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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

  1. Sep 2, 2008 #1


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    I was recently made aware of the book, "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge". The author's name is E.O. Wilson, a well known and established biologist.


    I saw the opportunity to bring the idea of consilience to this forum since it is almost exactly how it is constructed (as a unifier of knowledge). The only thing missing is an outcome... or place where solutions that arrive out of consilience can be offered to anyone who wants them or recognizes a utilization for them.

    The word, consilience, also partially described another idea concerning my "driver's manual for civilization". This would be written as a consilient text. The knowledge required to maintain a civilization would be brought together into one " driver's manual" that would cover the mechanical, social, scientific, economic and educational (etc...) knowledge required to hold it together with other civilizations... and within itself.

    You can see how this mirrors an actual driver's manual and the implications of adhering to that manual. Once a driver has understood the rules of the road, there is very little supervision of that driver. They just stick to the rules and no one gets hurt and their life is continued and progresses as it would with the mobility offered by the automobile. (Of course there are exceptions to the rule)

    If you feel like preempting my own contributions to my own thread, please feel free to beat me to the punch!:smile: I would like it if people could contribute a synopsis' of a chosen discipline of knowledge and describe how it would pertain to the building and maintaining of the foundation of any given civilization.

    This should work toward a complete consilience of all disciplines of knowledge. It should also work toward the complete education of every member of the society and toward the healthy economic contribution of each adult member. The contribution needn't be of any fixed type except that it should also contribute to the overall well being of the civilization.

    I guess this would sort of be like playing the computer game, "Civilization". Only with the benefit of time and the foresight of making informed choices that lead to perpetuating the civilization of choice.
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  3. Sep 4, 2008 #2


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    There are good examples of consilience already in different sectors of our civilization.

    The space program exemplifies consilience in the way that many areas of knowledge must be united and have to provide a mesh of fail safes in order for the program to continue and be fruitful. The list of sciences is endless. The collection of knowledge going into the program is enormous. Every study from general medicine to psychology, from astrophysics to plumbing and meterology is involved in the single purpose of exploring beyond our own planet. This is consilience at its best and it demonstrates the successful results you can achieve with it. Why not apply the same concentrated effort from so many points of view to the planning of a building, a city or a civilization?
  4. Sep 5, 2008 #3
    When I speak of alienation I am speaking about wo/man’s alienation from his or her nature. I am speaking of the fragmentation of the individual. I am speaking of the fact that part of what we are is being defiled and rejected by the manner in which we live in our society.

    A general theory of alienation would be a body of knowledge about how human freedom and responsible choice is constricted. Evil is that which makes it impossible for sapiens to realizing their potential; this knowledge would be an expression of what are responsible human powers and how society limits the expression of those powers.

    Emerson, considered by many as the top moralist in American history, understood these facts when he stated the important challenge to all wo/men to be self-reliance. He felt that self-reliance was the “keynote of American democracy”. Whatever should limit human self-reliance works against the nature of wo/man. The great challenge to education was to develop a comprehensive theory of the limitations of self-reliance and to teach this to all Americans.

    To achieve such a goal demanded that science comprehend what all humans strive for. Emerson was convinced that sapiens strived after meaning and the creation of meaning. The crux of self-reliance then was how to advance the self-creation of human meaning.

    Our habit of seeking accustomed satisfactions prevents us from finding new sources of energy with which to see or create new meanings. Blind habit controls our every turn. Familiar modes of thought and accustomed perceptions lock our imagination and will into a strait jacket of passivity.

    What tool is available to break this passive mold of inaction and apathy? It is playful imagination that can lead us from the jailhouse we have trapped our self within. We need to remind our self of Plato’s wise expression that the gods are happiest when man plays. This playful attitude applies both to our sciences as well as our arts. It applies to all of wo/man’s symbolic activities.

    Physicists found the world inside the atom to be non-intuitive. The world inside the atom seemed to be totally different from our world. Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy was about an alien world. If, however, we were able to climb into the atomic world it is quite possible that the principle of indeterminacy would be ‘just doing what comes naturally’.

    Some of history’s great thinkers have penetrated into the human mind long before Freud. Rousseau, for example, comprehended an aspect of “unconscious motivation”. “The moral of this anecdote is that the honest man can see through himself even quicker than the honest scientist can see through nature.”

    We could have comprehended the science of the human condition much sooner than we did and the reason we did not is because of the “intolerance of method, the claims to exclusivity, the doctrine of a single valid approach to the study of man…The place where this took its greatest toll was in the fragmentation of the disciplines, the isolation of the various approaches to man. But undoubtedly the most harmful intolerance of all was the intolerance of philosophy in the science of man.”

    In the reaction to various philosophical speculations, the scientific community in the mid-nineteenth century shouted ‘no more speculations were needed about the nature of man’. The scientific community followed by the population in general decided that it was only important to discover what was going on within the organism. Psychiatry became uncompromisingly organismic. Science failed to see that its methods were narrowing significantly humanities real striving.

