E. O. Wilson. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (Knopf, 1998)

Chapter 1: The Ionian Enchantment
Chapter 2: The Great Branches of Learning
Chapter 3: The Enlightenment
Chapter 4: The Natural Sciences
Chapter 5: Ariadne's Thread
Chapter 6: The Mind

Chapter 7: From Genes to Culture
Chapter 8: The Fitness of Human Nature
Chapter 9: The Social Sciences
Chapter 10: The Arts & Their Interpretation
Chapter 11: Ethics and Religion
Chapter 12: To What End?


Chapter 1: The Ionian Enchantment

The dream of unified learning . . . the Ionian Enchantment . . . the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws (3-4) 

. . . in the minds of a few it reaches beyond [natural science]  into the social sciences, and still further . . . to touch the humanities (5)

 science is religion liberated and writ large . . . another way of satisfying religious hunger (7)

 the Enlightenment got it mostly right the first time (7)

 The greatest enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the attempted linkage of science and the humanities . . . Consilience (7)

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Chapter 2: The Great Branches of Learning

 Nothing fundamental separates the course of human history from the course of physical history (11)

 We have the common goal of turning as much philosophy as possible into science (12)

 The strangeness [of the universe] will all prove to be connected and make sense (12)

Every college student should be able to answer the following question: What is the relation between science and the humanities, and how is it important for human welfare? (13)

 A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through pursuit of the consilience among them. . . . order, not chaos, lies beyond the horizon (14)

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Chapter 3: The Enlightenment

The Chinese never hit upon the entry point of abstraction and break-apart analytical research attained by European science in the seventeenth century. (33)

[In the nineteenth century] Natural scientists, chastened by such robust objections to the Enlightenment agenda, mostly abandoned the examination of human mental life, yielding to philosophers and poets another century of free play. . . . The great branches of learning emerged in their present form -- natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities -- out of the unified Enlightenment vision generated during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (40)

Scientists . . . have not found postmodernism useful [45] . . . Science is neither a philosophy nor a belief system. It is a combination of mental operations . . . the most effective way of learning about the real world (49)

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Chapter 4: The Natural Sciences

. . . the laws of physics . . . cannot be given Chinese or Mayan or Ethiopian nuances. Nor do they cut any slack for masculinist or feminist variations. (53)

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Chapter 5: Ariadne's Thread

The labyrinth . . . is a fitting mythic image of the uncharted material world in which humanity was born and which it forever struggles to understand. Consilience among the branches of learning is the Ariadne's thread needed to traverse it. Theseus is humanity, the Minotaur our own dangerous irrationality. Near the entrance . . . is physics . . . in the deep interior  . . . the social sciences, humanities, arts and religion. (73)

Snakes and dream serpents provide an example of how agents of nature can be translated into the symbols of culture . . . An understanding of [the serpent's] transformation from an earthly reptile can be viewed as one of many pathways through the borderlands that separate science from the humanities. (87-88)

Biologists, it has been said, suffer from physics envy. (94)

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Chapter 6: The Mind

Much of the history of philosophy, from Descartes and Kant forward, consists of failed models of the brain. (105)

It is . . . unfashionable in academic circles nowadays to speak of evolutionary progress. All the more reason to do so. . . . no preset goals . . . But . . . increasingly complex and controlling organisms and societies . . . the human attainment of high intelligence and culture ranks as the last of the four great steps in the overall history of life. . . . Finally, to the grief of most preexisting life forms, came humanity. (107)

. . . the full scenarios of consciousness. The biologist S.J. Singer: I link, therefore I am. (121)

Science explains feeling, while art transmits it. (127)

Might it be possible to create an artificial human mind? . . . yes in principle, but no in practice (132)

the human species has evolved genetically by natural selection in behavior, just as it has in the anatomy and physiology of the brain (139; italics Wilson's)

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Chapter 7: From Genes to Culture

gene-culture coevolution . . .  Culture is created by the communal mind, and each mind in turn is the product of the genetically structured human brain . . . therefore . . . [138] To genetic evolution . . . natural selection has added the parallel track of cultural evolution . . . What precisely is this superorganism, this strange creature called culture? (141; italics Wilson's)

The culture of the Kalahari hunter-gatherers is very distinct from that of Parisians, but the differences between them are primarily a result of divergence in history and environment, and are not genetic in origin. (155)

It would be absurd to speak of particular genes that prescribe agriculture, writing, the priesthood and monumental tombs. (162)

Particular features of culture have sometimes emerged that reduce Darwinian fitness, at least for a time. Culture can indeed run wild for a while, and even destroy the individuals that foster it. (171)

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Chapter 8: The Fitness of Human Nature

. . . culture helps to select the mutating and recombining genes that underlie culture (179)

Genes do not specify elaborate conventions such as totemism, elder councils and religious ceremonies. . . . Instead,  complexes of gene-based epigenetic rules predispose people to invent and adopt such conventions. (181)

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Chapter 9: The Social Sciences

[many] academic sociologists [and other social scientists] are . . . biophobic -- fearful of biology and determined to avoid it (203)

While the social sciences are truly science . . . social theory is not yet true theory . . . they have not yet crafted a web of causal explanation that successfully cuts down through the levels of organization from society to mind to brain. (205)

