In science and history, consilience (also convergence of evidence or concordance of evidence) refers to the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can "converge" on strong conclusions. That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own. Most established scientific knowledge is supported by a convergence of evidence: if not, the evidence is comparatively weak, and there will not likely be a strong scientific consensus.

The principle is based on the unity of knowledge; measuring the same result by several different methods should lead to the same answer. For example, it should not matter whether one measures the distance between the Giza pyramid complex by laser rangefinding, by satellite imaging, or with a meter stick – in all three cases, the answer should be approximately the same. For the same reason, different dating methods in geochronology should concur, a result in chemistry should not contradict a result in geology, etc.

The word consilience was originally coined as the phrase "consilience of inductions" by William Whewell ("consilience" refers to a "jumping together" of knowledge).[1][2] The word comes from Latin com- "together" and -siliens "jumping" (as in resilience).[3]


Consilience requires the use of independent methods of measurement, meaning that the methods have few shared characteristics. That is, the mechanism by which the measurement is made is different; each method is dependent on an unrelated natural phenomenon. For example, the accuracy of laser rangefinding measurements is based on the scientific understanding of lasers, while satellite pictures and meter sticks rely on different phenomena. Because the methods are independent, when one of several methods is in error, it is very unlikely to be in error in the same way as any of the other methods, and a difference between the measurements will be observed.[note 1] If the scientific understanding of the properties of lasers were inaccurate, then the laser measurement would be inaccurate but the others would not.

As a result, when several different methods agree, this is strong evidence that none of the methods are in error and the conclusion is correct. This is because of a greatly reduced likelihood of errors: for a consensus estimate from multiple measurements to be wrong, the errors would have to be similar for all samples and all methods of measurement, which is extremely unlikely. Random errors will tend to cancel out as more measurements are made, due to regression to the mean; systematic errors will be detected by differences between the measurements (and will also tend to cancel out since the direction of the error will still be random). This is how scientific theories reach high confidence – over time, they build up a large degree of evidence which converges on the same conclusion.[note 2]

When results from different strong methods do appear to conflict, this is treated as a serious problem to be reconciled. For example, in the 19th century, the Sun appeared to be no more than 20 million years old, but the Earth appeared to be no less than 300 million years (resolved by the discovery of nuclear fusion and radioactivity, and the theory of quantum mechanics);[4] or current attempts to resolve theoretical differences between quantum mechanics and general relativity.[5]


Because of consilience, the strength of evidence for any particular conclusion is related to how many independent methods are supporting the conclusion, as well as how different these methods are. Those techniques with the fewest (or no) shared characteristics provide the strongest consilience and result in the strongest conclusions. This also means that confidence is usually strongest when considering evidence from different fields, because the techniques are usually very different.

For example, the theory of evolution is supported by a convergence of evidence from genetics, molecular biology, paleontology, geology, biogeography, comparative anatomy, comparative physiology, and many other fields.[6] In fact, the evidence within each of these fields is itself a convergence providing evidence for the theory. (As a result, to disprove evolution, most or all of these independent lines of evidence would have to be found to be in error.[2]) The strength of the evidence, considered together as a whole, results in the strong scientific consensus that the theory is correct.[6] In a similar way, evidence about the history of the universe is drawn from astronomy, astrophysics, planetary geology, and physics.[2]

Finding similar conclusions from multiple independent methods is also evidence for the reliability of the methods themselves, because consilience eliminates the possibility of all potential errors that do not affect all the methods equally. This is also used for the validation of new techniques through comparison with the consilient ones. If only partial consilience is observed, this allows for the detection of errors in methodology; any weaknesses in one technique can be compensated for by the strengths of the others. Alternatively, if using more than one or two techniques for every experiment is infeasible, some of the benefits of consilience may still be obtained if it is well-established that these techniques usually give the same result.

Consilience is important across all of science, including the social sciences,[7] and is often used as an argument for scientific realism by philosophers of science. Each branch of science studies a subset of reality that depends on factors studied in other branches. Atomic physics underlies the workings of chemistry, which studies emergent properties that in turn are the basis of biology. Psychology is not separate from the study of properties emergent from the interaction of neurons and synapses. Sociology, economics, and anthropology are each, in turn, studies of properties emergent from the interaction of countless individual humans. The concept that all the different areas of research are studying one real, existing universe is an apparent explanation of why scientific knowledge determined in one field of inquiry has often helped in understanding other fields.


