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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Edward O. Wilson Quotes

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Edward O. Wilson
(10 Jun 1929 - )

American biologist known for his study of ants. He is an active environmentalist.


Science Quotes by Edward O. Wilson (27 quotes)

Burned deforestation photo+quote Destroying rain forest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal
Lacandon jungle burned for agriculture in Chiapas, Mexico (by Jami Dwyer) (source)

Edward O. Wilson photo, head and shoulders, cropped
Edward O. Wilson (source)
Biology is a science of three dimensions. The first is the study of each species across all levels of biological organization, molecule to cell to organism to population to ecosystem. The second dimension is the diversity of all species in the biosphere. The third dimension is the history of each species in turn, comprising both its genetic evolution and the environmental change that drove the evolution. Biology, by growing in all three dimensions, is progressing toward unification and will continue to do so.
— Edward O. Wilson
In 'Systematics and the Future of Biology', Systematics and the Origin of Species: on Ernst Mayr's 100th anniversary, Volume 102, Issues 22-26 (2005), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Biology (83)  |  Biosphere (7)  |  Cell (90)  |  Change (133)  |  Dimension (12)  |  Diversity (32)  |  Ecosystem (10)  |  Environment (75)  |  Evolution (342)  |  Genetics (79)  |  Growth (70)  |  Molecule (82)  |  Organism (70)  |  Organization (51)  |  Population (41)  |  Progress (200)  |  Species (96)  |  Study (157)  |  Unification (5)

Biophilia, if it exists, and I believe it exists, is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.
— Edward O. Wilson
'Biophilia and the Conservation Ethic', essay in The Biophilia Hypothesis, editted by Stephen R. Kellert (1997), 31.
Science quotes on:  |  Emotion (28)  |  Organism (70)

From the freedom to explore comes the joy of learning. From knowledge acquired by personal initiative arises the desire for more knowledge. And from mastery of the novel and beautiful world awaiting every child comes self-confidence.
— Edward O. Wilson
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 147.
Science quotes on:  |  Arise (5)  |  Beautiful (16)  |  Child (90)  |  Desire (46)  |  Exploration (48)  |  Freedom (41)  |  Initiative (10)  |  Joy (25)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Learning (130)  |  Mastery (10)  |  Novel (6)  |  Personal (16)  |  Self-Confidence (3)  |  World (231)

I had this experience at the age of eight. My parents gave me a microscope. I don’t recall why, but no matter. I then found my own little world, completely wild and unconstrained, no plastic, no teacher, no books, no anything predictable. At first I did not know the names of the water-drop denizens or what they were doing. But neither did the pioneer microscopists. Like them, I graduated to looking at butterfly scales and other miscellaneous objects. I never thought of what I was doing in such a way, but it was pure science. As true as could be of any child so engaged, I was kin to Leeuwenhoek, who said that his work “was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more that most other men.”
— Edward O. Wilson
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 143-144.
Science quotes on:  |  Age (60)  |  Book (100)  |  Butterfly (9)  |  Child (90)  |  Complete (13)  |  Craving (5)  |  Drop (7)  |  Enjoyment (14)  |  Experience (132)  |  Find (50)  |  Graduation (3)  |  Kin (5)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (15)  |  Little (29)  |  Microscope (47)  |  Name (58)  |  Parent (24)  |  Pioneer (8)  |  Plastic (11)  |  Praise (9)  |  Predictability (5)  |  Pure Science (7)  |  Pursuit (34)  |  Reside (4)  |  Scale (21)  |  Teacher (54)  |  Water (122)  |  Wild (12)  |  Work (198)  |  World (231)

I want us to save the creation—not just care about it, but to save it.
— Edward O. Wilson
From transcript of PBS TV program 'Religion and Ethics' (17 Nov 2006).
Science quotes on:  |  Care (37)  |  Creation (129)  |  Save (13)  |  Want (32)

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.
— Edward O. Wilson
In Rosemarie Jarski, Words From The Wise (2007), 269. [Contact webmaster if you know the primary print source.]
Science quotes on:  |  Chaos (33)  |  Collapse (8)  |  Disappear (4)  |  Environment (75)  |  Equilibrium (12)  |  Insect (38)  |  Mankind (111)  |  World (231)

If history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology.
— Edward O. Wilson
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998, 1999), 286
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (139)  |  Biology (83)  |  Desire (46)  |  Evolution (342)  |  God (234)  |  History (156)  |  Human Mind (21)  |  Passion (24)  |  Science (875)  |  Truth (450)

In a purely technical sense, each species of higher organism—beetle, moss, and so forth, is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, Mozart symphony, or any other great work of art.
— Edward O. Wilson
'The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2:1, 22. Reprinted in Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006 (2006), 622.
Science quotes on:  |  Art (80)  |  Beetle (5)  |  Moss (5)  |  Organism (70)  |  Painting (17)

