I almost never read The New Yorker, but this week Bethany Clement highly recommend an article in the current issue, "Kin and Kind," by Johan Lehrer (whose book Proust Was a Neuroscientist I reviewed, kind of, four years ago) and concerns the father of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson. I read it this morning and end up agreeing with Bethany: it's a great story.
Apparently, the founder of all that is evolutionary psychology is in the process of dismantling a key hypothesis for genetic determinism—William Hamilton's inclusive fitness. This hypothesis places altruism, the cement of animal (and bacterial) sociality, firmly on the grund of genes—an ant, for example, is altruistic (acts in ways that benefit others in its colony more than itself) because it shares genes with the beneficiaries of its kindness and sacrifices. In short, the more related you are, the kinder you are. Wilson now believes that altrurism precedes inclusive fitness; meaning, inclusive fitness is a consequence of altruism rather than the other way around. This radical shift has caused big waves. Genetic determinists are all deeply upset that a scientist of his stature could even for a moment believe, let alone state in public, that there just might be more to life and evolution than the transmission of genes.
Wilson might be one of those rare thinkers who gets smarter as he/she gets older. And, indeed, this is the only kind of thinker one should all strive to be.