Does it mean 'reducing variance with the previous human situation', that is 'not in the situation of extinction'?

During the past ten thousand years or longer, man as a whole has been so successful in dominating his environment that almost any kind of culture can succeed for a while, so long as it has a modest degree of internal consistency and does not shut off reproduction altogether. No species of ant or white ant enjoys this freedom. The slightest inefficiency in constructing nests, in establishing odor trails, or in conducting nuptial flights could result in the quick extinction of the species by predation and competition from other social insects. To a scarcely lesser extent the same is true for social carnivores and primates. In short, animal species tend to be tightly packed in the ecosystem with little room for experimentation or play. Man has temporarily escaped the constraint of interspecific competition. Although cultures replace one another, the process is much less effective than interspecific competition in reducing variance.

Sociobiology: The New Synthesis By Edward O. Wilson

3 Answers 3


I think "variance" means "room for experimentation or play". That is, interspecific competition allows for little room for experimentation or play, so reduces variance. On the contrary, the process of cultural replacement doesn't.


The word variance means change or difference. The author is using it in a very specialized sense. For example:

The amount of variance within a population of societies is the sum of the variances due to genetic drift, tradition drift, and their interaction.

This passage is quoted from "Sociobiology The abridged edition", which can be found on the internet in pdf form.

Your question isn't an English learners' question, but rather a question about what the author meant by the term; it may be answered by reading his work.

  • Thank you. Then, could you tell me what the last sentence has to do with the whole passage?
    – user129726
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 3:34
  • The author is comparing the process of cultural replacement in sociobiology (i.e., among human groups) with the process of competition between species of non-human life. The latter reduces variance more than cultural replacement does. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 6:12

From the Wikipedia entry on disambiguation of variance

In probability theory and statistics, variance measures how far a set of numbers are spread out.

The author's point is that competition in other species reduces the amount of variability within species whereas H sapiens is free from this constraint.

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