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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  4,423 ratings  ·  258 reviews
One of our greatest living scientists--and the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature and The Ants--gives us a work of visionary importance that may be the crowning achievement of his career. In Consilience  (a word that originally meant "jumping together"), Edward O. Wilson renews the Enlightenment's search for a unified theory of knowledge in disciplines that ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 30th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in Big Questions
At first, I wasn't sure I liked Consilience. E.O. Wilson is frank about his disdain for philosophy, a literary genre I enjoy, and it seemed to me that he might be one of those brash scientists who writes off everything that isn't science as old-fashioned nonsense. I suppose that characterization isn't entirely unfair; but Wilson has thought about it a lot and makes the case in a nuanced and interesting way. At the very least, he presents a useful target for the philosopher who wants to defend hi ...more
Mar 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
I was shelving in western philosophy the other week (I don't really have a choice against eavesdropping on bookstore conversations, and they're pretty much all inane to the point of inflicting brain atrophy on the listener, i.e. me). As I walked down the aisle with a handful of Wittgenstein, a customer approached. Sure enough he had a lame excuse for a beard, and deliberately mussed-up hair atop his excessively squinty facial constitution; fucking college kids. As I looked down I saw, of all thi ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you're someone who despairs over the balkanization of intellectual/academic life, this book won't stop the crying, but it will assure you that you're not alone. If you're someone who has discombobulated on magic mushrooms and grasped, in a sudden terrifying instance, the image of all seemingly disparate islands of knowledge stitched together by an invisible network of mycelium, give it a go.

Reading books like: I, Asimov, and: Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, sparked in me a deep love of poly
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
"The central idea of the consilience world view is that all tangible phenomena, 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 is an obvious truth, and the fact that so many people passionately object to it tells us more about society than science. Some are committed to the numinous, where an ineffable presence guides humankind without reference t ...more
William Liggett
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
E. O. Wilson is one of my heroes. He is a life-long scientist with the courage to take on the deniers that his writing brings out. This book was the first of his that I came across almost 20 years ago now. What struck me was the breadth of his consideration of the scope of human discovery. His term "consilience" was defined as the coming together of all knowledge—the power of drawing insights from many disciplines in a era when science is increasingly compartmentalized. I especially appreciated ...more
Michael Austin
May 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
E.O. Wilson is one of the few people in the 20th century who can actually claim to have given birth to a movement that did not disappear. His early work in Sociobiology, once roundly rejected by liberal academia, became the nucleus of the stunningly successful discipline of evolutionary psychology in the 1990s and beyond. In Consilience, Wilson sets himself the impossible task of arguing that all human knowledge can be reduced to key scientific principles. This is a somewhat different task than ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gene-culture coevolution, the Ionian enchantment, "dreaming is a kind of insanity, a rush of visions"...

"The labyrinth of the world is thus a Borgesian maze of almost infinite possibility. We can never map it all, never discover and explain everything. But we can hope to travel through the known parts swiftly, from the specific back to the general, and—in resonance with the human spirit—we can go on tracing pathways forever. We can connect threads into broadening webs of explanation, because we
Aug 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: non-scientists who have never studied any science or read anything about the history of science
Shelves: didnt-finish
for me, this was so horrible that after 100 pages i simply could not bring myself to go on. i guess this book was written for congressional staffers to read, and all the flowery language was supposed to "inspire" them to tell their boss to give scientists lots and lots of money.

basically, i think Wilson knows he is never going to do any good science again, so the next best thing is to write a book about how scientists (i.e. himself) are the angels of humanity.

everything is simply asserted, the
Kunal Sen
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I may not have come across this remarkable book unless I read the review written by a fellow Goodreads reader, whose opinion I have come to trust. That, to me, is the greatest utility of Goodreads. Reading in an expensive activity, especially at my age. There are only so many books I can manage to read before my ability to absorb them fades away. Therefore I want to minimize the chance of reading something and then discovering it to be useless. I don’t need to agree with the author, but it is hi ...more
Nov 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
I've been meaning to read Wilson for a while now, but I regret starting with this. While his wish to unite the various academic disciplines into a single corpus of knowledge seems to come from the right place, his actual efforts to explain what such a system would look like are dull, meager, and at times poorly reasoned. His effort to show linkages between the natural sciences and the humanities in particular falls completely flat. A few paltry examples culled from his own research, while intere ...more
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic, science
With the way things are in academia, nobody in the world could be qualified to write this book. The disciplines are too boldly demarcated, it is often said, each a small nation state prowled about by a tight pride of leonine experts who snap at ignorant layman invaders. But accomplished scientist and human nature theorist E. O. Wilson is a dove among the hawks who perceives a need for increased cooperation among all branches of human knowledge. All of them, which he arranges vertically with part ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
I don't agree with the overall thesis, nor do I agree with the way the arguement is made. I am especially skeptical of Wilson's use of history and art - fields of inquiry which he seems to be grossly oversimplifying in the service of his arguement. He may well be as versed in 18th century French history or the contemporary novel as he is in science, but if so this book does not establish it. There are some truly eye-rolling moments in his discussion of the Enlightment and in his two page dismiss ...more
Graeme Roberts
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The most exciting, important and beautiful book I have ever read. A must-read for big picture thinkers who understand science.
Nick Black
Mar 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are not enough positive things I can say regarding this book.
Keith Swenson
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wilson's point is that there was a time when a single person could know all the formalized knowledge that there was to know. Of course that was a long time ago. Today there is a zillion times more to know, and the problem is that to be an expert, we have to focus on one particular narrow domain. This is necessary, but the problem is that each stovepipe tends to be ignorant of the other stovepipes, and that is a problem.

