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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)

de Edward O. Wilson

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2,648295,584 (3.88)32
Biologist Wilson, considered to be one of the world's greatest living scientists, argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge, that everything in our world is organized in terms of a small number of fundamental natural laws. Wilson, the pioneer of sociobiology and biodiversity, now once again breaks out of the conventions of current thinking. He shows how and why our explosive rise in intellectual mastery of the truths of our universe has its roots in the ancient Greek concept of an intrinsic orderliness that governs our cosmos--a vision that found its apogee in the Age of Enlightenment, then gradually was lost in the increasing fragmentation and specialization of knowledge in the last two centuries. Drawing on the physical sciences and biology, anthropology, psychology, religion, philosophy, and the arts, Professor Wilson shows why the goals of the original Enlightenment are reappearing on the frontiers of science and humanistic scholarship.--From publisher description.… (mais)
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Having worked for a few decades in the fields that the author muses about, I'm unconvinced that he brings anything new or useful. ( )
  sfj2 | May 27, 2024 |
A difficult book that tests your definitions of science, progress and beliefs. The author crosses issues looking both ways and taking careful account of the scientific ecosystem and into the broader human condition.

The term consilience is applied to many scenarios so it is not always crystal clear. The author suggests that extending our investigation into the natural world by connecting activities to their biological, neuroscientific fundamentals we could understand social sciences like even economics as emergent from principles that go as far down as the physical sciences.

The author’s definition of free will is my favoured one that ultimately the argument on its existence is pointless given the impossibility of reconciling the scale of degrees of freedom, sensitivity to natural phenomena. Those that state it does not exist have no realistic way to demonstrate as much.

The book initially does not indicate what the big picture choices of values could or should be. It is not tech positivist but rather science method-ist bridging to all areas of human activity. The idea is we should study all without limits in the key of biological sciences particularly looking at impact of heredity and adaptation.

In the first part of the book the author takes as a fundamental truth a certain kind of enlightened progress. The idea is that consilient knowledge would help humanity “advance”. The problem with this is the author does not address how some areas of study themselves can be pandora boxes for important risks. From dividing society to technological developments that increase existential risk. Though the author underlies the importance of ethics there is little dedicated to precautionary principle, particularly where in the bioscience we have already run into problems.

At the end of the book the author introduces the problematic balancing of the growth based economies of the world and the impact on environment. This end is a sudden twist to the plot becaus now we take into implicit consideration the values of sustainability of civilisation. This consideration and focus should have been a lens from the beginning of the book as it would reframe consilience and its potential controversies around the bigger risk of environmental collapse.

I am surprised that the author does not directly address how some new ideas, technology and knowledge can increase existential risks over the long term. Consilience between areas of knowledge is not exempt from this problem. Case in point the author describes economics with a glossy picture (very different from my own) and explains that connection to psychology and neuroscience can unlock a whole new world of possibilities. I would say that since publicatiom many neuroeconomics learnings are applied in an exploitative way. Who cares? But this is the sort of activity could drive tail risks way up…

Basically across most of the text what is good for the author is a kind of evolutionary transformation of knowledge. But in this area he does not consider the risks in some of his ideas and directions. And when we reach the drama of the final chapter and it presenting only the space for a narrow escape for humanity I wonder how he can reconcile that it would be thanks to consilience that humanity “survives”?

Basically the issue is scientific investigation according to whatever style or means is almost always a consequence of a political direction. It seems simplistic to think consilient knowledge would solve these problems alone.

