The world is in a bad state: famine plagues the poor, while over consumption of the rich asphyxiates the world. The selfishness of the wealthy condemns us all to death.
“When a man, a business corporation or an entire society is approaching bankruptcy, there are two courses that those involved can follow: they can evade the reality of their situation and act on a frantic, blind, range-of-the moment expediency —not daring to look ahead, wishing no one would name the truth, yet desperately hoping that something will save them somehow—or they can identify the situation check their premises, discover their hidden assets and start rebuilding.”
“That is how history is made: by first-timers”
*Rand is a perfect example of the fact that we can still utter brilliant statments, even when we are fundamentally wrong.
It is in the late 60s that I became convinced, mainly because of the obvious insanity of wars and the apparent saneness of those who believe in it, that “we must have made a mistake somewhere throughout of our evolution.” In the 70s, I also became thoroughly convinced, influenced by many French writers and by Buckminster Fuller, that it was the extreme specialization of our elites that was leading humanity toward a crisis of an unprecedented nature.
The two caricatures of Maya and the 1900 to 2100 World Model of the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth, below, perfectly depict the state of mind in which I came to be by the mid 70s regarding this coming crisis they all made me perceive.
Source: Limits to Growth,
As for specialization being the ultimate cause of this state of affairs, it is the hypothesis that I adopted at the time, and which I intended to test with my own formation as a generalist, after reading Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, in which he observes that:
“Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.”
At the time, I was looking for a master program to return full time to university as a mature student, after an all-over-the-place BA equivalence. However, after reading Fuller’s Manual, I decided to undertake, instead, a second general BA to become a “generalist,” in a conscious attempt to uncover, from a “comprehensive” point of view, the mistake which I already assumed we made early in our evolution. This was the middle of the 70s, or 10 BPC (before PC).
Here is how I rationalized my decision to become a generalist. I persuaded myself that I didn’t have to learn anything in depth, since I was the unconscious product of all the great minds in history who had influenced all my teachers, and the somewhat conscious product of everything else that had “nurtured” (sic) my mind up to this point (books movies and all the rest). I felt that this way, the “mistake,” which I assumed we made when we first started reasoning—mistake which I believed then, and know now, to be still concealed deep in the teaching of all the intellectual “giants” who preceded us, whether he be Plato or Einstein—would not be an obstacle to my searching for it. Specifically, I wanted to go to university to solve a problem that hadn’t developed yet, but that would have when I would be in graduate studies, and for which nobody would have prepared her/himself as a generalist.
It is during my second BA (78-81) that I began to sense that it was the specialists’ inability to perceive the original human fallacy, for which I was looking, that was precluding them from perceiving clearly, from a professional points of view, the obvious environmental and social crises looming in our future.
My search for this mistake has been conducted in “empty footsteps.” Indeed, all the specialists I have encountered during my stays in four universities were all securely standing on shoulders of giants, looking down at me, while looking ahead through the rear view mirror of their specialties, and while accepting as given what I was challenging. It is there, alone in the “footsteps of giants,” that I have had all the freedom to go wherever I needed to go, and do whatever I needed to do, while receiving good passing grades, no matter what: my originality always winning over the specialists’ deep ignorance of what I was doing.
However, if they were not looking down at me, and they were not all doing so, they still couldn’t understand —and neither did I completely at the time— that, as a student of knowledge, I was their as a field tripper, studying them as an outsider. As anthropologists study unknown “indigenous people” in foreign lands.
And don’t take pity on me. I soon realized that I didn’t want to be accepted in the “normality” of their office, no more that I would have entered the great apes’ cage while visiting a zoo, to see if I would be accepted by them.
For example, I once saw a physicist or a philosopher of science standing in an embarrassing long silence, frozen in a state of ecstatic admiration in front of an “icon” of Einstein projected on the wall of the class during a slide presentation of the “pilgrimage” that this professor had made from Munich to Zurich to follow Einstein’s steps to the Swiss Patent Office. This was an unbelievable sight for a mature student, who was taken this course on science to see what was wrong with it, and who was beginning to identify science to a religion.
