Recommended Reading on: Consilience… or – the unification of knowledge.
(and also for anyone interested in Creativity and Narrative…
and also, perhaps understanding the StoryAlity Theory of film story, in more depth.)
And for a great argument for consilience, see Chapter 22 (pp. 385-409) in:
An excerpt of that wonderful book:
`The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, self-refuting relativism, and suffocating political correctness. Many of its luminaries—Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, the Critical Theorists—are morose cultural pessimists who declare that modernity is odious, all statements are paradoxical, works of art are tools of oppression, liberal democracy is the same as fascism, and Western civilization is circling the drain…
A consilience with science offers the humanities many possibilities for new insight. Art, culture, and society are products of human brains.
They originate in our faculties of perception, thought, and emotion, and they cumulate and spread through the epidemiological dynamics by which one person affects others. Shouldn’t we be curious to understand these connections?
Both sides would win. The humanities would enjoy more of the explanatory depth of the sciences, and a forward-looking agenda that could attract ambitious young talent (not to mention appealing to deans and donors).’ (Pinker 2018, p. 406)
The disciplinary framework of this research on movie success and failure is as follows (the following sets are arithmetically-inclusive).
The nested domains of this interdisciplinary thesis within the discipline of Communications are: Consilience > Systems Theory > Evolution > Creativity > Biology > Culture > Cultural Evolution > Evolutionary Epistemology > Evocriticism > Narratology > Screenwriting > Filmmaking > Memetics.
Most simply, the thesis asks the research question: Why are some movies more viral than others?
Below is a list of *free* online articles – and some not-so-free, but all excellent works, that I would specifically recommend, for anyone interested in: Consilience. And also, Creativity.
(I also cite all these books a lot, in my thesis/dissertation on The top 20 RoI films)
And, if you read all these great books (below), you’ll probably know so much, you may just be able to levitate. Or not.
So.: Consilience = Science meets the Creative Arts/Humanities, by way of the Social Sciences…
Or: what E.O. Wilson calls the unification of “the three great branches of learning”…
Or even – viewed, another way:
And also – for anyone interested in Creativity – in the Arts and Sciences – (which – is usually, the direct result of consilience…)
This quote from Creativity (1996) reveals the connection between Creativity and consilience – :
`An intellectual problem is not restricted to a particular domain. Indeed, some of the most creative breakthroughs occur when an idea that works well in one domain gets grafted to another and revitalizes it.
This was certainly the case with the widespread applications of physics’ quantum theory to neighbouring disciplines like chemistry and astronomy.
Creative people are ever alert to what people over the fence are doing… A large majority of our respondents were inspired by a tension in their domain that became obvious when looked at from the perspective of another domain.
Even though they do not think of themselves as interdisciplinary, their best work bridges realms of ideas.
Their histories tend to cast doubts on the wisdom of overspecialization, where bright young people are trained to become exclusive experts in one field and shun breadth like the plague.’
The above quote also refers exactly to: the way that Professor Joseph Carroll and Professor Brian Boyd (and – many others, see below) have combined Darwinian evolutionary theory with: Literary studies – into `Evocriticism’ – which has totally revitalized the (previously: stale, flat, and unprofitable) domain of: Film and Literature Studies.
Creativity works the same way in the Arts/Humanities (films, novels, music) and the Sciences. And even in academia.
And so, I contend that the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996) is the same mechanism and phenomena as evolutionary epistemology (Popper 1963, 1999; DT Campbell 1960, 1965, 1974).
I recommend watching this 20-min TED Talk, on Creativity, below: (it also has a pretty cool story about Jung, and UFOs. Though, that is hardly the point… just: interesting.)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: on Creativity and `Flow’ – the secret to Happiness
(Distinguished Professor of Psychology Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.)
And then, I would recommend read these articles/essays (all are online), and, in this order:
The Two Cultures – by CP Snow (1959)
The text of `the original 1959 talk’ is here:
Then – I would read this article:
Finding Flow – by Csikszentmihalyi (1997)
(This article by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shows: We all are capable of reaching that state of effortless concentration and enjoyment called “flow.” Here, the man who literally wrote the book on Flow presents his most lucid account yet of how to experience this blissful state.)
Then, this one:
The Creative Personality – by Csikszentmihalyi (1996)
Creativity Across The Lifespan: A systems view – by Csikszentmihalyi (1995)
(This article by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi looks at three major issues related to creativity over a lifespan. They are: what can be learned about creativity; a model of optimal aging; and how to work with creative children. The author based this work on six years of interviews with scores of older adults who are still actively creative.)
So… those are all the (online) articles worth reading, as a start… Then, I would `test out’ all the above ideas, for yourself – see if they actually true for you (i.e. make sense).
i.e. As an experiment, take a close look at your friends – or, anyone you know well, that you would consider `highly creative’, and see if the above matches their personality, for example. (And – a warning: There is also here, a huge risk of becoming personally-convinced that all these ideas about Creativity, and – that it works the same way in the Arts and the Sciences, are 100% right, true and correct!)
Also a very interesting article is this one by creativity scholar Alfonso Montuori:
And so – then I would look at some works in Ev Psych (Evolutionary Psychology, or EP) such as:
Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer – by Leda Cosmides & John Tooby (1997)
This is a short(ish) chapter on the basics of ev psych, and lays the groundwork of EP (Ev Psych).
Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology – by Tooby, J. & Cosmides L. (2005),
A longish chapter in: D. M. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 5–67). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind – by David Buss (2011)
The Adapted Mind – edited by Barkow, Tooby and Cosmides (1995)
The Evolution of Human Sexuality – Donald Symons (1979)
How The Mind Works – by Steven Pinker (1997)
The Blank Slate:The Modern Denial of Human Nature – Steven Pinker (2002)
And also, there is an interesting open-access (free) online article PDF, here: “Why isn’t everyone an Evolutionary Psychologist?” (Burke 2014).
Also as it is in the domain of Evolutionary Psychology, I highly recommend:
Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman 2011)
And then take a look at:
Which includes this explanatory diagram:
And then – with that basis of Evolution – and Evolutionary Psychology, all in mind, see:
And then – given also that Darwin’s work forms the basis of Evolutionary Psychology and Evolutionary Sociology:
On The Origin of Species – by Charles Darwin (1859) – edited and foreword by Joseph Carroll (2004)
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex – by Charles Darwin (1871)
And also – the first book to have photographs in it… (seriously)
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals – by Charles Darwin (1872)
But – there is also an even better option: all 4 of Darwin’s masterpieces – in one book!
From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals) – by Charles Darwin, edited by EO Wilson (2005)
And another great book: Why Evolution Is True (Coyne 2009)
And another is: The Top Ten Myths About Evolution (Smith & Sullivan 2006)
And still another is:
And, then I would read:
Human Universals (Brown 1999)
And then Hierarchy In The Forest:The Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour (Boehm 1999):
And maybe then Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature (Arnhart 1998)
And maybe then: Philosophy of Biology (ed: Ruse 1998)
In which there is this illuminating diagram:
And maybe then:
The Third Culture – by John Brockman (1995)
There are also excerpts from The Third Culture (Brockman 1995) online here.
Also – this paper on the Third Culture. “Toward a Third Culture: Being in Between”, Victoria Vesna, (2001) Leonardo 34 (2), 121-125. Vesna also published “Towards a Third Culture or Working in Between” in SciArt In America” and the full article is online here.
An excerpt from “Towards a Third Culture or Working in Between” (Vesna):
The Methodology of “Anything Goes”: Embracing Paradox, Contradiction and Rhetorical Excess
Much of epistemic relativism in philosophy is understood by the scientific community as violent attacks on science. Frequently quoted in discussions about relativism is Paul Feyerabend, who is also analysed by Sokal and Bricmont. Although acknowledging his complex personality, they write, “Nevertheless, Feyerabend’s writings contain numerous ambiguous and confused statements, which sometimes end in violent attacks on science: attacks which are simultaneously philosophical, historical and political, and in which judgements of fact are mixed with judgement of value.” (pg. 73). Indeed they find his views, in some extreme cases, to have similar problems that they point to with all the other philosophers they critique. His first and most famous book, Against Method (1975), translated into sixteen languages, argued that philosophy cannot provide a methodology and rationale for science since there is no rationale to explain. Particularly inflammatory was his famous “Anything Goes” statement: “All Methodologies have their limitations and the only ‘rule’ that survives is ‘anything goes.’ (Feyerabend, 1975, pg. 296).
In a footnote, Feyerabend suggests that if we assume that science and art share a problem solving attitude, the only significant difference between them would disappear; therefore, we could speak of “styles and preferences for the former, and progress for the latter.” (1975, pg.197)
What is intriguing about Feyerabend is his embrace of paradox, contradiction, and rhetorical excess. He is yet another complex persona who as a teenager studied opera and astronomy simultaneously and envisioned himself working in both fields. Later he kept going back and forth between majoring in physics and philosophy, eventually settling on the latter. Feyerabend studied under Popper at the London School of Economics where he met Lakatos, who urged him to write Against Method. He then moved to Berkeley, where he befriended Kuhn and strongly rejected science as being superior to other modes of knowledge and as a result was labelled by many as an anti-scientist.’
Then I would read Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts (Weisberg 2006)
In particular, noting the section from p 577-581 (of Weisberg 2006):
`Is All Creative Thinking Equivalent to Problem Solving?
An important question that remains in applying the cognitive perspective
to creative thinking is whether all examples of creative thinking can be
conceived of as exemplifying problem solving.
The case studies presented in Chapters 1 and 5 can help to answer that question. In Chapter 3, I raised the possibility that creative thinking might be based on ordinary thinking but not structured as problem solving, since not all ordinary thinking involves problem solving.
The second column in Table 12.1 analyzes each case study discussed in this book, in order of presentation, to determine whether it can be considered an example of problem solving.
As can be seen, the answer to that question appears to be yes: All of the
case studies can be considered to be examples of problem solving.
Watson and Crick were explicitly trying to analyze the problem of the structure of DNA (Watson, 1968).
Picasso’s creation of Guernica also seems to be an example of problem solving, as it is reasonable to describe Picasso’s situation as grappling with the ill- defined problem of expressing in his art the feelings that were aroused by the bombing of the city (Chipp, 1988).
Calder too was trying to solve a problem: that of creating moving sculpture in the abstract nonrepresentational style of Mondrian (Calder, 1966; Marter, 1991, p. 102).’
(Weisberg 2006, p577)
Then, with all that in mind, I would read some Karl Popper, e.g.: All Life Is Problem Solving (1994):
And then, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Popper 1934, English publication 1959) – even though it was written earlier.
