It is important for us to become fully aware of these pairs of opposites.

Our logical mind does not like them: it generally operates on the either-or or yes-no principle, like a computer. So, at any one time it wishes to give its allegiance to either the one of the other of the pair, and as this exclusiveness inevitably leads to an ever more obvious loss of realism and truth, the mind suddenly changes sides, often without even noticing it.

It swings from one opposite to the other, and every time there is a feeling of ‘making up one's mind afresh'; or else the mind becomes rigid and lifeless, fixing itself on one side of the pair of opposites and feeling that now 'the problem has been solved'.

The pairs of opposites, of which freedom and order and growth and decay are the most basic, put tension into the world, a tension that sharpens man's sensitivity and increases his self-awareness. No real understanding is possible without awareness of these pairs of opposites, which, as it were, permeate everything man does.

Only a higher force - wisdom - can reconcile these opposites. 

The problem cannot be solved; but wisdom can transcend it […] societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation; public interest and private interest; planning and laissez-faire; order and freedom; growth and decay: everywhere society's health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims.

The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man's humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, or generally both.

Divergent problems offend the logical mind which wishes to remove tension by coming down on one side or the other; but they provoke, stimulate and sharpen the higher human faculties without which man is nothing but a clever animal. A refusal to accept the divergency of divergent problems causes these higher faculties to remain dormant and to wither away, and when this happens the 'clever animal' is more likely than not to destroy itself.

Man’s life can thus be seen and understood as a succession of divergent problems which are inevitably encountered and have to be coped with in some way. They are refractory to mere logic and discursive reason, and constitute, as it were, a strain-and-stretch apparatus to develop the Whole Man, and that means to develop man's supra-logical faculties.

All traditional cultures have seen life as a school and have recognised, in one way or another, the essentiality of this teaching force.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.146-8

Without the enemy life would be meaningless and shallow.

To have no enemies, to have no power to decide who to include as a member of the body and who to exclude as a member of the body, is to not be political at all. And since man is political, and this is part of his human nature, those who attempt to eliminate conflict and transform enemies into “rational actors” whom one can persuade to not have qualms with, are nihilists out to destroy man’s political nature.

(Schmitt makes it clear that liberalism is one such force that attempts to eliminate all conflict and, in doing so, would destroy human nature and make man’s life miserable for he would not be political at all, which is to say he would cease being human if he ceased being political.)

[Paul Krause]
'Carl Schmitt: The Friend-Enemy Distinction'

Problem Solving

Convergent          -              Divergent
Simple                 -              Complex
Certain               -               Uncertain
Dead                   -               Living

The methodology of problem-solving, as can easily be observed, is what we might call ‘the laboratory approach'. It consists of eliminating all factors that cannot be strictly controlled or, at least, accurately measured and 'allowed for'.

What remains is no longer a part of real life with all its unpredictabilities, but an isolated system posing convergent, and therefore in principle soluble, problems. The solution of a convergent problem, at the same time, proves something about the isolated system, but nothing at all about matters outside and beyond it.

I have said that to solve a problem is to kill it.

There is nothing wrong with 'killing’ a convergent problem, for it relates to what remains after life, consciousness and self-awareness have already been eliminated. But can - or should - divergent problems be killed? (The words "final solution' still have a terrible ring in the ears of my generation.)

Divergent problems cannot be killed; they cannot be solved in the sense of establishing the 'correct formula'. They can however be transcended.

A pair of opposites - like freedom and order - are opposites at the level of ordinary life, but they cease to be opposites at the higher level, the really human level, where self-awareness plays its proper role. It is then that such higher forces as love and compassion, understanding and empathy, become available, not simply as occasional impulses (which they are at the lower level) but as a regular and reliable resource.

Opposites cease to be opposites; they lie down together peacefully like the lion and the lamb in the study of Saint Hieronymus (who on Dürer's famous picture represents ‘the higher level').

How can opposites cease to be opposites when a "higher force' is present? How is it that liberty and equality cease to be mutually antagonistic and become reconciled' when brotherliness is present? These are not logical but existential questions.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.145-6

The 'inner world' […] is the world of freedom; the outer world […] the world of necessity. All our serious problems of living are suspended, as it were, between these two poles of freedom and necessity. They are divergent problems, not for solving.

Our anxiety to solve problems stems from our total lack of self-knowledge, which has created the kind of existential anguish of which Kierkegaard is one of the early and most impressive exponents. The anxiety to solve problems has led to a virtually total concentration of intellectual effort on the study of convergent problems. Great pride is being taken in this voluntary limitation of the limitless Intellect and its confinement to ‘the art of the soluble'.