Twenty years ago, when I received my masters, I was not yet ready to solve any problems, as I had hope I would. Now, I am; I have finally figured out what is the error of perspective inducing us to sustain fallacious beliefs about human nature. As for the problems that it has caused, they are becoming more and more obvious everyday and to everybody. And you know what? Nobody seems to be prepared to solve them, as I had assumed it would be the case.
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Before I divulge my findings, though, I first need to establish my credentials, so you know who is talking to you. Furthermore, I need to expend on my views on specialization, so everybody understands how it has come to limit the sane development of the rational species composed generalist individuals. And finally, I also need to expose the universal dialectical pattern that I have as well uncovered, since it is viewed from this pattern that the “original mistake” takes all its significance.
I call this mistake, “original,” for I came to realise that it is identical, in essence, to believers’ “original sin,” since they both come from the same misunderstood “cosmic dialectics”
I absolutely need to proceed this way, for if I told you about this mistake right now, and I could, it would have as much significance for you as it would have had for a skilled and respected blacksmith of the Middle Ages busied creating a complicated piece of cutlery for his king or a sword for is Lord, while being distracted by a ragged passer-by telling him about the earth not being still, but turning on itself and around the sun. You know perfectly what would have happened to this poor wretch. . . . Normally, I should not have to do this. My “peers” would know who I am and what type of research I did during my years of sporadic studies at the university, while acquiring two generalized BA’s in six different colleges and universities, and one “unspecialised” Master of Arts in a department of sociology and anthropology while mainly working with a Zoologist. However, I have no peers. I am neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist or a zoologist. If I must have a title, it should be “transdisciplinarist“. I used to call myself “artisan” of global thinking, following someone I once met in a bar thirty years ago calling himself technicien de la pensée globale, “technician” of global thinking.
Here is how it I became a certified transdisciplinarist:
My undergraduate studies consisted of two general BA’s (no major), during which I have explored a dozen fields of knowledge, through not much more than a couple of semesters for a few, and for some even less than one. However, these sporadic explorations have always focused on who we are as biological, conscious and social animals, thus, biology, psychology, and economy. (I have been registered at least once in each of these programs of study in college or university).
I started my master’s degree ( in blue) at the University of Montreal, where I was conditionally accepted to the Master’s degree in anthropology because I had no anthropology credits in my two previous BA’s.
During my first and last term at this University, I was enrolled in a class of over one hundred students of anthropology 101, led by Prof Michel Verdon,—the best comprehensive course I have ever followed at the university. And since I knew that a good performance in this course was the main condition for my final acceptance to the masters, I decided to work hard at it.
One week after I wrote the final exam of this course in anthropology 101, I haphazardly encountered Michel Verdon , who told me, while enthusiastically shaking my hand: “Congratulation, you came second of the class in the final, with 90% [or somewhere in this vicinity]. Now you understand!”
Now I what? “Understand“? That made it for me: I wasn’t there to understand the theories of dead anthropologists, who’s work contributed to the disarray of the global world in which we live presently by all together ignoring the “original mistake” on which all their theories have been erected. I was there to find out what was this mistake, and nobody seemed to care. This has been the last time I have ever been in this University.
For their defense, though, I didn’t have yet a clue about what this mistake was. I was then leaning towards the belief that the objective world that we perceive as human doesn’t have an independent reality, but that it exists only because we perceive it as such. This is true, but it is also true for all the other species. I could never infer anything from this idealistic hypothesis elucidating our present predicaments.
I didn’t know at the time that it was not scientists’ business to look for mistakes, as I learned later from Robert Oppenheimer:
“Scientific thinking proceeds within a framework of presuppositions that it is the business of the scientist to use, not to argue for and still less to challenge… “A perpetual doubting and a perpetual questioning of the truth of what we have learned is not the temper of science.”
Atom and Void, Essays on Science and Community, Princeton University press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1953.
Not long after my stay at the University of Montreal, I expatriated myself to an English-speaking province, where, after a couple of years of independent thinkering, I was eventually admitted at the University of Guelph into the master’s degree in sociology and anthropology on the basis of two different evolutionary models on which I had been working, and which I will present to you later.
