Omnology

Check out this brief little essay by Howard Bloom. I really like this term omnology. It seems to me that language evolution is an inherently omnologous discipline.

We are blessed with a richness of specializations, but cursed with a paucity    of panoptic disciplines—categories of knowledge that concentrate on seeing the pattern that emerges when one views all the sciences at once. Hence we need a field dedicated to the panoramic, an academic base for the promiscuously curious, a discipline whose mandate is best summed up in a paraphrase of the poet Andrew Marvel: “Let us roll all our strength and all Our knowledge up into one ball, And tear our visions with rough strife Thorough the iron gates of life.”

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3 Responses to “Omnology”


  1. 1 Adrian Smith June 2, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    “If one omnologist is able to perceive the relationship between pop songs, ancient Egyptian graffiti, Shirley MacLaine’s mysticism, neurobiology, and the origins of the cosmos, so be it. If another uses mathematics to probe traffic patterns, the behavior of insect colonies, and the manner in which galaxies cluster in swarms, wonderful. And if another uses introspection to uncover hidden passions and relate them to research in chemistry, anthropology, psychology, history, and the arts, she, too, has a treasured place on the wild frontiers of scientific truth — the terra incognita in the heartland of omnology.”
    …So here’s the rub: why would anyone working in these disciplines think that there could be any insight to be had from another?
    The problem seems particularly acute in the integration of disciplines with different standards of proof (that is assuming that there is a ‘discipline’ to speak of, or indeed a ‘standard’… Shirley Maclaine’s Mysticism?!). For a prime instance, the kind of socio-cultural (memetic?) analysis favoured for picking out putative patterns in pop songs seems unlikely to find any truck with a deep physical explanation of the universe. The respective terms of the two disciplines are just so incredibly different.
    Nevertheless, don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour.. big time.. but with a reasonable pinch of caution. Actually a similar thesis was proposed (to a less general audience) by Paul Feyerabend, a philosopher of science of the last century. At a few points in his career he advocated a view known as ‘Epistemological Anarchism’ or an ‘Anything Goes’ approach to knowledge acquisition (see his “Against Method”… very entertaining, often historical, occasionally philosophical). The basic idea was that no one methodological approach should be privileged in any domain of inquiry; by allowing full and equal competition we’ll avoid dogmatic adherance to any currently fashionable approach. This puts mysticism on a par with mathematical modelling, parapsychology on a par with neuropsychology and creationism on a par with evolutionary biology.
    However, though similar, I think the two theses are importantly different. For omnology seems to place co-operation, rather than competition, at the centre of its ethos. And this is exactly what highlights the difficulty: How do we integrate a variety of disciplines in a way that makes sense to each discipline? How is such a methodological pluralism possible?

  2. 2 AJT Smith June 3, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    “If one omnologist is able to perceive the relationship between pop songs, ancient Egyptian graffiti, Shirley MacLaine’s mysticism, neurobiology, and the origins of the cosmos, so be it. If another uses mathematics to probe traffic patterns, the behavior of insect colonies, and the manner in which galaxies cluster in swarms, wonderful. And if another uses introspection to uncover hidden passions and relate them to research in chemistry, anthropology, psychology, history, and the arts, she, too, has a treasured place on the wild frontiers of scientific truth — the terra incognita in the heartland of omnology.”
    …So here’s the rub: why would anyone working in these disciplines think that there could be any insight to be had from another?
    The problem seems particularly acute in the integration of disciplines with different standards of proof (that is assuming that there is a ‘discipline’ to speak of, or indeed a ‘standard’… Shirley Maclaine’s Mysticism anyone?!). For a prime instance, the kind of socio-cultural (memetic?) analysis favoured for picking out putative patterns in pop songs seems unlikely to find any truck with a deep physical explanation of the universe. The respective terms of the two disciplines are just so incredibly different.
    Nevertheless, don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour.. big time.. but with a reasonable pinch of caution. Actually a similar thesis was proposed (to a less general audience) by Paul Feyerabend, a philosopher of science of the last century. At a few points in his career he advocated a view known as ‘Epistemological Anarchism’ or an ‘Anything Goes’ approach to knowledge acquisition (see his “Against Method”… very entertaining, often historical, occasionally philosophical). The basic idea was that no one methodological approach should be privileged in any domain of inquiry; by allowing full and equal competition we’ll avoid dogmatic adherance to any currently fashionable approach. This puts mysticism on a par with mathematical modelling, parapsychology on a par with neuropsychology and creationism on a par with evolutionary biology. However, though similar, I think the two theses are importantly different. For omnology seems to place co-operation, rather than competition, at the centre of its ethos. And this is exactly what highlights the difficulty: How do we integrate a variety of disciplines in a way that makes sense to each discipline?
    In short: how is such a methodological pluralism possible?

  3. 3 languageevolution July 8, 2007 at 8:43 am

    An interesting ‘rub’. I agree we are left with a epistemological question of whether we can truly value all sources of knowledge differently, and if not how on earth do we evaluate the value of different sources of knowledge. Does each source of knowledge carry information about tis own relevance. To use a shamelessly omnologous pop culture reference, it’s like playing Tetris. Each piece becomes valuable purely within the context of the state of the game at a given point. Sometimes you need a long piece, sometimes you need a block. To know what is appropriate in agiven situation you need both intent and holistic awareness. So relevance can be judged by context and personal judgement, hardly emperical, but perhaps that is the point. Omnology is reacting against artificial self imposed constraints and the notion that truths must be judged relative to the assumtion that your own subjects facts and truths take precident. It could be argued that an Omnologist is not abandoning truth for judgement, but instead is using judgement and context as tools to explore the widest range on sources of information. I don’t think that totally answers the question though.


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