'Good scientists,' says Peter B. Medawar, 'study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them’. This is fair enough; it clearly demonstrates, at the same time, that ‘good scientists’ in this sense can deal only with the dead aspect of the Universe.

The real problems of life have to be grappled with. To repeat a quotation from Thomas Aquinas, ‘The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things'; and ‘grappling’ with the help of slender knowledge is the real stuff of life, whereas solving problems - which, to be soluble, must be convergent - with the help of ‘the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things' is merely one of many useful and perfectly honourable human activities designed to save labour.

While the logical mind abhors divergent problems and tries to run away from them, the higher faculties of man accept the challenges of life as they are offered, without complaint, knowing that when things are most contradictory, absurd, difficult and frustrating, then - just then - life really makes sense: as a mechanism provoking and almost forcing us to develop towards higher Levels of Being.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.154-5

Related posts:

An Act of Faith

The task of the descriptive sciences is to describe.

The practitioners of these sciences know that the world is full of marvels which make all of man’s designs, theories or other productions appear as a child’s fumblings. This tends to induce in many of them an attitude of scientific humility. They are not attracted to their disciplines by the Cartesian idea of making themselves 'masters and possessors of nature.’

A faithful description, however, must be not only accurate but also graspable by the human mind, and endless accumulations of facts cannot be grasped; so there is an inescapable need for classifications, generalisations, explanations - in other words, for theories that offer some suggestion as to how the facts may 'hang together'.

Such theories can never be 'scientifically proved’ to be true. The more comprehensive a theory is in the descriptive sciences, the more is its acceptance an act of faith.

Comprehensive theories in the descriptive sciences can be divided into two groups: those that see intelligence or meaning at work in what they describe, and those that see nothing but chance and necessity.

It is obvious that neither the former nor the latter can be 'seen', i.e. sensually experienced by man. In the fourth field of knowledge there is only observation of movement and other kinds of material change; meaning or purpose, intelligence or chance, freedom or necessity, as well as life, consciousness, and self-awareness cannot be sensually observed.

Only 'signs' can be found and observed; the observer has to choose the grade of significance he is willing to attribute to them. To interpret them as signs of chance and necessity is as ‘unscientific' as to interpret them as signs of supra-human intelligence; the one is as much an act of faith as the other.

This does not mean that all interpretations on the vertical scale, signifying grades of significance or Levels of Being, are equally true or untrue; it means simply that their truth or untruth does not rest on scientific proof but on right judgment, a power of the human mind that transcends mere logic just as the computer programmer's mind transcends that of the computer.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.127-8

[…] “the religious man, unless he happens to be a scientist, is unable to make a bridge between himself and them by producing the right initial argument, which must always be on the scientific plane.”

If it is not on the 'scientific plane', he will be shouted down ‘and reduced to silence by all sorts of scientific jargon'.

The truth of the matter, however, is that the initial argument must not be on the scientific plane; it must be philosophical. It amounts simply to this: descriptive science becomes unscientific and illegitimate when it indulges in comprehensive explanatory theories which can be neither verified nor falsified by experiment.

Such theories are not 'science' but ‘faith'.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.134

Related posts:

Levels of Being

Science         -               Religion
Reason           -               Faith
Separate         -               Connected
Hate               -               Love
Head              -               Heart
Lower            -               Higher
Left brain       -               Right brain

In ‘A Guide for the Perplexed’, E.F. Schumacher makes reference to the ancient idea of the Great Chain of Being, suggesting that there are many levels of existence, from Mineral (Matter), to Plant (Life), to Animal (Consciousness), to Man (Self-consciousness), and beyond. There is truth at all levels and so life can be interpreted from any of them, but which you choose is always a matter of faith, not reason.

Religious faith is trusting/believing that there are higher levels, beyond the materialistic reality of science. Faith is a faculty of the heart, science of the head.

Brett Weinstein’s talk with Jonathan Pageau shows an interesting coming together of the different world-views. Weinstein wants to interpret everything through the head, through science, but to truly understand and dialogue with religion means taking it on its own terms and making a leap of faith. The leap itself is the entry requirement - you either leap, or you don’t - but the jump takes you out of science and into another realm entirely. The precepts of science, based as they are in proof and evidence, prevent the leap from being made, hence why the antagonism between religion and science can never really be reconciled.

Throughout the conversation both Weinstein and Pageau are keen to ‘agree’ with the other, which is really a way of showing that whatever argument the other advances has been prefigured and prevents no real threat to their respective world-views. What they are saying when they say ‘I agree’ is ‘my view contains yours.’ In many ways the entire conversation (as with most) was a struggle to assert the primacy of their respective view, albeit in a fairly good natured and non-aggressive way.

