Consilience Conference Celebrates Unity of Knowledge In Biology, Social Science, and Humanities
Author: David Sloan Wilson
Source: ETVOL Exclusive
In his 1998 book Consilience Edward O. Wilson transformed an obscure philosophical term into a banner for the unity of knowledge across disciplines. A recent conference held at the University of Missouri attracted an audience from around the world to learn about how biology, the social sciences, and humanities are becoming part of a single body of knowledge unified by evolutionary theory.
Wilson began the three-day event with a talk centered upon his new book The Social Conquest of Earth. He was followed by a distinguished roster of scientists and scholars who covered the length and breadth of human experience, from art and literature, to history, to economics and neuroscience. As one of the speakers, I was on hand to cover the event for EVOLUTION: THIS VIEW OF LIFE. The following podcasts provide an audio album of the conference, including interviews with Wilson and some of the other speakers.
Consilience will always be a work in progress and two controversies were on display during the conference. The first concerned the concept of consilience itself. The second concerned the validity of group selection vs. inclusive fitness theory for explaining the evolution of sociality in humans and other species.
The two mantras of EVOLUTION: THIS VIEW OF LIFE, “Anything and Everything From an Evolutionary Perspective” and “Science as a Process of Constructive Disagreement”, are very much in the spirit of consilience. We are pleased to provide this permanent record of the conference along with a vehicle for promoting consilience on a daily basis.
I talk with Edward O. Wilson about his vision of consilience, his new book, and his uncanny ability to bring new fields of inquiry into existence.
I talk with literary scholar Joseph Carroll, one of the organizers of the conference, about his vision of consilience and his pioneering role in the study of literature from an evolutionary perspective.
I talk with anthropologist John Hawks about the humble start of his widely read blog and how it is changing the way that his branch of science is being conducted
I talk with evolutionist/philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, who has also reported on the conference on his widely read blog, about his critique of Wilson’s concept of consilience and a related concept of congruence that is perhaps more acceptable.
I talk with evolutionist David Queller, a prominent advocate of inclusive fitness theory, about the relationship between inclusive fitness and multilevel selection, in general and in relation to his own research on the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.
A collage of comments from people who came from far and wide to attend the conference, including Emily Newton the winner of the best poster in the social sciences.
My own presentation on the final day summarized the themes of the conference and showed how consilience (or congruence) can be used to improve the quality of life in a practical sense.