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Author Topic:   Consilience - the Unity of Knowledge
RAZD
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Message 1 of 27 (517010)
07-28-2009 7:55 PM


I am currently reading Consilience, the Unity of Knowledge by E.O. Wilson, A.A.Knopf 1998, one of the books from my dad's library that escaped the house fire they had in feb.

He talks about the seemingly inevitable unification of knowledge ...

"Consilience is the key to unification. I prefer this word over "coherence" because its rarity has preserved its precision, whereas coherence as several possible meanings, only one of which is consilience."
...
A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through the pursuit of the consilience among them

... and he feels that universities have abrogated some of their responsibilities to teach general knowledge, including some introduction to sciences, to all students.

He asks this question:

"What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare?"

He says every college student should be able to answer this, every politician should be able to answer this, every public thinker should be able to answer this.

So what is your take on the relation between science and humanities and how important it is for human welfare?

Enjoy.

I'll be traveling for the rest of the week, so I won't have much opportunity for input until next week, that should provide some time for people to post their answers without need to dive into debate over various positions.


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.


• • • Join the effort to solve medical problems, AIDS/HIV, Cancer and more with Team EvC! (click) • • •

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AdminNosy
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Message 2 of 27 (517013)
07-28-2009 7:57 PM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Consilience - the Unity of Knowledge thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
  
Stile
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Posts: 2870
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 2.8


Message 3 of 27 (517060)
07-29-2009 9:51 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
07-28-2009 7:55 PM


Do you give out sticky stars?
E.O. Wilson writes:

"What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare?"

First of all, I'm afraid to answer the question because I hate being wrong and getting all embarrassed 'n stuff.

But, I'm going to put my big-boy panties on today (now with batman symbols!) and give this a try:

quote:
Science helps society learn about the universe and be very confident in the answers received.

The humanities helps society learn about themselves. Confidence in such things can vary.

The relation between them is obvious (they both help society learn) and subtle (humanities can create questions that science can focus on to gain more confidence of certain answers in certain areas).

The relation is important for human welfare because it is a source of knowledge and therefore growth and hopefully prosperity.


Disclaimer: although I understand what "science" is, the term "humanities" isn't one so clearly defined in my vocabulary. I take it to mean "those aspects of philosophy, sociology and psychology that are not already governed by science."


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Perdition
Member (Idle past 653 days)
Posts: 1593
From: Wisconsin
Joined: 05-15-2003


Message 4 of 27 (517065)
07-29-2009 10:28 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
07-28-2009 7:55 PM


Science and Humanities, huh?

Well, if I were to take a stab in the dark, I would say that Humanities helps Science decide where to investigate by giving us a priority list based on philosophy, sociology, etc.

Conversely, Humanities also takes what Science discovers and gives that meaning as well. Finding that hypothesis A is a valid hypothesis and its predictions are shown to be accurate means nothing if we don't then understand the ramifications to us as a society. Knowing that asteroids and comets have hit the Earth and wiped out much of the life that was here at the time means nothing if we don't recognize that a comet or asteroid in the future is a threat to us, and so we take steps to minimize that threat.


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RAZD
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Posts: 18483
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 3.8


Message 5 of 27 (517125)
07-29-2009 4:46 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Stile
07-29-2009 9:51 AM


Is there a "right" answer?
Hi Stile,

First of all, I'm afraid to answer the question because I hate being wrong and getting all embarrassed 'n stuff.

I'm not sure there IS a right or wrong answer, as I'm not sure "consilience" is an acheivable goal. Desirable? maybe. Useful? maybe.

But to conceive of a human able to encompass all knowledge is daunting image, so it would have to be done as a cultural group of connected individuals, with all the flaws in conceptualization and understanding that this entails.

But, I'm going to ... give this a try:

So you're saying that each informs the other, one in direction and one in content?

For my mind, it seems that humanities answer questions not open to science, questions from philosophy, politics, culture, the big whys, filling an emotional void\vacancy in science.

Science answers how things work, and predicts some things that should occur if all else is equal, and it fixes knowledge firmly on a basis of established facts.

Enjoy


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.


