The Roots of Omnology
by Howard Bloom
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.”
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 a “universal scientist” by encyclopedist of the history of ideas Glenn M. Sanford.
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 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 contributions.
The Omnologist Manifesto
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 ultimate 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.
Sanford, G.M. (2004) Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Scientists. 4 volumes. Sam Houston State University: Thoemmes Continuum. [The History of Ideas retrieved March 26, 2005, from the World Wide Web.] http://www.thoemmes.com/encyclopedia/whewell
Spencer, Herbert. (1904). An Autobiography. London: Williams & Norgate.
Howard Bloom, a recent visiting scholar at the Graduate Psychology Department at New York University and a faculty member at The Graduate Institute, is the author of two books: 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. Bloom is the founder of two new fields: mass behavior and paleopsychology.
From 1968 to 1988, Bloom did fieldwork in the world of business and mass media. Bloom edited and art-directed an experimental graphics and literary magazine that won two National Academy of Poets prizes. Bloom worked with most all of the major TV and film companies such as Sony, NBC-TV, Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, EMI and Disney, and helped Sony launch its first software operation in the US (Sony Video); and advised the strategists putting together a new venture called MTV.
Bloom’s clients in public relations and career strategy included Michael Jackson, Prince, Bette Midler, John Mellencamp, Bob Marley, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and click here for the rest.
Bloom is the founder of: The International Paleopsychology Project, The Big Bang Tango Media Lab; and The Howard Bloom Organization, Ltd. He co-founded Cloud Studio Inc., has been a founding board member of the Epic of Evolution Society and founding council member of The Darwin Project; and is executive editor of The New Paradigm book series.
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