What Is Human Nature? Paleolithic Emotions, Medieval Institutions, God-Like Technology

Creativity might just be the defining trait that makes us human, says E.O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and acclaimed 'Father of Biodiversity'. But what exactly is the modern Homo sapiens, anyway? Wilson calls us an evolutionary chimera, picking up things from every age without fully transitioning out of any one era. That's why we are a complicated mix of paleolithic emotions, medieval leftovers like banks and religion, and now the latest addition: God-like technology. Those are the influences we know about, but creativity may actually predate our language, writings, and art—Wilson believes it's hundreds of thousands of years older than we assume. How can we discover the deepest roots of what has made us so human? Wilson says the humanities need to up their game and help the sciences unlock our creative origins. E.O. Wilson's new book is The Origins of Creativity.

  • Transcript


E.O. Wilson: When we address human creativity I think what we are dealing with right from the start is what makes us human, and there has been a great shortcoming in the humanities in explaining themselves in order to improve the creative powers of the humanities.
By that I mean most considerations of human behavior, its origin, and its meaning within the humanities, stops about the time of the origin of literacy when we can deal with symbols and with the first written languages and understand them. Or perhaps it goes back 10,000 years to the beginnings of Neolithic civilization.

But that’s just an eye-blink of time in the origin of the emotions and the setup of the human brain that’s permitted our understanding of the humanities and then ultimately science, to the bottoms of their depths.

And this then brings us to what I like to call—an acronym—PAPEN, P – A – P – E – N. And that is a designation of the areas of science that are most relevant to the humanities when they address the origins especially of the human species and the appearance of modern Homo sapiens some several hundred thousand years ago.

And PAPEN, P – A – P – E – N, stands for paleontology, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology and neural biology. These are the branches of science that need information on the origin of humans, and the deep history of pre-human existence is needed to explain the origins of creativity in modern human beings, and the ways and the reasons our emotions exist and rule us, leading to the way that I have tried to put it in saying that modern humanity is distinguished by paleolithic emotions and medieval institutions like banks and religions, and god-like technology. We’re a mixed up and, in many ways, still archaic species in transition. We are what I like to call a chimera of evolution. We walk around and exist in this fairly newly made civilization that we created, a compound of different traits, of different origins and different degrees of forward evolution.