Consilience : The Unity of Knowledge
by Edward O. Wilson
Hardcover - 332 pages (April 1998)
Knopf; ISBN: 0679450777 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.22 x 9.61 x 6.68
Other Editions: Paperback, Audio Cassette, Large Print.
William A. Spriggs
This monumental book is undoubtedly Wilson’s best ever; it is like watching a command performance by a great artist.
Wilson frames his latest work from William Whewall's 1840 synthesis The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, which he calls "literally a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation." As a great scientist and storyteller, Wilson recalls the great minds of the Enlightenment and issues a call to unify the sciences in an attempt to stir the beginnings of a new Renaissance. He laments the constant nature-nurture controversy and recalls C.P. Snow's view of the sorry state of current scientific knowledge.
Public intellectuals and trailing close behind them the media professionals, have been trained almost without exception in the social sciences and humanities. They consider human nature to be their province and have difficulty conceiving the relevance of the natural sciences to social behavior and policy. Natural scientists, whose expertise is diced into narrow compartments with little connection to human affairs, are indeed ill prepared to engage the same subjects. What does a biochemist know of legal theory and the China trade? It is not enough to repeat the old nostrum that all scholars, natural and social scientist and humanists alike, are animated by a common creative spirit. They are indeed creative siblings, but lack a common language.
Wilson calls for the unity of knowledge as a way of life and our own enlightenment, and strongly suggests that the truth will set us free:
Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religions, but it follows a very different course--a stoic's creed, an acquired taste, a guide book to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind.
But this book is not just an approach to life through a scholarly perspective. As a bonus, Wilson gives us a summary of his 40 years of research, and explains the workings of life in a lucid manner. He threads the natural sciences--physics, chemistry, and biology--together in a neat pattern; throws in the best biological explanation of consciousness I have ever read; reinforces his Genes to Culture theory; explains the fitness of human nature; summarizes the social sciences--anthropology, sociology, economics, and political science; and leads us to the arts and their interpretation. He then ends this brilliant book with dire warnings about population projections and the frailty of the biosphere.
This book is a flagship of science, and hence one shouldn’t just read it. It should be reread, dog-earred, highlighted, underlined and committed to memory. It should, in short, be grokked.
Edward O. Wilson is the Pellegrino University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and is the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books.
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