After four years at this last university, I finally acquired a master degree, after having been ignored by most of the anthropologists and sociologists with whom I had been in contact, and while mainly working with a Zoologist on different subjects—from which he was completely alienated, as he avowed me later. Consequently, I couldn’t get any reference from anybody to further my research. No one knew then what I was doing, which was neither in zoology, anthropology nor sociology. And, I must admit, neither did I totally.
My postgraduate work (in red) consisted of almost twenty-year of in absentia survey on the Internet of the ill consequences of progress when observed from the point of view of nature. It is these ill consequences that the pioneers of progress (our elites) cannot explain from any of their professional point of views, since they emerge from their practical interrelations, and can only be perceived by an outsider, as my life adaptation of Kanizsa’s triangle evidences. These studies has made of me a “certified ignorant,” or maybe, as I learned later from Walter Kaufmann in The Future of the Humanities, a “visionary”:
There are visionaries and scholastics. The distinctions is essential for the understanding of the humanities as well as the natural and social sciences. No diagnostic of the ills of higher education should ignore the basic contrast. Visionaries are loners. Alienated from the common sense of their time, they see the world differently and make sustained attempts to spell out their vision. Usually, they find existing languages inadequate, and often they encounter serious problems of communication. [I couldn’t have said it better] Scholastics travel in schools, take pride in their rigor and professionalism, and rely heavily on their consensus or their common “know-how.” [Don’t they ever?] They are usually hostile to contemporary visionaries, especially in their own field, but swear by some visionaries of the past. In religion the visionaries are often called prophets and the scholastics priests. In philosophy and literature, history and the arts, there are not traditional terms for the two types, but sometimes the visionaries are called geniuses.” (pp. 1-2)
[My emphases, and since these define me thoroughly (except for the last; I don’t think I am a genius, but only stubborn), page 1 and 2 may have been the further that I have ever been in this book; I didn’t need to read more of it. That was enough.]
Throughout this quest, I have indeed been alone, but in time mentally secured by Max Planck’s personal experience, who had been in the same situation while developing his quantum theory, as he described in his biography:
“None of my professors at the University” “had any understanding for [my doctoral dissertation] content, I found no interest, let alone approval, even among the very physicists who were closely connected with the topic. Helmholtz probably did not read my paper at all. Kirchhoff expressly disapproved . .. I did not succeed in reaching Clausius. He did not answer my letters, and I did not find him at home when I tried to see him in person at Bonn. I carried on a correspondence with Carl Neumann, of Leipzig, but it remained totally fruitless” . . . . “This experience,” he said “gave me also the opportunity to learn a new fact—a remarkable one, in my opinion: A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
If I replaced the boldface names with my own, both quotes become perfectly congruent:
“Ted Hadwen [my supervisor] probably did not read my major paper at all. [He was in Europe.] Ken Menzies expressly disapproved. [He made me redo a paper many times, because I hadn’t read all the papers he had read during all the time he studied sociology.] I did not succeed in reaching Hans Bakker. [He never answered my email.] I carried on [a postgraduate relation] with Denis Lynn [the zoologist], but it remained totally fruitless [except for his support and his incessant editing of my writing, for which I will be forever thankful].
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“To be fully alive today [in 2010] is to live with anguish, not for one’s own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse.”
Now that you know who I am, I need to tell you how I came to see the rest of you. I say that because I know that in a way or another, you, who ever you are, are specialists of one kind or another, even if you are “generalists” or “interdisciplinarist” or “new-born Christians” or whatever, if you are “effective” in what you are doing, whatever it may be, in my view you are specialists or professionals, and you are all acting on the basis of what I have found to be wrong, as I hope to convince you.