• • • Join the effort to solve medical problems, AIDS/HIV, Cancer and more with Team EvC! (click) • • •

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Straggler
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Posts: 10195
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 6 of 27 (517132)
07-29-2009 6:11 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
07-28-2009 7:55 PM


CP Snow - "Two Cultures"
This all seems very reminiscient of CP Snow's infamous lecture on the "Two Cultures". Did you have this in mind at all when you wrote the OP?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Cultures

It still strikes me as odd that some humanities students seem to take an almost snobbish pride in their lack of scientific and mathematical knowledge. I have never understood this but I think it does still exist even today.


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New Cat's Eye
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Posts: 11352
From: near St. Louis
Joined: 01-27-2005
Member Rating: 2.2


Message 7 of 27 (517138)
07-29-2009 7:38 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by Straggler
07-29-2009 6:11 PM


Re: CP Snow - "Two Cultures"
It still strikes me as odd that some humanities students seem to take an almost snobbish pride in their lack of scientific and mathematical knowledge.

I know what you mean. Its like:

quote:
pffft...science why waste my time

I just figured they were too dumb to get it, granted, it ain't easy.


Thanks for the The Two Cultures link.

I think the constructionists are wrong because science works. Here we are on these internets, we've put a man on the moon, F-16s, etc... science can obviously "objectively make unbiased and non-culturally embedded observations about nature".

Edited by Catholic Scientist, : No reason given.


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slevesque
Member (Idle past 2056 days)
Posts: 1456
Joined: 05-14-2009


Message 8 of 27 (517160)
07-30-2009 1:46 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
07-28-2009 7:55 PM


This may seem like a classic answer, but I think that it answers quite well the question:

Sciene tells us what IS. Humanities tells us what OUGHT TO BE.

I think the first part is farely obvious. Science will tell us if I am alive or not. Humanities will tell us if I should be alive or not. (example: I just killed 20 people in a bus. Science won't be able to say if I should be executed or kept alive. Humanities will)

This aspect of science and humanities as been extensively looked into by every notable philosophers of science since Karl Popper.


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Straggler
Member
Posts: 10195
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 9 of 27 (517199)
07-30-2009 8:46 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by New Cat's Eye
07-29-2009 7:38 PM


Re: CP Snow - "Two Cultures"
I just figured they were too dumb to get it, granted, it ain't easy.

I do think science courses are "harder". But I think there is more to this than just that. There are some incredibly intelligent and learned individuals who are genuinely enthused and excited by ideas but who have an almost perverse pride in their ignorance of some areas of human knowledge. Scientific and mathematical areas.

It is almost as if the arts and humanities are deemed by some people to be higher forms of knowledge whilst science is looked down on as a sort of advanced exercise in plumbing or welding. Undoubtably useful. But with litttle to say about anything of much intellectual consequence or interest.

It is an attitude borne of ignorance. But is still prevalent to some degree at least IMHO.

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


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Stile
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Posts: 2870
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 2.8


Message 10 of 27 (517201)
07-30-2009 9:13 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by RAZD
07-29-2009 4:46 PM


Uh oh.. my ignorance is showing
RAZD writes:

But to conceive of a human able to encompass all knowledge is daunting image, so it would have to be done as a cultural group of connected individuals, with all the flaws in conceptualization and understanding that this entails.

Thanks for that. I have to admit that I didn't quite know what the word "consilience" meant, and I was too lazy to go and look it up. I mean, c'mon... it would have taken at least 40 seconds. Not to mention stopping my hand from typing and having to reach for my mouse. That was just too much for me

So you're saying that each informs the other, one in direction and one in content?

Yes. I see humanities as "thought experiments through structured induction." That is, just a fancy way of saying "a best guess." In contrast to science, there is nothing to test or verify an "idea" from the humanities. Once there is... it beomes science.

For my mind, it seems that humanities answer questions not open to science, questions from philosophy, politics, culture, the big whys, filling an emotional void\vacancy in science.

I almost agree.

I would say that humanities provides an answer to questions not open to science (question that are untestable).

Where science provides the answer (upon repeatable verification) to questions that are testable.

