STEM to STEAM powered by a second wave of consilience ?


I just started reading this book

Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities (Co-Edited with Mark Collard) Oxford University Press, New Directions in Cognitive Science Series, 2011. edited by Edward Gilman Slingerland III

I am not sure how I missed the book when it came out in 2011 and would be interested in the thoughts of those that have read it. E O Wilson’s concept of Consilience ( see ) promised a grand unifying vision of sciences and humanities back in 1998. The over-reaching claims were often rebutted as a scientification of human culture and individuals which did not acknowledge the epistemological validity of different modes of understanding and making meaning of ourselves and the world that we are part of. In general E.O.Wilson’s ideas have not permeated the art science community, although Brockman’s “Third Culture’ echoes some of the tenets that Wilson advocates. As I have written elsewhere I think the grand unification theories, often based on false dichotomies between science and the humanities pose particular problems ( and C.P.Snow’s essays now no longer structuring a useful discussion).

In Creating Consilience,

The editors identify a “second wave” of consilience which aims to overcome this problem (p.23). In particular, second wave consilience aims to move beyond eliminative reductionism to respect emergent levels of truth (pp.24-28), move beyond the nature-nurture debate to recognize the importance of gene-culture co-evolution (pp.28-30), and move beyond disciplinary chauvinism to recognize that consilience is a two-way street (pp.30-34).

Review – Creating Consilience Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities by Edward Slingerland and Mark Collard (Editors) Oxford University Press, 2011 Review by Ruth Hibbert Sep 11th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 37)

I guess one of the problems I have with this analysis is two fold: first the advocating of grand unification theories. I have noted elsewhere that human beings are remarkable badly designed to understand themselves and the world they are part of. The history of science is driven by the accident of what senses humans have, and the non predicable history of technologies used to augment, extend and now develop new senses ( eg gravitational wave observatories). It is perhaps remarkable that we understand anything at all well enough to make reliable predictions. Most of the methods and tools of the scientific method are very recent in human history and still rapidly evolving ( eg the role of computer simulations as falsifiable hypotheses). Perhaps we need to acknowledge that multiple modes of studying ourselves at least as a necessary strategy for the next few millenia if not more. I guess I can see the attractiveness of grand unification theories as an ultimate goal although this raises other issues.

I am on the warpath on the metaphors used in our community. In particular I think the ‘tree of knowledge’ way of thinking has become very counterproductive. Not only does it structure our organisations ( beginning with our universities), but the metaphor of the tree ( see Lakoff etc) carries within in it dangerous structural epistemologic consequences. Branches dont connect naturally. There is a trunk from which branches grow.

With Carol Lafayette, Carol Strohecker, Robert Thill and the SEAD network we have been struggling with the issues of the overall metaphors being used in the art-science community of practice. For the SEAD report we adopted a network of network ecological metaphor, drawing on systems theory and second order cybernetics. ( ). More recently we have been developing the ‘fields of fields’ metaphor. We attribute this meme entering the discussion from Bill Seaman and his recombinant poetics ( ). The field of fields metaphor immediately foregrounds different ontologies . In networks of networks we focused on 13 key processes in our SEAD report, and inevitably our thinking is structured through the ideas of complexity science and the connections of nodes to other nodes through links.

With the fields of fields metaphor other processes are foregrounding such as the benefits of pollinators and nomads, the necessity that some fields are fallow, others wild and others tilled. That the geology itself changes with valleys and seas forming and continents moving.

So as I continue reading

Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities (Co-Edited with Mark Collard) Oxford University Press, New Directions in Cognitive Science Series, 2011. edited by Edward Gilman Slingerland III

I will continue being skeptical of the framing metaphors of ‘grand unification’ and the ‘tree of knowledge’. After all we know the side effects of monocultures.

What is certainly true is that within our art science community of practice ( see a false dichotomy again), the idea of ‘consilience’ has been little debated or generator of significant orientations or focus. I have not seen it referred to as a motivator in the STEM to STEAM movement, although of course multi/inter/trans/disciplinarity are a la mode with some heritage to E.O.Wilson’s consilience. As I continue the book I will add to these comments and look forward to readers bringing to my attention related ideas and thoughts.

Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities (Co-Edited with Mark Collard)

Oxford University Press, New Directions in Cognitive Science Series, 2011

Calls for a consilient or vertically integrated approach to the study of human mind and culture have, for the most part, been received by scholars in the humanities with either indifference or hostility. One reason for this is that consilience has often been framed as bringing the study of humanistic issues into line with the study of non-human phenomena, rather than as something to which humanists and scientists contribute equally. The other major reason that consilience has yet to catch on in the humanities is a dearth of compelling examples of the benefits of adopting a consilient approach.Creating Consilience is the product of a workshop that brought together internationally-renowned scholars from a variety of fields to address both of these issues. It includes representative pieces from workshop speakers and participants that examine how adopting such a consilient stance informed by cognitive science and grounded in evolutionary theory would concretely impact specific topics in the humanities, examining each topic in a manner that not only cuts across the humanities-natural science divide, but also across individual humanistic disciplines. By taking seriously the fact that science-humanities integration is a two-way exchange, this volume seeks to facilitate the creation of a new, shared framework for the sciences and humanities.

Available at:

Oxford Univesity Press
Amazon (US) & Amazon (Canada)


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