Guide Lesson Plan Consilience by E. O. Wilson

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He admits pure theorems in mathematics, but not pure thoughts that discover them. The fact that strict mathematical infinity cannot be grasped and processed correctly via any representation, but only by thinking it actively in a totally clear way, seems to escape Wilson; this realm cannot exist for him. Chapter 6 "The Mind" approaches its topic only in an evolutionary perspective. The underlying assumption is that processes follow laws by coercion—implying that laws are always linked to an activating force p 99 , hence confusing the two under such assumptions anything can be 'proved' through some observed regularities.

Mapping the mind is taken for understanding its functions, and meaning for merely a linkage of neural networks; that these are maybe more a result of repetitive impression—and thus of meaning—rather than its cause, is not discussed. Subjective experience is admitted to be inaccessible to this approach p ; Wilson tries to side-step the problem by 'objec- tivating' the cognition process and reducing it to perception. But in the way he construes his inter- pretation it implies cognition to happen in the terms used by our natural science—as if we saw wavelengths when seeing 'blue' or 'Peter'.

And where would the brain, 'swimming in the sea of representations', find the criteria to be sure about a correspondence between a given representation and a given fact? The relativity of representation is not discussed.

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On such paths of thought, free will can finally appear only as a fantasy in the void left over by calculations too complicated to determine reality. Wilson believes that only belief in freedom of will keeps it alive, even though inventing such theories requires it. Chapter 7 "From Genes to Culture" and Chapter 8 "The Fitness of Human Nature" approach their topic out of one same perspective: the "epigenetic rules" p f , held responsible for all the cultural superstructures of mankind—even though methodologically the same applies as for laws in the differential equations of chaos theory.

Consilience, Ch. 4, The Natural Sciences (Part One)

These laws are then construed—in the same conflation of law and force as in chapter 6—as the "impersonal force" p that drives evolution. By such a view the fact must be left in the dark that culture, seen as process of reflecting ideas leading to the 'rules of the game', serves not only as a constraint on behaviour or a mere result of behaviour, but makes real sense only if culture also encourages free people to find new ways of behaving, which requires also other ideas than the ones encompassed in the evolutionary perspective Wilson adopts.

The mythical impersonality acts also in communication: "complex information is thus organized and transmitted by language composed of words" p As if meaning moved alone to make itself heard maybe such teleguided people do exist? The genes "prescribe" what physiological systems should do p in this "gene-culture coevolution". Culture seen in this way appears then as a mere hotbed for genes to find their evolutionary path and develop the "genetic leash" p ff on which mankind toddles along.

So do we wait until the genes solve our problems? And how could a gene- determined culture know which path to favour? Especially since "no bias-free mental development has yet been discovered" p , which however describes only the past. But with a prospect of gene control we would have nothing except the past in us This is like resurrecting old ghosts again.

Chapter 9 "The Social Sciences" discusses anthropology, sociology, economics and political science. Wilson charges that "problems became intractably complex, partly because the root causes are poorly understood" p Fair enough. But is Wilson's basis any better? To him, advanced social theorists seem "happy with folk psychology" p , and he argues that only the molecular paradigm can be of any help. To Wilson, sociology is even worse; as disciplines for bridging the 'incomplete' views he proposes as a replacement of the 'weak' approaches just mentioned: cognitive neuroscience brain science , human behavioral genetics, evolutionary biology, and environmental sciences p However, Wilson cautions that "the similarity to 'real' science is often superficial and has been purchased at a steep intellectual price" p The reasons for this "can be summarized in two labels: Newtonian and hermetic" p Economic theory "lacks a solid foundation in units and processes" p Wilson would like us to accept the mere idea that we make choices not depending on "childhood, social interaction and cultural influence", but on his idea of "hereditary epigenetic rules" p Brave New World?

In chapter 10 "The Arts and Their Interpretation", and chapter 11 "Ethics and Religion", Wilson attempts to extend his basic assumptions also into these realms. What he grasps and discusses are aspects of myth, believing this to cover all of Art. Similarly, the dimension he can reach of religion is merely naive forms of worship, believing this to be all.

