Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Consilience brings together information from different disciplines to generate a far greater knowledge than the sum of the parts. Edward O. Wilson‘s bestseller explains just how that occurs. For those of us who have already come to that conclusion, the book starts kind of slow. He carefully and thoughtfully builds the case for a unity of knowledge, that for folks who already understand, is plodding. He does this so the rest of the world can follow the case he builds. The source of the data is meticulously laid out in the work itself and in extensive final notes.

For those who don’t see his point, or had not thought about consilience and its multiplicative effect on knowledge, he hammers the point home that information without context is not very useful, and putting it in the context of the total knowledge of the human race is how it gets value. If you do not yet see how science and art, or biology and chemistry are cut from the same cloth, this book will change your life.

Wilson’s underlying goal with Consilience is to prove and sell the world view that the Human Race is a race for survival: That humans are consuming the world’s resources at a rate which will shortly cause cataclysmic destruction. Our numbers and wastefulness are destroying the ecology in which humans have evolved. The gains of consilience can permit the dramatic adjustments our footprint on the earth so that it will remain habitable.

Wilson is an eminent biologist who is probably the world’s foremost authority on Myrmecology (the study of ants). Although his researches focuses on the tiny forms of life, his studies range over all of human knowledge. He is truly a polymath. His battles with fellow Harvard staff members, such as Stephen Jay Gould over sociobiology have illuminated our understanding of this and other subjects, since there is little better way to find the truth when advocates are pressed to make their best case.

His case for the impending ecological train wreck for humanity and the Earth, and the possibility its avoidance is similar to that made by “the friendly genius”, Buckminster Fuller in his book Critical Path. The opportunity is the same, only we are twenty five years further down the dead end tracks without a major course correction.

This is a thoughtful, well rounded work that requires some effort to read, (you have to pay attention) as it covers so much so thoroughly. If you already understand that Art and Science are part of the same stuff, then Consilience will provide you with tools to connect the dots. If you don’t see the equivalence, then the insights will start you looking at the world in an entirely new way. For all readers, it is a clarion call to staunch the ecological damage humans are causing before we finish despoiling the earth and make it unable to support humankind and the other species that make this a fit place to live. Buy it; read it; put it on your shelf as a reference, and let it remind you of the task at hand so we can switch the tracks away from the dead end.