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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