E.O. Wilson’s New Book, “The Meaning of Human Existence,” Bridges Questions of Science and Philosophy

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson book cover.

Update: The Meaning of Human Existence now available in paperback

How did humanity originate and why does a species like ours exist on this planet? Do we have a special place, even a destiny in the universe? Where are we going, and perhaps, the most difficult question of all, “Why?”

In The Meaning of Human Existence, finalist for the National Book Award and Wilson’s most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson grapples with these and other existential questions, examining what makes human beings supremely different from all other species. Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called “the rainbow colors” around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Wilson takes his readers on a journey, in the process bridging science and philosophy to create a twenty-first-century treatise on human existence—from our earliest inception to a provocative look at what the future of mankind portends.

Continuing his groundbreaking examination of our “Anthropocene Epoch,” which he began with The Social Conquest of Earth, described by the New York Times as “a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere,” here Wilson posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.

Once criticized for a purely mechanistic view of human life and an overreliance on genetic predetermination, Wilson presents in The Meaning of Human Existence his most expansive and advanced theories on the sovereignty of human life, recognizing that, even though the human and the spider evolved similarly, the poet’s sonnet is wholly different from the spider’s web. Whether attempting to explicate “The Riddle of the Human Species,” “Free Will,” or “Religion”; warning of “The Collapse of Biodiversity”; or even creating a plausible “Portrait of E.T.,” Wilson does indeed believe that humanity holds a special position in the known universe.

The human epoch that began in biological evolution and passed into pre-, then recorded, history is now more than ever before in our hands. Yet alarmed that we are about to abandon natural selection by redesigning biology and human nature as we wish them, Wilson soberly concludes that advances in science and technology bring us our greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham.

Related Events

E.O. Wilson will be discussing The Meaning of Human Existence in a number of cities in fall 2014. Please find further details on our “Events” page.

October 14, 2014: Portsmouth, NH (Listen to E.O. Wilson’s talk from this evening on the New Hampshire Public Radio website)

October 28, 2014: Philadelphia, PA

November 7, 2014: Westminster, United Kingdom

December 4, 2014: Seattle, WA

Listen to Rebecca Costa’s interview with Edward O. Wilson


Listen to NPR coverage of the announcement of the finalists for the National Book Awards

Listen to E.O. Wilson discuss The Meaning of Human Existence on the public radio show “Here and Now”

Watch E.O. Wilson discuss The Meaning of Human Existence on “Charlie Rose.” The interview with E.O. Wilson starts at 26:38.


Watch E.O. Wilson discuss The Meaning of Human Existence on “BBC Newsnight.”


Watch E.O. Wilson discuss The Meaning of Human Existence on “Big Think.”

Watch E.O. Wilson talk about The Meaning of Human Existence at Seattle Town Hall on December 4, 2014. The talk starts at 57:43.


Watch an hour-long interview with E.O. Wilson about The Meaning of Human Existence at the Free Library of Philadelphia via C-Span 2 Book TV

“A Manual for Life” by E.O. Wilson. The New York Times. November 7, 2014.

Read The Christian Science Monitor review: “The Meaning of Human Existence Considers Humanity’s Purpose and Place in the Grand Scheme of Things”

“The Big Read: Eusocial Climbers.” By Steve Connor. The Independent. November 9, 2014.

Watch E.O. Wilson Discuss The Meaning of Human Existence on Book TV. November 9, 2014.

“EO Wilson: King of the Ants Has the Gigantic Task of Saving Us All.” By Josh Glancy. The Sunday Times. November 9, 2014.

“Why Richard Dawkins Is No Scientist, the Survival of the Least Selfish, and What Ants Can Tell Is About Humans.” By Steve Connor. The Independent. November 10, 2014.

“EO Wilson on Science, Philosophy and the Origins of Human Behaviour.” By Jonathan Derbyshire. Prospect Magazine. November 12, 2014.

“Book Review: The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson.” By Scott Russell Sanders. The Washington Post. November 14, 2014.

Listen to author Jonathon Weiner read from chapter 3, Evolution and Our Inner Conflict, from The Meaning of Human Existence, at an event at The New School on November 18, 2014 honoring the finalists for the National Book Awards.

“Edward Wilson’s Thrilling Prophecy of ‘Paradise’ on Earth.” By John Horgan. Scientific American. December 8, 2014.

“E.O. Wilson: Who Are We and Where Are We Going.” By Marcie Sillman. KUOW.org 94.9 FM Seattle News & Information. December 29, 2014.

“Book Review: ‘The Meaning of Human Existence.’” By Joshua Preston. TheHumanist.com. June 23, 2015.

“Review: ‘The Meaning of Human Existence’ by Edward O. Wilson: Ground Zero.” By Jim Danielson. Lincoln Journal Star. June 30, 2015.

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