Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities

Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities

Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities

Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities


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 takes a new approach to bridging the cultures of science and the humanities. The editors and contributors formulate how to develop a new shared framework of consilience beyond mere interdisciplinarity, in a way that both sides can accept.


Edward Slingerland and Mark Collard

This volume emerged out of a workshop called “Integrating Science and the Humanities,” held at the University of British Columbia in September 2008. the relationship between the sciences and the humanities has long been a fraught one—a tension famously captured by C.P. Snow in the phrase “The Two Cultures” (Snow 1959/ 1993). the belief that humanists study “texts”—in the broad sense that this term has acquired in recent decades—whereas scientists study “things” is still commonplace in modern universities. the two groups typically perform their work in different parts of the campus, are served by separate funding agencies, and are governed in their work by radically different methodologies and theoretical assumptions. Attempts to bridge the two cultures have often taken the form of hostile takeovers: humanists trying to forcibly bring the work of scientists under the umbrella of arbitrary, interpretable “inscriptions” or scientists arguing for the explanatory irrelevance of human phenomena not amenable to quantification. the purpose of the workshop was to bring together scholars from across the sciences and humanities to explore the potential of an alternative approach—an approach that is referred to as “vertical integration” (Tooby and Cosmides 1992; Slingerland 2008a) or, increasingly commonly, “consilience” (Wilson 1998).

Consilience is often framed in terms of bringing the study of humanistic issues into the same framework as the study of non-human species and non-biotic phenomena (e.g., Tooby & Cosmides 1992; Wilson 1998; Dennett 2009). However, we think this way

1. the workshop was made possible by a grant from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Additional support was provided by the Office of the Dean of Arts, the Brain Research Centre, the Cognitive Systems Programme, and the Departments of Psychology, Anthropology, English, Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Asian Studies. For a full list of participants, all of whom contributed to this volume—if only through their questions and comments—see Appendix A. Videos of the workshop presentations and discussion sessions can be watched at http://www.sci-hum.

2. See, e.g., such classic examples of “strong program” science studies as Latour and Woolgar 1979/ 1986, or more recent calls for the humanities to subsume nature science into its magisterium of interpretation (Menand 2005).

3. For a recent characterization and critique of such “scientism” in the field of religious studies, see Cho and Squier 2008.

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