Consilience: The popular Unity of online sale Knowledge outlet sale

Consilience: The popular Unity of online sale Knowledge outlet sale

Consilience: The popular Unity of online sale Knowledge outlet sale
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"A dazzling journey across the sciences and humanities in search of deep laws to unite them." -- The Wall Street Journal

One of our greatest living scientists--and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature and The Ants--gives us a work of visionary importance that may be the crowning achievement of his career. In Consilience  (a word that originally meant "jumping together"), Edward O. Wilson renews the Enlightenment''s search for a unified theory of knowledge in disciplines that range from physics to biology, the social sciences and the humanities.

Using the natural sciences as his model, Wilson forges dramatic links between fields. He explores the chemistry of the mind and the genetic bases of culture. He postulates the biological principles underlying works of art from cave-drawings to Lolita. Presenting the latest findings in prose of wonderful clarity and oratorical eloquence, and synthesizing it into a dazzling whole, Consilience is science in the path-clearing traditions of Newton, Einstein, and Richard Feynman.

Review

"A dazzling journey across the sciences and humanities in search of deep laws to unite them." — The Wall Street Journal 

"An original work of synthesis . . . a program of unrivalled ambition: to unify all the major branches of knowledge—sociology, economics, the arts and religion—under the banner of science." — The New York Times

"As elegant in its prose as it is rich in its ideas . . . a book of immense importance." — Atlanta Journal & Constitution

"Edward O. Wilson is a hero. . . he has made landmark scientific discoveries and has a writing style to die for. . . . A complex and nuanced argument." — Boston Globe

"One of the clearest and most dedicated popularizers of science since T. H. Huxley. . . . Mr. Wilson can do the science and the prose." — Time

"An excellent book. Wilson provides superb overviews of Western intellectual history and the current state of understanding in many academic disciplines." — Slate

"The Renaissance scholar still lives. . . .  A sensitive, wide-ranging mind discoursing beautifully. . . .  Wilson''s buoyant intellectual courage is bracing." — Seattle Weekly

From the Inside Flap

ling journey across the sciences and humanities in search of deep laws to unite them." -- The Wall Street Journal

One of our greatest living scientists--and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature and The Ants--gives us a work of visionary importance that may be the crowning achievement of his career. In Consilience  (a word that originally meant "jumping together"), Edward O. Wilson renews the Enlightenment''s search for a unified theory of knowledge in disciplines that range from physics to biology, the social sciences and the humanities.

Using the natural sciences as his model, Wilson forges dramatic links between fields. He explores the chemistry of the mind and the genetic bases of culture. He postulates the biological principles underlying works of art from cave-drawings to Lolita. Presenting the latest findings in prose of wonderful clarity and oratorical eloquence, and synthesizi

From the Back Cover

"A dazzling journey across the sciences and humanities in search of deep laws to unite them." --The Wall Street Journal
One of our greatest living scientists--and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature and The Ants--gives us a work of visionary importance that may be the crowning achievement of his career. In Consilience (a word that originally meant "jumping together"), Edward O. Wilson renews the Enlightenment''s search for a unified theory of knowledge in disciplines that range from physics to biology, the social sciences and the humanities.
Using the natural sciences as his model, Wilson forges dramatic links between fields. He explores the chemistry of the mind and the genetic bases of culture. He postulates the biological principles underlying works of art from cave-drawings to Lolita. Presenting the latest findings in prose of wonderful clarity and oratorical eloquence, and synthesizing it into a dazzling whole, Consilience is science in the path-clearing traditions of Newton, Einstein, and Richard Feynman.

About the Author

Edward O. Wilson was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1929. He is the author of two Pulitzer Prize-winning books,  On Human Nature (1978) and  The Ants (1990, with Bert Hölldobler), as well as many other groundbreaking works, including  Consilience, Naturalist, and Sociobiology. A recipient of many of the world’s leading prizes in science and conservation, he is currently Pellegrino University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, with his wife, Renee.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Ionian Enchantment

I remember very well the time I was captured by the dream of unified learning. It was in the early fall of 1947, when at eighteen I came up from Mobile to Tuscaloosa to enter my sophomore year at the University of Alabama. A beginning biologist, fired by adolescent enthusiasm but short on theory and vision, I had schooled myself in natural history with field guides carried in a satchel during solitary excursions into the woodlands and along the freshwater streams of my native state. I saw science, by which I meant (and in my heart I still mean) the study of ants, frogs, and snakes, as a wonderful way to stay outdoors.

