While there have been many books that I’ve enjoyed, only a few have truly resonated with me. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, by E.O. Wilson, was one such book.
Consilience is the key to unification. I preferred this word over “coherence” because its rarity has preserved its precision, whereas coherence has several possible meanings, only one of which is consilience. William Whewell, in his 1840 synthesis, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, was the first to speak of consilience notably a jumping together of knowledge by the making of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the term this way:
Consilience – the linking together of principles from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory.
Taken together, consilience as an idea encourages the pooling of knowledge from various disciplines in order to solve problems and improve understanding of the way things work. This is an appealing concept. Moreover, it provides a respectable excuse for spending hundreds of dollars on books that have nothing to do with one’s day job.
My approach to informatics mirrors my belief in the value of interdisciplinary cooperation. While at UAB, faculty for the Section of Medical Informatics were chosen using this concept. Before I left the section in 2000, it included faculty with secondary appointments from accounting, computer science and mathematics, health services administration, and pathology. One of the things I miss most about leaving academia is the loss of ready access to experts to bug with questions.
Serving as a member of the program committee for the 2012 ACM SIGHIT International Health Informatics Symposium was an enlightening experience. Reviewing papers and working with colleagues with computer science backgrounds gave rise to some very interesting discussions. It both reminded me of how profoundly training and background influences one’s approach to problems and reaffirmed the value of interdisciplinary teams. Now that the conference has passed, the dialog continues, and a couple of us thought it might be worthwhile to create a space where it would be possible to ask questions, share ideas, debate technologies, or find potential collaborators.
Taking up this challenge, a website is in the works to support this idea. The question, of course, is how many people are interested in participating. Having no way to gauge this, a post seemed to be a good place to start. If you have an interest in application development, are open to collaboration, think algorithms are fun, and would like to join in wide-ranging discussions about health informatics and the many disciplines that it touches, please send me a note using the contact form no later than May 11th. Should there be sufficient interest, the website can be ready soon thereafter. I look forward to hearing from you.