This brings to mind Integral and its notion that ‘second tier’ thought (‘Integral’ thought) contains all previous levels. Integral is ultimately a progressive scheme and as such is fundamentally opposed to tradition. There is no way that tradition can be ‘included’ within it because the two are mutually exclusive. Really this is the same as saying that religion cannot be contained within science. 

Integral supposes that as we progress upwards through the various levels of being we can transcend and include those below. Of course, there is some truth in this - if we adopt the modern, liberal, scientistic mindset (‘orange’) then we still contain traces of our more ancient and less civilised selves. However, it may be that these less civilised elements are in fundamental opposition to the later, ‘higher’ levels - there is nothing to say that they can sit together harmoniously within a unified whole.

We only see what our stories allow us to see. In the Great Chain of Being, higher levels are inherently more connected than those below, and in this way they contain them. What is separate at a lower level is seen to be connected at the higher level - indeed, to make connections is to shift to a higher level, to ‘go meta.’ ‘Making connections’ is another way of saying ‘telling a story.’ The validity of the connections that are made at higher levels - the truth of the story - can always be disputed by the level below because every connection is a leap of faith. It is at this point that the dialogue can go no further, because belief is ultimately grounded in faith - you either believe the story or you don’t. No amount of reasoning can facilitate the leap between levels.

Love sees connections. Perhaps Love is connections. This is why faith and love are inextricably linked. But always there is the problem of how to maintain criticality within this context. How to contain hate within love.

It seems to me that science must always be nested within a wider tradition, which is perhaps a way of saying that religion must always contain science, and not the other way around. There is an analogy here to Iain McGilchrist’s notion that the relationship between the brain hemispheres must be fundamentally asymmetrical - that the right must contain the left.

The level of significance to which an observer or investigator tries to attune himself is chosen, not by his intelligence, but by his faith.

The facts themselves, which he is going to observe, do not carry a label indicating the appropriate level at which they ought to be considered. Nor does the choice of an inadequate level lead the intelligence into factual error or logical contradiction. All levels of significance up to the adequate level - i.e. up to the level of meaning […] - are equally factual, equally logical, equally objective, but not equally real.

It is by an act of faith that I choose the level of my investigation; hence the saying 'Credo ut intelligam' - I have faith so as to be able to understand.

If I lack faith, and consequently choose an inadequate level of significance for my investigation, no degree of 'objectivity’ will ever save me from missing the point of the whole thing, and I rob myself of the very possibility of understanding. I shall then be one of those of whom it has been said: 'They, seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.'

In short, when dealing with something representing a higher grade of significance or Level of Being than inanimate matter, the observer depends not only on the adequateness of his own higher qualities, perhaps 'developed’ through learning and training; he also depends on the adequateness of his 'faith’ or, to put it more conventionally, of his fundamental presuppositions and basic assumptions.

In this respect he tends to be very much a child of his time and of the civilisation in which he has spent his formative years; for the human mind, generally speaking, does not just think: it thinks with ideas, most of which it simply adopts and takes over from surrounding society.

Only through the 'heart' can contact be made with the higher grades of significance and Levels of Being.

For anyone wedded to the materialistic scientism of the modern age it will be impossible to understand what this means. He has no belief in anything higher than man, and he sees in man nothing but a relatively highly evolved animal. He insists that truth can be discovered only by means of the brain, which is situated in the head and not in the heart.

All this means that 'understanding with one's heart’ is to him a meaningless collection of words. From his point of view, he is quite right: the brain, situated in the head and supplied with data by the bodily senses, is fully adequate for dealing with inanimate matter, the lowest of the four great Levels of Being. Indeed, its working would only be disturbed and possibly be distorted if the ‘heart' interfered in any way.

As a materialistic scientist, he believes that life, consciousness and self-awareness are nothing but manifestations of complex arrangements of inanimate particles - a 'faith' which makes it perfectly rational for him to place exclusive reliance on the bodily senses, to 'stay in the head', and to reject any interference from the 'powers' situated in the heart.

For him, in other words, higher levels of reality simply do not exist, because his faith excludes the possibility of their existence.

Faith is not in conflict with reason; nor is it a substitute for reason. Faith chooses the grade of significance or Level of Being at which the search for knowledge and understanding is to aim. There is reasonable faith and also unreasonable faith. To look for meaning and purpose at the level of inanimate matter would be as unreasonable an act of faith as an attempt to explain the masterpieces of human genius as nothing but the outcome of economic interests or sexual frustrations.

