A unity of knowledge

What does that mean?

That is the first question I am asked by most people when I start discussing consilience. Their brow furrows, they take a moment, and inevitably ask me to explain the concept.

Which is a great pity actually, because the idea of consilience is actually quite powerful. It should be pervasive throughout our society. Unfortunately, the rush to specialization has discounted the value of seeing the links between disciplines. It is true that the massive amount of knowledge about a topic has made that specialization necessary, but we let the pendulum swing too far. It is time to bring it back to the middle.

A recent essay by Denis Dutton illustrates the power of consilience. He is bridging the artificial gap that arose between the arts and sciences to create a view of the world that is as unique as it is rich. I highly recommend you read this essay.

I also recommend you read and reread the introduction by Steven Pinker. One of the top minds in cognitive science, he clearly endorses the movement towards consilience:

I see this as part of a larger movement of consilience, in which (to take a few examples), ideas from auditory cognition will provide insight into music, phonology will help illuminate poetics, semantics and pragmatics will advance our understanding of fiction, and moral psychology will be brought to bear on jurisprudence and philosophy.

We will truly begin to tackle our wicked problem when we can look at the challenge influenced by thinking that is a hybrid of (for example): Michael Porter x Yves Behar x Alice Munro x Damien Hirst x Peter Schwartz x Tim O’Reilly x Paola Antonelli

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  1. rweiser

    Nice post Scott. I learned about consilience through the brilliant, but dense, book of the same title by Edward O. Wilson.




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