And then Conjectures and Refutations:The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Popper 1963):
And then Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (Popper 1972)
And then – and this is crucial – read D.T. Campbell’s chapter, `Evolutionary Epistemology’, ie (Campbell, Donald T. “Evolutionary Epistemology.” in The Philosophy of Karl Popper, edited by Paul A. Schlipp. pp. 413-59. Illinois: La Salle, 1974.)
And then read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962):
And then – I would read these three books by Arthur Koestler:
The Act of Creation – by Arthur Koestler (1964)
The Ghost in the Machine – by Arthur Koestler (1967)
And the book that summarizes the above 2:
And then, I would read these books, and, probably in this order:
Explaining Creativity (2012) – R Keith Sawyer
`In this book, I share with you what science has discovered about creativity. Every bookstore contains books about creativity, but almost none of them are based on solid scientific research. Instead of reporting scientific findings, they often give new words to old, unexamined beliefs about creativity – what I call creativity myths. In Chapter 2, we’ll learn about these creativity myths, and we’ll see how uniquely modern and Western they are.
The sociocultural approach takes us beyond these creativity myths, and gives us a scientific explanation of creativity.’
(Sawyer 2012: 8)
This is the first actual `textbook’ on Creativity… and, I know the word `textbook’ sounds boring – but the book certainly is not boring. (It is: terrific.)
And, then: (noting that Professor R Keith Sawyer – above – was a graduate student of Csikszentmihalyi’s…and is also one of the world’s leading scientific experts on Creativity. As is, Professor Csikszentmihalyi, below.)
Creativity (1996) – Csikszentmihalyi
(E.O. Wilson, the author of Consilience (1998) is also in this book – also Jonas Salk, and novelist Madeleine L’Engle, etc). Here’s some of what Csikszentmihalyi says about EO Wilson, in Creativity:
`E.O. Wilson is one of the most influential biologists of our time. With more than three hundred technical papers and many books, two of which have won the Pulitzer prize, he has made important contributions to the classification of ants; to the concept of biodiversity, or the necessity to preserve the diversity of life forms; to the study of chemical communication in insects; and to the study of island ecosystems.
But he is probably best known as the father of sociobiology [aka `evolutionary psychology’], or the ongoing attempt to explain human behaviour and social institutions in terms of their selective value over evolutionary time…
His current goal is to achieve the grand synthesis of the social and biological sciences that he initiated with the classic work Sociobiology (1975):
“I see a picture forming, one in which I would pay a great deal more attention to the fundamentals of the social sciences. And use the evolutionary biologist – the biologist’s approach, since I’m learning some molecular and cell biology too –to winnow and reanneal the elements of the social sciences that I think are required to create a consilience between biology and the social sciences. To the present time, it is still not understood that we need to create a consilience. Many would say it’s impossible. And the ones who say it’s impossible, they’re just a goad to show it is possible. That’s what makes this whole domain exciting.”’
(Wilson, in Csikszentmihalyi 1996: 266-7)
(I can’t think of a more important book about creativity than Creativity, 1996, i.e. the one above…)
And then: (finally, after getting a background in `Creativity’, and what it really is – we get to the really `meaty’ stuff-!)
Consilience (1998) – E.O. Wilson
i.e. How to `bridge the current gaps’ between Science – Social Science – and the Humanities/Arts.
In short – the unification of knowledge:
Then, I’d read:
Which is a compilation of many of the papers from this Integrating Science + Humanities Workshop, in 2008.
`The workshop took place September 26 – 29, 2008. With the exception of the public keynote event, which was held at the Hebb Theatre, 2045 East Mall, the majority of the workshop took place at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia.’
I highly recommend watching all the videos of the papers/presentations, which are online, here.
Then, I’d read:
Creativity In Science (2004) – DK Simonton
A fascinating study of people like Einstein, Darwin, and – all those legends…
It was as a result of reading this (Simonton 2004, and also Simonton 2012) that I arrived at this:
Then I’d read:
The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms (2003) – Boden
Another great book on Creativity… and What can Science tell us about Creativity, etc
(Important note: most books on creativity are lousy, and just plain wrong. The ones above are excellent: they are scientific.)
Also – this one is excellent –
Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice (2012) – McIntyre
My favourite (and patently true) quote from the above: “Creativity is not what most people think it is.” (McIntyre 2012 p.1)
The Art Instinct (2010) – Dutton
Dutton asks: Why do we (overall, as a human race) like certain artworks more, and, not others?
Answer: Darwinism (evolutionary psychology) explains a lot.
And – if you were are interested in film or novels (or even – both) also, these 2 consilient books: (they use Science – to analyze and understand the Arts)
Graphing Jane Austen (2012) – Carroll, Gottschall & Johnson
(A fascinating empirical study on 19th century novels – and why they appeal to us…)
And – for more on: Literary Darwinism, see this great interview with Professor Joe Carroll:
And see the monumental Evolution and Literary Theory (Carroll 1995).
And – for reading about movies: I recommend
Great Flicks: Scientific studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (2011) – DK Simonton
The Clockwork Muse (1990) – Colin Martindale
For more, see Dennis Dutton’s review of The Clockwork Muse (1990).
Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity (Simonton 1999)
Another truly terrific collection of essays:
And perhaps – most importantly:
Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (2010) – (Eds: Boyd, Carroll, Gottschall)
`Featuring thirty-nine essential essays by pioneering scholars, scientists, and critics, Evolution, Literature, and Film opens with an introduction to the principles of evolution, with essays from Charles Darwin on the logic of natural selection, Richard Dawkins on the genetic revolution of modern evolutionary theory, Edward O. Wilson on the unity of knowledge, Steven Pinker on the transformation of psychology into an explanatory science, and David Sloan Wilson on the integration of evolutionary theory into cultural critique.
