Consilience

2001-12-18

Here are some passages I found of interest in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson (New York: Knopf, 1998)....

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Science perceives who can feel blue and other sensations and who cannot feel them, and explains why that difference exists. Art in contrast transmits feelings among persons of the same capacity. In other words, science explains feeling, while art transmits it. [117]

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On the universals of culture (cf. George P. Murdock in Linton, The Science of Man in the World Crisis [1945], a concept that was updated by Donald E. Brown, Human Universals [1991]):

There are sixty-seven universals in the list: age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, weaving. [147]

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On archetypes in myth and fiction (a list derived from Joseph Campbell and others), pp. 223-224:

In the beginning, the people are created by gods, or the mating of giants, or the clash of titans; in any case, they begin as special beings at the center of the world.

The tribe emigrates to a promised land (or Arcadia, or the Secret Valley, or the New World).

The tribe meets the forces of evil in a desperate battle for survival; it triumphs against heavy odds.

The hero descends to hell, or is exiled to wilderness, or experiences an iliad in a distant land; he returns in an odyssey against all odds past fearsome obstacles along the way, to complete his destiny.

The world ends in apocalypse, by flood, fire, alien conquerors, or avenging gods; it is restored by a band of heroic survivors.

A source of great power is found in the tree of life, the river of life, philosopher's stone, sacred incantation, forbidden ritual, secret formula.

The nurturing woman is apotheosized as the Great Goddess, the Great Mother, Holy Woman, Divine Queen, Mother Earth, Gaia.

The seer has special knowledge and powers of mind, available to those worthy to receive it; he is the wise old man or woman, the holy man, the magician, the great shaman.

The Virgin has the power of purity, is the vessel of sacred strength, must be protected at all costs, and perhaps surrendered up to propitiate the gods or demonic forces.

Female sexual awakening is bestowed by the unicorn, the gentle beast, the powerful stranger, the magical kiss.

The Trickster disturbs exstablished order and liberates passion as the god of wine, king of the carnival, eternal youth, clown, jester, clever fool.

A monster threatens humanity, appearing as the serpent demon (Satan writhing at the bottom of hell), dragon, gorgon, golem, vampire.

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Successful religions begin as cults, which then increase in power and inclusiveness until they achieve tolerance outside the circle of believers. At the core of each religion is a creation myth, which explains how the world began and how the chosen people -- those subscribing to the belief system -- arrived at its center. There is often a mystery, a set of secret instruction and formulas available only to hierophants who have worked their way to a higher state of enlightenment.... Power radiates from the center, gathering converts and binding followers to the group.... The devotees of the religion compete as a tribe with those of other religions. They harshly resist the dismissal of their beliefs by rivals. They venerate self-sacrifice in defense of the religion. [256]


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