Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek
Chapter 3: Consilience: the role of human nature in the emergence of social artifacts
The subject explicitly I want to address is the intrinsic unity of knowledge. Does it exist? Or does it not exist? The question is of surpassing importance in both the sciences and the humanities. The evidence that I am going to cite is still fragmentary and in all instances needs better integration into other fragments. Whatever the eventual outcome, this is a subject that invites the attention of the best scholarly minds. Since the eighteenth century the great branches of learning have been divided – classified – into the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Today we have the choice between, on the one hand, trying to make those great branches of learning consilient, that is, coherent and interconnected by cause and effect explanation; or, on the other hand, not trying to make them consilient (Wilson 1998). Surely universal consilience is worth a serious try. After all, the brain, mind, and culture are composed of material entities and processes. They do not exist in an astral plane that floats above and outside the tangible world. Consilience then defines a cause-and-effect explanation across disciplines. Consilience, incidentally, is a term first introduced by the founder of the philosophy of science, William Whewell, in the 1840s, and it has plenty of credibility. It is the mother’s milk of the natural sciences. Its material understanding of how the world works and its technological spin-offs are the foundation of modern civilization.
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