What is The Relationship Between Ants, Consilience, and Phi (If Any)?

January 21, 2015 — Boston, MA

The other night I had the fun of hearing one of my all-time heroes, 85 year old naturalist E.O. Wilson, speak for an hour or so in a relatively unscripted setting, sitting alone on a stage, holding forth on “top of mind” themes he is thinking deeply about. Wilson may be best known for his 20+ books on insects—particularly ants—but the other night he had a lot to say about homo sapiens, sapience, emotions, and decision making.

What are the secrets to the enduring success of a creative brain like E.O. Wilson? Here is a guy who has dedicated his life to learning about insects—specifically ants—but he may be the definition of a true genius; an autodidact in non-entomological matters, able to speak thoughtfully, intelligently—and in some cases authoritatively—on a wide range of subjects where he sees a connectedness of patterns of thought between seemingly unrelated disciplines. His 1986 work titled Consilience is without a doubt, one of the most important books I have ever read. There is no question that Wilson has a high IQ—but countless studies, all the way back to Louis Terman showed that high IQs do not predict high levels of creative achievement in life.
Creative people like Wilson and like most seasoned successful EOMs I have met, are good at recognizing associations between ideas and domains, at recognizing relationships and connections between seemingly disparate kinds of knowledge. They literally “think different”; see things in an unconventional way, and thus are thought to be creative. Most of the best EOMs I have met are polymaths—they have broad knowledge and interest in many fields. They work much harder than the average person—and not only harder—but more focused in their area of superior skill or unique ability. And they have GRIT—passion and persistence for long term goals, even when (or in spite of) being confronted with skepticism, rejection, or cynicism from their peers.

How much of enduring success is talent, how much is effort, how much is chance?
And is high Phi a f(consilience)?