The humanities cannot ever be more than "a best guess" because there's nothing to verify or test the answer against. It takes on the realm of the subjective, which (by it's very nature) is going to be different for different people. To think that it's even possible to get *the* answer from such a subjective pool of information is just a bit silly, to me. However, what is possible is to lead certain subjective information into a corner that becomes testable... then objective science can take over and give us "the" answer.


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Stile
Member
Posts: 2870
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 2.8


Message 11 of 27 (517202)
07-30-2009 9:21 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by slevesque
07-30-2009 1:46 AM


'Will' or 'can'?
slevesque writes:

Science tells us what IS. Humanities tells us what OUGHT TO BE.

I agree with the broad, general sense of this statement. Personally, I'd add something in like "Humanities tells us what we think OUGHT TO BE."

That is, I think it's important to clarify that the humanities study questions that are untestable. Therefore, it's only honest to accept that our answers to such things are more aligned to "best guesses" then "definitive answers."

As per your example:

Science won't be able to say if I should be executed or kept alive. Humanities will

I agree that science isn't able to say if you should be executed or not.
I do not agree that the humanities "will" be able to tell you a completely correct answer about the question, though.
I agree that the humanities will give us our social feelings.. but where that answer is "actually correct" or whatever... is a matter of subjective opinion. It may very well be that a specific answer is not possible.


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Stile
Member
Posts: 2870
From: Ontario, Canada
Joined: 12-02-2004
Member Rating: 2.8


Message 12 of 27 (517204)
07-30-2009 9:30 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by Straggler
07-30-2009 8:46 AM


Re: CP Snow - "Two Cultures"
Straggler writes:

It is almost as if the arts and humanities are deemed by some people to be higher forms of knowledge whilst science is looked down on as a sort of advanced exercise in plumbing or welding. Undoubtably useful. But with litttle to say about anything of much intellectual consequence or interest.

Really? I'm glad I'm not a part of such circles, then. I'd get frustrated very quickly if someone answered subjective questions with arrogant, firm answers.

I find most humanities' "answers" to be the opposite of "much intellectual consequence or interest." Well, that's not true. They certainly are interesting but they really can't have too much consequence (in the grand scheme of reality sense) because there's no way to know if they're actually true. And, in most cases, it's obvious that there's no single correct answer.

I see science as a court of definitive answers.
I see the humanities as a court of popularity/persuasiveness. (Or sometimes forced practicality... "why shouldn't I kill?" "Because the rest of society will kill you...")

I don't see any reason why humanities could possibly be considered "higher knowledge" than science. It's impossible to have high confidence in a "correct" answer. There's always a measure of "or this entire concept could be completely irrelevant, really..."


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Richard Townsend
Member (Idle past 2147 days)
Posts: 103
From: London, England
Joined: 07-16-2008


Message 13 of 27 (517253)
07-30-2009 2:55 PM


The humanities are academic disciplines which study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytic, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural and social sciences.

Examples of the disciplines, related to humanities are ancient and modern languages, literature, history, philosophy, religion, visual and performing arts (including music). Additional subjects sometimes included in the humanities are technology, anthropology, area studies, communication studies and cultural studies, although these are often regarded as social sciences.

I had to go and look up humanities to see what was in and what was out. This is from Wikipedia. I thought others my find it useful


    
slevesque
Member (Idle past 2056 days)
Posts: 1456
Joined: 05-14-2009


Message 14 of 27 (517306)
07-30-2009 11:52 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by Stile
07-30-2009 9:21 AM


Re: 'Will' or 'can'?
I agree with your 'add-on' to my little catch phrase
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anglagard
Member
Posts: 2158
From: Big Spring, TX, USA
Joined: 03-18-2006


Message 15 of 27 (517314)
07-31-2009 5:17 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by slevesque
07-30-2009 1:46 AM


slevesque writes:

This aspect of science and humanities as been extensively looked into by every notable philosophers of science since Karl Popper.

Or before Socrates, given a broader definition of science (aka reason).


The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas - uncertainty, progress, change - into crimes.
ó Salman Rushdie

This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. Itís us. Only us. - the character Rorschach in Watchmen


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