Edward o Wilson and the Theory of Socialbiology

The first to introduce the Theory of Sociobiology was Edward O. Wilson who was employed by Harvard University and worked within the biology department. It was with his research study with ants that Wilson became amazed on how they functioned within their society and he believed that there was much to learn about from a scientific examination of animal societies. In his 1975 book titled “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” which mainly included the study on animal societies; and with only a small section relating to human societies. Wilson describes sociobiology as a theory from studies in population biology and genetics and is based on the idea that social behavior could be explained evolutionarily. In Wilson’s book he introduced the term sociobiology as an attempt to explain the evolutionary mechanics behind social behaviors such as altruism, aggression, and nurturance. There are two examples that sociobiology points out that is similar to animals and humans in behaviors which include the assertive instinct which basically involves the promotion of oneself, the search for status or raw power, and epitomized in aggression. The second is nurturance instinct which involves the care for someone other than oneself. It is believed that cultures need to accomplish certain things if they are to survive at all and that they must assure effective use of natural resources which might involve the learning of all sorts of territorial and aggressive behaviors. They must assure a degree of cooperation which might involve learning altruistic behaviors, rules for sharing resources and for other social relationships and that they must assure a continuation of the population; which might involve certain courtship and marital arrangements and nurturing behaviors. Therefore, sociobiology is the study of all social species and it is an attempt to find the evolutionary pressures which led to the evolution of social behavior in diverse groups of animals including humans. This also becomes controversial when such analysis are directed at human behavior. One good example is the sociobiology study of human criminal behavior where some behavior is primarily shaped by our external environments while others suggest that our internal environments and our genes also have the power to shape our behavior; while there are some individuals who claim that there are certain ones who have been naturally selected to become criminals and to have the criminal mind.

There has been debate as to whether altruistic behavior seems to go against natural selection. Altruistic behavior in the natural section selection perspective, as Wilson would explain, would mean that any “altruistic acts can lead to death, thus reducing the probability of having offspring or being able to nurture one’s offspring; natural selection would then weed out those genes that encode altruism.”(Wilson) If people are reciprocally altruistic to each other they would have a greater chance of survival and reproduction within those social groups that have a high altruism and might be fitter than those with low altruism. Those that argue with Wilson would claim that if there is learning that is being done then genetics could not fully explain altruism. In this scenario would we see an intentional action that would have a self interest goal or purpose? There would also be an unintentional action which would be spontaneous and/or behaviors done out of guilt and empathy. Therefore, these would indicate that altruistic behavior can not alone come from natural selection.

I think that Wilson has some very interesting points and I can see how sociobiology could help explain the human social structure. One of the main points of Wilson’s theory which he claims that altruism is part of natural selection and this would make sense, even though there are those that claim that altruism could not possibly be just a biological and/or natural selection mechanism because of its learned behavior patterns. Couldn’t a biological gene possibly have the ability to create such thoughts within individuals? If the brain functions as an organ that controls other parts of the body and allows us to think, why couldn’t it also give us the desire for self interest and for having feelings of guilt and empathy?