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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > November 2017 > How the human got his paintbrush

How the human got his paintbrush

What can evolution tell us, if anything, about human achievements in the arts? Not as much as EO Wilson thinks, says Philip Ball
Monkey business: Henri Rousseau’s dense jungles don’t fit EO Wilson’s narrow artistic schema
ROUSSEAU, HENRI J.F. (LE DOUANIER) (1844-1910) / SUZUKI COLLECTION, TOKYO, JAPAN / PETER WILLI / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

The Origins of Creativity

by Edward O Wilson (Allen Lane, £20)

Edward O Wilson, the octogenarian Harvard biologist and ethologist, is one of the most productive, broad-thinking and important scientists of the past century. The central question of his work is why animals do what they do, and how evolution has shaped their behaviour. His new book, The Origins of Creativity, seeks to draw lessons from that understanding about “the unique and defining trait of our species”: creativity, which he defines, not without controversy, as “the innate quest for originality.”

Like Charles Darwin, Wilson’s research has mainly focused on non-human behaviour. His specialism is social insects, especially ants. His monumental book The Ants (1991), written with fellow myrmecologist Bert Hölldobler, won a Pulitzer Prize—his second such award—a testament to the fact that Wilson writes as eloquently as he thinks.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s November issue: Joris Luyendijk and Stuart Ward try to uncover the way Britain is perceived by Europe and the rest of the world. Luyendijk—who lived in Britain for six years before recently moving back to his native Netherlands—explains that the Brexit vote has shown Europe that Britain needs time alone to find its identity again, while Ward—a native Australian—argues that its Britain’s imperial backstory that stops it from truly understanding what the world thinks of it. Elsewhere in the issue Jeffrey Lewis argues that US foreign policy has helped North Korea develop the nuclear bomb and we explore the effect that the Palestinian museum near Ramallah is having on the creation of a national identity. Also in this issue: Sameer Rahim profiles Armando Iannucci, Joseph Stiglitz on Britain’s tricky political situation.
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