Hofstadter’s metaphor for the brain / mind as a colony of ants makes only one reference to E O Wilson, as author of “The Insect Societies”. Been meaning to add E O Wilson to my reading list.
One quick google throws up this exchange, something I’ve alluded to many times about a number of physicists. Stephen Hawking recently said that the human race won’t last this millennium unless we start to colonize space. Do you agree ? E. O Wilson ” I admire Hawking but I think he’s completely wrong. All of the evidence shows that we can turn Earth into our permanent, safe home.” [via Salon] Interestingly, the photo of Wilson in this article has him with a large model of an ant, very like Escher’s Mobius Strip. Just noticed I was reading these Hofstadter passages whilst sat in the “Little Creatures” brewery in Freo.
Wow, didn’t realise Consilience was so recent (1998). “Insect Societies” pre-dates Hofstadter (obviously, he quotes it) but Wilson also published Pullitzer prize-winning “Ants” in 1991. The word “consilience” (meaning little more than convergence, of ideas across diverse domains) was apparently coined by William Whewell, in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, 1840 [Wikipedia]. The word is listed in the 1913 Websters [OneLook]
The biologist (sickle-cell) S.J. Singer apparently said : “I link, therefore I am.” (Quoted from Consilience)
As a 1998 book, I can see why Consilience was a reactionary undertaking. For example Bjorn Lomborg is an interest of mine (not because I agree with him, I’ve not read him, you understand, but) because of the intense debate he caused, and the questions he raised about motives for doom & gloom arguments. E O Wilson’s review of Lomborg is wholly negative, and bemoans the scientific resources expended countering his suggestions. Interestingly in this article, neither Lomborg, nor his inspiration Julian Simon, is quoted as saying anything controversial, quite the opposite. “primary research on the environment, generally appears to be professionally competent and well balanced.” There is no question that, in the process of creating a political movement and seeking the scientific evidence to support it, environmentalists have sometimes made both factual and strategic errors — who hasn’t? But environmentalists are not devious puppeteers controlling the heartstrings of the hoi polloi and the purse strings of politicians. The skeptical environmentalist is jousting at windmills, whereas the people he denounces are fighting real battles. If the words of Lomborg’s nemesis-turned-idol Julian Simon come true — if “the material conditions of life continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time” — it will be with the help of, not in spite of, the environmental movement. [Kathryn Shulz in Grist]
The point for me … Lomborg’s error is in implying a “conspiracy theory” angle to erroneous (spurious, secondary) bandwagon-jumping motives on eco-arguments. No amount of objective scientific debate can sustain or refute that. Only something like common sense. A bit like the quote made against Dawkins – “the atheist who has done more than any other for the cause of religion”; scientists arguing objectively against Lomborg, and using mainstream media to do it, are digging their own graves, spreading the meme “with 3,000 footnotes.” (Me too, BTW)
Interestingly Dawkins mocks “the great convergence”. Interesting too that induction (the basis of the original Whewell definition of consilience, induction from two directions to the same conclusion) is much undermined anyway since Popper.