E.O. Wilson

This does not look like we are nearing the end of the 20th century, and he does not discuss worshipping science scientism. Chapter 12 "To What End? So again his answer is to pull the humanities into natural science— a view which can quite generally only be partially valid. Wilson does not discuss the fact that all measurement as the basis of natural science is ultimately necessarily determined in a qualitative way unit or act of reference , not quantitatively, and can thus never be self- constitutive.

The image of Man he draws is just as valid for highly intelligent animals; he offers no clear criterion for distinguishing. Freedom appears as the ability to follow one's whims, encouraged by technology—forgetting that this is not freedom, but compulsion; yet this freedom is the only one Wilson proposes p f. He discusses at length the need to care for the environment, since we depend on it. Even though ultimately his topic is thus Life and his claim consilience and thus completeness, he does not discuss the necessary condition for Life not getting stuck: the principle of death, which no being fears—as opposed to the process of dying, which is painful precisely to the degree of being inflicted from outside.

This concerns us at the latest insofar as we cling to ideas about life and survival as a function of our understanding or not understanding death, creating or solving problems correspondingly—e. But [social] life can, by its intrinsic principles involving degrees of autonomy, not be predictive in exactly the same way as processes in inert matter.

Wilson forgets that "Ariadne's thread of causal explanation", which he holds for universal in the way natural science understands it, is twisted in another way in live structures than physics and chemistry can know. The consilience that Wilson can offer is a selective and partial vision. It is always possible to take the world and intuitively shape stories about it so they fit to a high degree.


Wilson, a cofounder of sociobiology to be re- membered when reading his book because of the implied political agenda , even declares his motive: "Find a paradigm for which you can raise money and attack with every method of analysis at your disposal" p The intuition of unifying all of science is a very valuable one, and highly necessary in our times. It is to Wilson's great merit to dare approach this topic. Yet it poses a question in systematic methodology: On what path can this objective be fulfilled?

To this the answers given by Wilson are misleading, because they are presented as truth, while their foundation is superficial. But through the step of generalizing it into a paradigm for all fields dealing with the question of Life, as Wilson does, it becomes a factually and b logically inconsistent. On the other hand, the inconsistencies in Wilson's approach must be criticized as such: The theory of genes held for determinative in all organic processes, including our thoughts, is factually untenable, out of incompleteness: Ultimately, through the chosen categories and concepts, our actual physics and chemistry can give no fully determined answer in the single micromolecular case, but only statistical images — whereas human thought can react fully to the single case, its degree of grasping abstraction and transcendence depending only on the categories and concepts used in that view.

The gap produced conceptually in quantum and relativity theory out of thinking first in separable systems, later separable attributes 'between' complementarities and 'within' non- locality is not a domain without consequences, and even less proved to be non-existent by these physical theories through nothing more than their conceptually not encompassing it.

This gap can not fully be counterbalanced by summing up images 'around' it: Understanding what e. The novelist Ian McEwan describes Wilson as "an intellectual hero", and praises the quality of his writing. He can be witty, scathing and inspirational by turns. He is a superb celebrator of science in all its manifestations, as well as being a scourge of bogus, post-modernist, relativist pseudo-science, and so-called New Age thinking.

In the s, before his discoveries about chemical language in ants or his ideas about sociobiology, he was in New Guinea studying biogeography, the geographical spread of species, which has offered evolutionary biologists a rich hunting ground for discoveries about natural selection and the mathematical principles that underpin how environments function.

Later, working with the brilliant population biologist Robert MacArthur, this early research formed the basis for another seminal work The Theory Of Island Biogeography. MacArthur, who died in his early 40s from renal cancer, once told Wilson that he would rather save an endangered habitat than formulate a grand scientific theory. Ironically, as the planet's last wild places effectively become islands in a sea of human development, Wilson and MacArthur's theories have become a useful tool in the conservation struggle that will dominate the 21st century.

It is this final battle which is exercising Wilson. With the human population expected to reach bn by the end of the century and the planet in the middle of its sixth mass extinction - this time due to human activity - the next few years are critical in maintaining anything near the current level of biodiversity. His classic, The Diversity of Life, which defined our obligation to conserve ecosystems, is being reissued by Penguin in April.

