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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge [Paperback]

Professor Edward O. Wilson
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
Price: £12.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

4 Nov 1999
In this groundbreaking new book, one of the world's greatest living scientists argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge and the need to search for what he calls consilience, the composition of the principles governing every branch of learning. Edward O Wilson, the pioneer of sociobiology and biodiversity, once again breaks out of the conventions of current thinking. He shows how 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. It is a vision that found its apogee in the Age of Enlightenment, then gradually was lost in the increasing fragmentation and specialisation of knowledge in the last two centuries. 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 human scholarship, and how they are beginning to sketch themselves as the blueprint of our world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (4 Nov 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034911112X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349111124
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 68,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The biologist Edward O. Wilson is a rare scientist: over a long career he has not only made signal contributions to population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology and ethology, but 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 rigour and vigour 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The first great ecologist, a pioneer in sociobiology and biodiversity...a giant among popularisers of science (Bryan Appleyard, INDEPENDENT)

There's a new Darwin. His name is Edward O. Wilson. (Tom Wolfe)

Edward O. Wilson seems to me the most important active naturalist we still have with us. It's not for nothing that he is a world expert on both ants and evolution. We really cannot do withou such intelligences as his. He makes one proud to be the same species. (John Fowles)

You can't fault his prose... This is science written with the passion of a zealot. (THE TIMES)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The latest book by Edward Osborne Wilson needs no grand introduction.The man is a legend in his field and seemingly more well read than many so-called experts of other fields. I first saw an interview with Wilson and what started me reading his stuff was his smile...sounds very flaky but true..he has a kind face ! Anyway buy it and let it sink in...its like a majestic sunset in Big Sur or a the drone of a humminbirds wings..it speaks in a language of fierce intelligence,immense beauty and beyond incredible depth..the very profundity of what it is to be alive and aware of that fact..lets hope we realize this afore its too late..after all we'll be compost .
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A million years ahead of its time or impossible? 21 Oct 2004
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
In this ambitious work, Edward O. Wilson, one of the most distinguished scientists of our times, and a man I greatly admire, goes perhaps a bit beyond his area of expertise as he envisions a project that is perhaps beyond even the dreams of science fiction. "...[A]ll tangible phenomena," he writes on page 266, "from the birth of stars to the workings of social institutions, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible, however long and tortuous the sequences, to the laws of physics."
This in a nutshell is his dream of "consilience." It is also the statement of a determinist. My problem with such a laudable endeavor (and with determinism in general) is this: even if he is right, that the arts and the humanities will ultimately yield to reduction, how do we, limited creatures that we are, do it? It seems to me that in the so-called soft sciences like sociology, economics, and psychology, for example, and even more so in the world of the humanities and the arts, reduction is so incredibly complex that such an attempt is comparable (in reverse order) of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. It's ironic that Wilson uses almost exactly this metaphor on page 296 to explain why once the rain forests are chopped down, they're gone forever. He notes, "Collect all the species...Maintain them in zoos, gardens, and laboratory cultures...Then bring the species back together and resynthesize the community on new ground." Will this work? Wilson's answer is no. He writes, "...biologists cannot accomplish such a task, not if thousands of them came with a billion-dollar budget. They cannot even imagine how to do it." He adds, still on page 296, that even if biologists could sort and preserve cultures of all the species, "they could not then put the community back together again.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of synthesis! 24 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Clearly one of the best books of the decade. Edward O. Wilson has one of the finest scientific minds of the twentieth century. "Consilience" is a beautifully written, sweeping synthesis of science and the arts. Wilson writes, "The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science." Wilson, like all of us, appears to fall short of his objective at times, but what an effort! Where are the books from his critics? None of the negative reviews I've read of "Consilience" rise to the intellectual level of the work itself. Highly recommended.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
In some sense, Wilson's book is trivial -- it is the job of science to identify relationships between phenomena. If it is possible to generate chains of reasoning, cause and effect allowing a seamless transition from pure physics to pure art, then one might anticipate that science will eventually forge such a chain, and scientists may well view this as their greatest triumph. This idea is not new. The real success of Consilience is in elucidating a view of how such a chain might appear and giving some hint of how close we are to completing it. Again, this is not new, but Wilson presents a readable and thought-provoking version that I would happily recommend.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A great argument, though drily made. 6 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The argument, that through consilience, all phenomena can ultimately be explained by cross-reference to other scientific disciplines, is a very important one, since it provides for a system that, in theory, allows for the empirical explanation of the world and its contents. However, I feel that this book might have been better if put forward in a more forceful manifesto-like style - his point could have been put a lot more concisely, but instead it rambles on for quite a bit - you have to wade through a lot of dry passages of text to find some excellent insights and arguments. Positivism needs a great defence for the 21st century, but this isn't quite it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible book 2 April 2014
By Jimbi
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is the first stop on the humanist journey. It is complex, but engaging and a must read for anybody contemplating their place on our earth.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Dry philosophy 6 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read Edward Wilson's book on evolutionary biology, The Future Of Life, and was very taken with it, but this book I'm afraid left me rather cold. It's dry and rambling in places, not very easy to follow, and my interest soon waned. A man of his stature should have been able to write about this subject in a much more lucid and interesting way. Reminded me a bit of another American commentator on biology and evolution, Daniel Dennett, who I also found to be too ready to use jargon and obscure, flowery language that detracts from what he is trying to put over. There are few really good science writers around who can put into lucid terms the inner workings of their subject. I've read many of them, like Carl Sagan for instance; a joy to read, but I'm afraid that as much as I admire Edward O. Wilson and his enthusiasm for his subject, I found this book really hard going.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific philosophy
A rare combination of modern science and clssical philosophy.The theory of Consilience conceived by Professor Edward Wilson is a new thought experiment wonderfully... Read more
Published 22 months ago by S. Hasan
1.0 out of 5 stars Tilting at windmills
I've made the observation before that scientists - especially biologists - tend to make lousy philosophers, and it doesn't take long to see Professor E. O. Read more
Published on 15 Jun 2010 by Olly Buxton
4.0 out of 5 stars Unity
Wilson begins by professing his fantasy of The Ionian Enchantment, a belief in the unity of all knowledge. Read more
Published on 19 May 2010 by N. Marik
5.0 out of 5 stars Beckoning beacon
If science is in need of a father figure, Ed Wilson is clearly the man best suited to the task. He has demonstrated his leading role in many works, but none reached the heights... Read more
Published on 11 Aug 2005 by Stephen A. Haines
1.0 out of 5 stars Yet another defence against invisible enemies!
"Consilience" is a book that is written with a confidence speaking of a mind at the height of its powers, yet it is a confidence that is misplaced and echoes the spirit of the 19th... Read more
Published on 17 Nov 1999
2.0 out of 5 stars Wilson appears to take a "leap of faith" in Consilence.
In speaking about the "Ionian Enchantment" Wilson feels that its central "tenet, as Einstein knew is the unification of knowledge. Read more
Published on 7 Aug 1999
Wilson is eloquent as ususal spinning out a complex web of thoughts pulled in from a plethora of sources all in support of his 'biology as god' thesis. Read more
Published on 10 July 1999
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