Here is what Alfred North Whitehead already had to say about “effective knowledge” in the first quarter of the 20th century, when the consequences of specializations were not as critical as they have become today:
Effective knowledge is professionalised knowledge, supported by a restricted acquaintance with useful subjects subservient to it. This situation has its dangers. It produces minds in a groove. Each profession makes progress, but it is progress in its own groove. Now to be mentally in a groove is to live in contemplating a given set of abstractions. The groove prevents straying across country, and the abstraction abstracts from something to which no further attention is paid. But there is no groove of abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension of human life.Thus in the modem world, the celibacy of the medieval learned class has been replaced by a celibacy of the intellect which is divorced from the concrete contemplation of the complete facts. Of course, no one is merely a mathematician, or merely a lawyer. People have lives outside their professions or their businesses. But the point is the restraint of serious thought within a groove. The remainder of life is treated superficially, with the imperfect categories of thought derived from one profession. The dangers arising from this aspect of professionalism are great, particularly in our democratic societies. The directive force of reason is weakened.The leading intellects lack balance.They see this set of circumstances, or that set; but not both sets together. The task of coordination is left to those who lack either the force or the character to succeed in some definite career. In short, the specialised functions of the community are performed better and more progressively, but the generalised direction lacks vision. The progressiveness in detail only adds to the danger produced by the feebleness of coordination…
Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World; emphases mine.
Decades later in a less cerebral manner, Buckminster was saying the same thing about specialists:
“If the total scheme of nature required man to be a specialist she would have made him so by having him born with one eye and a microscope attached to it.”
During my graduate studies, I often compared my teachers to these microscope-burdened cyclops having gained the ability to understand how colors mixed on the canvas background of the painting they make us study, but having lost the capacity to see the whole masterpiece. After the Gulf of Mexico’s oil disaster, though, I included in this comparison all Modern-World entrepreneurs and politicians who independently, while being all part of the same world project, busied themselves coloring the small spots of a painting by numbers, using pallets supplied by scientists, and while ignoring the global end result of what they are doing. And this is what I saw. Scary, isn’t, to see how accurately Edvard Munch already depicted by 1893 the horribility of the Gulf of Mexico’s mess?
Horribility, unintentionally brought about by goodwill scientists operating in a value-free environment, in connivance with shortsighted entrepreneurs financing their research; for all of whom it is not the business to consider the ultimate environmental consequences of their enterprises, while all being pro-actively “governed” by politicians having the attention span of one election, the next. That is a scary picture, indeed!
Later, while surfing the Internet, I came across the site Pictures of Pictures, which allowed me to add another dimension to this analogy of responsibility: All specialized knowledge workers create as individuals beautiful small pictures of the world inside different disciplines, which all together contributes to the representation of the whole human reality. Being all people of good will, they all believe that their work will eventually contribute to the edification of an ideal world, looking like this, like this, or like this, depending of their personal aspirations inside their respective disciplines. Alas, again for me, the world that scientists have created looks more like this than anything else.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find a Scream made of small pictures of specialized fields, and I don’t have the competence to create one.
However,they are not the only responsible, we are all. For instance, without oil I wouldn’t be able to use the computer that increases my efficiency to write in English by at least 60%. Can you imagine? Still, the persons the more responsible for what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico are Bill Gate and Steve Jobs. Without PCs, indeed, we couldn’t have dug that deep. That’s a conundrum, isn’t it? We need computers to be efficient in what we are doing, and it is computers (progress) that is the most responsible for what is happening at the moment. Indeed, no PCs, no mega-farms and other mega projects, and no multitude of new modern obsolescent gadgets choking the environment.
It all comes back to the reason why we are using our intellectual capacities. “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons” (Buckminster Fuller). We have indeed reached a point where we are so focused on what we can do for ourselves, that we have forgotten that the main reason why we are doing everything we are doing is to adapt ourselves to the environment. The problem resides in the fact that we have become so efficient in our capacity to adapt to a global environment, and so alienated from it, that nature cannot control our development, like it controls the development of all the other species. Furthermore, since we are proactive and haven’t yet found ways to control ourselves, we have become our own out-of-control threat.
Nevertheless, if we ever succeeded in humanely controlling ourselves for the benefit of all and of the environment, the computer will have come to play a crucial role in this endeavor, and Bill Gate and Steve Jobs will then be considered as being the Twentieth Century’s Gutenbergs and the saviors of civilization.
