From Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson|
(Alfred A. Knopf)
It is the custom of scholars when addressing behavior and culture to speak variously of anthropological explanations, psychological explanations, biological explanations, and other explanations appropriate to the perspectives of individual disciplines. I have argued that there is intrinsically only one class of explanation. It traverses the scales of space, time and complexity to unite the disparate facts of the disciplines by consilience, the perception of a seamless web of cause and effect.
For centuries consilience has been the mother's milk of the natural sciences. Now it is wholly accepted by the brain sciences and evolutionary biology, the disciplines poised to serve in turn as bridges to the social sciences and humanities. There is abundant evidence to support and none absolutely to refute the proposition that consilient explanations are congenial to the entirety of the great branches of learning.
The central idea of the consilience world view is that all tangible phenomena, from the birth of stars to the workings of social institutions, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible, however long and tortuous the sequences, to the laws of physics. In support of this idea is the conclusion of biologists that humanity is kin to all other life forms by common descent. We share essentially the same DNA genetic code, which is transcribed to RNA and translated into proteins with the same amino acids. Our anatomy places us among the Old World monkeys and apes. The fossil record shows our immediate ancestor to be either Homo ergaster or Homo erectus. It suggests that the point of our origin was Africa about two hundred thousand years ago. Our hereditary human nature, which evolved during hundreds of millennia before and afterward, still profoundly affects the evolution of culture....
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No compelling reason has ever been offered why the same strategy [of consilience] should not
work to unite the natural sciences with the social sciences and humanities. The
difference between the two domains is in the magnitude of the problem, not the
principles needed for its solution. The human condition is the most important
frontier of the natural sciences. Conversely, the material world exposed by the
natural sciences is the most important frontier of the social sciences and
humanities. The consilience argument can be distilled as follows: the two
frontiers are the same.
Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, USA. From Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson. Copyright © 1998 by Edward O. Wilson. All rights reserved.