    Pragmatism at the end of the nineteenth century was a response to this narrow scientific approach toward the “science of man”. It became obvious that we must understand what wo/man is striving for, “as a part of nature, as a dimension of life”.

    Rousseau taught us that humans wanted meaning and maximum conviction but a major question that the scientific method could not resolve “What was behind all of man’s peculiar urges, what he was trying to do as a vehicle of the life force? For only if we could understand this abstract problem could we answer the greatest practical puzzle of all: What were the possibilities of life on the level of human existence; and, conversely, what was there about the human condition that was hopeless?”

    What are the limitations and possibilities for human life? Is it possible for humans to live in harmony or is war a necessary component of human activity?

    Ideas and quotes from “Beyond Alienation” by Ernest Becker
  5. Sep 5, 2008 #4


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    Coberst, I'll just briefly comment for now.

    Each of the questions you ask has an answer and the challenges you point out have solutions. This is a promise we've seen time and time again with the progress of each civilization... problems get resolved. And its usually by way of 2 means... trial by fire (ie: experience) or by study and education (ie: gaining knowledge about a subject).

    Concilience would be an application to apply to any problem, challenge or inefficiency in a human society.

    There are a billion challenges... and just as many solutions with added bonuses. They can be found through due diligence and cooperation. Rationality trumps emotionalism on the scale of "survival of the fittest". Preparedness also goes a long way toward the preservation of that "fittness".

    Recognizing exactly which of the diversities of science and professions to bring to each of these questions and challenges is the key to finding the answers and solutions.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2008
  6. Sep 9, 2008 #5
    I love the concept of concilience, I think if it were applied our species may have a chance of surviving on a truly long term scale.

    However, I am not optimistic.

    Our pre frontal lobes are to small, our adrenal glands are too large, the effects of the pituitary gland are to powerful, and our ancient tendencies towards in-out group hostility and xenophobia are too prevalent. I fear a relatively small segment of the human population will realize our potential, and be powerless to achieve it in the face of overarching barbaric tribalism.
  7. Sep 9, 2008 #6
    Yes. However our educational system prepares us to maximize production and consumption and does not prepare us for comprehending our problems or for working out solutions. If adults do not become self-actualizing self-learners when their school daze are over we are lost.
  8. Sep 9, 2008 #7


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    Pessimism will get you nowhere!

    Imagine this. A small contingent of forward thinking, open minded individuals works together in a consilience. They bring engineering, plumbing, environmental practices, psychology, medicine, educational practices, agricultural prowess bolstered by biological and ethical knowledge, social engineers and so on, all together in a community where no barbaric people would dare to venture.

    This is sort of what happened with the eskimo... now properly named the Inuit Nation. They lived in a climate where even Atila the Hun couldn't be bothered to conquer. They had a lasting peace, a complete harmony with the environment. Their diet matched their needs. And they lasted, as a "civilization" over a 10,000 year period... and remain there today... and may have lasted more like 26,000 years... with no pollution, no wars, no over kill of the animals. Their knowledge is passed on from elders to younguns. Their schooling is experiential as well.

    Whether the climate is changing due to environmental or human cause, its changing their lifestyle. Its also attracting Atila the oil company into the region and the Inuit consilience is about to vanish. But, up to 26,000 years is a pretty good record for a society, culture and civilization.

    This can be duplicated and done even better with a comprehensive consilience... and I don't mean on a space station or Mar's colony. Survival used to depend on the people with the larges adrenal glands... the largest thyroid and the quickest reactions etc... and those are still desirable traits. But, I think a shift has taken place where the use of rationality and carefully planned actions will be the next fitness in the survival of the fittest. The ability to get along with one another plays a huge role in our survival now.
  9. Sep 9, 2008 #8


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    And... sorry... playing a huge role in training the human to get along with one another is.... ta da.... the automobile.

    That's where the "driver's manual" idea for civilization comes in. Its a no brainer. Just look at the cooperation that takes place between complete strangers of every sub-species, economic background or upbringing... its a level playing field out there. Every person in traffic is working for the benefit of both themselves and the next person in traffic.

    The ethics that have come out of the WWarII Movement and the advent of the automobile are astounding and prevalent in western society. And its why we have a chance of continuing that development to bring about an ethical society, harmonized with the environment and each other. Fingers crossed of course!
  10. Sep 9, 2008 #9
    We are most certainly are in agreement. A sort of global Jeffersonianism with the addition of 21 century technological know-how.