However, until then, if you are a specialist of any kind, you cannot see the real cause of the present human crisis. Since, if you are efficient in what you are doing, especially if you are “articulated,” you have brought it on ourselves from the inside, and, being integrated to it as a part of a continuous process, it has become the blind spot in your vision of the world.
If you are unhappy in what you’re doing and about the state of the world that you are occupying, though, I will please you by telling you that you are in right state of mind, and by giving you the basis on which you can use your talents to quit making it worse for the whole environment while “making a living” for yourself, and start making it better. This stand for everybody, even those who are working for the betterment of the environment or strongly criticizing the present state of the world: nothing concretes will ever happen, until everybody acts in his or her life for the right reason. And presently nobody can, because this “reason,” which will become obvious once divulged, stems from the “antithesis” of the present-day accepted foundations of our sociobiological nature.
Before I reveal the logical fallacy that is the root cause of the present mayhems, though, I need t to make some final remarks on the limitations of specialization.
Almost one hundred years ago, long before specialized science became as critical as it is today, Georg Lukács’, in “History and Class Consciousness,” was already perceiving their limitations:
Capitalist division of labour engender a corresponding fragmentation in philosophy and in the sciences. This fragmentation results in narrow specialization and in an effort to interpret all the specialized sciences in terms of an abstract and mathematically oriented system of formal laws. The more highly developed a specific scientific endeavour is, the more it tends to be a formal, closed system of its own partial laws. Thus, the specialized sciences lose sight of the “whole”,and more and more consider their own concrete ontological or material base [premises, my understanding] as being outside of their sphere of investigation. . . . “it is the very success with which the economy rationalized and transformed into an abstract and and mathematically oriented system of formal “laws” that creates the methodological barrier to understanding the phenomenon of crisis” [My emphases] …
Emil Oesterecher, referring to Georg Lukács’ History and class consciousness (1923),in “Praxis: The Dialectical Source of Knowledge, (1975) p. 225
It is such a thoughtful lecture on division of labor that supports my belief that science as a whole has reached its practical limits and that no scientists within it is “remotely fit” to understand the present world crisis from a professional point of view. Of course, as a group, scientist and philosopher minutely know all about the effects of this crisis, but individually they have never been prone to look for its deep cause, since they are all part of, or closely associated with, the 10% of adults accounting for 85% of the world total assets who have benefited the most from its making. Not because they intended to, but, again, because they were all ignorantly working on the basis of a false premise about our biosocial nature, which is only today showing its morbid consequences.
Here, a nota bene must be made about the difference between applied and fundamental sciences. If I have never been burdened by such a difference, it is because both adepts are equally responsible for the present state of the world, but for different reasons. Applied scientists, because they have become very good at applying their science in a now-obvious wrong context, which they contribute to maintain, not being their responsibility to remodel, and the fundamental scientists, although it is their responsibility, won’t ever do anything about it, on account of their above-mentioned intellectual inertia.
The same can be said of business. Science and business, being both individual as well as collective enterprises, are both parts of the same dialectics. They both represent the thesis and the antithesis of a rational cooperation. While science uses the work of individual scientists to accumulate shared knowledge for the sake of it (thesis), entrepreneurs use the collective work of people in society to accumulate riches for their own sake (antithesis). Furthermore, they both mainly contribute to the imbalance of nature, since they both use each others—scientists, business fundings to accumulate knowledge, and business, scientific knowledge to accumulate riches—to attain goals that are unsound, since they all stem from an understanding of our biosocial nature that is itself ill founded. (This dialectical link that exists between science and business is only one example of what the “universal dialectical pattern” that I have uncovered allows me to perceive in human nature.)
Here are two more instances of commonly accepted fallacies that will sustain my point that science and economy have become completely alienated from nature: The fallacies of progress in general and of the efficiency of transportation in particular.
Simply put, in nature there is no progress. Progress is an illusion, as were the retrograde motion of the planets, when we still believed the earth to be at the centre of the universe and not subject to the same laws as the stars in the heavens. Likewise, the earth is a finite environment from which we are not set-apart, but to which we are totally interconnected in a zero-sum reality.