My intellectual world was framed by Linnaeus, the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist who invented modern biological classification. The Linnaean system is deceptively easy. You start by separating specimens of plants and animals into species. Then you sort species resembling one another into groups, the genera. Examples of such groups are all the crows and all the oaks. Next you label each species with a two-part Latinized name, such as Corvus ossifragus for the fish crow, where Corvus stands for the genus--all the species of crows--and ossifragus for the fish crow in particular. Then on to higher classification, where similar genera are grouped into families, families into orders, and so on up to phyla and finally, at the very summit, the six kingdoms--plants, animals, fungi, protists, monerans, and archaea. It is like the army: men (plus women, nowadays) into squads, squads into platoons, platoons into companies, and in the final aggregate, the armed services headed by the joint chiefs of staff. It is, in other words, a conceptual world made for the mind of an eighteen-year-old.

I had reached the level of the Carolus Linnaeus of 1735 or, more accurately (since at that time I knew little of the Swedish master), the Roger Tory Peterson of 1934, when the great naturalist published the first edition of A Field Guide to the Birds. My Linnaean period was nonetheless a good start for a scientific career. The first step to wisdom, as the Chinese say, is getting things by their right names.

Then I discovered evolution. Suddenly--that is not too strong a word--I saw the world in a wholly new way. This epiphany I owed to my mentor Ralph Chermock, an intense, chain-smoking young assistant professor newly arrived in the provinces with a Ph.D. in entomology from Cornell University. After listening to me natter for a while about my lofty goal of classifying all the ants of Alabama, he handed me a copy of Ernst Mayr''s 1942 Systematics and the Origin of Species. Read it, he said, if you want to become a real biologist.

The thin volume in the plain blue cover was one of the New Synthesis works, uniting the nineteenth-century Darwinian theory of evolution and modern genetics. By giving a theoretical structure to natural history, it vastly expanded the Linnaean enterprise. A tumbler fell somewhere in my mind, and a door opened to a new world. I was enthralled, couldn''t stop thinking about the implications evolution has for classification and for the rest of biology. And for philosophy. And for just about everything. Static pattern slid into fluid process. My thoughts, embryonically those of a modern biologist, traveled along a chain of causal events, from mutations that alter genes to evolution that multiplies species, to species that assemble into faunas and floras. Scale expanded, and turned continuous. By inwardly manipulating time and space, I found I could climb the steps in biological organization from microscopic particles in cells to the forests that clothe mountain slopes. A new enthusiasm surged through me. The animals and plants I loved so dearly reentered the stage as lead players in a grand drama. Natural history was validated as a real science.

I had experienced the Ionian Enchantment. That recently coined expression I borrow from the physicist and historian Gerald Holton. It means a belief in the unity of the sciences--a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws. Its roots go back to Thales of Miletus, in Ionia, in the sixth century b.c. The legendary philosopher was considered by Aristotle two centuries later to be the founder of the physical sciences. He is of course remembered more concretely for his belief that all matter consists ultimately of water. Although the notion is often cited as an example of how far astray early Greek speculation could wander, its real significance is the metaphysics it expressed about the material basis of the world and the unity of nature.

The Enchantment, growing steadily more sophisticated, has dominated scientific thought ever since. In modern physics its focus has been the unification of all the forces of nature--electroweak, strong, and gravitation--the hoped-for consolidation of theory so tight as to turn the science into a "perfect" system of thought, which by sheer weight of evidence and logic is made resistant to revision. But the spell of the Enchantment extends to other fields of science as well, and in the minds of a few it reaches beyond into the social sciences, and still further, as I will explain later, to touch the humanities. The idea of the unity of science is not idle. It has been tested in acid baths of experiment and logic and enjoyed repeated vindication. It has suffered no decisive defeats. At least not yet, even though at its center, by the very nature of the scientific method, it must be thought always vulnerable. On this weakness I will also expand in due course.

Einstein, the architect of grand unification in physics, was Ionian to the core. That vision was perhaps his greatest strength. In an early letter to his friend Marcel Grossmann he said, "It is a wonderful feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena that to direct observation appear to be quite separate things." He was referring to his successful alignment of the microscopic physics of capillaries with the macroscopic, universe-wide physics of gravity. In later life he aimed to weld everything else into a single parsimonious system, space with time and motion, gravity with electromagnetism and cosmology. He approached but never captured that grail. All scientists, Einstein not excepted, are children of Tantalus, frustrated by the failure to grasp that which seems within reach. They are typified by those thermodynamicists who for decades have drawn ever closer to the temperature of absolute zero, when atoms cease all motion. In 1995, pushing down to within a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, they created a Bose-Einstein condensate, a fundamental form of matter beyond the familiar gases, liquids, and solids, in which many atoms act as a single atom in one quantum
state. As temperature drops and pressure is increased, a gas condenses into a liquid, then a solid; then appears the Bose-Einstein condensate. But absolute, entirely absolute zero, a temperature that exists in imagination, has still not been attained.

