Vanity Fea

Two Assessments on Consilience and Retrospection

martes, 21 de agosto de 2012

Two Assessments on Consilience and Retrospection

Paper rejected, or at least not quite accepted... The editors suggest I send a revised version—but I'll try elsewhere I guess. Here's a preliminary version in Spanish.

Dear Professors Randall and McKim,

Thank you for your answer concerning the paper I sent to Narrative Works, "Consilience and Retrospection." I have found interesting suggestions and an encouragement for my work in the readers' reports you send, which to me are overall positive, even if they don't quite encourage the publication of my paper in the journal due in part to its line of concerns. Thank you also for your recommendation of Mark Freeman's book on hindsight; this is an author I enjoy but I did not know this particular reference, so that's a treat in store. As to the scope of the journal, I sent the paper to Narrative Works precisely because of its interdisciplinary approach, so I can't agree that this is not a paper for this journal, but of course it is for the editors to choose the range of interdisciplinary concerns they want to address. The narrativity issue the paper deals with might of course be further developed, but that is a task for other papers (or volumes!), and I feel this one needs the backgrounding and preliminary approach to which I devote the early and mid sections. The reviewers' assessments are judicious and reasonable, only I do not think I will be able to send a revised version— in my case, revised versions tend to become not only too long, but also I can't help moving into different directions and writing a different paper altogether. So if I eventually get to write another paper on a similar issue perhaps I'll try again with Narrative Works, but I am afraid I am too busy with other things at the moment; so I suppose in the case of this paper I will stick to its present form and send it to another journal or self-publish it. Which is a pity from my point of view because I did think it might belong with your journal—but at least I have seen from your readers' comments that my writing on these issues has some value and may merit the attention of scholars working in this area. So I thank you for your attention, and your readers for their kind and useful assessment of my paper, and look forward to some further collaboration in the future.
Best regards,
Jose Angel Garcia Landa


Dear Professor Landa,

Thank you for your submission to Narrative Works. Inserted below, you will find two reviews of your manuscript. Both reviewers describe your paper with such positive phrases as “well-written,” “learned,” “stimulating,” and “stylistically honed.” We agree with their assessment; however, we also share their concern about whether Narrative Works is, in fact, the appropriate place for this paper. We would ask you, then, to consider these two reviews carefully, especially the comments made by Reviewer #1 regarding the positioning of your discussion of narrative much earlier in the paper, to make it clearer to readers of the journal how your thinking contributes to our understanding of the narrative dimensions of human life. Regarding your discussion of “hermeneutical hindsight,” among the sources you might draw on would be Mark Freeman’s Hindsight: The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (Oxford, 2010).

We would be delighted to publish your essay should you wish to revise it in light of the reviewers’ recommendations. Should you decide to do so, we would ask that you indicate precisely the extent of your revisions and how you have addressed the reviewers' concerns.

If possible, please return a revised version of your manuscript to us by October 1.

If you have any questions regarding next steps, please feel free to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Best wishes,
Bill Randall & Beth McKim

Reviewer #1

This is an interesting, well-written article that explores some important ideas. The main question I have concerns its appropriateness (in its present form) for Narrative Works.

The opening pages lead to a “quandary” of sorts relating to Gould, in particular, and disciplinary boundaries more generally.  By the author’s account, Gould is “defending both the absence of any sharp dichotomies [between the sciences and the humanities], and the separate cognitive realms of science on one hand and the humanities on the other.” The question, therefore, is whether there might be a “meeting point, or an interface, or at least an arena for debate” (p. 5).  From there we are introduced to the special significance of “hindsight bias which results from our  experiencing and interpreting phenomena as a temporal sequence, reworked and reelaborated by memory and attention.” As the author goes on to note, this “bias” can and indeed often does yield insight owing to the “superior perspective” from which interpretation occurs.  But it can also result in “undue simplifications of complex processes, ascribing them to one cause where there is an undecidable overdetermination of a complex vectoring of causes” (p. 7).  This is but one potentially ill consequence of hindsight bias.  There are others as well.

