Consilience is the unity of knowledge, the religious equivalent of a unifying force or principle in physics. In 1998, Edward O. Wilson wrote passionately and persuasively about this subject, arguing that knowledge in all fields can be united under one framework. If there is one reality, then that should be true; and if it is not true, the search for a unifying principle of knowledge should help us understand why it is not true. As in science, an honest search for the truth advances humanity because it uncovers a bit more about reality, whether the theories and hypothesis that led to the uncovering were true or false. In that alone, the idea of consilience is vindicated.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Edsward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (Knopf, 1998).
- Gerald A. Cory, Jr., Toward Consilience: The Bioneurological Basis of Behavior, Thought, Experience, and Language (Springer, 2000).
- Gerald A. Cory, Jr., The Consilient Brain: The Bioneurological Basis of Economics, Society, and Politics (Springer, 2003).
- Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Free Press, 2010).
- Herbert Gintis, The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences (Princeton University Press, 2009).
- Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science (Wolfram Media, 2002).
- Duncan J. Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).
- Albert László Barabasi, Linked: The New Science of Networks (Pegasus Books Groups, 2002).
Leonardo believed in basing knowledge on experience, but he also indulged his love of fantasy. He relished the wonders that can be seen by the eye but also those seen only by the imagination. As a result, his mind could dance magically, and sometimes frenetically, back and forth across the smudgy line that separates reality from fantasies. [Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci, Infra., p. 263.]
- Andrea Wulf, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011): “The founders’ passion for agriculture and botany reflected, and reinforced, their political beliefs.”
- Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci (Simon & Schuster, 2017): This is yet another masterful biography from Isaacson. On 2-3, the author writes: “I embarked on this book because Leonardo da Vinci is the ultimate example of the main theme of my previous biographies: how the ability to make connections across disciplines – arts and sciences, humanities and technology – is a key to innovation, imagination, and genius.”
- Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (Simon & Schuster, 2003): As with Isaacson’s other biographies, this one conveys the value and quality of the subject’s life and work.
- Jackson Pollock, Galaxy (1947)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Olivier Messiaen, Turangalîla Symphonie (1948) (approx. 71-86 minutes), is in parallel with the idea of consilience, combining opposite and disparate grand elements into a single work. “Messiaen explained the meaning of ‘turangalîla’ as a combination of two Sanskrit words: turanga, meaning time which flows, movement or rhythm; and lîla, meaning a kind of cosmic love involving acts of creation, destruction and reconstruction, the play of life and death. The composer thus saw his symphony as ‘a song of love, a hymn to joy,’ a concept enlarged by his biographer Robert Sherlaw Johnson to mean ‘a superhuman and abandoned joy, a fatal, irresistible love, transcending all and suppressing all outside of itself’.” “Perhaps Messiaen’s greatest achievement in this work is his fusion of . . . elements with a profound non-Western influence (both technical and aesthetic), as symbolised by the other word in his double-barrelled title. 'Turangalila' is a Sanskrit compound word: turanga — literally the speed of a horse — denotes rhythm or the passage of time, while lîla means sport or play, on a divine, cosmic scale. (It can also mean love.) Messiaen’s suggested translation is 'a hymn to love,' but other connotations are equally applicable, e.g. 'rhythmic games' or 'playing with the passage of time.'” “Composed during the aftermath of World War Two, this powerful ten-movement work represents the culmination of Messiaen’s musical language up to his middle years, exploring the full resources of a large orchestra and taking the listener on an almost superhuman rollercoaster of expression from the relentless, stupendous and cosmic to the intimate and deeply personal. The result is an immensely bold and optimistic work that celebrates both human and divine existence.” “It is one of a trilogy of compositions written in 1945–9 based on the theme of the legend of Tristan and Yseult (the others are the song-cycle Harawi and the Cinq Rechants).” Top performances are conducted by Ozawa in 1968, Salonen in 1986, Rattle in 1986, Chung in 1991, Chailly in 1993, and Tortelier in 1998.
To illustrate consilience musically, we draw on disparate sources, brought together in a common musical endeavor.
Pianist Filippo Gorini has recorded Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), BWV 1080, and has discussed how he sees the work as bringing together faith, mathematics and poetry. “He is at once intellectual (nothing escapes him in this complex music) and yet speaks directly, yes, to the heart, but more, to the soul.” His reading could be characterized as intense, patient, contemplative, mindful, meditative and reverential.
Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck enlisted Tuvan throat singers to help him create, of all things, an album of Christmas music. If “Jingle All the Way” doesn’t make you smile broadly, check yourself for a pulse.
- Jingle Bells
- Twelve Days of Christmas
- Linus and Lucy
- Live performance at the Quick Center, Fairfield (CT) University, December 12, 2008
Classical and jazz violinists, respectively, Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grapelli, paired to offer selections from the American songbook in two distinct voices.
- “Menuhin & Grappelli Play Gershwin” album
- “Menuhin & Grappelli Play Jealousy and Other Great Standards” album
Grappelli also paired with Indian violinist L. Subramaniam to perform selections of Western music, such as on their “Conversations” album.
Not to be outdone, Menuhin combined with Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar on some Western titles. (The Western marketing influence is apparent in the choice of music.)
- Improvisations, with Jean-Pierre Rampal
- Twilight Mood
- Sonata No. 3 in A minor
- Swara-Kakali, based on Raga Tilang, with Alla Rakha
Ravi Shankar has paired with minimalist composer Philip Glass to fuse the Indian classical tradition with Glass’ Western approach. They recorded an album entitled “Passages”.
Steel guitarist Bob Brozman has teamed with Japanese singer and string player Takashi Hirayasu to offer some Japanese melodies, admiringly supported by Brozman on guitar. They recorded an album entitled “Jin Jin/Firefly”.
Frankel, Symphony No. 2, Op. 38 (1962): for the composer, lines from Wordsworth’s poetry explained each of the three movements.
- Adagio, Tranquillo: “Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows / Like harmony in music; there is a dark / Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles / Discordant elements.”
- Alla Marcia (Moderato): “The grim shape / Towered up between me and the start, and still, / For so it seemed, with purpose of its own / And measured motion like a living thing / Strode after me.”
- Adagio: “Visionary power / Attends the motions of the viewless winds / Embodied in the mystery of words.”
- William Grant Still, Symphony No. 4, "Autochthonous" (1947)
- Ran Blake, “All That Is Tied” (2006) (43’) “. . . alone at the piano is how Ran Blake reveals the depth of his musical universe most completely” (from the liner notes to the album).
- Klaus Wiese, “Cosmic Glue” (1991) (60’)
- Jeff Morris, Karl Berger & Joe Hertenstein, “Interfaces: Jazz Meets Electronics” (2018) (51’)
- Joyce DiDonato, “EDEN” (2022) (76'): “EDEN is DiDonato’s latest multi-faceted initiative, one that she will dedicate much of her time over the next four years to, uniting music, drama, and education to confront questions of our individual connection to Nature.”
- Umut Çağlar, Fahrettin Aykut & Jone Takamäki , “Myth of the Drum. Urban Transformation” (2022) (37'), is an album of free jazz with East Asian sounds that “dates from an art exhibition in Istanbul 2017 where Fahrettin Aykut exhibited an installation called 'Urvban Transformation' that combined painting and music, dealing with the relation of humankind and earth which is symbolized through a tree put upside-down.”
- Xhosa Cole, “Ibeji” (2022) (75’): “ibeji” translates as “twins”. The Jazzwise reviewer calls the album “(t)houghtful and heartfelt, academic and earthly . . .”
On the beach at night alone, / As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song, / As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.
A vast similitude interlocks all, / All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets, / All distances of place however wide, / All distances of time, all inanimate forms, / All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds, / All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes, / All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages, / All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe, / All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future, / This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d, / And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.
[Walt Whitman, “On the Beach at Night Alone”]
- Chris Abani, The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel (Penguin, 2014): a novel conveying “a feeling of thematic unity” woven from “an unsettling and complex entanglement of outsiders, freak shows, secret government experiments . . .”
- Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna: A Novel (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2009): “‘The Lacuna’ can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people; or for its harmonious choir of voices. But the fuller value of Kingsolver’s novel lies in its call to conscience and connection. She has mined Shepherd’s richly imagined history to create a tableau vivant of epochs and people that time has transformed almost past recognition.”
- Hari Kunzru, Gods Without Men: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012): “This new reality seems to have manifested in the literary world in what must undeniably be called a new literary genre. For lack of a better word, let’s call it Translit. Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place.”