Philosophical Society of Washington

The Crisis of Life on Earth and the Nature of Human Nature

Michael Robinson
National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution

2024th Meeting Abstract
Friday, February 18, 1994 at 8:15 PM


At the end of the Twentieth Century, humankind, a once ecologically insignificant organism, is changing the natural world at an unprecedented rate. The causes and effects of this change, particularly in the tropical rainforests, although highly publicized are not often understood. In this talk I will give emphasis to the unique complexity of tropical biology, illustrating this by using case-history studies from Smithsonian research; and examine some of the proximal causes of the destruction of the global centers of biodiversity. I will argue that much of the problem may be due to more fundamental causes and examine the evidence for there being deep-rooted biological imperatives that constrain our behavioral options even at the beginning of a new century. In short I would end by returning to the age-old question of the nature of human nature…if there is such a thing!

About the Author:

Mr. Robinson, Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoological Park, is an animal behaviorist and a tropical biologist. Immediately prior to his appointment to the National Zoo in May 1984, Mr. Robinson served as the Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, which he joined in 1966 as a tropical biologist. He received his Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University after being awarded his Bachelor of Science, Summa Cum laude, from the University of Wales. His scientific interests include predator-prey interactions, evolution of adaptations, tropical biology, courtship and mating behavior, phenology of arthropods, and freshwater biology. He is the author of more than 100 scientific papers and articles including a book on the courtship and mating behavior of spiders.

- Meeting Archive - Home -