Consilience does not forbid deviations: in fact, since not all experiments are perfect, some deviations from established knowledge are expected. However, when the convergence is strong enough, then new evidence inconsistent with the previous conclusion is not usually enough to outweigh that convergence. Without an equally strong convergence on the new result, the weight of evidence will still favor the established result. This means that the new evidence is most likely to be wrong.

Science denialism (for example, AIDS denialism) is often based on a misunderstanding of this property of consilience. A denier may promote small gaps not yet accounted for by the consilient evidence, or small amounts of evidence contradicting a conclusion without accounting for the pre-existing strength resulting from consilience. More generally, to insist that all evidence converge precisely with no deviations would be naïve falsificationism,[8] equivalent to considering a single contrary result to falsify a theory when another explanation, such as equipment malfunction or misinterpretation of results, is much more likely.[8][note 3]

In history

Historical evidence also converges in an analogous way. For example: if five ancient historians, none of whom knew each other, all claim that Julius Caesar seized power in Rome in 49 BCE, this is strong evidence in favor of that event occurring even if each individual historian is only partially reliable. By contrast, if the same historian had made the same claim five times in five different places (and no other types of evidence were available), the claim is much weaker because it originates from a single source. The evidence from the ancient historians could also converge with evidence from other fields, such as archaeology: for example, evidence that many senators fled Rome at the time, that the battles of Caesar’s civil war occurred, and so forth.

Consilience has also been discussed in reference to Holocaust denial.

"We [have now discussed] eighteen proofs all converging on one conclusion...the deniers shift the burden of proof to historians by demanding that each piece of evidence, independently and without corroboration between them, prove the Holocaust. Yet no historian has ever claimed that one piece of evidence proves the Holocaust. We must examine the collective whole."[2]

That is, individually the evidence may underdetermine the conclusion, but together they overdetermine it. A similar way to state this is that to ask for one particular piece of evidence in favor of a conclusion is a flawed question.[6][9]

Outside the sciences

In addition to the sciences, consilience can be important to the arts, ethics and religion. Both artists and scientists have identified the importance of biology in the process of artistic innovation.[1]

History of the concept

Consilience has its roots in the ancient Greek concept of an intrinsic orderliness that governs our cosmos, inherently comprehensible by logical process, a vision at odds with mystical views in many cultures that surrounded the Hellenes. The rational view was recovered during the high Middle Ages, separated from theology during the Renaissance and found its apogee in the Age of Enlightenment.[1]

Whewell’s definition was that:[10]

The Consilience of Inductions takes place when an Induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an Induction obtained from another different class. Thus Consilience is a test of the truth of the Theory in which it occurs.

More recent descriptions include:

"Where there is convergence of evidence, where the same explanation is implied, there is increased confidence in the explanation. Where there is divergence, then either the explanation is at fault or one or more of the sources of information is in error or requires reinterpretation."[11]

"Proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry--multiple, independent inductions, all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion."[6]

Edward O. Wilson

Although the concept of consilience in Whewell's sense was widely discussed by philosophers of science, the term was unfamiliar to the broader public until the end of the 20th century, when it was revived in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, a 1998 book by the humanist biologist Edward Osborne Wilson, as an attempt to bridge the culture gap between the sciences and the humanities that was the subject of C. P. Snow's The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959).[1]

Wilson held that with the rise of the modern sciences, the sense of unity gradually was lost in the increasing fragmentation and specialization of knowledge in the last two centuries. He asserted that the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give a purpose to understanding the details, to lend to all inquirers "a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws." An important point made by Wilson is that hereditary human nature and evolution itself profoundly effect the evolution of culture, in essence a sociobiological concept. Wilson's concept is a much broader notion of consilience than that of Whewell, who was merely pointing out that generalizations invented to account for one set of phenomena often account for others as well.[1]