Progress is an illusion, since every time it makes life easier for ourselves, it inevitably creates more pressure on the environment. Modern cities are a lot cleaner than medieval or 1900’s towns were, but the latter were all still surrounded by pristine forests, and the oceans of the world were still immaculate and swarming with life. Similarly, life expectancy and cleanness have dramatically increased in the West during the last three centuries of progress, but at the cost of the life of many species and by the actual creation of huge garbage accumulations on land and in the oceans. As a whole, the earth is a lot dirtier than it used to be before our era of “progress.”
As for transportation, if we calculated the total distance travelled by all of humanity in a year and divided it by the time needed in social activities directly or indirectly link to transportation: the time use for modern commutation; the time it takes to build and maintain our systems of transportation; to make laws and have them respected, the time used in R&D; to dig for oil; the time people spend working in airports and for transportation elsewhere all over the world; and even the time spent at the racing tracks (automotive industry’s testing ground) as drivers, mechanics, or spectators; etc., I am certain that we don’t go faster per hours now than by horse and buggy, while creating a thousand times more pollution than horses did in 1900. Moreover, if we include the time it took nature to create the oil needed for transportation, we don’t even go at the pace of snails! Outrageously irrelevant? Not for Nature!
And the same can be said about the argument that we are less violent now that we have ever been in the past (Steven Pinker). Indeed, considering as violent everyone who is now or has ever made a living while directly or indirectly working for the military-industrial-corporate-institutional-media complex, or who benefit from its R&D or lobbying (e.g. academic research and politicians), there are a lot more violent people alive today or recently dead that has ever been.
From the point of view of nature, humanity is a disaster of the magnitude of past massive extinctions. If we were not as destructive prior to 1900, it is because science was only at its outset; we didn’t have the means, yet. However, if we only understood the “logical fallacy” at the base of our maladaptation, it doesn’t have to be this way.
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At this point, I am sure that many of you would like me to expose this “fallacy” buried deep in the foundations of our social nature and the “dialectical pattern” that made me uncover it, but I can’t. It would mean nothing to you at this point. You would still look at these concepts from your own perspective, and it wouldn’t reveal anything that you would consider crucial to our present crisis. You would only understand all that I would be telling you from the point of view that all your past learning have instilled into you, which, again, is totally based on an error of perspective, like the understanding of the heavens was before Copernicus and Galileo.
Our problems today are not with our understanding the behaviour of the planets, the “wanderers” on the background of the stars, though, but with the understanding of our own rational behaviour on the background of nature. To expose to you now what I have learned in the last forty years from my particular unspecialised perspective would be like trying to explain the theory of relativity to medieval scholastic, still believing that the earth doesn’t move and knowing nothing about the relativity of motion. It would be impossible. This is harsh, but unfortunately true. I know. I have many years of experience in such deaf-ear turning. Here is what I mean:
If I exposed my theory about this original fallacy now, without revealing to you the pattern that puts it in perspective, it would come out to you like the mingled pieces of piano in this Shigeo Fukuda‘s sculpture. And moreover, if I revealed to you now this pattern, here the mirror showing a well-formed piano, without stating my theory, the only thing that it would reveal to you is yourself, burdened by everything that has been “nurturally” scripted up until now on your already “loaded slate.” So, I am asking you to be patient and accept these epistemological difficulties of mine. What I am going to tell you will at first look like a pile of junk from your different perspectives. However, eventually, if you give me the chance to throw light on my theory, it will hopefully all make us think like we need to, differently.
Firstly, before I expose the “universal” pattern that made me uncover all this, I need to tell you about the thought process that eventually made me infer from Chomsky’s notion of “human universal” this “fundamental error of perspective” in speakable terms. And only in conclusion, will I allow myself to expose the fundamental “logical fallacy” that this error of perspective made us accept as the driving force behind all our progressive endeavors. To follow this exposé of mine, you will need to put aside what you have learned up until now, silent your mind and listen to me. I believe that I have owned the privilege. And if you think that my sentences are long and intricate, go read the writings of the past Renaissance thinkers, who also didn’t know in modern terms what they were talking about.
© 2010 A.Gaudwin