In the process of natural selection, then, any device that can insert a higher proportion of certain genes into subsequent generations will come to characterize the species.
— Edward O. Wilson
'The Morality of the Gene'.; Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975, 1980), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Evolution (342)  |  Gene (49)  |  Genetics (79)  |  Natural Selection (57)  |  Species (96)

It may be argued that to know one kind of beetle is to know them all. But a species is not like a molecule in a cloud of molecules—it is a unique population.
— Edward O. Wilson
'The Biological Diversity Crisis: A Challenge to Science', Issues in Science and Technology (Fall 1985), 2:1, 22. Reprinted in Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006 (2006), 622.
Science quotes on:  |  Beetle (5)  |  Molecule (82)  |  Population (41)  |  Species (96)

Known as the biosphere to scientists and as the creation to theologians, all of life together consists of a membrane around earth so thin that it cannot be seen edgewise from a satellite yet so prodigiously diverse that only a tiny fraction of species have been discovered and named.
— Edward O. Wilson
'Vanishing Before Our Eyes', Time (26 Apr 2000).
Science quotes on:  |  Biosphere (7)  |  Creation (129)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Diversity (32)  |  Earth (250)  |  Fraction (4)  |  Life (460)  |  Membrane (6)  |  Name (58)  |  Prodigious (4)  |  Satellite (12)  |  Species (96)  |  Theologian (11)  |  Thin (3)  |  Tiny (9)

Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.
About the ambitious pursuit of knowledge, alluding to Icarus of the Greek myth.
— Edward O. Wilson
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1999), 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Ambition (18)  |  Knowledge (679)

No one knows the diversity in the world, not even to the nearest order of magnitude. … We don’t know for sure how many species there are, where they can be found or how fast they're disappearing. It's like having astronomy without knowing where the stars are.
— Edward O. Wilson
Quoted in Jamie Murphy and Andrea Dorfman, 'The Quiet Apocalypse,' Time (13 Oct 1986).
Science quotes on:  |  Astronomy (105)  |  Diversity (32)  |  Extinction (38)  |  Species (96)  |  Star (132)  |  Undiscovered (5)

No species … possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by genetic history … The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction, and reason is just one of its various techniques.
— Edward O. Wilson
'Dilemma'. On Human Nature (1978, 1979), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Genetics (79)  |  Human Mind (21)  |  Reason (173)  |  Reproduction (34)  |  Species (96)  |  Survival (32)

Now when you cut a forest, an ancient forest in particular, you are not just removing a lot of big trees and a few birds fluttering around in the canopy. You are drastically imperiling a vast array of species within a few square miles of you. The number of these species may go to tens of thousands. ... Many of them are still unknown to science, and science has not yet discovered the key role undoubtedly played in the maintenance of that ecosystem, as in the case of fungi, microorganisms, and many of the insects.
— Edward O. Wilson
On Human Nature (2000). In John H. Morgan, Naturally Good (2005), 252.
Science quotes on:  |  Ancient (27)  |  Bird (57)  |  Canopy (2)  |  Deforestation (27)  |  Ecosystem (10)  |  Environment (75)  |  Forest (54)  |  Fungus (2)  |  Insect (38)  |  Key (18)  |  Microorganism (19)  |  Role (17)  |  Tree (88)  |  Unknown (40)  |  Water (122)

Populations of bacteria live in the spumes of volcanic thermal vents on the ocean floor, multiplying in water above the boiling point. And far beneath Earth's surface, to a depth of 2 miles (3.2 km) or more, dwell the SLIMES (subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystems), unique assemblages of bacteria and fungi that occupy pores in the interlocking mineral grains of igneous rock and derive their energy from inorganic chemicals. The SLIMES are independent of the world above, so even if all of it were burned to a cinder, they would carry on and, given enough time, probably evolve new life-forms able to re-enter the world of air and sunlight.
— Edward O. Wilson
'Vanishing Before Our Eyes', Time (26 Apr 2000).
Science quotes on:  |  Air (84)  |  Bacteria (17)  |  Cinder (3)  |  Energy (103)  |  Evolution (342)  |  Fungus (2)  |  Grain (10)  |  Igneous (2)  |  Life (460)  |  Life-Form (4)  |  Microbe (10)  |  Ocean (56)  |  Population (41)  |  Pore (5)  |  Rock (54)  |  Slime (4)  |  Sunlight (9)  |  Volcano (24)

The cutting of primeval forest and other disasters, fueled by the demands of growing human populations, are the overriding threat to biological diversity everywhere. (1992)
— Edward O. Wilson
The Diversity of Life (1999), 259
Science quotes on:  |  Biodiversity (4)  |  Biological (2)  |  Cutting (3)  |  Deforestation (27)  |  Demand (18)  |  Disaster (15)  |  Diversity (32)  |  Forest (54)  |  Human (168)  |  Population (41)  |  Primeval (7)  |  Threat (9)

The extinctions ongoing worldwide promise to be at least as great as the mass extinction that occurred at the end of the age of dinosaurs.
— Edward O. Wilson
Quoted in Jamie Murphy and Andrea Dorfman, 'The Quiet Apocalypse,' Time (13 Oct 1986).
Science quotes on:  |  Dinosaur (13)  |  Extinction (38)