A parallel view lies in the term universology, which literally means "the science of the universe." Universology was first promoted for the study of the interconnecting principles and truths of all domains of knowledge by Stephen Pearl Andrews, a 19th-century utopian futurist and anarchist.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Note that this is not the same as performing the same measurement several times. While repetition does provide evidence because it shows that the measurement is being performed consistently, it would not be consilience and would be more vulnerable to error.
  2. ^ Statistically, if three different tests are each 90% reliable when they give a positive result, a positive result from all three tests would be 99.9% reliable; five such tests would be 99.999% reliable, and so forth. This requires the tests to be statistically independent, analogous to the requirement for independence in the methods of measurement.
  3. ^ More generally, anything which results in a false positive or false negative.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Wilson, Edward O (1998). Consilience: the unity of knowledge. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-45077-1. OCLC 36528112.
  2. ^ a b c d Shermer, Michael (2000). Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it?. University of California Press.
  3. ^ consilience Online etymology dictionary. Accessed: 17 October 2015.
  4. ^ John N. Bahcall,
  5. ^ Weinberg, S (1993). Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature. Vintage Books, New York.
  6. ^ a b c d Scientific American, March 2005. "The Fossil Fallacy." Link.
  7. ^ For example, in linguistics: see Converging Evidence: Methodological and theoretical issues for linguistic research, edited by Doris Schonefeld. Link.
  8. ^ a b For example, see Imre Lakatos., in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970).
  9. ^ Shermer, Michael (2002). In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace. Oxford University Press. p. 319.
  10. ^ Whewell, William (1840). The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded Upon Their History. 2 vols. London: John W. Parker.
  11. ^ A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography, section 28. Aviezer Tucker (editor).

External links

Consilience (book)

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge is a 1998 book by biologist E. O. Wilson, in which the author discusses methods that have been used to unite the sciences and might in the future unite them with the humanities. Wilson uses the term consilience to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor.

Consilience (disambiguation)

Consilience is the principle that approaching the same problem by different methods should produce the same result.

Consilience may also refer to:

Consilience (book), a 1998 book about consilience by E.O. Wilson

Consilience (journal), a journal of sustainability science

Consilient, a defunct Canadian technology company

Consilience Wines

Consilience Wines is a family-owned winery located in Solvang California and was established in 1994.

Constructive empiricism

In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.

David C. Rowe

David C. Rowe (27 September 1949 – 2 February 2003) was an American psychology professor known for his work studying genetic and environmental influences on adolescent onset behaviors such as delinquency and smoking.Rowe earned his A.B. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was a student at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

Rowe was well known for his work on the genes and the environment: how they interact, what the limits of environment and genes might be, and what mechanisms implement these effects. He also focussed on articulating the different realms of the social environment: shared in families, unique to individuals, neighbourhood or nation level social and cultural effects. His book The Limits of Family Influence: Genes, Experience and Behaviour brought together much of this work.

This work led to several substantive findings on shared and nonshared environmental influences; seminal work on the heritability of parenting behaviors (the genetics of the environment for children); on the heritability of antisocial behavior; race differences and their causes; for testing the interaction of education, and social class with genes in the development of intelligence; and for blending behavioral and molecular genetics. He made several methodological contributions, including work on modeling of means and covariances with raw data, the utility of the DeFries–Fulker analysis, and measured genes and environmental influences. The Add Health data featured in much of his research, and he served as the main geneticist on this large and influential survey of over 90,000 adolescents across the United States.Rowe's work highlighted the often surprising immunity of mental states to social circumstances, reporting that "great fortune does not guarantee happiness; neither does great misfortune assure depression". This led to his positing of biological set points as a mechanism for stability, as well as arguing for indirect genetic effects: that different genotypes would cause different people to react to the same environment in different ways, and, moreover, that individuals expose themselves to different social environments. This led to ideas about active seeking and environment construction, as well the idea that exposure to (controllable) life events may result partly from genetic predisposition. He was an advocate of Consilience: including biological individuality along with social, psychological, and cultural factors in any understanding of human behavior.

In 1994 he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence," an editorial written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal, which declared the consensus of the signing scholars on issues related to intelligence research following the publication of the book The Bell Curve. Rowe's work frequently supported hereditarianism.

E. O. Wilson

Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, theorist, naturalist and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he has been called the world's leading expert.Wilson has been called "the father of sociobiology" and "the father of biodiversity” for his environmental advocacy, and his secular-humanist and deist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters. Among his greatest contributions to ecological theory is the theory of island biogeography, which he developed in collaboration with the mathematical ecologist Robert MacArthur. This theory served as the foundation of the field of conservation area design, as well as the unified neutral theory of biodiversity of Stephen Hubbell.

Wilson is the Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, a lecturer at Duke University, and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (for On Human Nature in 1979, and The Ants in 1991) and a New York Times bestselling author for The Social Conquest of Earth, Letters to a Young Scientist, and The Meaning of Human Existence.

Energy in Laos

This page describes energy and electricity production, consumption and import in Laos.

Epistemological idealism

Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.

