Consilience

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The goal of Enlightenment thinkers from Francis Bacon to the Marquis de Condorcet was to free the human mind from superstition and error by basing all inquiry and knowledge on a sound empirical, rational basis. That dream ended with the Romantic rebellion and its reliance on emotion and has since been complicated by the knowledge explosion and the fragmentation of academic specialties.

In CONSILIENCE: THE UNITY OF KNOWLEDGE, Edward O. Wilson attempts to resurrect the Enlightenment dream of unifying all knowledge (consilience) and argues that such a goal is not only attainable but essential to survival. His argument begins by noting that considerable degrees of consilience have already been achieved in the natural sciences both through methodologies (reductionism and mathematical modeling) and in cross-disciplinary studies such as biochemistry and neurobiology. The next great challenge is to extend this unifying drive to the social sciences and the humanities.

Wilson’s program is no dilettantish exercise. He severely chastises the social sciences for their unscientific methods, folk psychology, and inadequate theories. Similarly, he finds the humanities crippled by postmodern skepticism that disclaims the possibility of knowledge and reduces even scientific truth to mere “constructs.” In Wilson’s view, both humanists and social scientists need to abandon their inadequate methods for a more rigorous, scientific approach that relies on...

(The entire section is 485 words.)