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No. 16: Summer 1981

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Hooray, another "dangerous" book!

The May 22, 1981, issue of Science devotes three entire pages to a discussion of the issues raised in the book Genes, Minds, and Culture, written by Edward Wilson and Charles Lumsden. The subject of this book is "gene-culture coevolution," which infers that human culture is controlled not so much by "free will" as by rapidly changing human genes. The authors propose that as few as 1000 years are sufficient for important genetic shifts. Such shifts might, for example, impel humans to break out of the Middle Ages and bring on the Industrial Revolution.

The most controversial facets of the theory are:

(1) The tight genetic control over human culture with little room for free will; and (2) The rapid blossoming of many cultures as genes shift about.

As one scientist remarked, this book is "dangerous." Others describe it as marvelous. The Science article deals not so much with the book as with the reactions to it -- and the reactions have been powerful, both pro and con.

(Lewin, Roger; "Cultural Diversity Tied to Genetic Differences," Science, 212:908, 1981.)

Comment. The impression one gets from the synopsis of the book is that humankind is diversifying rapidly into new cultural configurations not through human volition but because of those imperious "selfish genes" we all carry.

From Science Frontiers #16, Summer 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987