Wilson's interest focuses on biodiversity hotspots, a term coined by Oxford environmental scientist Norman Myers and referring to 25 areas making up an Alaska-sized 1. Save these areas, the theory goes, and you save a good chunk of biodiversity. Wilson has added his weight to Conservation International, a hard-hitting, wealthy and relatively young organisation whose board includes Intel's co-founder Gordon Moore, Michael Eisner, chairman of Disney, and the actor Harrison Ford, all of whom, Wilson says, are very knowledgeable.

Biodiversity might not ring any bells with British opinion formers, but in the United States it has become one of the burning issues for the nation's billionaires to support. He takes particular pleasure in CI's latest triumph, securing the logging rights to a ,acre chunk of rainforest in Guyana. In conservation terms it's a big change in direction.

While Wilson makes no apologies for his can-do American approach to saving the planet, he doesn't attempt to defend American consumerism. We have this wonderful standard of living but it comes at enormous cost. He goes onto describe the concept of the ecological footprint, how each American citizen requires 24 acres to sustain his or her lifestyle, while those in developing countries use a tenth of that, and adds: "To bring the world's 6bn people using today's technology up to the level of the average American will require four more Planet Earths.

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I've seen the figures for this assessment, I've repeated them in front of a wide variety of experts, nobody has refuted it. The right-wing know-nothings in the conservative think-tanks in Washington, and the demagogues of whom we have an abundance in the US keep coming back: 'Well, that's what America is all about, we want the rest of the world to reach our standard, right? We're running out of land. The two major challenges for the 21st century are to improve the economic situation of the majority and save as much of the planet as we can. Wilson's ideas for solutions will delight and appal green campaigners: "The education of women is the best way to save the environment," he begins, highlighting over-population.

But he also sees a central role for genetically modified organisms. There doesn't seem to be any other way of creating the next green revolution without GMOs. The last green revolution saved millions from starvation but it did so at immense environmental cost. We've got to be able to cultivate dry ranch land with the right crops; we've got to be able to convert wasteland, including the low biodiversity salt flats or areas destroyed by overuse and abandoned.

Fate seems to have driven Wilson to being an entomologist. In his frank and compassionate autobiography Naturalist, he remembers his first connection with nature aged seven, at around the time of his parents' divorce. While they fought it out at home, he was sent away to Paradise Beach in Florida. In the fish and other creatures he saw another world he could escape to. His father, in later life an alcoholic who committed suicide rather than face chronic ill-health, moved restlessly from city to city almost every year, working as a government accountant, and he took his son with him.

Natural history became the constant in Wilson's life, and each new town his father lived in offered contrasting environments to explore. Short, skinny and by his own admission somewhat geekish, Wilson nevertheless stood his ground in the inevitable confrontation with the neighbourhood bully at each new school, among them the Gulf Coast Military Academy, which he described as "a carefully planned nightmare engineered for the betterment of the untutored and undisciplined".


In his autobiography he says that at 13, he was a workaholic with a "monster" paper round, getting up at 3 am to deliver copies of the local newspaper before school. He had friends, often those who shared his love of nature and the freedom of being outdoors, and he was physically brave, but as a child he was always the stranger, never on the inside.

He has also said that as a child "the Boy Scouts of America seemed invented just for me". He still "reads with remembered pleasure" his original Handbook For Boys, bought for half a dollar.

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It stressed outdoor life and natural history: camping, hiking, swimming While at Paradise Beach, he was fishing for a type of perch off the docks. Striking too hard on a biting fish, it flew from the water and its needle-like spines embedded in the pupil of Wilson's right eye. Eventually the wound required surgery, leaving Wilson traumatised with a phobia of his face being covered - a consequence of the anaesthesia - and full sight in only his left eye, and only then at close range. This disability, coupled with poor hearing, probably inherited, left him ill-equipped for studying birds or frogs, which he couldn't hear or see well.

So he opted instead for those creatures that could be observed right under his nose.