    For a lasting society to be realized, I do not think that the importance of the proper nourishment (physical and mental) of children can ever be stressed enough. That is were, I believe, the key to a prosperous society lies. It is so very difficult for one to break lose of bonds if imposed when young, and that is why we have precious few tales of such heroins as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    I say that I am not optimistic, but I am also not pessimistic. We here in the Americas and those in eastern Europe, have strong and respected political system that may allow the development of a national or international "Societal NASA". Yet the technological muscle to bring an end to our republics is readily accessible to the parties of god and dogmatic pointless insanity.

    I believe the tipping point lies in how many young minds can be saved from irreversible indoctrination.

    Maybe a large scale demonstration of the boons of conscilience could sway the minds of the masses of people living under backwards terranical systems. A modern day Atlantis tale would be quite the ad-pitch.

    Your example of the auto mobile is spot on the money. I think it shows that human nature is not totally bound by archaic in-group out-group mentalities, and does indeed make one hopeful (with fingers crossed of course).
  11. Sep 9, 2008 #10


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    Excellent point about the children. An enormous amount of consilience is going into ensuring that every child is able to enjoy looking beyond where the next beating or food is coming from.

    At this moment there is a program in the works comparing and contrasting socio/economically differing kids and the parts of the brain they use. This involves physicists, neuropsychologists, educators, nutritionists and all the satellite professions that feed these sciences such as computer geeks, web-designers, DVD designers, ad on infinitum.

    Here's the most amazing thing they've discovered so far...... when a child is taken from the humdrum environment of TV and Cheese paste dinners, receiving very little rational and educational stimulation, the genes that are already expressing in a child who has an interesting environment begin to express. The environment brings these genes out and they stay out with this stimulation. Its absolutely nutso... and its just being discovered now.

    I'll link you to the program if anyone is interested.

    Its the Head Start Intervention program at the U of O. Sorry, the last update on this link was April 2006.

    Since then I've had plenty of contact with the head of that department and just back in Aug. 08 she was absolutely freaking out about this gene expression thing after the intervention.

    100 percent of the children in the program showed huge differences in their gene expression after the program as compared to before. The music, language, math and visual training and focus brought these genes that are usually associated with "brainiac" kids to the forefront.


    Did Jefferson propose the idea of education for all children, regardless of economic status, creed, religion, or what state they're from...(hee)?

    (edit) Incidently, E.O. Wilson, the author of Consilience... is teaching at the U of O now.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2008
  12. Sep 10, 2008 #11


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    Its true to a degree, Coberst, that our civilizations require leaders who lead by example and drive carefully through residential areas, make money in an honest way, keep to themselves and a few close friends and whose actions are governed with thoughts about how those actions effect others, including themselves. All these traits are the traits of a self actualized adult.

    And you're right to say that the education system needs to offer an environment where self actualization will at some point, be the outcome of such an education.

    What I don't understand is the fluxuating curriculum of elementary or secondary schooling. For decades science was a general overview course up until grade 10, then you could choose between physics, chemistry and biology. Now you wait until grade 11, and nothing is pointing you in any particular direction. Whats more, "home economics" has nothing to do with finances... its about cooking and sewing... I know because I took it to learn economics and to hang out with the primarily female class mates.:rolleyes:

    So, what are some of the existing motivations that channel adults toward the realization of self actualization? What mechanism today is there that at least encourages the development of an actualized, compassionate and constructive adult?
  13. Sep 17, 2008 #12


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    I think a good way to illustrate the benefits of consilience is to find an activity or product in the human society that links as many of the sciences and professions as possible in the bid to keep the activity or product progressing and functioning well.

    I propose the activity of driving and traffic.

    First of all, here is the Oxford dictionary definition of Consilience

    Please feel free to list the professions and sciences that go into making autos and traffic work in our society. This is intended to illustrate the high efficiency created when consilience is diverse and harmonized.
    (Note: the individual driver is free to act any way they want with this huge, lethal machine the auto... yet, incidents of a catastrophic nature are few and far between in traffic. That is a fair efficiency in its own)
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2008
  14. Sep 19, 2008 #13
    I like it, but I tend to think that simple conflicts create complex problems, even if its all consilient..

    You speak about barbaric behavior and such, but this is unavoidable, especially in a global modernized society.
    A species, especially humanity, needs to go through several levels of societal and internal evolution before being able to create systems without barbaric behavior, and above all it needs to develop naturally through trial and error.

    Consilience is all over the place everyday, following the definition you posted.. The world is still not without problems.
  15. Sep 19, 2008 #14


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    Its true that one little simple problem can sabotage an entire system. But it's also true that one simple solution can halt a simple problem. And arriving at this simple solution is easier and more fruitful using a consilience of knowledge.

    I think the unity of knowledge has been lacking in many parts of the world. "Knowledge is Power" and therefore it is stealthily guarded because of corporate, national or other unreasonable reasons. "Consilience is all over the place", in a potential form, it takes, as you say, some trial and error before people catch on to the fact that consilience can make life much better for everyone. Its the ultimate survival technique for societies.
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