Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

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9780679450771: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

An enormous intellectual adventure. In this groundbreaking new book, the American biologist Edward O. Wilson, considered to be one of the world's greatest living scientists, argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge and the need to search for consilience--the proof that everything in our world is organized in terms of a small number of fundamental natural laws that comprise the principles underlying every branch of learning. Professor 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 and the human species--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 surging back to life, why they are reappearing on the very frontiers of science and humanistic scholarship, and how they are beginning to sketch themselves as the blueprint of our world as it most profoundly, elegantly, and excitingly is.

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Review:

The biologist Edward O. Wilson is a rare scientist: having over a long career made signal contributions to population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology, and ethology, he has also steeped himself in philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences. The result of his lifelong, wide-ranging investigations is Consilience (the word means "a jumping together," in this case of the many branches of human knowledge), a wonderfully broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps that yawn between and within the cultures of science and the arts. No such gaps should exist, Wilson maintains, for the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give understanding a purpose, to lend to us all "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." In making his synthetic argument, Wilson examines the ways (rightly and wrongly) in which science is done, puzzles over the postmodernist debates now sweeping academia, and proposes thought-provoking ideas about religion and human nature. He turns to the great evolutionary biologists and the scholars of the Enlightenment for case studies of science properly conducted, considers the life cycles of ants and mountain lions, and presses, again and again, for rigor and vigor to be brought to bear on our search for meaning. The time is right, he suggests, for us to understand more fully that quest for knowledge, for "Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us.... Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become." Wilson's wisdom, eloquently expressed in the pages of this grand and lively summing-up, will be of much help in that search.

From the Back Cover:

"This masterfully written book is nothing less than a daring challenge to the prevailing world view. It proposes in its place a grand, coherent conception encompassing the sciences, the arts, ethics, and religion. The reader feels lifted up to a high peak from which today's fragmented intellectual landscape below can be seen, and understood, in an entirely new way."
--Gerald Holton, author of Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought

"E. O. Wilson gives us his informed, sensitive, and flat-out brilliantly balanced reflections on the prospects for human inquiry. Consilience may be just another impressive achievement for Wilson, but for the rest of us it is a bright light on a darkened path."
--Loyal D. Rue, author of By the Grace of Guile

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