This book, is then an attempt to encourage us to step back, and try to unders
Alina Lucia
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
The main question Wilson tries to address in “Consilience” is the following: What is the relationship between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare?

Wilson argues that answering such a question requires that the branches of learning unite, and erase the ill-defined boundaries, arisen from pure ignorance rather than a fundamental difference in mentality. And I could not agree more.

To me, both science and the humanities offer different perspectives on the same ques
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
The summer before my freshman year at SMU, the required reading list included C. P. Snow's 1959 tract, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, which described the gulf separating the humanities and the sciences. When I entered the university in the fall of 1965, the curriculum was integrated in an attempt to bridge that gulf. All students were required to take an ambitious program of arts, sciences, humanities, and mathematics that included required courses for all in "The Nature of Man, ...more
Ivan Soto
Oct 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! E. O. Wilson's writing is such a delight. The book argues for mutual cooperation between biology and other branches of knowledge, as well as for protection of and conservation in the planet. Here's the concluding paragraph:

"I believe that in the process of locating new avenues of creative thought, we will also arrive at an existential conservatism. It is worth asking repeatedly: Where are our deepest roots? We are, it seems, Old World, catarrhine primates, brilliant
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology, science
The book "Consilience..." written by a biologist Mr. Edward O. Wilson is an evidence of our eternal struggle toward the peace of mind. Every attempt of a human to unify the bodies of knowledge on disposal, is a prove that we, the highest order complexity beings, can't stand the chaos.
But, no matter how beautifully devised this book is, and no matter how joyful this read is, I've clearly missed the loud A-HA. I felt like something, like the "corpus callosum" not that does not connect, but is to n
Jigar Brahmbhatt
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I have been fascinated by the idea of a convergence of different schools of thoughts into a single whole. Call it "theory of everything", or consilience, a word chosen with great care by Edward Wilson. He tries nothing less than proposing to bring not only the sciences but humanities under a single umbrella.

The stars given are not a judgement on the writer's erudition and intentions at all, but show my inability (and the lack of enjoyment as a reader) to grasp everything the writer was trying t
Sep 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who want to understand LOST.
Basically, Consilience is a well-written manifesto in favor of inter-disciplinary studies. Edward O. Wilson argues that fields of study may have become too rigid and isolated, at the expense of the "unity" of human knowledge. A good case is made for a wider relationship between arts, sciences, histories and religions.

Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is probably my favorite of the books I’ve read by Edward O. Wilson, although it did not alter my worldview as profoundly as On Human Nature did when I read it back in early 2012. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge is an eloquent explication of the ideas and dispositions I hold in highest regard. It is arguably the most enterprising work of an ambitious career, which makes it both stunning as well as outlandish. Despite my awareness of numerous respectable critiques of Wilson’s propositions ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Four and half stars.

(I know there could be some mistakes in this review. I’m trying to improve my English, thanks)

Previously I had read from Eduard O. Wilson "The Diversity of Life", an impressive work that among other issues announces the sixth great extinction caused by human activity (previously of the Elizabeth Kolbert's best known book). So this is my second reading by this author and "Consilience" not dissappoints me.

Explained in a very summarized way, a very interesting treatise that intr
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
I read this soon after reading Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, and it was a nice basis of contrast for Wilson's eloquent, off-the-charts intelligent, narrowly conceived, and misleading book. Most of Wilson's proposed compromises for "Consilience" are expected from the arts and social sciences and it is a stunning demonstration of how the positivist torch has been passed, and it could prove a perfect reference point for an updated take on Marcuse's ideas. This book is an incredibly well th ...more
Feb 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The entire thesis of Consilience is one so shockingly obvious that I was astounded to discover that true controversy surrounded it. The thesis is simply that all realms of knowledge, from biology and geology to psychology and politics, are ultimately reducible in explanation to more fundamental explanations in another discipline - physics. This seems abundantly obvious in virtually every discipline I could imagine:

Example: My psychology is determined by physical states (both biological and chemi
New York Times columnist David Brooks has chosen to discuss Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject – Neuroscience, saying that:

“…In Consilience Wilson makes the prediction that a lot of the disciplines we have separated human behaviour into are obsolete, and that we are on the verge of unifying knowledge in an inter-disciplinary way. And that is actually happening with neuroscience: there’s a field of neural economics, neural th
Henry Barry
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: misc-nonfiction
Consilience was fascinating and covered a lot of important topics. The takeaways were valuable. However, 20 years later, the book feels not only dated but unnecessarily wordy. I would only read this book if you are ready to settle in for the long haul, are a lover of science, or have a very long attention span. Even then, there are more recent books that cover many of the topics in this book in more detail.

Many of the topics Wilson writes about have seen so much progress since publication that i
Jul 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was a tough read mainly because of the density of the topic. But it was a masterpiece of scholarship. In making his case for a convergence of biological-physical sciences with social-humanity studies, Wilson traverses the gamut of human knowledge. From a history of the enlightenment philosophies to genetics, neurology to theology, ecology to economics, and more, he overturns stones from many disciplines, showing their interconnectivity and interspersing the dialogue with quotes from Bacon t ...more
Apr 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, sciences
This read can be summed up in the titular word, it’s a look at how experts in different areas of science do not know how to converse with others, even within their own branch of investigation and important discoveries may be falling through these gaps. There is just SO much knowledge out there that individual genius has to dedicate itself to one small area of the cutting edge which has its own specific level of jargon. An interesting read although at times dry, I especially like his derogatory s ...more
E.O. Wilson makes a case for unifying sciences and humanities. If you are interested in the movement to Big History this book will be of interest.
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Edward Osborne Wilson, sometimes credited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical ma ...more

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