( )
  yates9 | Feb 28, 2024 |
Well, Wilson’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I just never could get very far in Sociobiology or Biophilia. Thankfully we still have the random nature of used (and new) bookstore browsing in addition to web searches. Being obsessed with ancient Greek philosophy, Wilson got me with the title of his first chapter – The Ionian Enchantment. Yes, that’s something I understand – maybe it’s a disease, but I sensed a somewhat kindred spirit. Then as I browsed a bit I remembered that his primary thesis in this book is one of my pets – in my terms, that “science” and “philosophy” were once the same thing, and that that thing encompassed all fields of inquiry. Which isn’t to say the pursuit of highly specialized knowledge is a bad thing, but if the vast majority of people who seriously pursue knowledge do so as specialists without context or connections with the broad range of human knowledge, the prospects seem spooky, or at least questionable. I don’t expect I’ll be on the same page with Wilson on all points, but c'est la vie and viva le difference – I’m very interested to see how this viewpoint is articulated and developed by a brilliant scientist who’s got as much highly-specialized cred as you’re likely to find anywhere. Yes, the Ionian Enchantment indeed ....
  garbagedump | Dec 9, 2022 |
E.O. Wilson makes a case for unifying sciences and humanities. If you are interested in the movement to Big History this book will be of interest. ( )
  auldhouse | Sep 30, 2021 |
Wilson made his name in ants, as a rock star entomologist who made seminal contributions to the understanding of one of the most successful species of all time. It must not have been challenging enough for him, because this book is all about the unity of knowledge, where he tries to both explain why past attempts to bridge the divide between the arts and the sciences have failed (his verdict: they were based on "failed models of the brain"), and to chart out a new path for the synthesis of the human and nonhuman studies by basing them in the techniques of the natural sciences, which might be, to borrow from Churchill, "the worst way to study the world, except for all the others". As a science fan, I really enjoyed his clear-eyed appraisal of why science has been successful in doing what it does, but even a more poetically-inclined person will like his appreciation for the arts, his elegant writing, and his graceful and generous demeanor. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
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» Adicionar outros autores (6 possíveis)

Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Wilson, Edward O.autor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Badal, YvonneÜbersetzerautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Caglero, RobetoTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
de Wilde, BarbaraDesigner da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Ros, JoandomenechTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Winter, ConstantTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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In his 1941 classic Man on His Nature, the British neurobiologist Charles Sherrington spoke of the brain as an enchanted loom, perpetually weaving a picture of the external world, tearing down and reweaving, inventing other worlds, creating a miniature universe. The communal mind of literate societies – world culture – is an immensely larger loom. (Chap. 2, “The Great Branches of Learning”)
[L]et us begin by simply walking away from Foucault and existential despair […] it's not so bad. Once we get over the shock of discovering that the universe was not made with us in mind [...] (Chap. 3, “The Enlightenment”)
Scientific theories, however, are fundamentally different. They are constructed specifically to be blown apart if proved wrong, and if so destined, the sooner the better. “Make your mistakes quickly” is a rule in the practice of science. I grant that scientist often fall in love with their own constructions. I know; I have. They may spend a lifetime trying to shore them up. A few squander their prestige and academic political capital in the effort. In that case – as the economist Paul Samuelson once quipped – funeral by funeral, theory advances. (Chap.4 “The Natural Sciences”)
Science, to be its warrant as concisely as possible, is the organized, systematic enterprise that gathers knowledge about the world and condenses the knowledge into testable laws and principles. (Chap.4 “The Natural Sciences”)
Someone has defined insanity as an inability to choose among false alternatives. In dreams we are insane. We wander across our limitless dreamscapes as madmen. (Chap.5 “Ariadne's Thread”)
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Biologist Wilson, considered to be one of the world's greatest living scientists, argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge, that everything in our world is organized in terms of a small number of fundamental natural laws. Wilson, the pioneer of sociobiology and biodiversity, now once again breaks out of the conventions of current thinking. He shows how and why our explosive rise in intellectual mastery of the truths of our universe has its roots in the ancient Greek concept of an intrinsic orderliness that governs our cosmos--a vision that found its apogee in the Age of Enlightenment, then gradually was lost in the increasing fragmentation and specialization of knowledge in the last two centuries. Drawing on the physical sciences and biology, anthropology, psychology, religion, philosophy, and the arts, Professor Wilson shows why the goals of the original Enlightenment are reappearing on the frontiers of science and humanistic scholarship.--From publisher description.

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