Quotes from EO Wilson on `The Arts and their Interpretation’ from a chapter in Evolution, Literature, Film: A Reader (2010). …There will be a test, on Friday.

The work of EO Wilson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Joseph Carroll all features prominently in StoryAlity Theory. Not least as that work illuminates the Themes in the Top 20 RoI films…

On Themes

All three scholars also talk about consilience.


Consilience – the unification of knowledge

With regards consilience, EO Wilson says (among many other things):

`In many respects, the most interesting challenge to consilient explanation is the transit from science to the arts.

By the latter I mean the creative arts, the personal productions of literature, visual arts, drama, music and dance marked by those qualities which for lack of better words (and better words may never be coined) we call the true and beautiful.

The arts are sometimes taken to mean all the humanities, which include not only the creative arts but also, following the recommendations of the 1979-80 Commission on the Humanities, the core subjects of history, philosophy, languages, and comparative literature, plus jurisprudence, the comparative study of religions, and “those aspects of the social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods” (Commission on the Humanities).

Nonetheless, the arts in the primary and intuitively creative sense, ars gratia artis, remain the definition most widely and usefully used. Reflection leads us to two questions about the arts: where they come from, in both history and personal experience, and how their essential qualities of truth and beauty are to be described through ordinary language…

While it is true that science advances by reducing phenomena to their working elements – by dissecting brains into neurons, for example, and neurons into molecules – it does not aim to diminish the integrity of the whole.

On the contrary, synthesis of the elements to re-create their original assembly is the other half of scientific procedure. In fact, it is the ultimate goal of science… Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths.

Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science. Scholars in the humanities should lift the anathema placed on reductionism… Interpretation is the logical channel of consilient explanation between science and the arts.’

(Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 135-6)

Mozart, Marx, Darwin, Einstien, Csiskznetmohalyi

Some masters of Creativity: Beethoven, Marx, Darwin, Einstein, Csikszentmihalyi. Notably, 3 out of the 5 above (or: 60%) have a beard.

EO Wilson also (rightly) says:

`Behind Shakespeare, Leonardo, Mozart and others in the foremost rank are a vast legion whose realized powers form a descending continuum to those who are merely competent.

What the masters of the Western canon, and those of other high cultures possessed in common was a combination of exceptional knowledge, technical skill, originality, sensitivity to detail, ambition, boldness, and drive. … Even the greatest works of art might be understood fundamentally with knowledge of the biologically evolved epigenetic rules that guided them.

This is not the prevailing view of the arts.

Academic theorists have paid little attention to biology; consilience is not in their vocabulary.

To varying degrees they have been more influenced by postmodernism, the competing hypothesis that denies the existence of a universal human nature.

Applied to literary criticism, the extreme manifestation of postmodernism is the deconstructive philosophy formulated most provocatively by Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. In this view, truth is relative and personal. Each person creates his own inner world by acceptance or rejection of endlessly shifting linguistic signs. There is no privileged point, no lodestar, to guide literary intelligence. And given that science is just another way of looking at the world, there is no scientifically constructible map of human nature from which the deep meaning of texts can be drawn. There is only unlimited opportunity for the reader to invent interpretations and commentaries out of the world he himself constructs.

“The author is dead” is a favourite maxim of the deconstructionists…

The postmodernist hypothesis does not conform well to the evidence.

(Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 138-9)

Wilson is here identifying what Joseph Carroll and others refer to as `Gallic obscurantism’ (those whacky French contrarianists) – as opposed to: academics/scholars productively focussing on: the universal traits that unite Humanity…

Check out the *big brain* on Brett-!

Check out the *big brain* on Brett-! (Note: Pulp Fiction gag)

The twice-Pulitzer-winning EO Wilson also goes on to say:

`If the brain is ever to be charted, and an enduring theory of the arts created as part of the enterprise, it will be by stepwise and consilient contributions from the brain sciences, psychology, and evolutionary biology.

And if during this process the creative mind is to be understood, it will need collaboration between scientists and humanities scholars…

While biology has an important part to play in scholarly interpretation, the creative arts themselves can never be locked in by this or any other discipline of science. The reason is that the exclusive role of the arts is the transmission of the intricate details of human experience by artifice to intensify aesthetic and emotional response. Works of art communicate feeling directly from mind to mind, with no intent to explain why the impact occurs. In this defining quality, the arts are the antithesis of science.’

(Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 140-1)

Aggression in monkeys: "Getcha filthy hands off my nuts."

Pleistocene-Era Elvis Presley (Modern-Era Justin Beiber).

Wilson also (rightly) states:

`The most distinctive qualities of the human species are extremely high intelligence, language, culture, and reliance on long-term social contracts. In combination they gave early Homo sapiens a decisive edge over all competing animal species, but they also exacted a price we continue to pay, composed of the shocking recognition of the self, of the finiteness of personal existence, and of the chaos of the environment.’

(Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, p. 141)

Abandon Aristotle and his stoopid opinions on `Drama'. Embrace Empirical Facts and The Scientific Method.

Order and Chaos. Gotta love ’em… Well, long as my daughter doesn’t marry one.

Wilson also (rightly) says:

‘The dominating influence that spawned the arts was the need to impose order on the confusion caused by intelligence… So in the course of evolution the animal instincts of survival and reproduction were transformed into the epigenetic algorithms of human nature. It was necessary to keep in place these inborn programs for the rapid acquisition of language, sexual conduct, and other processes of mental development…

Yet the algorithms were jerry-built: They worked adequately but not superbly well… The arts filled the gap. Early humans invented them in an attempt to express and control through magic the abundance of the environment, the power of solidarity, and other forces in their lives that mattered most to survival and reproduction. The arts were the means by which these forces could be ritualized and expressed in a new, simulated reality. They drew consistency from their faithfulness to human nature, to the emotion-guided epigenetic rules – the algorithms – of mental development.

They achieved their fidelity by selecting the most evocative words, images, and rhythms, conforming to the emotional guides of the epigenetic rules, making the right moves. The arts still perform this primal function, and in much the same ancient way. Their quality is measured by their humanness, by the precision of their adherence to human nature. To an overwhelming degree that is what we mean when we speak of the true and beautiful in the arts.’

(Wilson in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 142-3)

The Top 20 RoI Films are all true and beautiful. Study them. Or at least, use the same techniques they use. Your film then has a higher probability of going viral, than, if you don’t.

The Top 20 RoI Films - StoryAlity Theory (Velikovsky 2013)

The Top 20 RoI Films – StoryAlity Theory (Velikovsky 2013)

The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) Films

The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) Films

And for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.

Well, unless you are a pomo. Because pomo is dead as disco.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Wilson, E. O. ([1998] 1999). Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1st Vintage Books ed.). New York: Knopf: Random House; ebrary Inc.

E O Wilson, reprinted in Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

One thought on “StoryAlity #85 – The Arts and Their Interpretation (EO Wilson)

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity#137 – Culturology & the CES (Cultural Evolution Society) | StoryAlity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.