At the outset of his new book, "The Social Conquest of Earth," biologist E.O. Wilson takes an admiring look at Paul Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" -- the artist's 12-foot-wide Tahitian masterpiece.

 

"I was enchanted by that," Wilson says. "This great artist has got it; he knows that these are the great questions of religion and philosophy, and few people have been willing to state them so baldly. And I said, let's see if we can answer those questions."

 

His attempt, in partnership with two Harvard mathematicians, is spelled out in a new and controversial theory of human evolution. One of the world's preeminent biologists, Wilson is no stranger to controversy -- and at 82, he's lived to see many of his most radical theories become common knowledge.

 

"I go further, I think, than anyone has gone before in trying to provide a biological explanation for the origins of some of the most important human behaviors that have also been considered the most elusive or indefinable," Wilson explains. "That includes morality, honor, religion and creative arts."

 

In the end, though, from this complicated saga of biological evolution and competing impulses, Wilson hopes for one very simply stated goal: "A more enlightened, secular view of the world."

 

If you go




E.O. Wilson

Thursday, 6 p.m.

Harvard Museum of Natural History, 24 Oxford St.,

Cambridge,

free, 617-495-3045

www.hmnh.harvard.edu