you prefer, ...”. No not if you prefer. So even phrase it slightly like that is to allow for an external “chosen” of species, which implies some sort of third party , some sort of god, some sort of additional reality. This is not ok coming from a scientist, to implant such false side-doors into your argument.
  • Why stop there, there is also species level selection, where competition amongst species affect selection and hence there is also species level selection.
  • While it is tru in the above that group conflict affects individual reproduction, and hence cooperation (or sometimes defecting) can radically effect reproduction. That is all still explained by gene selection and doesn’t require an additional “theory of selection”.
  • “Selfish members win within groups, but groups of altruists best groups of selfish members”. This is paradoxical in that when (eventually will) a selfish member enters a group of altruists, they will overtime take over the group. Ergo, eventually all groups will be selfish.
  • He says that “kin selection” (or genetic selection more broadly) are not the cause “of animals working in groups”. Groups formed for the same reason that non-groups formed (random genetic mutation). Over time the species that benefited more from living in groups, reproduced, spreading group living. THe benefit of the group does not imply group selection, because what is being selected is still the gene. LIving in a group is no different to a long neck. At one point a mutation evolved which gained an advantage and hence suirvived. I don’t get what further theory is needed?
  • He regularly jumps from “we are the most advanced animal” to “we are the mind of the planet”, which is a small jump to then “we are special and have the right do persue our specialness.”
  • He says that no other animal suffers from internal conflict as they were not shaped by both “individual and group selection”. FIrslty, this is limited reasoning. All animals face the conflict between investing in others (kin) and themselves. I see no reason why this wouldn’t cause internal conflict.
  • Also his view on “individual vs group” selection is so deeply flawed. But I’ve written enough about this.
  • “The internal conflict caused by competing levels of natural selection” – why stop at 2 levels? Between genes themselves they will have competing “desires”, wouldn’t that cause internal conflict too? What about between species? What about between options for reproductive success.
  • ~“Science will inevitably slow down, where as the humanities will continue to grow forever” He clearly has a limited understanding of science. Further a limited understanding how even the humanities will eventually be describable by math (the language of science), which makes the statement inherently false.
  • He erroneously confuses the advantage to forming groups with a genetic selection at a group level. Genetic and kin selection don't exclude an individuals ability to be in a group.