Later sections include essays on the adaptive function of the arts, discussions of evolutionary literary theory and film theory, interpretive commentaries on specific works of literature and film, and analyses using empirical methods to explore literary problems.
Texts under the microscope include folk- and fairy tales; Homer’s Iliad; Shakespeare’s plays; works by William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, and Zora Neale Hurston; narratives in sci-fi, comics, and slash fiction; and films from Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Each essay explains the contribution of evolution to a study of the human mind, human behavior, culture, and art.’
Importantly, the legendary film theorist David Bordwell has two chapters in EL&F. Below are two quotes from his chapter `What Snakes, Eagles and Rhesus Macaques Can Teach Us’:
`Emotion is part of our evolutionary heritage, and it has largely served in tandem with cognition… The hominids who lingered to investigate whether the stripes glimpsed in the underbrush belonged to a predator didn’t leave as many offspring as those who, driven by fear, simply fled at first glimpse.
Emotions offer quick and dirty solutions to problems that make thinking risky. Alternatively, so-called commitment emotions may have evolved to strengthen group bonds, even if they work against self-centred rationality…
Less apparent are the ways in which emotions function in perception. A controversial case would be our startle response, which can be triggered quite automatically, as when you jump at a sudden burst of sound in a horror film. Startle isn’t a prime candidate for being an emotion – it seems to prepare the way for the emotion of surprise – but it does lead to physiological arousal of a sort that primes affect…
More common and central is our sensitivity to emotional signals sent by other humans. Just as the rhesus macaques recognize signs of distress in their mates in a movie, we are prepared to grasp many facial expressions…
A film’s soundtrack can arouse us quite directly by cries, bellows, and other signals, just as infants respond to the mother’s coos and baby talk… More obvious are the emotions that fund comprehension. As we come to understand a narrative, we begin to run scenarios that require “emotional intelligence” – good guesses to how the characters will react to the story situations…
Again, there may be considerable cross-cultural regularities in these emotions, most of which depend upon recurrent social situations that people in most cultures encounter – sympathy for children, anger at being wronged, and a sense of fairness of justice.’
And this quote:
`What processes enable is to perceive, comprehend and respond emotionally to moving pictures? Here, in gross outline, is one answer.
As humans we have evolved certain capacities and predispositions, ranging from perceptual ones (biological mechanisms for delivering information about the world we live in) to social ones (e.g., affinities with and curiosity about other humans). Out of these capacities and predispositions, and by bonding with our conspecifics, we have built a staggeringly sophisticated array of cultural practices – skills, technologies arts, and institutions. Moving pictures are such a practice. We designed them to mesh with our perceptual and cognitive capacities. What hammers are to hands, movies are to minds: a tool exquisitely shaped to the powers and purposes of human activity.
A great deal of movies’ effects – more than many contemporary film theories allow – stem from their impact on our sensory systems. We are prompted to detect movement, shape, colour and sounds, and this is surely one of the transcultural capacities that movies tap.
Similarly, films from all nations and times draw upon more “cognitive” skills, such as categorizing an object as living or nonliving, or seeing a face as furious – abilities that, it’s reasonable to think, are part of our evolutionary heritage. And because affective states and counterfactual speculation are of adaptive advantage, it is likely that an artistic medium that permits emotional and imaginative expression would have appeal across cultural boundaries. If we consider culture to be an elaboration of evolutionary processes, there’s no inherent gulf between “biology” and “society” in this explanatory framework.’ (Bordwell in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 282-3)
And here is one more quote from Bordwell’s other chapter in Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader (2010):
`Apparently all cultures distinguish between natural and nonnatural objects, between living and nonliving things, and between plants and animals. All societies have created fibers for tying, lacing and weaving.
The value of recalling such anthropological data is, I hope, to get us beyond the knee-jerk equation of cross-cultural (or even cross-subcultural) with natural or biologically determined. Not even the most hubristic sociobiologist would postulate a genetic basis for proper names, containers, and twine.
It seems likely that regularities of the human body, along with regularities of the physical environment and of interpersonal relations, to which humans are attuned by species-specific propensities, have called forth from social collectivities many similar and even universal practices. If social life requires that humans share information, tacit norms guiding face-to-face interactions and conversational turn-taking will assist the process in any circumstance in which humans meet.
At the same time, we ought not to quail at the prospect that these universals frequently have a component rooted in biological predispositions.
Academic humanists resist the idea of a human nature, convinced that it leads to reductionist and determinist explanations. But it doesn’t, because human capacities and propensities do as much to create culture as to respond to it.
It’s clear by now that the nature-nurture split is uninformative, that genes are designed to respond to the environment, and that nature has shaped us to be resourceful enough to adjust behaviour in relation to our surroundings. Rather than being the robotic servant for a gene for executing this or that piece of behaviour, we are flexible and resourceful. “Nature”, writes Matt Ridley “can only act via nurture…
The environment acts as a multiplier of small genetic differences, pushing athletic children towards the sport that rewards them, and pushing bright children towards the books that reward them” (Nature 93).
We ought not, therefore, to balk when the metaphor of construction leads us to recognize that social practices may be “built out” of contingent universals.’
Also – an excerpt from Gottschall’s (amazing) chapter in EL&F (above): arguing (brilliantly) for a Consilient approach in the Humanities:
`I argue for a much more vigorous branch of literary research based in the scientific method.
