Book Reviews Consilience Wilson

TITLE: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
by Edward O. Wilson
ISBN: 0679-76867-X
ISBN 13: 978-0679-76867-8
Publisher: Knopf; Vintage; Abacus

Edward O. Wilson? Yes, I saw him in a photograph. He looks like the person he evidences himself to be as the author of  ‘Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge’. He appears to be someone who is just as fascinated by the study of ants as he is by the study of humanity, or perhaps history, or chemistry – it’s tough to get pegged when you’ve carved out a niche for yourself as the man who knows everything – biology, zoology, philosophy, religion, the arts. Professor Wilson, last I read, taught at Harvard. I have never met Edward O. Wilson, nor have I taken any of his courses. Can you imagine the ego-busting pressure of keeping your grade point under such an individual? I am dwarfed by the mental miscellany of a guy I’ve never met. I do agree with his goal of seeing humankind through the lens of interdisciplinary research, which brings us back around to ‘Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge’.

Professor Wilson states his argument as an Ionian passion to bring an understanding to humankind of our existence as a whole; to view the world through various disciplines in the fine and liberal arts and sciences with no extreme issues about religion, but with the hope that connective bridges can at last be built that will create an interdisciplinary support system. For instance, in such a world science and religion would not be at odds or in competition to prove who has the inside track on a true vision. Rather, they would be used as aids one to the other showing that each had an integral part of the truth, and the only way for any one discipline to actually get the truth would be to work along the lines of a conviction of belief in the unity of sciences and the humanities. I don’t believe I am going too far out on a limb if I were to say that I feel Professor Wilson welcomes a consilience of interdisciplinary research and understanding to be a religious way of experiencing existence in a whole universe, a complete truth that we have sliced and diced into specialized fields of knowledge in a chain of causation where no separation actually exists.

Understanding our universe through a unified knowledge is not original to Edward O. Wilson. It was expressed in the ancient past by Thales of Miletus in the sixth century B.C.E. in Ionia. Thales saw an orderly universe that could be explained by a limited number of natural laws. Thales was a philosophical adventurer who was not afraid to make mistakes.

The passion that Wilson today carries from the work of Thales long ago is the unification of metaphysics with the material world, and therefore a more complete picture of the unity of nature, an expanded proposition of just where the world of reality begins and ends. Clearly, Einstein was searching for this same truth and quantum physicists are, as we speak, working in a space somewhere between zero and infinity in search of a laboratory reproducible and predictable beginning of material reality that is driving them beyond (meta) their physics every day.

‘Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge’ is different because Professor Wilson is able to communicate through his extremely well-conceived approach his personal, enthusiastic conviction in a manner accessible to any thinking, feeling individual.  Wilson cares deeply about our world and every aspect of life holds his profound interest but in an evolving fashion – that is not this piece of truth for what it is, but for the larger truth it can lead us to; that’s the value.

I truly enjoyed ‘Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge’, although it leaves me with questions about the methodological differences and expectations of the various disciplines through which we approach our universe in parts. Professor Huston Smith brought up one such point that if science concludes that having faith is defined by that which can be reproduced time and again in a laboratory and religion bases faith on the as yet unseen and unknown, how can these two disciplines, each with their own world-view and understanding of reality and truth build a bridge of usable consilience of knowledge or decide together what constitutes true knowledge?

It’s a tough call. ‘Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge’ by Edward O. Wilson is a fine book.