History of the social sciences

The history of the social sciences has origin in the common stock of Western philosophy and shares various precursors, but began most intentionally in the early 19th century with the positivist philosophy of science. Since the mid-20th century, the term "social science" has come to refer more generally, not just to sociology, but to all those disciplines which analyse society and culture; from anthropology to linguistics to media studies.

The idea that society may be studied in a standardized and objective manner, with scholarly rules and methodology, is comparatively recent. While there is evidence of early sociology in medieval Islam, and while philosophers such as Confucius had long since theorised on topics such as social roles, the scientific analysis of "Man" is peculiar to the intellectual break away from the Age of Enlightenment and toward the discourses of Modernity. Social sciences came forth from the moral philosophy of the time and was influenced by the Age of Revolutions, such as the Industrial revolution and the French revolution. The beginnings of the social sciences in the 18th century are reflected in the grand encyclopedia of Diderot, with articles from Rousseau and other pioneers.

Around the start of the 20th century, Enlightenment philosophy was challenged in various quarters. After the use of classical theories since the end of the scientific revolution, various fields substituted mathematics studies for experimental studies and examining equations to build a theoretical structure. The development of social science subfields became very quantitative in methodology. Conversely, the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary nature of scientific inquiry into human behavior and social and environmental factors affecting it made many of the natural sciences interested in some aspects of social science methodology. Examples of boundary blurring include emerging disciplines like social studies of medicine, sociobiology, neuropsychology, bioeconomics and the history and sociology of science. Increasingly, quantitative and qualitative methods are being integrated in the study of human action and its implications and consequences. In the first half of the 20th century, statistics became a free-standing discipline of applied mathematics. Statistical methods were used confidently.

In the contemporary period, there continues to be little movement toward consensus on what methodology might have the power and refinement to connect a proposed "grand theory" with the various midrange theories that, with considerable success, continue to provide usable frameworks for massive, growing data banks. See consilience.

Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association

The Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association is an annual peer-reviewed academic journal published by the Australian Early Medieval Association. It covers research on the early Middle Ages, broadly defined as the period from the late Roman Empire to the Norman Conquest (roughly 400 CE to 1100 CE). It examines art history, archaeology, literature, linguistics, music, and theology, and from any interpretive angle – memory, gender, historiography, medievalism, and consilience. It was established in 2005 and the editor-in-chief is Geoffrey D. Dunn (Australian Catholic University). The journal is abstracted and indexed in Scopus.

Kris Gopalakrishnan

Senapathy Gopalakrishnan, popularly known as Kris Gopalakrishnan, is Chairman of Axilor Ventures, a company supporting and funding startups, was former executive vice chairman (former co-chairman) of Infosys, a global consulting and IT services company based in India. He is also one of its seven founders. He was elected as the president of India's apex industry chamber Confederation of Indian Industry for the year 2013-14.

Literature-based discovery

Literature-based discovery is a form of knowledge extraction and automated hypothesis generation that uses papers and other academic publications (the "literature") to find new relationships between existing knowledge (the "discovery"). The technique was pioneered by Don R. Swanson in the 1980s and has since seen widespread use.

Literature-based discovery does not generate new knowledge through laboratory experiments, as is customary for empirical sciences. Instead it seeks to connect existing knowledge from empirical results by bringing to light relationships that are implicated and "neglected". It is marked by empiricism and rationalism in concert or consilience.

Sustainability science

Sustainability science emerged in the 21st century as a new academic discipline. This new field of science was officially introduced with a "Birth Statement" at the World Congress "Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001" in Amsterdam organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

The field reflects a desire to give the generalities and broad-based approach of “sustainability” a stronger analytic and scientific underpinning as it "brings together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicine". Ecologist William C. Clark proposes that it can be usefully thought of as "neither 'basic' nor 'applied' research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs" and that it "serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two".The field is focused on examining the interactions between human, environmental, and engineered systems to understand and contribute to solutions for complex challenges that threaten the future of humanity and the integrity of the life support systems of the planet, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and land and water degradation.Sustainability science, like sustainability itself, derives some impetus from the concepts of sustainable development and environmental science. Sustainability science provides a critical framework for sustainability while sustainability measurement provides the evidence-based quantitative data needed to guide sustainability governance.

The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox

The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox (2003) is Stephen Jay Gould's posthumous volume exploring the historically complex relationship between the sciences and the humanities in a scholarly discourse.

Employing the Greek proverb about the crafty cunning fox that devises many strategies versus the persistent hedgehog who knows one effective strategy, Gould offers a study of the division between the two ways of knowing, attempting to debunk the commonly assumed inextricable conflict between science and the arts as the two falsely opposed realms of the pursuit of knowledge.

