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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Paperback – 4 Nov 1999


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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: 12.7 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 122,058 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.

Review

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

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 April 1999
Format: Paperback
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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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Oct 2004
Format: Paperback
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alan Davies on 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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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Jun 1999
Format: Paperback
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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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Jan 2001
Format: Paperback
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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Oct 1998
Format: Hardcover
A superb book, reaffirming Wilson's belief that economics is based on biology like biology is based on physics. Very entertaining to read, with some intriguing new ideas: how will we choose to use our newfound power over our own evolution? But, like Dawkins and so many other great popularisers of science, Wilson has been banging the same drum since before I was born. Move on, guys - anyone who doesn't understand it yet isn't worth bothering with.
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15 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Olly Buxton on 15 Jun 2010
Format: Paperback
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. Wilson - one of evolutionary biology's most prominent lights - places himself squarely in that camp. "No one should suppose," he asserts, "that objective truth is impossible to attain, even when the most committed philosophers urge us to acknowledge that incapacity. In particular it is too early for scientists, the foot soldiers of epistemology, to yield ground so vital to their mission. ... No intellectual vision is more important and daunting than that of objective truth based on scientific understanding."

On the other hand, and (as far as I can tell) without intending the irony with which the statement overflows, not long afterwards he says, "People are innate romantics, they desperately need myth and dogma."

None more so, it would seem, that philosophising evolutionary biologists. Wilson's Consilience is a long essay on objective truth that - per the above quotation, gratuitously misunderstands what epistemology even is, whilst at the same time failing to mention (except in passing) any of its most important contributors - the likes of Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Quine, Rorty or even dear old Popper.
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