A friend asked me this morning how I found the ideas that I am attached to. Did I intuit them or do they come directly from my reading and hence have some attributable source? I had never given much conscious thought to how I think and so Jean got me going – here is my reply plus a bit more
What a good question! I start with an intuition but thankfully I am finding more and more science to back me up. I ground all my work in a hypothesis..Which is –
I think that we have been blinded from a proper understanding of nature by our manufactured modern dogma just as the medieval mind was in its own turn blinded by the dogma of its time. I believe that if we could see our nature and nature more clearly that most of our problems could be made better.
Much of what I read is either intuitive – Robert Ardrey speculating on the unit size of a hunting band in 1970 which is then supported later in science by Robin Dunbar who today has found the neocortex formula for human groups and Magic Numbers.
Often I take an idea from over there and apply it over here. I read about chaos theory and apply it to culture shifts. I read about Information Theory developed for rangefinding and telephone networks and apply it to human communication.
I rarely speculate entirely. Most importantly I filter everything I read through a point of view. I read incessantly about physics, nature, evolution and networks. I am an Historian by education and have discovered that the higher, or the longer the time frame, the more clearly the patterns of history are revealed. So I also look for bifurcation in history. My timetable has extended back to the beginning of the solar system. I look at the evolution of life and of living systems My main interest today is the study of early man and our development as primates and hunter gatherers.
I am hopeful as we stand at the edge of either a catastrophe or a renewal. I think that have the potential to experience a new renaissance and that if we look at the last one, we can see the pattern for this type of event.
The medieval world worked well until the 14th century when the complexity of life overwhelmed its ability as system to solve the problems of the day.The Black Death had killed 30% of the population ending the feudal relationships. There was a mini ice age. Civil War in Europe had become pandemic and Christendom as a group was engaged in a 300 year war with Islam Navigation had extended the world beyond Ptolemaic math for navigation. Weapons had become democratic – a Welsh Bowman could kill many expensive Knights – and the reality of military power had been upended asymmetrically. The advent of the printing press had revolutionized the cost and reach of communication putting huge stress on the existing power structures such as the Church and the Monarchy.
Many of these conditions are evident again in some form today. The stress of the medieval world ended when a few men “saw” the ancient world with clear eyes and also the natural world with the dogma stripped off. So for a while, the meaning of the ancient texts was revealed to intellectuals like Petrarch and the meaning of the solar system was revealed to men like Galileo.Observation and intuition became important. Power and relationships shifted and new institutions arose
I feel that we have become blinded by our own set of dogma today as well. Our dogma has shut down as unacceptable our powers of observation and our use of our intuition as to how things are. The good news is that those today who are using their intuition are finding that science is rapidly catching up. As in physics, the breakthrough comes intuitively and then is grounded in observation.
So what is our modern dogma that puts up barriers to intuition and observation? There are four strands that I can see.
The first begins with the Judeo Christian myth than man is put by God in dominion over the world. In other words, that we are not an animal and part of the world but are in fact a unique godlike being who has the right to do anything he wants to the planet and to all others that inhabit it. This idea survived the Renaissance and has become, I think, our biggest block to renewal. It holds in it 3 subset ideas that drive further problems as well. Dualism which prevents us from seeing systems – paradox and complexity. Like the medieval time, our modern world view has worked well but now there is too much complexity for it to cope. Our life has shifted up several gears in complexity and rational thought, the child of dualism, cannot cope with complexity and the unknown. Rational thinking alone is a weak tool as it can only cope with the known. Every breakthrough in science, every great piece of art, has come from the intuitive yet we shun the intuitive as unscientific and un-business like. Rational thinking alone causes us to develop much of our operational dogma of today. These ideas about who we should be are “artefact’s” of our mind and are disconnected from observed reality. I suspect that these are ideas based in the longing for humans to escape their heritage as primates. They include ideas such as: men and women are the same. All humans are created equal. We should find strangers appealing. We are really peace loving beings. If only we were only richer we would be happier and so on. You can feel immediately how heretical it would be to challenge these ideas today. Finally this meme also drives the idea of Redemption after life which allows us to avoid seeing how precious life is while we live it. When we believe in redemption, we can live the live of a slave in hope for a better afterlife. We can work as a drone in the hope of a retirement and so on. We lose the joy of the day.
We have become a planetary species but we think that we are still a village species. I think that these ideas allow us to treat the planet with disrespect and all animals as if they were our objects. This is village thinking where there are no consequences outside the visible and the local. Consequently, we destroy the very systems that support us without “seeing” what we do.We set up aspirations about behaviour and our nature as humans that we can never reach so we feel guilty all the time.
The second set of dogma comes from our Judeo Christian background as well. This time from the Reformation. The kingpin idea is the idea of “success = the chosen”. In the medieval times the aspiration was grace. Not often achieved but the medieval worldview was not driven by the idea of commercial everything. The reformation brought into play the meme of the “elect on earth” who could be observed by how well they did. As a result, doing, activity and success became the measures by which we were measured. This I think has driven the Secular age that we live in now where nearly every act and thing has a commercial value and our principal aspiration is to have more things. This is the now secular consumer meme that Islam seems to have such a problem with and the meme that is at the heart of our current religion the consumer economy.
As a consequence, we live a life now of frenetic activity with a goal that cannot give us satisfaction.
The 3rd dogma is how we make things. Our basic transformative process for materials has been the use of heat and pressure. I think that this came from our experiments with fire and later pottery. The problem with this meme is that it makes all our processes environmentally destructive. Nature makes much better materials than we do and uses chemistry, proteins, water and room temperature.
The result is that we are doing a good job of reversing a key work of evolution which has been to bury heavy metals deep below the surface so that life could live.
The last dogma that I see is the dogma of our view of organization which is driven by the metaphor of the machine. Tools and hence machinery have taken us from the plains of Africa to the modern world. We are tool makers. I think that we have fallen in love with the machine and we use it as a metaphor for most things. A machine is a dualistic concept. They only connect directly to inputs and outputs. They have a cause and an effect which is predictable. They have to have parts in them that “fit”. They are based on the idea of engineering efficiency. They need an outside force to power them. The machine world is a zero sum game
BUT nature does not organize that way. It organizes in nested networks that all interact. We have in the west nearly institutionalized, or put into a machine context, all social aspects of life. We put our children into daycare and then into a school system that teaches dualism and obedience. We work in institutions and when we can work no more we end up in an old people’s home. We have lost adventure, each other and ourselves in the process. Most western families are one parent families now – can’t get any smaller. So we have become parts of a machine like in the film the Matrix. The irony, like in the film, is that we don’t even know it.
The result is that we are stuck as was the 14th century western world.
So where is the new Renaissance? It is surely to be found by looking back at our lives as Hunter Gatherers and “seeing” the wisdom of our heritage and then applying this to our lives today. I don’t mean living in a cave. Petrarch did not try and recreate Athens either. He took the meaning from the ancients and made it real again for his own time. It is is having the humility to observe nature afresh. Just as Galileo looked through his telescope and saw that the Sun and not the earth was the centre of the local system It is to give up intellectual artifact, or the equivalent of religious dogma of the medieval world, wherever possible and to look to nature herself for design for materials and for organization. It is to see that we too are animals and are partners in the biosphere with all other life and so to treat it with the same respect that we want for ourselves.
The huge collective outpouring of ideas around networks, emergent democracy, natural organization etc I find very encouraging. So much is happening in this regard in blogging itself. How do I feel? Frightened. The Renaissance had no guarantees and as two world views clashed at its birth life was especially hard