, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 297-303
Date: 01 Sep 2007

Wendy Wheeler, The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and The Evolution of Culture

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Few biologists have the verve to cross the divide between nature and culture. Julian Huxley and Conrad Waddington spring to mind, but their comparisons between nature and culture were partial—in Waddington’s case between self-organization in evolutionary process and human ethics. The most popular, but the most notorious example has been that of E.O. Wilson. His approach to the nature-culture divide sprang from molecular biology and genetics. His venture in the 1970s into sociobiology employed reductionist analysis, decomposing cultural order and “cultural traits” into genetic combinations. His strict adherence to Darwinism was in the same vein as that of Richard Dawkins. Wilson received widespread hostility and condemnation from professional anthropologists. Their subsequent research led them to uncover a litany of errors in his account, including that of gender bias in the anthropological evidence he used. On the other hand, his widespread readership among the public sprang, I suspect