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Chapter 10: The Arts & Their Interpretation

Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science  . . . Interpretation is the logical channel of consilient explanation between science and the arts. (230)

even the greatest works of art [Paradise Lost] might be understood fundamentally with knowledge of the biologically evolved epigenetic rules that guided them. (233)

innovation is a concrete biological process founded upon an intricacy of nerve circuitry and neurotransmitter release . . . To fathom [this] will make a great difference in the way we interpret its creation. (236)

a small but growing circle of artists and theorists of the arts . . . refer to their approach as biopoetics or bioaesthetics (236-37)

Whehn addressing human behavior, science is coarse-grained and encompassing, as opposed to the arts, which are fine-grained and interstitial. That is, science aims to create principles . . . and define . . .the species; the arts use fine detail to flesh ou and make strikingly clear by implication those same qualities (238-39)

Several special powers were granted the arts by the genetic evolution of the brain. First is the ability to generate metaphors . . . [and second] the programmed brain seeks elegance (239)

Imitate, make it geometrical, intensify: That is not a bad three-part formula for the driving pulse of the arts as a whole. (241)

The epigenetic rules of human nature bias innovation, learning, and choice. (243)

The arts . . . also nourish our craving for the mystical. [253] The world that preliterate humans factually perceive is only a small fragment of the full natural world. Thus by necessity the primitive mind is continually tuned to mystery. . . .  We are all still primitives compared to what we might become . . . aware of fewer of one in a thousand o the kinds of organisms . . . that sustain ecosystems around [us]. [257] By focusing on the peculiarly human niche in the continuum, we can if we wish (and we so desperately wish) inhabit the productions of art with the same sense of beauty and mystery that seized us at the beginning. No barrier stands between the material world of science and the sensibilities of the hunter and the poet. (258-59)

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Chapter 11: Ethics and Religion

Moral reasoning, I believe, is at every level intrinsically consilient with the natural sciences. (260)

The choice between transcendentalism and empiricism will be the coming century's version of the struggle for men's souls. (262)

I am an empiricist. On religion I lean toward deism but consider its proof largely a problem in astrophysics. (263)

The most dangerous of devotions, in my opinion, is the one endemic to Christianity: I was not born to be of this world. With a second life waiting . . . The natural environment can be used up. . . . (268; italics Wilson's)

People need more than reason. They need the poetry of affirmation . . . rites of passage . . . rituals . . . ceremony in all high civilizations has historically assumed a mostly religious form . . . it would be a sorry day if we abandoned our venerated sacral traditions. (270)

. . . ethical codes have arisen by evolution through the interplay of biology and culture . . . It is to be expected that in the course of evolutionary history, genes predisposing people toward cooperative behavior would have come to predominate in the human population as a whole.
    Such a process repeated through thousands of generations inevitably gave birth to the moral sentiments (275-76)

If the objective evidence accumulated by biology upholds empiricism, consilience succeeds in the most problematic domains of human behavior and is likely to apply everywhere. If the evidence contradicts empiricism in any part, universal consilience fails and the division between science and the humanities will remain permanent all the way to their foundations. (282)

. . . even as empiricism is winning the mind, transcendentalism continues to win the heart. . .  Still, if history and science have taught uis anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. (286)

Material reality discovered by science already possesses more content and grandeur than all religious cosmologies combined. (289)

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Chapter 12: To What End?

the ambitions of the natural sciences might be viewed in a more favorable light by nonscientists . . . most people don't understand it . . . preferring Jurassic Park to the Jurassic Era, and UFOs to astrophysics. (293)

Science is not marginal. Like art, it is a universal possession of humanity . . . a vital part of our species' repertoire . . . If the natural sciences can be successfully united with the social sciences and humanities, the liberal arts in higher education will be revitalized . . . the future of the liberal arts lies, therefore, in addressing the fundamental questions of human existence head on,  . . . taking them from the top down in easily understood language, and progressively rearranging them into domains of inquiry that unite the best of science and the humanities at each level of organization (294-95)

not one but two Mephistophelean bargains can be distinguished . . . the more knowledge people acquire . . . the more they need new knowledge just to stay alive [295-96] . . . [and] "volitional evolution" -- a species deciding what to do about its own heredity (299)

We are . . . the greatest destroyer of life since the ten-kilometer-wide meteorite that landed near Yucatán  . . . So a very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic (303-4)

The wall toward which humanity is evidently rushing is a shortage not of minerals and energy, but of food and water. . . . Exemptionalists are risking a lot when they advise us, in effect, that "life is good and getting better . . ." (313)

we are learning the fundamental principle that ethics is everything. Human social existence, unlike animal sociality, is based on the genetic propensity  to form . . . moral precepts and law. The rules of contract formation . . . evolved over tens or hundreds of millennia . . . we have accepted the necessity of securing them by sacred oath (325-26)

It is worth asking repeatedly: Where are our deepest roots? . . . To the extent that we depend on prosthetic devices to keep ouselves and the biosphere alive, we will render everything fragile . . . And if we should surrender our genetic heritage . . . and our ethics and art . . . in the name of progess, imagining ourselves godlike and absolved from our ancient heritage, we will become nothing. (326)