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Can Consilience Save Us?
May 17, 2021 at 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm EDT
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In this salon, Tom Beakbane explores the concept of consilience: the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can “converge” on strong conclusions.
Consilience is a new mode of thinking that is resulting from advances in many academic disciplines. Progress in biochemistry, genetics and mathematics allow us to make sense of the processes at work in the human brain. We can see how cells adopt roles, how neurons program themselves, how humans learn to communicate and the significance of social interaction. By looking at the underlying mechanisms it becomes possible to unravel the nature of understanding itself.
Consilience is challenging at a personal level because it alters the meaning of words we use to explain our behavior and social interactions. It is also liberating because it upends modes of thinking we are immersed in.
It is additionally challenging to get one’s head around consilience, not because the discoveries that birthed it are complex, but because it undermines long held scientific presumptions. For instance, the ingenuity of Homo sapiens is due to unique processes taking place in the cerebral cortex. Surely, no other species is as smart as us; therefore, there must be special mechanisms at work in this large, wrinkly part of the human brain?
Developments in the disciplines of mathematics and computing now provide conceptual tools that are turning our understanding on its head. Computer engineers have shown that complex systems can emerge from simple steps that are repeated. With the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we can see that the complexity observed in our brains is self-organizing and emerges from the bottom up. The processes are remarkably consistent between the brains of humans and other animals.
One characteristic that is foundational to all brains throughout the animal world is they are “goal-directed,” enabling rapid movement towards things that are beneficial and away from things that are potentially harmful. This functionality is what underpins the instant tribalism we observe around us, and the immediately polarizing effect of words like socialism, climate change, nationalism, vaccines and lockdown.
Consilience allows us to understand ourselves, and those around us, at deeper levels and more honestly than before — enabling us to dialogue about our differences more productively.
We have arrived at a point where the walls between different domains in academia — and in our minds — are being breached.
Consilience illuminates new paths forward.
- Consilience is Necessarily Challenging — https://tombeakbane.medium.com/why-consilience-is-necessarily-challenging-4a0a282ee8db
- What is Consilience — https://youtu.be/p4DeBJEmGiw
- Book: How to Understand Everything. Consilience: A New Way to See the World. — https://mybook.to/Understand_Everything
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