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Mon, Dec. 5th, 2005, 05:48 pm
lil_goat: Chapter 9- The Social Sciences

In chapter 9, Wilson described the social sciences and explained why they are not doing all that is possible to achieve consilience. The social sciences consist of anthropology, sociology, economics and political science. Wilson stated that people expect these sciences to help us understand our lives and to help us determine our futures. He said that they are not doing a good job of this because of their pointed refusal to link themselves to the natural sciences.
Wilson also pointed out that a large problem faced by the social sciences is that each branch has its own vocabulary that is not common across the domains, making it nearly impossible from the start to reach consilience. I would argue that the social sciences are not alone—educational psychology journals are filled with arguments over precise wording and definitions. He noted that the social sciences in general and especially anthropologists flat-out rejected biology in the 1960’s because of the concept of Social Darwinism and its commentary on racism.
However, some anthropologists have begun to break from the cultural anthropologists, who see culture as being free of the genetic history of humans. These biological anthropologists look at culture as being linked to biological evolution. Sociology, which was described by Wilson as the study of humans living in complex societies such as our own, has steered completely clear of biology.
Wilson made the interesting point that the social sciences resemble the natural sciences in their beginning stages. They lack causal explanation and are making lateral instead of vertical analyses. Wilson noted that if the natural sciences had stopped where the social sciences have insisted upon stopping, modern medicine would be non-existent and we would not have made most of the advances that science has made today.
According to Wilson, the efforts made to link the natural sciences to the social sciences have all been made on the part of the natural sciences. For instance, cognitive neuroscience now takes elements of cognitive psychology into account. As another example, evolutionary biology looks at social factors and attempts to explain them using evolutionary theory.
Finally, Wilson discussed economics, which he claims are the closest social science domain to achieving consilience. The field already has a strong background by using mathematical models, but it still lacks a true theory. Economists have poor predictive power when it comes to applying their models to the real world. Wilson insisted that all they have to do is start considering biological and psychological principles and true advances will begin to be made.

Fri, Jan. 6th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
lil_goat

Hah- I was actually reading it for a book discussion group that I was taking for credit. The idea was that everyone was too busy to meet up at school, so I was going to post summaries and we could all participate online. Sadly, no one participated. I really was interested in reading it though- I was really curious to see what he would do with the topic.

The overall feeling I got from this book was that it is a fine idea. In theory, it's really quite great. The problems for me are 1)I think Wilson took a waaaaaaaay biologically centered point of view. Which is understandable, as he is a biologist. However, it was probably not the appropriate tone for non-biologists. 2)Not everyone wants to use scientific methods in their areas of study.

What brought you to this book?

Thu, Jan. 12th, 2006 04:58 am (UTC)
lil_goat

It was a directed reading- so essentially I read and thought about the book for credit.

I'm in an educational psychology grad program, by the way, which is I think sort of like cognitive psych with a focus on learning.