I do not merely suggest that literary studies should be “more scientific” (whatever that means), or that scholars should know more about science (as C.P. Snow averred in The Two Cultures), but that literary scholars should actually do science; where possible, we can and should make use of science’s powerful methodology.
In addition to these major theoretical and methodological shifts, I propose important adjustments in governing attitudes which will be necessary for the theoretical and methodological innovations to take hold.
In summary, I argue that by emulating aspects of scientific theory, method, and ethos, literary scholars can gather much more reliable knowledge about many of the questions we ask, and the discipline can be one where – along with all of the words – real understanding accumulates.’
(Gottschall in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 466-8 – bold emphasis added)
i.e.: The Scientific Method:
In 2009 Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd published the excellent On The Origin of Stories (2009).
In my view, this is the best book on evocriticism to date.
See also this blog post, for an overview of the literature on evocriticism: http://www.themillions.com/2014/02/on-the-origin-of-novels-encountering-literary-darwinism.html (Note also the Comments… and, note how many misunderstandings there are, about (a) What evocriticism is (b) What evolution is..!)
In 2012, Nancy Easterlin published A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation (2012) which includes an excellent section on `Sex, Mating and Power in Darwinian Feminist Perspective’. See: A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation (Easterlin 2012)
In 2005, Jon Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson co-edited an anthology of essays on literary Darwinism, The Literary Animal (2005).
Also, in 2008 Gottschall published Literature, Science, and a New Humanities (2008).
It has great case studies in it as well.
Another fantastic book is David Bordwell’s collection of 30 years of essays.
In the conclusion of “The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film” online essay, David Bordwell notes:
`Academics praise interdisciplinarity, of the cooperation of the humanities and the sciences. Too often, though, that cooperation involves only interpretations. Humanists join with social scientists in producing readings but not explanations. The engagement of film studies with empirical psychology and cognitive science over the last three decades has come closer to providing the sort of “consilience” that Edward O. Wilson proposed: unified explanations that bring art, humanistic inquiry, and scientific inquiry together (Wilson 1998). Film researchers invoke naturalistic models and findings from psychology in order to understand more fully how cinema works, and works with our minds.’
Another fantastic book by Jon Gottschall is this one: The Storytelling Animal (2012)
Yet another terrific book, is: Muses and Measures: Empirical Research Methods for the Humanities (2007) by Willie van Peer, Frank Hakemulder and Sonia Zyngier. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
There is also a more recent (2012) version of the book:
One especially-relevant quote from it (from Muses, 2007 ):
`…our question really centers on what art is. More specifically, how artists provoke emotion in us through their work, and how we respond to them…
Humanities departments do not have a tradition of empirical research methods and usually lack the methods required for carrying out this kind of research. This book deals with fundamental aspects of empirical research methodology to study cultural and artistic phenomena in their diversity, richness and depth.’
In other words, as the great Steven Pinker once said, (Dear Humanities): Science is not your enemy (!!!) Pinker, S. (2013). New Republic. (In fact, it is quite the opposite… Science is the Humanities’ best friend… By the way, the exclamation points above are mine.)
One key benefit of a consilient approach (for example, in studying films) is clearly that: It helps to answer, what is possibly, the single-most important question in Philosophy:
“What does it mean to be human?”
If filmmakers (screenwriters, directors, producers, actors, crew) know more of the answers to this question – they are likely then, also able to use that knowledge – to make better films.
But, wait – What do I mean by “better” films..?
I mean: films that are more likely to reach their intended audience.
In other words, I mean, what Brian Boyd (in his own brilliant chapter in Evolution, Literature & Film: A Reader) has stated about: What artists (e.g. filmmakers) actually do — which is also why the StoryAlity Theory uses as its primary data-set, the Top 20 Return on Investment (RoI) films… i.e. those 20 feature films that had the lowest film production budgets, and yet had the widest audience reach, (relative to, that production budget).
Boyd (rightly) states:
`Artists of any kind will seek to minimize composition effort – by operating within existing artistic modes and traditions, by recombining available models, by adopting readymade subjects – as much as is compatible with maximizing the attention and status a work can earn.’
(Boyd in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 438 – bold emphasis added)
In fact – it is such an excellent chapter (by Boyd), here is some more of it, below:
Note also, how the excerpt below adeptly addresses (1) Questions of agency and structure (the choices that artists/filmmakers make) and, likewise (2) Free will, in filmmaking and (3) the way that a biocultural approach to the arts is actually expansionary, and not reductionist, as some mistakenly assume – and also – (4) the exact way that: all Creativity (from both the artist’s, and also the audience’s perspective) can be seen as: Creative Problem Finding – and Creative Problem Solving.
Brian Boyd writes:
`The first advantage of a biocultural approach to art is that it makes possible a multilevel analysis, incorporating the deep perspective of the evolutionary past, but also focussing on the fine details of the artist’s moments of choice.
It can explain art at multiple levels: at the global or species-wide level; at the local level, in terms of historical, political, economic, technological, cultural, intellectual and artistic contexts; at the level of the individual artist or audience member; and at the particular level, the decisions behind composing this or that feature of a particular work, or responding to it for a particular purpose or in particular circumstances.
An evolutionary approach can apply this multilevel analysis both to the artistic process, from the origins of art or of a particular work to its reception, and to the worlds represented in artistic works.
It does not ignore the local, but nor does it imbalance art by seeing it as primarily a product of local extra-artistic conditions. An evolutionary analysis of art will consider the costs and benefits of art as a behaviour in general – a kind of biological reckoning now “a core approach within evolutionary biology.”
