The possibility and availability of wholistic integration is an important one, and it is worth considering these ideas apart from the specific contexts of the last two chapters. Moreover, it is important to consider integration with respect to relationships on both personal and societal levels. After all, general philosophy may have its interest, and even its fascinations, but it does not, even when it deals with ethics, tell a wholistic story.
In each of the last two chapters a four-fold model of the person in a cultural context was presented--once to discuss the nature of learning, and once to explain religion. It has been an important theme of this book that specialization and compartmentalization, that, of necessity, characterized the machine age, will not be the dominant features of the next civilization (once it is mature) or at least that they will be very much muted. Instead, far more people will be required by the nature of their work to be generalists, and by the nature of society to be less private, more open, and more consistent.
Beyond that, it is the premise here that all aspects of knowledge, understanding, behaviour, emotion, and being are interwoven (the principle of connectedness), even when they have not been perceived as such.
The academics of the industrial age, and in particular its latter-day postmodernists deconstructed that seamless whole into a series of apparently disconnected and supposedly meaningless fragments. However, this lack of connectivity is just an illusion fostered by the inability of any one person to organize vast quantities of material, diverse forms of experiences, and different modes of learning. Computing and information technology removes such limitations and enable all forms of knowledge to be examined for interconnections.
These tasks can also be described in the definition of a term that has already been used informally several times:
Integration is the process of decompartmentalizing, connecting, and generalizing beliefs, knowledge, experience, and relationships, thus showing that what appear to be fragments are actually a seamless whole.
The essential idea behind fourth civilization integration is that its new paradigms and technologies enable a more wholistic approach to being, knowing, feeling, and relating. Not only can each of these be broadened, enhanced, and de-specialized, but they can be better interconnected with one another, or decompartmentalized. The process is one of re-conceptualizing the knowledge as a whole from its postmodern fragments. It is important to realize, however, that such a result is only enabled by new technologies and new ways of thinking--it is not guaranteed. As remarked in the sections on the use of the Metalibrary, people would as easily be able to tailor its facilities so as to reinforce their existing world views (filters on the body of knowledge) and thus simply ignore any one else's. It is also conceivable that a totalitarian regime of political or religious origin might be able to enforce a certain world view and set of relationships on its people, at least for a time.
The argument that all knowledge has always been part of a seamless whole waiting to be discovered or at least assembled is far from new. Neither is it unique to this text. In his 1998 book Consilience--The Unity of Knowledge, noted philosopher of science, Edward O. Wilson, argues this point in a powerful manner.
"Most of the issues that vex humanity daily--ethnic conflict, arms escalation, overpopulation, abortion, environment, endemic poverty, to cite several persistently before us--cannot be solved without integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities. Only fluency across the boundaries will provide a clear view of the world as it really is... Wilson: Consilience--The Unity of Knowledge, p. 13
This, according to Wilson, was not only the view of the Enlightenment, it is the only correct way to approach knowledge. He presses an integration of the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, the arts, religion, and ethics, with arguments similar to those already familiar to readers of earlier chapters of this book. Wilson calls the empirical process of joining knowledge together by the linkage of facts and fact-based theories "consilience," and views the ability for some fact or idea to become a part of the whole in this specific way to be the only possible test of its truth. To Wilson, if something is not scientifically integrable with the whole, it is not knowledge.
Central to Wilson's thesis is that knowledge can only be unified under the rubric of evolution, and that the empiricism of the natural scientist is the sole valid means by which anything--including ethics--can be known. In all realms, humans are, believe, emote, act, think, and perceive as they do, according to Wilson, because they have evolved to do so down through the millennia in a self-organizing and entirely autonomous fashion. They need only understand what they have evolved into, and they will know everything else as a by-product. His faith is that the scientific method in general, and evolutionary biology in particular will ultimately explain and subsume everything else.
"Once we get over the shock of discovering that the universe was not made with us in mind, all the meaning that the brain can master, and all the emotions it can bear, and all the shared adventure we may wish to enjoy, can be found by deciphering the hereditary orderliness that has borne our species through geological time, and stamped it with the residues of deep history. Reason will be advanced to new levels, and emotions played in potentially infinite patterns. The true will be sorted from the false, and we will understand each other very well, the more quickly because we are all of the same species and possess biologically similar brains." Wilson: Consilience--The Unity of Knowledge, p. 43
Thus, Wilson's consilience is a sweepingly general process by which autonomously evolved humankind builds an understanding of evolution, and so takes control of its own evolution. It is a rational and empirical joining of knowledge to demonstrate truth by virtue of its unity under the rubric of evolution. Anything that cannot be conciliated empirically is not knowledge; indeed it may not be anything. Wilson's view could be summarized:
However compelling to the secularist, Wilson's argument for what amounts to a revival of logical positivism hinges on some important presuppositions, none of which are provable by empirical methods. Here are some of them:
1. That self-directing evolution is not just an organizing paradigm, but a historical fact, even though unverifiable,
2. That a transcendental creator-God not only can be dispensed with as a hypothesis, but that Wilson can himself positively and accurately assert that no such being exists,
3. That empiricism will eventually become capable of explaining ultimate meaning as well as of describing and organizing some kinds of facts and theories, even though it has never before been capable of this,
4. That the mind can be completely understood by a scientific description of the brain, and
5. That religion itself is only an evolved internalized mechanism growing out of the survival value of ethical behaviour.
However, an almighty God who created the universe as something other than Himself could only be known if He chose to reveal Himself in that universe. Lacking such action, no empirical method could uncover one who exists outside the universe He created. Such a failure is not evidence that God does not exist, it only reflects on the inability of the human senses to judge and measure one who transcends those faculties by virtue of being their creator. To be sure, some of the creator's qualities might be inferred from the physical world, but He personally could not be deduced, reduced, described or related to without moving beyond the physical. Thus, in promoting what amounts to an aggressive atheism as the conciliator of all knowledge, Wilson makes himself the transcendent arbiter of ultimate truth--and in areas not knowable by him in the exclusive manner he proposes for discovering that truth.
Thus, there is plenty of space for an opposing view, and as in other contexts in this textbook, the obvious candidate is design--a position that must be taken by most Christians, and likely will be by those of many other religions as well. In this view, knowledge is a seamless whole not because it happens to have become self-woven with the thread of human evolution, but because it comes from an integral God whose creation was always a well-designed integral whole, and can only be perceived correctly as such--not in limited fragments.
In this view, it is not the process (consilience-integration) of building up the whole from parts that is the primary focus. Integration of parts is here not the end of an evolution of wholistic knowledge, but a means to discover and demonstrate that all creation was from the beginning well-designed intentionally and elegantly as a seamless whole in order to glorify the creator. This could be summarized as:
Thus, while "consilience" is a process of pulling (literally "jumping") together pieces of empirical knowledge into a coherently evolved whole, "concinnity" describes the well-designedness of creation that humankind can discover by virtue of having been made in the image of the creator and so having the capacity of thinking His thoughts after Him. Further, while consilience limits itself to the empirical and has no referents external to humankind, the creator's concinnity necessarily includes the spiritual or transcendental realm as well.
The two positions differ sharply on whether integration is an end in itself (consilience) or a means to the end of discovering a preexisting design (concinnity). They agree, however, that knowledge, understanding, behaviour, emotion, and being need to be seen as inextricably interwoven, either because they were made that way (concinnity) or because it is useful to construct them that way (consilience).