Oh, dear it’s already six well…I suppose I’ll just post this introduction to a book review I plan to get on with some time this week.
Before I go into the actual review I’d like to frame it with a few observations.
1998 that is the year of publication. That was the cusp of the new millennium. Little wonder that Wilson saw it fitting or was inspired to write a book like Consiliecne. A book that calls for the sort of cooperation and integrative analysis upon which a fast-pasted, complex, and deeply interconnected future must depend.
I am sixty years younger than the professor. Yet even I witnessed the sort of fundamental technological and societal transition that must have been spectacularly apparent to an attentive person as the 20th century unfolded.
Wilson was born in 1929 and I in 1989. He had firsthand experience of the development of modern airlines, of the civil rights movement, and the rise of computing from primitive room consuming vacuum tube driven monstrosities to the button sized micro-processors of today. I mention this because I have long been eager to relate my fascination and concern with people thrown headlong into the internet age without any real exposure to legacy technology.
I spent my youngest years in Russia. From 1989 to 1998 I was Moscow born and bred. I do not know if my contemporaries state side had as much exposure to older gadgetry as I. But I remember having to use a rotatory phone without irony or affectation. That was my idea of a phone. I also recall women pickling as matter of course rather than as a precious yuppie hobby. Washboards were standard. I don’t think I ever saw a washing machine till after I landed in Atlanta. I remember water based heating systems, archaic toilets, and most of all I remember the sense of having to learn to write well and legibly.
It is the latter point that I wish to stress the most. There is something sacred about writing by hand. About the febrile nature of paper. The care and attention that both author and postman have to give to a letter to deliver through a cold vastness to its intended recipient is a thing of magic. I love typing, I am very much a techie but there is a lot lost in that efficiency.
The geometric patterns of cursive script coupled with the more robust and refined physicality of guiding pen over paper is a transcendant experience. It is one I hold in special esteem because it is the first real form of the development of the formalization of thought, dream, and drive being preserved and thus rendered transmissible. The manner of conceptualizing and abstracting that led to the creation of the modern world owes its existence to writing. This is why I feel it necessary to promote its rawest and most ancient techniques as ones whose preeminence should not be allowed to dwindle.
One of the main themes that seems to run through Consilience is the stifling nature of over-specialization. I feel this to be a valid sentiment. So valid that it’s a fact. I think that over-specialization, professional, and social nearsightedness is due in part to an atrophying of humanistic arts like handwriting. Craftsmanship and artistry seriously executed as discipline provide a fertile ground from which good science and sound philosophy can spring.
This is a sentiment that I think E.O. Wilson would agree with for reasons that should become apparent as I outline and review this timely and worthy work.
The review will be posted by next Friday.