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
To illustrate consilience musically, we draw on disparate sources, brought together in a common musical endeavor.
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
- Tea for Two
- Autumn Leaves
- My Funny Valentine
- Cheek to Cheek
Grappelli also paired with Indian violinist L. Subramaniam to perform selections of Western music
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)
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.”