It will also assume that creatures act in ways they suppose advantageous in composing and responding to art.
Artists of any kind will seek to minimize composition effort – by operating within existing artistic modes and traditions, by recombining available models, by adopting readymade subjects – as much as is compatible with maximizing the attention and status a work can earn.
Like artists, audiences too seek a favourable cost-benefit ratio. Many seek to reduce comprehension effort for a quick reward: the latest sitcom or Hollywood blockbuster will be easy to follow even if often also easy to forget. Others may prefer more demanding fare that keeps on unfolding slowly in the mind.
Problems emerged with life, with the challenge of maintaining a structure complex enough to maintain and reproduce itself. Biologists accordingly see physiological features and behavioural choices as attempts to solve particular strategic problems.
A biocultural approach to the arts will analyse an individual artist’s situation in the process of composition as a series of particular problems and solutions.
Following on from the discussion above, I suggest that we redefine artists’ primary problem not as expressing themselves or their times, or as trying to convey meanings, but as creating works to maximize audience attention and response – and hence their own status – within the current economy of attention, given their position within this art mode.
As in biology, solutions may often be compromises, trade-offs between the benefits of one move and its costs for other parts of the emerging work. And just as in biology old elements provide a ready base for many new designs, as fish fins could become amphibian legs and then bird or bat wings, ape arms or seal flippers, so artists can combine ready-made solutions in new ways to answer new problems.
Current practices will incorporate more or less successful solutions to prior problems that can then be improved, recombined or redirected to new problems. And individual artists will each have their own personal problem of capitalizing on the attention their previous work has earned, without boring audiences by merely repeating past successes.
The problem-solution model applies not only to artists but to audiences. Selfish gene theory shows that we cannot expect organisms to work routinely for the benefit of others. Audiences will tend to seek the engagement that matters most to them, not necessarily to the artist, and even to appropriate the work in ways the artist did not intend.
These may be personal, like a couple selecting a Shakespeare sonnet for their wedding ceremony; or political, like Aimé Césaire’s postcolonial rewriting of The Tempest; or artistic, like Picasso’s appropriation of African masks. But if audiences engage with art to serve their own purposes, not those of the artists, then artists, intuiting this, will often try to make their interests appear to coincide with those of their audience, especially by promoting prosocial or group values, since we all benefit from associating with altruists or from living within thriving groups.
The problem-solution model emphasizes individual choice within a specific context. Artists make choices within the unique landscape of their individual preferences and capacities.
Biology stresses the depth of individual difference at every level and phase: stable polymorphisms within a species (persistent alternative forms like free or attached earlobes, or bold or cautious personalities); genetic differences (the odds against two humans producing identical offspring in separate conceptions are seventy trillion to one); sensitivity to initial conditions and developmental accident (even identical twins, who begin from the same conception, have different neural folds in their brain by the time of their birth, and hence different synaptic trajectories); neural plasticity which ensures that the microarchitecture of the brain reflects different individual experience; and the individual choice of niches of difference and specialisation that magnify slight initial differences.
Not only is each problem situation subtly different, but the individual mental landscape within which each of us searches for answers will have unique contours and preferences.
Criticism has lately tended to underplay individual difference in favour of group-level differences like periods, cultures, classes. But not only do individuals differ more within groups than between them, but we are also finely tuned to perceive and respond to individual difference.Personality differences have been found even in invertebrates, as animals as neurologically simple as guppies can detect and act on differences in personality.
In assessing others we respond to specific intentions – to the solutions others have reached within particular problem situations – but also to the individuality that shapes which problems and solutions present themselves to which individuals in the first place. We respond not only to the problems and solutions that arise for a Caravaggio, a Rembrandt or a Vermeer, but to the individual differences, the unique inclinations and associations, that mean each explores a unique landscape of choice.
The consequences of a biocultural approach to art for considering individual works, then, are:
(1) multilevel analysis (global, local, individual and particular), applied to both the creation and reception of art and to whatever art represents;
(2) a cost-benefit analysis for composition and reception;
(3) a problem-solution model for both artists and audiences, stressing especially the artist’s generic problem, the need to maximize audience attention and response through inviting rich play with pattern; and
(4) a sensitivity to individuality in shaping an artist’s problem-solution landscape even before conscious intentions emerge.
(Boyd in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 438-440 – bold emphasis added)
And – So …having read all these works, you would know, almost everything that is (theoretically) behind: `the thinking’ of StoryAlity Theory.
Though there are 4 additional books that are equally crucial:
And Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Dennett 1995):
Also, Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine (1999).
Guns, Germs and Steel (Diamond 1997)
And, perhaps most importantly, the books on Systems Theory & Cybernetics which in many ways, tie all this together… recall that I use the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996, 2000, 2006) to examine culture, including films. I contend that the systems model of creativity is the same phenomenon (described in a slightly different way) to evolutionary epistemology (Popper 1963, DT Campbell 1974, et al) and sociocybernetics (Laszlo, Koestler, Luhmann).
See this video for a summary (by Fritjof Capra) of this excellent book:
And see also, these books on systems theory:
Mobus, GE & Kalton, MC (2014), Principles of Systems Science, Springer, New York.
Introduction to Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972).
Introduction to Systems Theory (Luhmann 2012)
Systems Theory as an Approach to the study of Literature (Sadowski 1999)
And Systems: New Paradigms for the Human Sciences (Altmann & Koch 1998)
As an aside, in case anyone may wonder about Memetics being a pseudoscience (a la Popper’s demarcation criteria of falsification, and, in terms of the identification of `the unit of culture’, the meme), please see:
- StoryAlity #100 – The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme – the unit of culture (Velikovsky 2013)
- StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturology (Velikovsky 2013)
And, see also: A Hierarchy of Memes (JT Velikovsky, in: Practical Memetics, 2014)
So – StoryAlity Theory is a consilient biocultural approach to examining Creativity in Film:
And represents consilience between the Sciences and the Arts:
And the consilient book that contains all this, for Screenwriters and Filmmakers: StoryAlity Theory (2013). This is the first screenwriting manual to use an empirical and scientific method – and – it is also the first screenwriting manual to integrate the state-of-the-art scientific research on Creativity.
So, there we go. Consilience: a recommended reading list for anyone in Film (whether industry, academia, or both).
(Also – there will be a pop quiz on all this, on Thursday.)
And, if anyone has read all these works, then – I expect, you would be in a perfect position to understand, the StoryAlity Theory of the Top 20 RoI Films – and, even my doctoral thesis… (about Film/Screenwriting/Transmedia) as – I draw on all of these above works… in my study of the Top 20 RoI Films.
Also, the other 5 parts of the “Literature & Science” video above – on Literature/Arts & Science, or: Consilience.
(Part 4 is near the top of this post, of course.)
In Part 2 (below), one amusing `highlight’ is when Richard Rorty fails to see what benefits consilience might have.
[Part 4 is at the top of this post]
A brief refutation of certain likely (and yet very inaccurate) assumptions of
(1) `Reductionism’ and (2) `Determinism’ in Consilience…!
Interestingly and ironically, two of the most frequent `criticisms’ that are levelled at consilience in the humanities and arts (or, a bio-cultural approach to the arts) are that: it is (a) reductionist and (b) determinist.
These are incorrect assumptions. The best way to preface the issue is by first using 3 quotes from the first 3 pages of Professor Brian Boyd’s excellent work On The Origin of Stories (2009).
`I recall a colleague asking, as academics do: “What are you working on?” “I’m trying to figure out,” I answered, “an evolutionary— Darwinian— approach to fiction.” Not waiting to hear more, he shut down his face and the conversation: “That must be very reductive.”
“No, not reductive, but expansive,” I might otherwise have answered: extending the historical context from decades to millions of years, and increasing the historical precision, from decades down to the moment of choice.
An evolutionary understanding of human nature has begun to reshape psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, economics, history, political studies, linguistics, law, and religion. Can it also help explain even art, even human minds at their freest and most inventive?
In art, as in so much else we had thought uniquely human, like tool-using or tool-making, counting or culture, we have begun to find precursors elsewhere in nature. But can evolution account even for the one human art with no known precedent, the art of fiction? Can it show why, in a world of necessity, we choose to spend so much time caught up in stories that both teller and told know never happened and never will?
I want to show that it can, in ways far less reductive than much recent literary scholarship, in ways both wider in scope and finer in detail.’
`In literary studies, and in the humanities in general, a biological approach to the human has been anathematized for the last four decades by the recently dominant paradigm that calls itself “Theory” or “Critique.”
But after announcing decades ago first the death of the author and then the death of the “subject” (the individual), Theory has recently raised the question of its own death, and there has been a widespread cry in literary studies for a return to texts. A biocultural approach to literature invites a return to the richness of texts and the many-sidedness of the human nature that texts evoke.
But it also implies that we cannot simply go back to literary texts without assimilating what science has discovered about human nature, minds, and behavior over the last half-century, and considering what these discoveries can offer for a first truly comprehensive literary theory.’
And thirdly, as Boyd states:
`Even some who accept evolution as the most powerful explanation of living things insist that it can say little about human nature and behavior. To concede that natural selection has shaped the structure and function not only of our bodies but also of our minds, they fear, would impinge on our freedom or our capacity to transform ourselves and our world.
But as we shall see, their fears are misplaced: evolution can explain the bases not only of human behavior, from mating to murder, but also of culture and freedom.’
Consider that, a bio-cultural view examines the interaction of biology, society, culture:
Note well: Diagrams themselves, are also: reductionist. (Maybe, that’s a good thing..?)
So, yes this view (above) is reductionist… but at the same time, it is also expansionist and holistic.
Perhaps to understand anything, we need to examine the details, as well as the big picture. e.g.: Both the organism(s), and, its environment. Both the agent(s) and the structures. Both the subjective and the objective.
We need to do all these things (reduction and holism) at the same time. We cannot simply `remove a single element’, then examine it in isolation, and then, draw some conclusions and expect it to be holistic.
We can examine the element and its relationship to – and its interactions with – its environment, over time – and this is why evolution as a concept is important. – All other thinking is merely reductionist (and again – there is nothing wrong with `reductionism’, per se, as long as we then, also go back to the expansionist, or holistic view, for, the context).
And in fact – here, below, is probably how we need to examine anything in context, when we ask questions about culture: (such as, Why are some films – or novels or games or poems or words – more popular/classic/cult/etc, than others?) Indeed why are some ideas (e.g. say Marxism, or Evolution, etc) viral memes, or influential ideas?
For more, please see: The holonic structure of the meme, the unit of culture.
And if you think the above diagram is also reductionist, you are right-!
But reductionism is not a bad thing, and in fact, we all cannot live and function without it – as long as we also revert to holism as well.
With regard to the alleged `criticism’ of: Determinism… The notion that a biocultural approach (to literature, film, culture or anything) is deterministic, is also a fallacy.
See this post: StoryAlity #71B – Invalid criticisms of Consilience
But – here is a very brief summary:
Common Misunderstandings About Consilience and Evocriticism
Firstly – there is no such thing as `determinism’ in biological evolution. There are only: probabilities.
An example: When two humans reproduce, and produce a child, their genes combine 50/50 in the child. There is a 50/50 chance of the child inheriting either parents’ genes. The resulting DNA strands are like a lottery, or a coin-toss. This is why you cannot predict (i.e. determine) the genetic predispositions of any child, before that child is conceived. Even then – there are only many probabilities. The child/offspring may well inherit (say) their father’s tendency to be a hard worker, or, their mothers’ tendency to love reading books (for example). Or they may not! But, genes combine – and so, there are emergent properties and characteristics. Genes are expressed in different ways, and this partly depends on environmental factors.
The child may well have a certain `natural talent’ or predisposition that was not at all apparent, in either or the parents. Also – each biological organism develops in relation to its environment (e.g. their life experience, their various cultural contexts, etc). How can we possibly determine in advance, what any of these might be? How do you know if someone is going to live in one country (or town) their whole life? How do you know what books they will read, which movies they will see, etc? Even if we raised a child with known genes, and in a totally-controlled environment (say – in some bizarre lab experiment) even then – there is still no clear determination of how that person will turn out, over time, as an adult.
In fact – on the `nature/nurture’ debate, take a look at the book Evolution’s Eye: A Systems View of the Biology-Culture Divide (Science and Cultural Theory) by Susan Oyama (2000) – as, in one important sense, everything is `environment’ (nurture).
So, for anyone who misunderstands bioculturalism as `determinist‘: please, first, read: everything by Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Susan Oyama, and many other books on evolution (e.g. Dover in Human Nature, Fact and Fiction, 2006), until you actually understand what evolution (biological or cultural) in fact, is, and how it works… Evolution is neither reductionist, nor determinist. It’s just: a thing that happens.
Possibly also, read EO Wilson (Consilience, 1998), noting that: human nature exerts a constraining force on culture, and likewise, culture exerts a constraining force on human nature. This is called meme-gene coevolution. But – that is still not to say either (fully) determines the other. (There are still only: probabilities…)
If you think anything in life is deterministic, you also may like to read more on the agency-structure dialectic, and free will. i.e.: Humans have – and, they make – choices…
If you don’t agree – you should possibly also read Arthur Koestler (The Act of Creation, 1964, and Janus, 1978) and also Daniel Dennett on free will, e.g.: Elbow Room  and Freedom Evolves … all have fascinating things to say about free will.
So – in summary – please – *please* do not `criticize’ the biocultural approach: realize that, an accusation of either reductionism or determinism is: not really correct.
I suggest – read all of the above books. Any assumptions about both `reductionism’ and `determinism’ will soon evaporate (they are actually, a fallacy). But – a very common fallacy.
The above books make all this very clear, and there indeed are vast amounts of literature, refuting these two claims about `reductionism and determinism’…
The first section of Prof Brian Boyd’s On The Origin of Stories (2009) makes this clear, I highly recommend it. Prof Joseph Carroll has also written on it at length, including in his refutation of his target article he wrote about literary Darwinism: `An Evolutionary Paradigm for Literary Study: Target Article, responses, and rejoinder to the responses‘ (i.e. “An Evolutionary Paradigm for Literary Study” in Style, Volume 42, Numbers 2 & 3 Summer/Fall, 2008). Read it!
i.e. Usually in fact, what accusations of “reductionism or determinism” means is – someone is (possibly, defensively) trying to (ironically) justify their own position (e.g. say, as a Marxist, or as a post-structuralist, etc). Which are actually extremely and reductionist views.
Another key point to remember: just because a meme (i.e.: an idea) is actually viral (i.e.: spreads widely in culture), doesn’t necessarily mean, it is right… (e.g. say, like Foucauldianism, or, Religion, or even, the Romantic view of Creativity, all of which are widely held views). (And to quote Ricky Gervais, “Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right”.) See: StoryAlity#129 – Po-Mo `Theory’ is dead as disco
But – either way, I suggest – read all the above consilient books, as, they are all excellent.
Also I can recommend:
StoryAlity #97 – Biocultural Dissertations (A list of 120 biocultural PhDs and MAs)
And this book chapter synthesizes knowledge in a lot of the works listed above:
Also here’s a good video on The Heterodox Academy.
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher & Evolutionary Systems Theorist
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
PS – And actually one other fantastic book, if you’re interested in Creativity, and Feature Film screenwriting:
The Screenplay Business: Managing Creativity and Script Development in the Film Industry (2013) – Bloore
PPS. – And, actually – maybe, just one more – this is just, my own personal favourite (also: consilient) novel, and – rather than read the actual text, I recommend listening to the audiobook, read by Jim Norton:
The Third Policeman (1967) – O’Brien
(And – it’s much better if you don’t know anything about the book, beforehand… – It is a [deliciously-dark] comedy, BTW… and – reading this novel will, actually and officially, make you smarter. Seriously.)
Comments always welcome.
High-RoI Transmedia/Film/Story/Screenplay/Literature/Culture Analyst & Evolutionary Systems Theorist
Pop Quiz: Which famous Dolby wrote the pop song `She Blinded Me With Consilience’‘..?