Having identified this bias, the author draws further on Gould, who underscores the potential value of narrative explanations not only in the humanities but also the sciences. Given the history of disciplinary specialization, Gould has suggested, there has been some reluctance to embrace the narrative mode.  But there is no denying its utility in coming to terms with complex historical phenomena.  As for the idea of consilience, as put forth by E.O. Wilson, it is, on Gould’s account, less a process of reconciliation and rapprochement than it is one of reductively assimilating (aspects of) the humanities to the realm of science.  As above, much of the material being explored in this section of the paper is interesting and significant.  But with the exception of the fairly brief reference to hindsight bias and narrative explanation, it’s not entirely clear how it fits the central concerns of the journal.

It’s not until page 17 that narrative really enters the picture.  For, what we learn is that “Consilience . . . has a narrative-hermeneutic dimension, and is approachable as a concept relevant to cognitive narratology.”  It’s still not clear how this (important) issue bears upon the difference between Wilson’s and Gould’s points of view on the concept of consilience.  Is the idea that Wilson’s scientific/scientistic “supremacism” insufficiently recognizes the narrative dimension of scientific understanding by virtue of its reductionism?  One might argue that Wilson’s view -- however problematic it may be – represents a classic hindsight move:  all of those goings-on that the humanities had claimed for its own can be assimilated to the scientific gaze.  Gould’s view is different, I realize.  But what, finally, is the significance of this difference?  And how does it relate to the retrospection issue?  I suppose the article represents something of a Gouldian plea for narrative understanding as the most appropriate mode of understanding for coming to terms with an unpredictable world.  But it would be good to know more about what the author most wants to say as s/he draws the essay to a close.  It would also be useful, for the purposes of this journal, for him/her to say a bit more about how these issues bear upon our conception and understanding of human beings. 

In sum:  this is an interesting, learned article that pursues some important questions about the relationship between science and the humanities.  It takes a while for the piece to explicitly address ideas pertinent to the journal.  And even when it does so it’s not quite clear (to this reader at any rate) what the author most wants to say.  Finally, as important as the science/humanities issue is, it would be useful, again, for the author to say more about how his/her version of consilience might bear upon our understanding of human beings.  By way of note, the author mentions the work of Paul Ricoeur at one point.  What Ricoeur has to say in Time and Narrative is of course relevant.  So too is his work on metaphor (e.g., his notion of metaphorical “rapprochement”), his later reflections on the relationship between life and narrative (e.g., the idea of emplotment as a “synthesis of the heterogeneous”), and his more general insistence on narrative as the privileged path for explicating human temporality.  Making some additional contact with Ricoeur or other narrative theorists might do well to address these concerns.

Reviewer #2

This is a learned and insightful essay. The author obviously is a “fox” with a broad horizon of interests that meander into many disciplines and fields of knowledge, including theory of knowledge, philosophy and history of science, critical studies of science, epistemology, evolutionary biology, primatology, intellectual history, and Greek philosophy. What is more, all of this is embedded into a broad literary cultura and interests in narrative theory. Strictly speaking, the format of this essay is that of commentary on Stephen Jay Gould’s The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap between Science and the Humanities. But Gould's latest book, and especially its discussion of E. O. Wilson’s notion of consilience, serves more as a spring board for wide-ranging reflections on how we can combine the so-called two cultures of the humanities and the sciences across all the different fields just mentioned. I personally enjoyed reading this stimulating piece, and part of my pleasure was that it is well written and stylistically honed.

My only question is whether this is an article that works for Narrative Works. I don’t know the answer. On the pro side stands that, with articles like this one, the journal would doubtless extend its intellectual scope and raise its scholarly standards – which, to my mind, would be worthwhile. On the side of the concerns: I am not sure if the readers of Narrative Works are really the readers of this essay (and if the author is well advised to publish his work in this journal), not least because it is not really about a narrative issue. It addresses narrative as one of its many issues – suggesting a reading of consilience as a narrative-hermeneutic concept with a potential relevance for cognitive narratology. But then, this suggestion is made on p. 25, that is, at the very end of the paper.

In case the editors and the author consider publication in the journal – and, in principle, I would recommend its publication – I wonder, however, if it would not be more appropriate to give center stage to its “narrative point,” that is to the idea of re-interpreting consilience as a notion of narrative understanding. This idea, I think, is most promising and original. Unfortunately it’s only hinted at in the present version.  Presenting and discussing it might also include some kind of example, case study, or illustration – some edible flesh to the bones of concepts, as promising as they may be.

Consiliencia, evolución y anclaje narrativo 

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