On a far more modest scale, I found it a wonderful feeling not just to taste the unification metaphysics but also to be released from the confinement of fundamentalist religion. I had been raised a Southern Baptist, laid backward under the water on the sturdy arm of a pastor, been born again. I knew the healing power of redemption. Faith, hope, and charity were in my bones, and with millions of others I knew that my savior Jesus Christ would grant me eternal life. More pious than the average teenager, I read the Bible cover to cover, twice. But now at college, steroid-driven into moods of adolescent rebellion, I chose to doubt. I found it hard to accept that our deepest beliefs were set in stone by agricultural societies of the eastern Mediterranean more than two thousand years ago. I suffered cognitive dissonance between the cheerfully reported genocidal wars of these people and Christian civilization in 1940s Alabama. It seemed to me that the Book of Revelation might be black magic hallucinated by an ancient primitive. And I thought, surely a loving personal God, if He is paying attention, will not abandon those who reject the literal interpretation of the biblical cosmology. It is only fair to award points for intellectual courage. Better damned with Plato and Bacon, Shelley said, than go to heaven with Paley and Malthus. But most of all, Baptist theology made no provision for evolution. The biblical authors had missed the most important revelation of all! Could it be that they were not really privy to the thoughts of God? Might the pastors of my childhood, good and loving men though they were, be mistaken? It was all too much, and freedom was ever so sweet. I drifted away from the church, not definitively agnostic or atheistic, just Baptist no more.

Still, I had no desire to purge religious feelings. They were bred in me; they suffused the wellsprings of my creative life. I also retained a small measure of common sense. To wit, people must belong to a tribe; they yearn to have a purpose larger than themselves. We are obliged by the deepest drives of the human spirit to make ourselves more than animated dust, and we must have a story to tell about where we came from, and why we are here. Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it? Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better-tested ground to attain the same end. If so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.

Such, I believe, is the source of the Ionian Enchantment: 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 religion, but it follows a very different course--a stoic''s creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here.

If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way. The moral imperative of humanism is the endeavor alone, whether successful or not, provided the effort is honorable and failure memorable. The ancient Greeks expressed the idea in a myth of vaulting ambition. Daedalus escapes from Crete with his son Icarus on wings he has fashioned from feathers and wax. Ignoring the warnings of his father, Icarus flies toward the sun, whereupon his wings come apart and he falls into the sea. That is the end of Icarus in the myth. But we are left to wonder: Was he just a foolish boy? Did he pay the price for hubris, for pride in sight of the gods? I like to think that on the contrary his daring represents a saving human grace. And so the great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar could pay tribute to the spirit of his mentor, Sir Arthur Eddington, by saying: Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.

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Falstaff
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fan of E.O.''s
Reviewed in the United States on September 19, 2020
Can''t believe this book was written in 1997 and I only got around to reading it in 2020. Shame on me. However, I found it as relevant today as it must have been in 1997. Then however, many nay sayers might have rejected the book. Hard to imagine anyone would dismiss his... See more
Can''t believe this book was written in 1997 and I only got around to reading it in 2020. Shame on me. However, I found it as relevant today as it must have been in 1997. Then however, many nay sayers might have rejected the book. Hard to imagine anyone would dismiss his insight today. Consilience, the marriage of social science and natural science seems to be a happening. Did E.O. jump start the idea? Likely not, but surely many must have read the book and saw the need for the marriage. He pens an interesting argument between a religionist and an Empiricist (which he as ... all this while I thought he was a plain vanilla atheist but not so). I recommend you read it and weep. Oh, one of his observations back in 1997 was that the Conservative party was leaning too far into the Libertarian agenda ... WOW! I did not recognize that until sometime around 2012 (hey I''m a conservative but likely not for long). Now on to Bob Woodward''s Rage.
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Dan Wallace
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
"Art, Meet Dr. Science."
Reviewed in the United States on October 2, 2009
In this seminal and ambitious book, professor EO Wilson works to show the need and lays the foundation for the integration of the sciences and the humanities -- a principle he calls consilience. Wilson sees the soloed nature of knowledge as an error of modern and postmodern... See more
In this seminal and ambitious book, professor EO Wilson works to show the need and lays the foundation for the integration of the sciences and the humanities -- a principle he calls consilience. Wilson sees the soloed nature of knowledge as an error of modern and postmodern academic institutions. Then this Harvard professor points the way toward a more holistic view. It is gratifying to see this vision come alive in books such as The Happiness Hypothesis and the works of Malcolm Gladwell, as well as many progressive organizations and insitutions.

Wilson sees four major areas of study that need to be integrated: (1) Environmental Policy; (2) Ethics; (3) Social Science; (4) Biology. He makes the case for a return to valuing empirical scientific research as a key to this integration, and he sees postmodern relativism as the primary threat. He defines science as " the organized systematic enterprise that gathers knowledge about the world and condense the knowledge into testable laws and principles."

