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
- Paperback: 408 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (17 September 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067976867X
- ISBN-13: 978-0679768678
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 295 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)