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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  3,381 Ratings  ·  186 Reviews
"A dazzling journey across the sciences and humanities in search of deep laws to unite them." --The Wall Street Journal

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 "jumpi
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 30th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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Oct 07, 2016 Manny 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 Jimmy 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
Michael Austin
May 05, 2008 Michael Austin 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
Aug 30, 2007 Rob 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
Nov 21, 2009 Jeremy 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 Jeff 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 Sam 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
Keith Swenson
Apr 29, 2012 Keith Swenson 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
Aug 24, 2009 Michael 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
Jigar Brahmbhatt
Dec 28, 2016 Jigar Brahmbhatt 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
Jan 07, 2015 Miles 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
Mar 21, 2012 Ryan 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
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
Feb 10, 2008 Matthew 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
Apr 24, 2008 Bettie☯ rated it really liked it
Shelves: sciences, nonfiction
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
Sep 16, 2007 Nathan 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.

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.
Aug 10, 2007 Jeff rated it it was amazing
E.O. Wilson has written a compelling case for the unification of all knowledge through an empirical scientific world view in which everything that we know through observation, rational thought, and experience can be explained and better understood through a study of the biological roots of our human nature. He suggests that as animals humans evolved in both our physical natures and in our culture within the strictures of our genetic identities.

He lays out a powerful idea that deserves to be wre
May 24, 2015 Frederick rated it liked it
The author defines Consilience as the unity of the sciences, in fact, all human knowledge linked together by a reduced and simple logic. The basic idea of the world view he proposes is that everything from the birth of stars to the functions of institutions that control our society can be reduced to the laws of physics. He lifts up evolutionary psychology which has become a dead-end in his efforts to justify this fantasy of his. I think he argues unconvincingly and truly sadly that for all scien ...more
Apr 27, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
CONSILIENCE: The Unity of Knowledge. (1998). Edward O. Wilson. ****.
Wilson (b. 1929) is a well-known and highly respected biologist, with a specialty in entymology. He has been a professor at Harvard for years and years, and has a vast number of publications under his name: two of his books have won Pulitzer Prizes. In this book, he takes on the entirety of science – both hard and soft – and exhorts us to keep on looking for the “unified theory” that will encompass both. The early chapters expl
Ivan Soto
Oct 07, 2011 Ivan Soto 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
Jul 22, 2009 Allisonperkel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This may be one of the best popular science books I've ever read. Put simply, Prof. Wilson if trying to lay out the claim that all sciences: the social and the hard, at there base level, share some common epigenetic features.

His arguments span several disciplines: from biology to physics to religion to economics to ethics. His arguments are compelling, and he freely admits that he may be overreaching or that the the commonalities may be too reduced to be of much value, yet the problem, the idea
Aaron Arnold
Mar 29, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, read-in-2011
Wilson made his name in ants, as a rock star entomologist who made seminal contributions to the understanding of one of the most successful species of all time. It must not have been challenging enough for him, because this book is all about the unity of knowledge, where he tries to both explain why past attempts to bridge the divide between the arts and the sciences have failed (his verdict: they were based on "failed models of the brain"), and to chart out a new path for the synthesis of the h ...more
Charlie George
Oct 30, 2008 Charlie George rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Rationalists, scientists, and any and all seekers of truth and wisdom
Shelves: science, philosophy
Wilson shoots for the moon and scores. Of course there will be many incensed reviews, given all the toes he steps on through the course of the book.

But what he was trying to accomplish is so provocative, so profound, that I can't help but be awed. It is a call to arms against postmodernism, and a demonstration of how much poorer we are for having abandoned certain ideals of the Enlightenment.

He fulfills and elucidates the materialist stance that the universe is a physical one, devoid of the supe
Jul 07, 2009 David 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
Rick Harrington
Apr 09, 2009 Rick Harrington rated it it was amazing
I've read this book a few times over many years; now I'm looking to find out if the social intelligence might be inside our bodies, among the critters which colonize us in anti-individualistic response to our internal sea's chemical signals. Or if we must conclude that even we are not so individual as we seem. I get why Tom Wolfe must like this guy, but I still don't get why liberals must hate him. I think it was us liberals who caused all the harm by insisting that some get labeled "needy" and ...more
Apr 17, 2010 Dan rated it it was amazing
E.O. Wilson is a brilliant human being and this book shows it. Consilience is an attempt to connect different areas of human understanding and human exploration. Basically it tries to show how taking an empirical, scientific approach to other divisions of human knowledge will make it easier for us to understand our world. A wonderful book for those looking to bridge the gaps between the humanities, social sciences, arts, and natural sciences.
Sep 27, 2009 Orin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, ideas, history
I read this ten years ago and it upset me then--and excited me in terms of the power of the ideas. Now, after the disaster of the last administration and its stupidity and inaction, it hits all the harder. I'm off in search of some light reading.
Suzette Kunz
May 06, 2010 Suzette Kunz rated it it was ok
The concept is interesting, but I didn't connect with Wilson's writing style. He talks about finding ways to unify the sciences and the humanities, but he definitely favors the sciences.
Jun 27, 2013 Stefanie rated it liked it
This was an important book that I'm glad I read. The prose could have been cleaner, which would have made the dense content more accessible.
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Where from here? 1 18 Aug 21, 2009 08:08AM  
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Edward Osborne 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 matters. He is Pellegrino University Re ...more
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“The love of complexity without reductionism makes art; the love of complexity with reductionism makes science.” 30 likes
“Still, if history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology. Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to biology, which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms. The uncomfortable truth is that the two beliefs are not factually compatible. As a result those who hunger for both intellectual and religious truth will never acquire both in full measure.” 24 likes
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