He further says "the love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science;" and additionally, Wilson says "science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science." Despite his loathing of postmodern relativism he sees the need for criticism by stating that "new ideas are commonplace, and almost always wrong." Neither is Wilson a blind advocate for science, and he states clearly that new scientific discoveries lead to new challenges. Thus the need for an interplay between art and science.

Wilson sees original scientific discovery as a key to progress, and he celebrates researchers who venture out (for the chances of success are always slim). The qualities he sees as necessary for this journey include the possession of great knowledge and the courage to follow obsessive quests. Within this voyage of discovery, Wilson points to the study of complex systems as the most important focus and pressing need.

The social sciences are more complex than the physical sciences according to Wilson, and he laments the lack of interaction by these two camps. Then he goes on for a good bit to criticize sociologists, with good reason. Economists also draw his fire for arrogance and overly simplistic models that, for example, considers the natural environment as an "externality" to an economic system. What Wilson does see the need for models that are simple, widely applicable, congruent with other disciplines, and predictive.

This review just scratches the surface of the awesome book. Throughout the pages EO Wilson expounds on observations, hypotheses, theories and laws that cover both the sciences and the humanities. And he closes the book with an impassioned plea to work toward solutions to limit the destruction of our natural environment.

The principles of consilience are applicable across most organizations and disciplines. In my work as a marketing consultant I see soloed specialties separated by the competition for capital, budgets and status. I hear this familiar lament from colleagues in other disciplines and human endeavors. EO Wilson points the way toward a better, a more consilient, future.

Consilience is a watershed book and provocative read. A singular achievement.

Outliers: The Story of Success

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
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Dani Nofal
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Important work uniting science and our humanity
Reviewed in the United States on January 15, 2020
Fascinating journey through science, art, ethics. A call for extending the scientific method into humanities and using it as a guideline for our future. A roadmap for thoughts on how to move forward without destroying our environment and what makes us human.
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Omer Belsky
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Consilience: The Science of Everything?
Reviewed in the United States on January 29, 2003
Consilience, a book by biologist Edward O. Wilson, is a masterful narrative of an amazing width of topics: science history, biology, Brain Sciences, Ecology, even an eloquant crticism of Post Modernism. In this book, Wilson proved himself one of the greatest writers of... See more
Consilience, a book by biologist Edward O. Wilson, is a masterful narrative of an amazing width of topics: science history, biology, Brain Sciences, Ecology, even an eloquant crticism of Post Modernism. In this book, Wilson proved himself one of the greatest writers of Popular science - lucid, clear, and often funny.
But Consilience is more than just a popular science book. It is a call for a new kind of science - a unified discipline, a thread of knowledge leading from physics, through the key element of biological evolution, to the social sciences and even the humanities, art, religion, and the ecology.
In a sense, Consilience is very similar to Daniel Dennet''s Darwin''s Dangerous Idea. Both books deal with a huge array of items, also categorized as a chain leading from Physics to Ethics (and, in Dennet''s case to God - or to the inexsistence of God. Wilson, more modest, stops at religion, and leaves a place for some sort of a deity in his cosmology). Ultimately, although Wilson''s prose is superior, and some of his ideas are wonderful (especially early in the book. I loved the suggestion that Logical Positivism can be saved through biological information on how the brain works. There is a paradox there, but it is an approach to the question I never considered), Dennet''s book is more considered and is the better of the two.
The reason for that is, as a scientific program, rather than as an ideology, Consilience doesn''t hold water. First, the term is incredibly unclear. Sometimes, in its strong form, Consilience really is a call for one science, explaining a phenomena in all levels, from the human action to the evolutionary explanation for this phenomena, and finally to the physics behind the biology.
But one is struck by how little Wilson actually explains through this. His examples are remarkably minor. He can trace dreaming about Snakes to old world primates innate fear, and he explains which color words will be more frequant then others (black and white tend to be higher up the hirarchy then Orange - hmm), but no explanation to any discrete historical event is ever offered. Does Consilience, in this strong regard, has anything to say about Keyensian economics? Can you trace the fall of the Weimar republic back to physics? Do we understand Hitchcock''s movies better through an evolutionary perspective on human motives like greed and love? I don''t think so.
Then, sometimes consilience means only that different disciplines should engage in dialogue. There''s nothing objectionable in that, but it is far from tearing down the discipline barriers. And it is constantly done anyway - the latest winner of the Noble price in economics won it for work in psychology.
Wilson''s Consilience keeps switching between these two extremes. Part of the problem, in my view, is that Wilson over emphasizes the links between the different levels of explanation. In particular, in the ''nature vs. nurture'', debate, Wilson clearly believes everything is in the genes.
Wilson constantly denies that he believes in genetic determinism. Strictly speaking, that is true, but if Wilson closes a door by allowing for culture, he opens a window by talking about predisposition - human culture works based on preexisting biological directions ("epigenetic rules") - it intensifies and elaborates them, but rarely or never ignores them. That''s an interesting twist, but it amounts to little but a longer road to the same destination.
Ultimately, the greatest problem I had with Consilience is that it isn''t pragmatic. Yes, Unity is a wonderful thing (and despite my reservations, I tend to agree to that), but how do we get there? Wilson offers very little concrete steps. At the end, Consilience leaves you with a vivid description of the impending ecologic crisis, and a warm fuzzy feeling that consilience can solve it - but with very little about how consilience will be achieved, or indeed, what it means exactly.
I don''t want to end my review in such a sour note. Wilson''s prose is powerful, and he is a fascinating thinker. Even if I don''t agree with him, the vision is provocative and fascinating, and in a sense, that is the greatest compliment possible.
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Wonderful. Thought Provoking Book
Reviewed in the United States on February 8, 2001
The purpose of this book is to explore the possibilities of synthesis of the various branches of study from the "hard sciences" to the arts. As can be imagined, this is a daunting task, but Wilson makes real progress in this book. We live in a complicated world,... See more
The purpose of this book is to explore the possibilities of synthesis of the various branches of study from the "hard sciences" to the arts. As can be imagined, this is a daunting task, but Wilson makes real progress in this book. We live in a complicated world, but Wilson makes a wonderful case for the ability of the human mind to make sense of it. He is at his best when he discusses the failure of the ideals of the Enlightenment, brain chemistry and the genetic connection to culture. He is less successful in connecting the natural sciences model to artistic expression.
This book is a thought-provoking read and is challenging, but these are important ideas and worth devoting time and attention to exploring them. Wilson is a man of both depth and breadth of intellect and is courageous enough to use those talents to attempt to discover the possibilities of connecting our theories of various disciplines. Sure, it''s speculative, but it is also amazing the power that he brings to his argument that the various areas of human understanding can be subjected to universal principles of understanding.
Highly recommended!
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D. S. Heersink
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting, but Not Persuasive
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2004
The thesis of Wilson''s book is that DNA and the genome project are the underlying feature of all knowledge, bringing unity or consilience among so-called disparate studies. For example, in the study of culture: "culture helps to determine which of the prescribing genes... See more
The thesis of Wilson''s book is that DNA and the genome project are the underlying feature of all knowledge, bringing unity or consilience among so-called disparate studies.
For example, in the study of culture: "culture helps to determine which of the prescribing genes survive and multiply from one generation to the next. Successful new genes alter the epigegentic rules of populations. The alter epigenetic rules change the direction and effectiveness of the channels of cultural acquisition."
The social sciences should study genetic populations not individuals, because universal behavior is that which is most persistent and relevant to human behavior. Individual variants, while interesting in themselves, must be variants of universal human behavior in order to be fully understood and known in their relative context. Our knowledge, therefore, is limited to universals, not specifics.
The imaginative arts starts with the real world genetics, claims Wilson, and builds upon it with coherent metaphors that give art and science their vibrance. The creative impulse is the flip side of science that must build itself up with archetypes, themes, and symbols that inspire relaxation and reinforce science''s advancements.
Religion is a hold over from centuries of man''s evolution, in that, in the wild pre-man had to worry about being killed as well as killing other species. This holdover of genetic dominance and subordination finds its expression in the fear of some mythical beast, in this case of god. Our evolutionary hardwire leads individuals to substitute the myth that some supernatural being exists, even though the logical and positivistic basis for such a dominant being are now rationally debunked.
The book is articulate, provocative, and covers a wide spectrum of ideas, but I didn''t find all the arguments particularly persuasive. I thought the argument on the arts more of a meditation on archetypes than an argument of universal knowledge through genetics. The social sciences too was seemingly lame; knowledge as that limited to universals is a throw back to Aristotle. and seems to limit the daunting variety of humankind. The most successful was the religion and ethics; one can easily be ethical without a supreme being handing out punishment and rewards, and belief in god gets people nowhere but false comfort. One thing that irritated me was the lack of specific footnotes for the copious use of others'' works; instead they are summarized in notes at the end of the book.
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Herbert Gintis
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Two Problems with a Great Book
Reviewed in the United States on June 5, 2000
This is a great, deep, inspiring, and artfully argued plea for the unity of the sciences and humanities. Many have viewed this book as narrow-minded and reductionist, an extended argument that all humanly relevant phenomena can be "reduced to physics." This, I think, is a... See more
This is a great, deep, inspiring, and artfully argued plea for the unity of the sciences and humanities. Many have viewed this book as narrow-minded and reductionist, an extended argument that all humanly relevant phenomena can be "reduced to physics." This, I think, is a very narrow misreading of Wilson''s argument. Indeed, I found Consilience itself to be a carefully unified exercise in natural science/social science/artistic creation. Wilson has a shining human vision of the unity of cognition, emotion, and spirit that transcends traditional classificatory boundaries. "Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths," says Wilson. "Science needs the intuition and the metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science." (p. 230) Moreover, Wilson locates exactly the transmission channel between science and the arts. "Interpretation," he claims, "is the logical channel of consilient explanation between science and the arts." (p. 230)

Wilson''s basic argument is rather metaphysical and must, I believe, be taken on faith. "There is intrinsically only one class of explanation," he holds. "The central idea of consilience world view is that all tangible phenomena, from the birth of stars to the workings of social institutions, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible, however long and tortuous the sequences, to the laws of physics." (p. 291) Wilson is not horribly dogmatic about this faith---he argues that there is increasing evidence for it, but he is prepared for its falsification if future evidence warrants it. Wilson''s faith is not severely reductionist because he sees the relationship between levels of complexity as a dialectic of reduction of the complex to its parts, and the synthesis of the whole from its parts, in full recognition that the backward movement is much simpler than the forward. Wilson recognizes the concept of complexity, according to which a higher level of organization cannot be predicted or fully understood in terms of the characteristics of its parts, but he does not go the whole complexity distance, which involves maintaining that a complex system has emergent properties that cannot, perhaps even in principle, be inferred from the characteristics of its parts. Indeed, the term "emergence" does not appear in the index to Consilience. Nevertheless, Wilson''s description of a consilient analysis of a complex structure (e.g., a eukaryotic cell) is quite detailed and to my mind accurate. He certainly never says we can capture the complex whole as the sum of its simpler constituents, although he correctly affirms that we should try to do so and may in important cases be successful.

To give a flavor of Wilson''s argument, consider the following. "To dissect a phenomenon into its elements, in this case the cell into organelles and molecules, is consilience by reduction. To reconstitute it, and especially to predict with knowledge gained by reduction how nature assembled it in the first place, is consilience by synthesis. That is the two-step procedure by which natural scientists generally work: top-down across three or four levels of organization at a time by analysis, then bottom up across the same levels by synthesis." (p. 74). Now, this is a grand description, but highly idealized. Certainly knowledge at a lower level is critical for understanding how a higher level works, but when there are emergent properties to the higher level, the synthesis of the lower level information is in itself incapable of reconstructing the whole. For instance, quantum mechanics is useful for analyzing the structure of chemical molecules, but is incapable of generating the higher level molecular models. Similarly, solid state physics helps understand the computer, but computer sciences is light-years away from being a branch of applied solid-state physics.

Wilson wants to see the unification of three spheres of human knowledge: natural science, social science, and the humanities/arts. As I pointed out above, "interpretation" is the key link between science and the arts. Wilson does not elaborate on this link, and I am not sure it has been followed up in the literature in the twelve years since Consilience was published. The link between natural science and social science, by contrast, is quite carefully elaborated. This link is "gene-culture coevolution." Since this phenomenon is part of biology, Wilson obtains the natural-social science link by placing biology among the natural sciences. This is fair enough, although I generally place the part of biology that deals with behavior, especially social behavior, in the "behavioral sciences, which in addition include economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science.

For Wilson''s purposes, including biology in the natural sciences and seeing gene-culture coevolution as the major linking mechanism is perfectly acceptable. In my own treatment of the unification of the behavioral sciences (The Bounds of Reason, Princeton, 2009), I argue that gene-culture coevolution is the first and most basic of five principles bridging the various social science disciplines. Because gene-culture coevolution is a key element of sociobiology, it is not surprising that Wilson was among the first to discuss the mechanism, positing the "culturgen" parallel to the "gene" as units of evolutionary dynamics (C. J. Lumsden and E. O. Wilson Genes, Mind, and Culture, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981). Other key figures in the development were Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus Feldman Cultural Transmission
and Evolution, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1981), and Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1985).

What is gene-culture coevolution? Because of the importance of culture and complex social organization to the evolutionary success of Homo sapiens, individual fitness in humans depends on the structure of social life. Because culture is both constrained and promoted by the human genome, human cognitive, affective, and moral capacities are the product of an evolutionary dynamic involving the interaction of genes and culture. We call this dynamic gene-culture coevolution. This coevolutionary process has endowed humans with preferences that go beyond the self-regarding concerns emphasized in traditional economic and pre-sociobiology biological theory, and with a social epistemology that facilitates the sharing of intentionality across minds. Gene-culture coevolution is responsible for the salience of such other-regarding human values as a taste for cooperation, fairness, and retribution, the capacity to empathize, and the ability to value such character virtues as honesty, hard work, piety, and loyalty.

Gene-culture coevolution is the application of sociobiology, the general theory of the social organization of biological species, to humans--the only species that transmits culture in a manner that leads to quantitative growth across generations. This is a special case of niche construction, which applies to species that transform their natural environment so as to facilitate social interaction and collective behavior.

The genome encodes information that is used both to construct a new organism and to endow it with instructions for transforming sensory inputs into decision outputs. Because learning is costly and time-consuming, efficient information transmission will ensure that the genome encode those aspects of the organism''s environment that are constant, or that change only very slowly through time and space, as compared with an individual lifetime. By contrast, environmental conditions that vary rapidly can be dealt with by providing the organism with phenotypic plasticity in the form of the capacity to learn. For instance, suppose the environment provides an organism with the most nutrients where ambient temperature is highest. An organism may learn this by trial and error over many periods, or it can be hard-wired to seek the highest ambient temperature when feeding. By contrast, suppose the optimal feeding temperature varies over an individual''s lifetime. Then there is no benefit to encoding this information in the individual''s genome, but a flexible learning mechanism will enhance the individual''s fitness. There is an intermediate case, however, that is efficiently handled neither by genetic encoding nor learning. When environmental conditions are positively but imperfectly correlated across generations, each generation acquires valuable information through learning that it cannot transmit genetically to the succeeding generation, because such information is not encoded in the germ line. In the context of such environments, there is a fitness benefit to the transmission of epigenetic information concerning the current state of the environment. Such epigenetic information is quite common, but achieves its highest and most flexible form in cultural transmission in humans and to a considerably lesser extent in other primates.

The parallel between cultural and biological evolution goes back to Julian Huxley , Karl Popper , and William James. The idea of treating culture as a form of epigenetic transmission was pioneered by Richard Dawkins, who coined the term "meme" in The Selfish Gene to represent an integral unit of information that could be transmitted phenotypically. There quickly followed several major contributions to a biological approach to culture, all based on the notion that culture, like genes, evolve through replication (intergenerational transmission), mutation, and selection. Cultural elements reproduce themselves from brain to brain and across time, mutate, and are subject to selection according to their effects on the fitness of their carriers. Moreover, there are strong interactions between genetic and epigenetic elements in human evolution, ranging from basic physiology (e.g., the transformation of the organs of speech with the evolution of language) to sophisticated social emotions, including empathy, shame, guilt, and revenge-seeking.

Wilson''s treatment of ethics and religion are cogent and masterful. He contrasts two modes of thinking about morality, transcendentalist and empiricist. While recognizing the transcendentalist yearnings in the breast of most humans, and while acknowledging that religious sentiments of the transcendental sort are the product of gene-culture coevolution, he argues that the evidence is strongly on the side of empiricists, who recognize the human significance of ethics, but root ethics in material processes that have an existence independent from that of a transcendental God or Reason. On these grounds he faults not only Kant, but Moore and Rawls as well. For instance, he argues that Moore''s `Naturalistic Fallacy'' is itself a fallacy. "If ought is not is, then what is it?" (p. 273) In other words, everything that is, is part of some material process, so the transition between ought and is is not cross-category but rather within-category. This does mean that everything that is, ought to be, but rather, we determine the ethical principles that are valid for humans by studying how humans create and transform the moral lives.

The only drawback of this book is his treatment of the social sciences. Wilson is well-read in the various social sciences and his criticisms of sociology, anthropology, and economics are generally accurate, however harsh. His recommendation for reform is that they recognize gene-culture coevolution and reform their theories accordingly. However, he gives us no idea how to accomplish this. Fortunately, dear reader, I supply the answer in my book, The Bounds of Reason (Princeton 2009) and my forthcoming book with Samuel Bowles, A Cooperative Species (Princeton 2011). For other hints, see my web site [...]
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G. Bestick
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Shining Peak, Rocky Path to the Summit
Reviewed in the United States on November 14, 2005
Consilience literally means "a jumping together" of knowledge, almost implying a mystical aha! moment when everything connects to everything else and it all makes perfect sense. But no Buddhist holy man will lead us to this place, according to E.O. Wilson. It will be the... See more
Consilience literally means "a jumping together" of knowledge, almost implying a mystical aha! moment when everything connects to everything else and it all makes perfect sense. But no Buddhist holy man will lead us to this place, according to E.O. Wilson. It will be the scientist, leveraging what we''ve learned about genes, heredity, the physical basis of mind, and gene-culture co-evolution to assemble a unified theory of human knowledge. Using methods that have worked so well in decoding the natural world, scientists and their allies will link the social sciences, arts, philosophy, ethics, and even religion into one coherent knowledge base built on observable, repeatable experimental models.

As Wilson points out, the unity of all knowledge is at this time more metaphysical yearning than scientific fact. We''ve barely begun to map genes to specific behaviors; we''re only starting to understand how the brain and body generate a mind; and hard historical data about how we evolved into this particular configuration is spotty at best. The endeavor seems to be about where America was in 1700: a few promising toeholds on the continent, large gaps between them, and vast tracts of unexplored territory.

Wilson wants to guide us through the wilderness, and, like many prophets, he takes his share of abuse. The book seems to have become a litmus test for how willing people are to let the natural sciences encroach on other fields of intellectual endeavor, and several reviews posted here offer pugnacious critiques of the limits to Wilson''s approach. Some of the significant objections to his brand of consilience are:

Flawed methods. The skill of good science is to pose questions in ways that make answers possible, which is to effectively reduce the complexities of the world to problems that can be solved. While the scientific method has led to huge advances in understanding the natural world, it''s questionable whether philosophy, art, religion or day-to- day living will yield up their secrets through this process. Many respected thinkers argue that applying scientific reductionism to the complexities of human existence leads us down false and constraining paths. Real progress comes when we''re rigorous but not reductive in our search for truth.

A bloodless humanism. Both the Greeks and the Christians proposed to fix human flaws by attempting to eliminate in people what made them human in the first place. Wilson''s scientific humanism, which would have us go forward based on empirical knowledge and a disinterested search for truth, is another tautological ascent. People recently descended from Paleolithic tribes don''t find it congenial to think like world-class scientists. In fact, whenever rationalist thought gains political ascendancy, large masses of humanity feel compelled to daub themselves with blue mud and dance around the campfire. Scientists who try to take away our funk and magic will get tossed on the campfire too.

Political pitfalls. Suppose the linchpin activity of Wilson''s consilience - identifying which genes trigger a specific behavioral response - actually gets accomplished. Do we then abdicate human agency to the keepers of the genetic code? Do molecular biologists become the new shamans, and scientific humanism the new orthodoxy? As Isaiah Berlin and others have pointed out, when grand schemas are operating, the rights of individuals tend to get trampled. Communism and Christianity should have taught us to beware the bearers of the One Big Truth.

On the other hand, an infusion of empiricism may damp down the need for ritual, magic and blood sacrifice that still drives so much of human behavior. Scientific humanism, resting on firmer intellectual foundations that either religion or political science, may prove to be wiser and more far seeing in the administration of human affairs. If we have more knowledge about the genetic basis of our humanity, maybe we''ll have a greater ability to steer our cultures in positive directions.

Wilson''s scheme for linking the social sciences and the arts to the natural sciences may not be useful or possible in all its details. Maybe group behaviors will prove too complex to tie to specific genes, or we won''t want to make PET scans of our brain while we read a poem or listen to a symphony. But he does articulate several urgent and important tasks that can move humanity forward.

-using our DNA to flag or cure disease. This will also spur political acceptance of scientific values because of the tangible benefits being delivered.

-decoding the physical basis of the embodied mind, so we better understand how thoughts and emotions drive our behaviors.

-deciphering the social and psychological foundations of the religious impulse so we can construct empirical ethical systems and finally pull free from the intellectual muck of primitive monotheism.

Wilson deserves credit for being bold and provocative in his thinking, for brilliantly condensing so much science, history and philosophy into such a brief space, and for presenting his arguments in lucid sentences that rise on occasion to the level of poetry. While people may pick at the particulars, many of us can resonate to his central exhortation. Let''s use the tools of science to gain more control over our future than intuition, superstition, demagoguery, magical thinking, and theism have given us over our past.
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I''ve read Edward Wilson''s book on evolutionary biology, The Future Of Life, and was very taken with it, but this book I''m afraid left me rather cold. It''s dry and rambling in places, not very easy to follow, and my interest soon waned. A man of his stature should have been...See more
I''ve read Edward Wilson''s book on evolutionary biology, The Future Of Life, and was very taken with it, but this book I''m afraid left me rather cold. It''s dry and rambling in places, not very easy to follow, and my interest soon waned. A man of his stature should have been able to write about this subject in a much more lucid and interesting way. Reminded me a bit of another American commentator on biology and evolution, Daniel Dennett, who I also found to be too ready to use jargon and obscure, flowery language that detracts from what he is trying to put over. There are few really good science writers around who can put into lucid terms the inner workings of their subject. I''ve read many of them, like Carl Sagan for instance; a joy to read, but I''m afraid that as much as I admire Edward O. Wilson and his enthusiasm for his subject, I found this book really hard going.
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