Tree of knowledge system

The tree of knowledge (ToK) system is a theoretical approach to the unification of psychology developed by Gregg Henriques, associate professor and director of the Combined-Integrated Doctoral Program in Clinical and School Psychology at James Madison University.The outline of the system was published in 2003 in Review of General Psychology. Two special issues of the Journal of Clinical Psychology in December 2004 and January 2005 were devoted to the elaboration and evaluation of the model. The latest evaluation of this model appeared in a December 2008 special issue of Theory & Psychology''.

The official website on the tree of knowledge system claims that the ToK is

a new unified theory of knowledge that maps the pieces of the scientific puzzle in a novel way that connects Quantum Mechanics to Sociological processes and everything in between into a coherent whole. The most novel aspect of the ToK is its visuo-spatial depiction of knowledge as consisting of four dimensions of complexity (Matter, Life, Mind, and Culture) that correspond to the behavior of four classes of objects (material objects, organisms, animals, and humans), and four classes of science (physical, biological, psychological, and social).

Unity of science

The unity of science is a thesis in philosophy of science that says that all the sciences form a unified whole.


Universology literally means "the science of the universe." Popularizing universologic science was a life's work for 19th century intellectual Stephen Pearl Andrews, a futurist utopian. The word can be used synonymously with consilience, a term Edward Osborne Wilson has popularized with his writings elucidating the apparent unity of all knowledge.

In recent years, Dr. Mamoru Mohri, Japan's first astronaut and Director of Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, has popularized and expanded on universology. For Mohri the universological worldview was an epiphany after seeing the planet from space on two missions in the 1990s, and he has become the chief proponent of universology today. "Everything in this universe is part of an uninterrupted sequence of events" Mohri has said.

In 1872 Andrews published "The Basic Outline of Universology" which was subtitled "An introduction to the newly discovered science of the universe, its elementary principles, and the first stages of their development in the special sciences."

Ilya Romanovich Prigogine (born on January 25, 1917) was a Belgian and American physicist and chemist who was born in Russia and became a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry. In the book "Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue With Nature", which he co-wrote with Isabelle Stengers, another professor at Prigogine's group in the University of Brussels, Prigogine states:

"Altogether, we tend to accept the idea propelled by Dialectical Materialism, regarding the necessity of overcoming the antithesis of humane, historical realm and the material world, perceived as atemporal. We do believe, that the setting rapprochement of these opposites will have to be enhanced, as there will be new approaches which will outline the internally evolving Universe, which we are part of." A central aspect of the ways of "outlining the internally evolving Universe", that is what Universology is all about.

Vinson Valega

Vinson Valega (born March 12, 1965 in Silver Spring, Maryland) is a jazz musician, composer, media producer, and website designer who resides in New York City. Valega is also involved in environmental issues and progressive activism. Inspired by the concept of Consilience that was first developed by the socio-biologist, Edward O. Wilson, he is stimulating a "dialogue BEYOND music" at his non-profit, artist-run music production company, Consilience Productions. He is also a professional video producer and founder of Mill City Profiles.

William Whewell

Rev Dr William Whewell DD HFRSE ( HEW-əl; 24 May 1794 – 6 March 1866) was an English polymath, scientist, Anglican priest, philosopher, theologian, and historian of science. He was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. In his time as a student there, he achieved distinction in both poetry and mathematics.

What is most often remarked about Whewell is the breadth of his endeavours. In a time of increasing specialisation, Whewell appears as a vestige of an earlier era when natural philosophers dabbled in a bit of everything. He researched ocean tides (for which he won the Royal Medal), published work in the disciplines of mechanics, physics, geology, astronomy, and economics, while also finding the time to compose poetry, author a Bridgewater Treatise, translate the works of Goethe, and write sermons and theological tracts. In mathematics, Whewell introduced what is now called the Whewell equation, an equation defining the shape of a curve without reference to an arbitrarily chosen coordinate system.

One of Whewell's greatest gifts to science was his wordsmithing. He often corresponded with many in his field and helped them come up with new terms for their discoveries. Whewell contributed the terms scientist, physicist, linguistics, consilience, catastrophism, uniformitarianism, and astigmatism amongst others; Whewell suggested the terms electrode, ion, dielectric, anode, and cathode to Michael Faraday.Whewell died in Cambridge in 1866 as a result of a fall from his horse.

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