  • "In ordinary usage the word “meaning” implies intention, intention implies design, and design implies a designer. Any entity, any process, or definition of any word itself is put into play as a result of an intended consequence in the mind of the designer.
  • "A spider spinning its web intends, whether conscious of the outcome or not, to catch a fly.
  • "Every decision made by a human being has meaning in the first, intentional sense.
  • "The roles of both individual and group selection are clear in the details of human social behavior. People are intensely interested in the minutiae of behavior of those around them. Gossip is a prevailing subject of conversation, everywhere from hunter-gatherer campsites to royal courts. The mind is a kaleidoscopically shifting map of others inside the group and a few outside, each of whom is evaluated emotionally in shades of trust, love, hatred, suspicion, admiration, envy, and sociability. We are compulsively driven to belong to groups or to create them as needed, which are variously nested, or overlapping, or separate, and in addition ranging from very large to very small. Almost all groups compete with those of similar kind in some manner or other. However gently expressed and generous in the tone of our discourse, we tend to think of our own group as superior, and we define our personal identities as members within them. The existence of competition, including military conflict, has been a hallmark of societies as far back in prehistory as archaeological evidence can be brought to bear.
  • "Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good? Are we built to pledge our lives to a group, even to the risk of death, or the opposite, built to place ourselves and our families above all else?
  • "Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that we are driven by instinct in the manner of animals.
  • "The leading candidate is multilevel selection, by which hereditary social behavior improves the competitive ability not just of individuals within groups but among groups as a whole.
  • "Bear in mind that during organic evolution the unit of natural selection is not the individual organism or the group, as some popular writers have misconstrued it.
  • "based on some degree of altruistic division of labor.
  • "Probably at this point, during the habiline period, a conflict ensued between individual-level selection, with individuals competing with other individuals in the same group, on the one side, and group-level selection, with competition among groups, on the other. The latter force promoted altruism and cooperation among all the group members. It led to innate group-wide morality and a sense of conscience and honor.
  • "The competition between the two forces can be succinctly expressed as follows: Within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.
  • "So it came to pass that humans are forever conflicted by their prehistory of multilevel selection. They are suspended in unstable and constantly changing positions between the two extreme forces that created us.
  • "We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil,
  • "We’ve considered thus far the biological origins of human nature, and from this information the idea that a large part of human creativity is generated by the inevitable and necessary conflict between the individual and group levels of natural selection.
  • "even obsessive concentration on others has always enhanced survival of individuals and groups.
  • "We are a very special species, perhaps the chosen species if you prefer,
  • "an organ that evolved during prehuman and Paleolithic times through a very special form of natural selection called gene-culture coevolution
  • "The most complex forms of social organization are made from high levels of cooperation. They are furthered with altruistic acts performed by at least some of the colony members. The highest level of cooperation and altruism is that of eusociality, in which some colony members surrender part or all of their personal reproduction in order to increase reproduction by the “royal” caste specialized for that purpose.
  • "A gene for a trait that affects a group member’s longevity and reproduction relative to other members in the same group is said to be subject to individual-level natural selection. A gene for a trait entailing cooperation and other forces of interaction with fellow group members may or may not be subject to individual-level selection. In either case it is also likely to affect longevity and reproduction of the group as a whole. Because groups compete with other groups, in both conflict and their relative efficiency in resource extraction, their differing traits are subject to natural selection. In particular, the genes prescribing interactive (hence social) traits are subject to group-level selection.
  • "selfish members win within groups, but groups of altruists best groups of selfish members.
  • "While similarity of genomes by kinship was an inevitable consequence of group formation, kin selection was not the cause.
  • "Only evolution by natural selection can create the need for bedrock instinctual love.
  • "Decades of research have discovered that human nature is not the genes that prescribe the emotions and learning preparedness. It is not the cultural universals, which are its ultimate product. Human nature is the ensemble of hereditary regularities in mental development that bias cultural evolution in one direction as opposed to others and thus connect genes to culture in the brain of every person.
  • "when given a completely free choice,
  • "It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.
  • "But they understand the rule attributed to the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger that religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
  • "Another way of expressing the history of religion is that faith has hijacked religious spirituality. The prophets and leaders of organized religions, consciously or not, have put spirituality in the service of groups defined by their creation myths.
  • "The Absolute Paradox tears at all in every religion who seek an honest resolution of body and soul.
  • "As Carl Jung once said, some problems can never be solved, only outgrown. And so it must be for the Absolute Paradox. There is no solution because there is nothing to solve. The problem is not in the nature or even in the existence of God. It is in the biological origins of human existence and in the nature of the human mind, and what made us the evolutionary pinnacle of the biosphere. The best way to live in this real world is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.
  • "So, does free will exist? Yes, if not in ultimate reality, then at least in the operational sense necessary for sanity and thereby for the perpetuation of the human species.
  • "Godlike, their descendants have saturated a large part of Earth, and altered to varying degree the remainder. We have become the mind of the planet and perhaps our entire corner of the galaxy as well.
  • "The problem holding everything up thus far is that Homo sapiens is an innately dysfunctional species. We are hampered by the Paleolithic Curse: genetic adaptations that worked very well for millions of years of hunter-gatherer existence but are increasingly a hindrance in a globally urban and technoscientific society. We seem unable to stabilize either economic policies or the means of governance higher than the level of a village. Further, the great majority of people worldwide remain in the thrall of tribal organized religions, led by men who claim supernatural power in order to compete for the obedience and resources of the faithful. We are addicted to tribal conflict, which is harmless and entertaining if sublimated into team sports, but deadly when expressed as real-world ethnic, religious, and ideological struggles.
  • "In a nutshell, individual selection favors what we call sin and group selection favors virtue.
  • "Internal conflict is not a personal irregularity but a timeless human quality.
  • "No such conflict exists or can exist in an eagle, fox, or spider, for example, whose traits were born solely of individual selection, or a worker ant, whose social traits were shaped entirely by group selection.
  • "Destructive inborn traits of social life can be viewed as a parallel of the physical presence of parasitic organisms, and the cultural diminishment of their impact as the lessening of a tolerable dogma load. One obvious example of the latter is blind faith in supernatural creation stories. Of course in most parts of the world today, moderating the dogma load would be difficult, even dangerous. The stories are harnessed to both tribal rule by means of subordination of the faithful and their assumption of religious superiority over believers of rival creation stories. To examine each of the stories in detail objectively and to spell out their known historical origins would be a good start, and one that has begun (albeit slowly and carefully) in many scholarly disciplines. A second step, granted an unrealistic one, would be to ask the leaders of each religion and sect, assisted by theologians, to publicly defend the supernatural details of their faiths in competition with other faiths and aided by natural-cause and historical analysis.
  • "I’ve argued here that while scientific knowledge and technology continue to grow exponentially, doubling every one to two decades according to discipline, the rate of increase will inevitably slow. Original discoveries, having generated vast knowledge, will ease off and begin to decline in number. Within decades, knowledge within the technoscientific culture will of course be enormous compared to that of the present, but also the same everywhere in the world. What will continue to evolve and diversify indefinitely are the humanities. If our species can be said to have a soul, it lives in the humanities."


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on

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