The genes hold culture on a leash. The leash is very long, but inevitably values will be constrained in accordance with their effects on the human gene pool. The brain is a product of evolution. Human behavior—like the deepest capacities for emotional respone which drive and guide it—is the circuitous technique by which human genetic material has been and will be kept intact.
— Edward O. Wilson
On Human Nature (1978), 167. In William Andrew Rottschaefer, The Biology and Psychology of Moral Agency (1998), 58.
Science quotes on:  |  Culture (44)  |  Gene (49)

The growth of a naturalist is like the growth of a musician or athlete: excellence for the talented, lifelong enjoyment for the rest, benefit for humanity.
— Edward O. Wilson
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 147.
Science quotes on:  |  Benefit (21)  |  Enjoyment (14)  |  Excellence (18)  |  Growth (70)  |  Humanity (46)  |  Lifelong (4)  |  Musician (4)  |  Naturalist (27)  |  Talent (19)

The time has come to link ecology to economic and human development. When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all. What is happening to the rain forests of Madagascar and Brazil will affect us all.
— Edward O. Wilson
Quoted in Jamie Murphy and Andrea Dorfman, 'The Quiet Apocalypse,' Time (13 Oct 1986).
Science quotes on:  |  Ant (10)  |  Biology (83)  |  Bird (57)  |  Brazil (2)  |  Ecology (21)  |  Economics (19)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Rain Forest (14)  |  Tree (88)

The worst thing that will probably happen—in fact is already well underway—is not energy depletion, economic collapse, conventional war, or the expansion of totalitarian governments. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired in a few generations. The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.
— Edward O. Wilson
Biophilia (1984), 121.(1990), 182.
Science quotes on:  |  Catastrophe (8)  |  Collapse (8)  |  Depletion (3)  |  Descendant (7)  |  Destruction (52)  |  Diversity (32)  |  Economics (19)  |  Energy (103)  |  Extinction (38)  |  Folly (10)  |  Forgive (4)  |  Generation (56)  |  Genetics (79)  |  Government (50)  |  Habitat (5)  |  Happen (8)  |  Process (97)  |  Repair (5)  |  Totalitarian (4)  |  Worst (7)

To be anthropocentric is to remain unaware of the limits of human nature, the significance of biological processes underlying human behavior, and the deeper meaning of long-term genetic evolution.
— Edward O. Wilson
Tanner Lecture on Human Values, University of Michigan, 'Comparative Social Theory' (30 Mar 1979).
Science quotes on:  |  Biology (83)  |  Evolution (342)  |  Genetics (79)  |  Human Behavior (2)  |  Human Nature (34)  |  Limit (34)  |  Meaning (52)  |  Process (97)  |  Remain (18)  |  Significance (30)  |  Underlying (4)

We are compelled to drive toward total knowledge, right down to the levels of the neuron and the gene. When we have progressed enough to explain ourselves in these mechanistic terms...the result might be hard to accept.
— Edward O. Wilson
'Man: From Sociobiology to Sociology'. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975, 1980), 301.
Science quotes on:  |  Gene (49)  |  Genetics (79)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Neuron (7)  |  Progress (200)

[Bacteria are the] dark matter of the biological world [with 4 million mostly unknown species in a ton of soil].
— Edward O. Wilson
Talk as a TED prize winner (2007). From video on TEDprize website.
Science quotes on:  |  Bacteria (17)  |  Dark Matter (4)  |  Microbiology (2)

[Destroying rain forest for economic gain] is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.
— Edward O. Wilson
Quoted in R.Z. Sheppard, 'Nature: Splendor in The Grass', Time (3 Sep 1990)
Science quotes on:  |  Burn (12)  |  Cook (9)  |  Deforestation (27)  |  Economics (19)  |  Gain (23)  |  Meal (9)  |  Painting (17)  |  Rain Forest (14)  |  Renaissance (5)

[The natural world cleans water, pollinates plants and provides pharmaceuticals, among many other gifts.] Thirty trillion dollars worth of services, scot-free to humanity, every year.
— Edward O. Wilson
From transcript of PBS TV program 'Religion and Ethics' (17 Nov 2006).
Science quotes on:  |  Clean (7)  |  Dollar (11)  |  Gift (26)  |  Humanity (46)  |  Natural World (2)  |  Pharmaceutical (2)  |  Plant (96)  |  Provide (13)  |  Service (27)  |  Water (122)  |  Year (69)


See also:
  • todayinsci icon 10 Jun - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Wilson's birth.
  • todayinsci icon Edward O. Wilson - “Burning a Renaissance Painting to Cook a Meal” illustrated quote - Medium 500px
  • todayinsci icon Edward O. Wilson - “Burning a Renaissance Painting to Cook a Meal” illustrated quote - Large 800px
  • book icon Naturalist, by Edward O. Wilson. - book suggestion.
  • booklist icon Booklist for Edward O. Wilson.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
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Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
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John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
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Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton