[Paleopsych] the roots of Omnology

HowlBloom at aol.com HowlBloom at aol.com
Thu Sep 30 05:58:04 UTC 2004

Back in 2001, I wrote a manifesto for a new discipline, “Omnology,” a field 
for those with a gaggle of curiosities and with the potential to use their 
multiple intellectual and artistic hungers to provide unusual perspectives to the 
scientific community.
At least two major figures tried to establish their own forms of omnology in 
the 19th Century.  One was Herbert Spencer, who devoted his life to the 
creation of a Grand Synthesis that encompassed all the sciences.  The other was 
William Whewell, who took on every science that his mind and curiosity could 
comprehend, then demonstrated his “omnicompetence” by showing his own insight into 
each field AND by exploring the big-picture linkage between the narrowly 
specializing disciplines.   Whewell was called a ``metascientist'' by  historian 
Richard Yeo  and  “universal scientist” by the author of the piece below, sent 
to me by David Berreby.
Would the term “omnologist” have allowed Whewell and Spencer to lay a path 
for synthesis as a necessary function of science and for the synthesist as a 
key contributor’s to science’s digestive process?  Perhaps.  But without a term 
other than “polymath” to describe what the Spencer and Whewell attempted, 
others with a broad range of curiosities were left to flounder for the next 
century and a half.  
But it’s the synthesists who often see the  set of questions…and answers…
over the next horizon.  Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Mandelbrot, and even Newton were 
wildly unconventional synthesists, linking elements they found in the nooks 
and crannies of many obscure…and not so obscure…specialties.
If omnology can be established as a legitimate discipline, my hope is that 
kids with promiscuous creativity will be told that their multiple enthusiasms 
are their gifts, not their liabilities.  My hope is that those who have a taste 
for  big-picture syntheses  will be added to the community of legitimate 
scientists, given their own dignity, given their own budgets, given their own 
made-to-order, cross-disciplinary degree programs and will be recognized for their 
What follows is the material David Berreby sent on Whewell and a copy of The 
Omnologist Manifesto.  Howard
“Omnology”—“an academic base for the promiscuously curious, a discipline 
that concentrates on seeing the patterns that emerge when one views all the 
sciences and the arts at once.”

The Omnologist Manifesto
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.
Omnology is a science, but one dedicated to the biggest picture conceivable 
by the minds of its practitioners.  Omnology will use every conceptual tool 
available—and some not yet invented but inventible—to leapfrog over disciplinary 
barriers, stitching together the patchwork quilt of science and all the rest 
that humans can yet know.  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.
Let me close with the words of yet another poet, William Blake, on the ultim
ate goal of omnology:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Copyright 2001 Howard Bloom
William Whewell 

William Whewell was born in Lancaster on 24 May 1794 and died in Cambridge on 
6 March 1866.
He was the eldest of four surviving children born to John and Elizabeth 
Whewell. Whewell was a
teenager when his mother died in 1807. After grammar school at Heversham in 
Whewell entered Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated second Wrangler. His 
father was a
carpenter, and Whewell only attended Cambridge thanks to a scholarship for the
underprivileged. With his father¹s death in 1816, Whewell was without family 
support. The rest
of his career depended solely on his own talents. He became a Fellow at 
Trinity in 1817, taking
his MA in 1819 and eventually becoming Master in 1841, a position Whewell 
held for twenty-five
years. Tragically, Whewell outlived two wives, losing Cordelia Marshall in 
1855 and Everina
Frances Lady Affleck in 1865. Neither marriage produced any children. His 
reputation is
twofold: as a philosopher and a historian of science. His intellectual output 
was enormous,
consisting of over twenty major books and numerous articles on the history 
and philosophy of
Whewell is not primarily remembered as a scientific innovator or researcher. 
As early as the mid
1830s he described himself as an observer and philosopher of science, while 
deprecating his
own research efforts. This did not mean that he had contributed nothing. In 
1819 he published
An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics, which was the first differential 
calculus text in English
consistently to use the more algebraic Continental symbolism. It became the 
undergraduate text at Cambridge, thus supplanting Newton¹s symbolizations at 
his own
university. A Treatise on Dynamics, published in 1823, brought Continental 
analytic methods into
British science. Exhibiting an interest in mineralogy, Whewell did the 
equivalent of postdoctoral
work on crystallography, travelling to Berlin, Freiburg and Vienna in 1825. 
Between 1826 and
1828 he worked with astronomer George Biddell Airy on methods for determining 
the mean
density of the earth. The experiments necessitated taking data at the bottom 
of a 1,200-foot
Cornwall mineshaft, and thus rather rigorous fieldwork. Lastly, Whewell 
produced a survey of
global tidal patterns, for which he was heavily reliant on reported 
observations rather than his
own work. He created no particular theory of tidal action.
In his day Whewell held a commanding position in British science. In part, 
this prominence
depended upon his position at Cambridge. When he first accepted a fellowship 
at Trinity
College, it represented a tremendous achievement, the first of a series. 
After being ordained
an Anglican priest in 1825, Whewell accepted the Professorship of Mineralogy, 
though thanks
to political disputes about the election, he could not assume the post until 
1828. He became
Professor of Moral Philosophy in 1838, and three years later was appointed to 
the mastership
of Trinity College. His Elementary Treatise on Mechanics gained him entry 
into the Royal Society
in 1820; his research with Adam Sedgwick and Airy earned him an invitation to 
the Geological
Society in 1827. Eventually he served as its President. Whewell aspired to be 
a universal
scientist. An accomplished mathematician, he also studied mineralogy, ocean 
tides and geology,
and reviewed scientific papers and texts from a wide range of fields. While 
the possibility of a
single person possessing a universal scientific knowledge had diminished 
considerably since the
latter eighteenth century, the role was still a plausible one in the 1830s. 
Whewell was one of
the last figures in British science to attempt such a comprehensive competence
Though secure in an academic career by the early 1830s, Whewell sought to 
command an
omnicompetent public scientific authority. He concentrated on book review 
writing, especially
between 1831 and 1834. He usually published in conservative journals such as 
the Tory
Quarterly Review and the High Church British Critic. These reviews typically 
diverged from the
subject at hand, a tactic expected because of the nature of the genre and its 
target audience:
an educated but non-specialist conservative elite. In early 1831 Whewell 
published a lengthy
review article, Science and the English Universities¹, in the British Critic. 
Ostensibly reviewing
the Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Whewell tackled the 
broader issue of
the state of English science. A critical article in the Edinburgh Review had 
accused the English
university system of falling behind Continental scientific inquiry. Whewell¹s 
lengthy defence cited
the growth of experimental studies, the increasing number of scientific 
fields, and the
importance of balancing pure research with the educational mission. These 
arguments were
taken up as the general defence of the English universities against 
reform-minded critics. The
article thus propelled Whewell into a respected position as a pundit of 
science and higher
Another 1831 review, this time appearing in the Quarterly, established him as 
an important
voice in the philosophy of science. The subject was John Herschel¹s A 
Preliminary Discourse on
the Study of Natural Philosophy ­ a comprehensive, popular survey of the 
history of scientific
progress and the development of scientific method. Though lauding Herschel¹s 
book, Whewell
did not hesitate to challenge the pre-eminent Herschel. First, he differed 
with him regarding the
hierarchy of sciences ­ how to classify them by specific methods and how to 
rank them in
importance. Second, he treated Herschel¹s work as somewhat incomplete, and 
used the review
to elaborate his own views and tout his own credentials as a critic and 
theorist of science.
Herschel¹s work represented one of the first British attempts to survey the 
state of scientific
knowledge and provide a detailed account of the scientific method that had 
been responsible
for the accumulation of such knowledge. In part, Whewell had praised it 
because he saw
Herschel fulfilling a serious need in educating the British public about the 
nature of scientific
inquiry, especially crucial due to growing concerns about British science and 
Oxbridge Falling
behind¹ the Continent. But in another way, Whewell wanted to surpass Herschel 
by portraying
himself as what historian Richard Yeo calls a Œmetascientist¹ ­ one whose 
role is synthesis,
commentary and education rather than research (Yeo, Defining Science, pp. 
Specifically, Whewell set out to build a comprehensive theory of scientific 
method based upon
his analysis of what Inductive method¹ really was. He also began a legacy 
which, unlike his
inductive theory, lives on today: his creation of new vocabulary for science 
­ Nebular
hypothesis¹, Œion¹, Œcathode¹, Œanode¹, Œcatastrophist¹, Œuniformitarian¹ 
and Œscientist¹ are all
credited to Whewell. 
In addition to reviewing the work of others, Whewell bolstered his Œ
metascientist¹ credentials
and propounded his theory of induction by authoring three major monographs of 
theory. The first of these, a tremendous success reaching a large popular 
science audience,
was his contribution to the Bridgewater Treatises. In 1829 the estate of the 
late Earl of
Bridgewater had granted £8,000 to the Royal Society to sponsor a grand 
project of
synthesizing Christian theology with contemporary science, to show, as the 
earl had stated in
his will, The goodness of God as manifested in the Creation¹. Ultimately, the 
grant was divided
into eight parts, with £1,000 allotted to each author. The results, published 
between 1833 and
1840, became known as the Bridgewater Treatises. Whewell contributed 
Astronomy and
General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (1833), a 
classic example of
the design argument that ran through seven editions and was continuously in 
print through the
mid 1860s. Whewell argued that precisely because the universe operated 
according to regular
and identifiable law-like processes, the order and the whole of creation 
indicated an active and
beneficent Designer. Far from eliminating God, the rationality and regularity 
of the universe
demonstrated God¹s great mind and the overall magnificence of creation. While 
this argument
lay at the heart of the treatise, it was not Whewell¹s most important 
contribution. Critics and
supporters alike noticed rather his arguments about the moral and ethical 
implications of
deductive versus inductive methods in scientific thought. As will become 
clear below, Whewell
believed that this logical division in scientific method actually entailed 
epistemological and therefore ethical systems. First, however, it is 
necessary to see what
Whewell meant by Œtrue¹ inductive method.
Whewell attempted to recast Œinduction¹ as more than the simple enumeration 
of instances of
evidences. Believing Francis Bacon a model Œinductivist¹, Whewell thought 
that Bacon¹s
detractors had unfairly maligned him as a mere data collector. Whewell 
contended this
prevailing popular interpretation of Bacon¹s legacy was far too impoverished 
to account for the
success of science. Whewell reintroduced the view that induction involved a 
mental operation
linking a number of empirical facts through the addition of a concept that 
unites them under a
general principle. Facts became scientific knowledge when a scientist 
reinterpreted them under
a new conception to demonstrate the True bond of Unity by which the phenomena 
are held
together¹ (Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, 1847, vol. 2, p. 46). 
Whewell called this
process Œcolligation¹ and held that any proper understanding of science must 
account for the
introduction of new colligating, the real engines of adducing natural 
patterns. Whewell¹s famous
example was Johannes Kepler¹s discovery of elliptical planetary orbits. 
Kepler, who was
steeped in mathematics and geometry, was able to analyse the known empirical 
data points of
the orbit of Mars to infer its elliptical orbit. Afterwards, Kepler 
generalized this finding to posit
elliptical orbits for all the planets. Whewell noted that even though the 
individual observations
of planetary positions were well known to Tycho Brahe, the major advance in 
came when Kepler added the geometric concept of the ellipse. For Whewell, the 
choice of the
colligating idea did not result from guesses but rather from an inference, an 
judgement, only made possible by the pre-existing education of the 
researcher¹s mind. Thus,
Whewell¹s account of induction involved not only the collection of empirical 
data, but also
required an explication of the subsequent imposition of colligating concepts.
Whewell understood knowledge as composed of two elements he called Ideas and
Perceptions¹ (On the Philosophy of Discovery, p. 307). In setting out his 
version of induction,
Whewell criticized both the empiricism of John Locke and the idealism of 
Immanuel Kant, each
for being too narrow. He criticized Locke, and subsequently John Stuart Mill, 
for placing too
much emphasis on empirical observation in knowledge gathering without 
offering a satisfactory
account of the active role of the mind. Drawing on German idealism, Whewell 
contended that the
fundamental ideas of Resemblance, Space, Cause and Time provided structure to 
Whewell agreed with Kant that the fundamental ideas are not given by 
experience, but rather
that they result from the very constitution of our minds. In contrast with 
Kant, Whewell did not
provide an exhaustive list of fundamental ideas and he included among them 
ideas that allow
for the colligation of scientific observations under a general principle. In 
fact, he thought that
new fundamental ideas would emerge from the development of new sciences. In 
his most
striking departure from Kantian idealism, Whewell denied that the fundamental 
ideas are
subjective and claimed that they specify objective features of the world. He 
contended that
once we explicate the fundamental ideas, it is possible to derive from them 
all necessary
truths. Further, he maintained that we must undertake empirical science in 
order to explicate
initially the fundamental ideas. He claimed that science used empirical 
demonstrations to
elucidate fundamental ideas; yet once explicated, the idea would then appear 
independent of experience. Whewell¹s epistemology, with its accompanying 
interpretation of
induction, rejected the traditional distinction between laws of nature and 
axiomatic knowledge.
He opted instead for a Œsymbiotic¹ view of knowledge in which empirical 
investigations aid in the
explication of fundamental ideas that in turn order experiences and provide a 
basis for claims
about necessary truths. For this reason, Whewell contended that debates about 
method actually boiled down to debates about epistemology, and these included 
ethics and
moral philosophy.
In his Bridgewater Treatise Whewell had considered both the strengths and 
weaknesses of
natural theology. At issue was whether or not a career in science destroyed 
the faith of
scientists. Following a long tradition, Herschel had once argued that 
exposure to the wonders
of nature would elevate the mind to the Creator. Critics responded that this 
failed to explain
why many important men of science in the previous century had not been 
inspired by religious
faith. Whewell, like Herschel, contended that a deep observational knowledge 
of the universe
intensified one¹s sense of the Creator; thus Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and 
Newton all evinced
an admirable piety intensified by their scientific careers. However, Whewell 
recognized men of
science for whom scientific careers seemed to have led them away from, or to 
substituted for, faith. Herschel simply denied that there existed any 
axiomatic relationship
between one¹s religiosity and a scientific career. 
Whewell contended that the most important scientific theorizers had been not 
scientists, but rather what he called Œexperimentalists¹, who were not in his 
view great
discoverers. Separating science into two processes ­ the discovery of laws 
and the later
explanation and practical application of them ­ Whewell argued that discovery 
inductive thinking of the sort described in his Kepler example. The 
scientists he called
Œexperimentalists¹ concentrated on deductive reasoning: the quest to prove 
the inductive
principle. Whewell distinguished between deduction, which involved inferences 
from general
principles to particular occurrences, and induction, which he described as 
inferring general
principles from particulars. According to Whewell, experimentalists focused 
their attention on
showing how particular phenomena could be accounted for under already known 
laws and this
distanced them from the wonder and awe inherent in discovering order in the 
universe. The
experimentalists took such law as a given for their purposes; thus, they 
failed to appreciate
the wonder of discovering new laws ­ a process Whewell credited with 
reinforcing the
scientist¹s appreciation of God¹s role in the universe. Whewell¹s attribution 
of moral significance
to the different forms of reasoning was novel and contentious. Critics did 
not accept his claim
that because the Œdeductivists¹ proceeded from assumed generalities to 
particulars, their
successes might mislead people to value deductive explication over other 
forms of knowing,
such as politics or morals. They rejected both Whewell¹s self-imposed 
definitions and his
explication of the scientific method. 
Whewell shifted the argument about the proper role of science to concern with 
the proper
character and ethos of scientists, their choices of method, and also proper 
epistemology. This
was significant since these issues remained fundamental to debating the role 
of science and its
validity right through Darwin¹s publication of the Origin of Species. Some of 
the most frequent
criticisms of Darwin¹s work in the years immediately following 1859 were 
charges of
Unwarranted deduction¹ as exemplified by Adam Sedgwick¹s critiques (Hull, p. 
Additionally, there were aspersions cast upon his character and his work 
based upon the
status of his personal faith. Years earlier, Whewell had succeeded in 
confirming the notion that
who said something in science could, for example, be just as important as 
what the person
said. Though not unchallenged, this assumption remained important in British 
public scientific
debate until the 1860s when Darwinians such as Joseph Hooker and T.H. Huxley 
undermined this sort of attack. After the debates about Darwin, the force of 
Whewell¹s gambit
waned; however, in modern times, it has been revived. The Strong Programme in 
Sociology of
Scientific Knowledge¹, as exemplified by Barnes (1982) and Shapin (1982), 
maintains that
questions concerning truth cannot be answered in the abstract, but rather 
must be reframed
as questions about ŒWhose truth?¹ and ŒTruth for what purpose(s)?¹
Late in his career, Whewell devoted himself to the philosophy of science. In 
this vein he is best
known for two monumental works ­History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) and 
The Philosophy
of the Inductive Sciences (1840). Viewed as an extended introduction to the 
Philosophy, the
History purported to trace the development of the sciences from ancient 
Greece to Whewell¹s
time. The most innovative part was an attempt to Œschematicize¹ the course of 
development. Whewell argued that the history of science followed a 
recognizable pattern with
periods of generalization, inductive epochs with preludes and sequels, and 
stationary periods.
Generalization described periods wherein thinkers began to articulate general 
scientific laws.
These moments were the Œgreat moments¹ of intellectual history. Some 
generalizations were
particularly fruitful because of an explosion of Œinductive process¹, meaning 
a very active period
of data gathering, perfecting of method, clear expression of ideas all 
leading to a great
generalization. Stationary periods were those when the inductive process was 
slowest and
science seemed to concentrate on deductive explorations of knowledge, trying 
to derive
implied truths from known science. The point of it all, Whewell argued in his 
Preface, was to
found a philosophy of science drawn from actual historical practice rather 
than from a theory of
science. In Whewell¹s day the book filled an important niche, running through 
three editions
over twenty years, as well as American reprints into the 1890s.
Whewell¹s other Œgreat book¹ was The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. 
The Philosophy had
a definite context, as Whewell sought to counter the influence of the work of 
John Stuart Mill
and the utilitarians by securing his own definitions and theories of Œ
induction¹ and scientific
method, as described earlier. In the Philosophy Whewell made explicit the 
full implications of his
contention that various scientific methods entailed different ethical 
commitments. As Yeo has
pointed out, contemporaries well understood that Whewell was predicating a 
moral science
(Yeo, Defining Science, pp. 236­9). It was aimed at Mill because Whewell 
rejected utilitarian
atheism and moral relativism. By now, Whewell had long argued that Lockean 
citing sense perception as the basis of all knowledge, was a flawed attempt 
merely to
transform morals because it described all knowledge as contingent. On the 
contrary, Whewell
held that morals existed and must be held to exist as the discovery by the 
mind of innate,
pre-existing ideas. Whewell therefore believed that his neo-idealist 
description of inductivism
substantiated this moral philosophy. In the History and the Philosophy 
Whewell believed he had
demonstrated that the actual practice of science validated an anti-empiricist 
Therefore, according to Whewell, Locke was simply wrong, as were his 
descendants, including
Mill and other utilitarians. Even Whewell¹s friends were not convinced; 
Herschel recorded his
dissent in his review of the Philosophy in 1841, though he and most of 
Whewell¹s critics agreed
that scientific method and the philosophy of morals overlapped (Herschel, 
pp.177­238). For his
part, Mill took the Philosophy as something of a godsend, because as he was 
producing his
Logic it gave him an explicit and detailed idealist argument against which to 
aim his own barbs.
Ultimately, Mill¹s view triumphed in his own day; however, both Karl Popper 
and Thomas Kuhn
explicate views of induction that are closer to Whewell¹s than Mill¹s.
In the mid 1840s, with the anonymous publication of the Vestiges of the 
Natural History of
Creation, Whewell entered the public debate about evolution. In his pamphlet, 
ŒIndications of the
Creator¹, he argued against transmutation. He also explicitly denied that 
science could even
broach the question of life origins because as a one-off, contingent event it 
could not be
subjected to scientific method. He repeated similar objections to 
transmutation through the
1850s and rejected evolution as portrayed in Darwin¹s Origin of Species. He 
had long before
argued that species had a real existence and that Œtransmutation¹ did not 
occur. Perpetuating
his idealist themes, he further concluded that there must exist real 
qualities and properties to
which the words used to describe them could refer, or else language would be 
in fact
ultimately meaningless and real thought impossible. No real knowledge could 
exist if meaning
itself were mutable. Thus biological Œtypes¹ must exist. Beyond these 
restatements of his
idealist biology, he made no other salient contributions regarding the Origin 
of Species, though
he remained intellectually active in moral philosophy right up to his death.
An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics (1819).
A Treatise on Dynamics Bound with: An introduction to Dynamics, Containing 
the Laws of Motion
and the First Three Sections of the Principia (1823).
Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology 
History of the Inductive Sciences, 3 vols (1837; 2nd rev. and continued edn, 
1847; 3rd edn,
with additions, 1857). 
The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon their History, 2 vols 
(1840; 2nd edn,
The Elements of Morality, Including Polity (1845).
Lectures on Systematic Morality (1846).
ŒIndications of the Creator¹, The Living Age, vol. 9 (11 April 1846), pp. 
On the Philosophy of Discovery: Chapters Historical and Critical (1856).
The History of Scientific Ideas, 2 vols (1858).
Novum Organon Renovatum (1858). 
On the Philosophy of Discovery: Chapters Historical and Critical (1860).
Collected Works of William Whewell, ed. Richard Yeo,16 vols (Bristol, 2001).
Howard Bloom
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of 
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 
21st Century
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Core 
Faculty Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic 
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The 
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American 
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy 
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International 
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive 
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see: 
for two chapters from 
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, 
see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang 
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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