Wilson E. O. (1998) Consilience: The unity of knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

p. 6

people must belong to a tribe; they yearn to have a purpose larger than themselves. We are obliged by the deepest drives of the human spirit to make ourselves more than animated dust, and we must have a story to tell about where we came from, and why we are here. Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it? Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better-tested ground th attain the same end. If so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.

p. 8

I believe that the Enlightenment thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries got is mostly right the first time. The assumption they made of a lawful material world, the intrinic unity of knowledge, and the potential of indefinite human progress are the ones we still take most readily into our hearts, suffer without, and find maximally rewarding through intellectual advance. The greatest enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the attempted linkage of the sciences and humanities. The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and the resulting chaos in philosophy are not reflections of the real world but artifacts of scholarship.


Consilience is the key to unification. I prefer this word over "coherence" because its rarity has preserved its precision, whereas coherence has several possible meanings, only one of which is consilience. William Whewell, in his 1840 synthesis The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, was the first to speak of consilience, literally a "jumping together" of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to creat a common groundwork of explanation.

p. 9

The belief in the possibility of consilience beyond science and across the great branches of learning is not yet science. It is a metaphysical world view, and a minority one at that, shared only by a few scientists and philosophers. It cannot be proved with logic from first principles or grounded in any definitive set of empirical tests, at least not by any yet conceived.

p. 38

The vast majority of scientists have never been more than journeymen prospectors. That is even more the case today. They are professionally focused; their education does not orient them to the wide contours of the world. They acquire the training they need to travel to the frontier and make discoveries of theor own, and as fast as possible, because life at the growing edge is expensive and chancy. The most productive scientists, installed in million-dollar laboratories, have no time to think about the big picture and see little profit in it. The rosette of the United States National Academy of Sciences, which the two thousand elected members wear on their lapels as a mark of achievement, contains a center of scientific gold surrounded by the purple of natural philosophy. The eyes of most leading scientists, alas, are fixed on the gold.

p. 55

Over the years I have been presumptuous enough to counsel new Ph.D.'s in biology as follows: If you choose an academic career you will need forty hours a week to perform teaching and administrative duties, another twenty hours on top of that to conduct respectable research, and still another twenty hours to accomplish really important research.

p. 57

Einstein classified scientists very well during the celebration of Max Planck's sixtieth birthday in 1918. In the temple of science, he said, are three kinds of people. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of their superior intellectual power; for them, research is a kind of sport that satisfies personal ambition. A second class of researchers engages in science to achieve purely utilitarian ends. But of the third: If "the angel of the Lord were to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, a few people would be left, including Planck, and that is why we love him."

p. 58

To be highly successful the scientist must be confident enough to steer for blue water, abandoning sight of land for a while. He values risk for its own sake. He keeps in mind that the footnotes of forgotten treatises are strewn with the names of the gifted but timid. If on the other hand he chooses, like the vast majority of his colleagues, to hug the coast, he must be fortunate enough to possess what I like to define as optimum intelligence for normal science: bright enough to see what needs to be done but not so bright as to suffer boredome doing it.

p. 59

A proof, as the mathematician Mark Kac once put it, is that which convinces a reasonable man; a rigorous proof is that which convinces an unreasonable man.

p. 86

Biologists, it has been said, suffer from physics envy.

p. 117

The common property of science and art is the trnasmission of information.

p. 229

In a pioneering study of "bioaesthetics" published in 1973, the Belgian psychologist Gerda Smets asked subjects to view abstract designs of varying degrees of complexity while she recorded changes in their brain wave patterns. ... She found a sharp peak of brain response when the redundancy - repetitiveness of elements - in the designs was about 20 percent. This is the equivalent amount of order found variously in a simple maze, in two complete turns of a logarithmic spiral, or in a cross with asymmetrical arms. The 20 percent redundancy effect appears to be innate. New-born infants gaze