The faith of the agnostic is perhaps the most unreasonable of all, because, unless it is mere camouflage, it is a decision to treat the question of significance as insignificant, like saying: 'I am not willing to decide whether […] a book is merely a coloured shape, a series of marks on paper, a series of letters arranged according to certain rules or an expression of meaning.'

Not surprisingly, traditional wisdom has always treated the agnostic with withering contempt: ‘I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.’

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.54-7

At all levels of analysis, the level above is unseen from the level below. 

If you’re analysing something at a molecular level you can never see the apple, you’ll see its constituents. If you go down, same problem; if you go up, same problem. If you’re talking about the apple and an orchard, then if you’re looking at the level of the apple you’ll never see the orchard.

Faith is that move between levels. 

From the level at which you are, if you only analyse the elements given to you at that level then there’s no jump to the higher identity. That jump is always a leap of faith. Once you’ve made it then you can analyse things at the higher level.

We can see parts of things, and we can see wholes - we can notice that things are made of parts, and also have unity. But the jump from the parts to the unity is one which is not accessible at the level of the parts.

[Jonathan Pageau]
'Ancient Wisdom, Modern World: Bret Speaks with Jonathan Pageau', YouTube

Evolutionism is not science; it is science fiction, even a kind of hoax.

It is a hoax that has succeeded too well and has imprisoned modern man in what looks like an irreconcilable conflict between 'science' and 'religion'. It has destroyed all faiths that pull mankind up and has substituted a faith that pulls mankind down. Nil admirari.

Chance and necessity and the utilitarian mechanism of natural selection may produce curiosities, improbabilities and atrocities, but nothing that can be admired as an achievement - just as winning a prize in a lottery cannot elicit admiration. There is nothing ‘higher’ and nothing 'lower'; everything is much of a muchness, even though some things are more complex than others – just by chance.

Evolutionism, purporting to explain all and everything solely and exclusively by natural selection for adaptation and survival, is the most extreme product of the materialistic utilitarianism of the nineteenth century. The inability of twentieth-century thought to rid itself of this imposture is a failure that may well cause the collapse of Western civilisation.

For it is impossible for any civilisation to survive without a faith in meanings and values transcending the utilitarianism of comfort and survival - in other words, without a religious faith.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.133

It is not a question of good or bad thoughts.

Reality, Truth, God, Nirvana cannot be found by thought, because thought belongs to the Level of Being established by consciousness and not to that higher Level which is established by self-awareness. At the latter, thought has its legitimate place, but it is a subservient one.

Thoughts cannot lead to 'Awakening' because the whole point is to awake from thinking into 'seeing'.

Thought can raise any number of questions; they may all be interesting, but their answers do nothing to wake us up. In Buddhism, they are called 'vain thoughts'

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.85

Related posts:


Accept            -               Aspire
Static               -               Dynamic

[…] in the second volume of Democracy in America, he presents the energy of democratic society as fueled, in large part, by a certain kind of unhappiness. This unhappiness did not have the character of misery or despair; rather, Tocqueville observed a pervasive unease. The name he gave to this unease was restlessness (inquiétude).

For Pascal, restlessness is an expression of the human need for God. It derives from man’s desire to be immortal. Since man cannot be immortal, “he has decided to prevent himself from thinking about it.” All men have a “secret instinct to seek external diversion and occupation, coming from their feeling of constant wretchedness.”

[...] Tocqueville identifies two main sources of modern restlessness: the democratic preoccupation with material well-being and democratic envy.

Tocqueville argues that, in places untouched by progress, in which one finds a poor and uneducated populace, one finds hardship but also tranquility and resilience amid difficult circumstances. In America, where there is great material prosperity, relatively speaking, and great hopefulness of achieving still more prosperity, one finds widespread discontent.

He describes Americans moving, changing, and shifting from one place to another, from one occupation to another, from one life to another. He describes people buying land and houses only to sell them quickly and changing professions multiple times in their careers.

The phenomena he describes here overlap quite extensively with the universal change and motion that he praised in volume 1. What had been described as expressions of dynamic energy now become expressions of dissatisfaction and discontent.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.441-2, 447

[...] it is an essential characteristic of the personal and modifiable technics of Man, in contrast to the genus technics of animals, that every discovery contains the possibility and necessity of new discoveries, every fulfilled wish awakens a thousand more, every triumph over Nature incites to yet others.

The soul of this beast of prey is ever hungry, his will never satisfied - that is the curse that lies upon this kind of life, but also the greatness inherent in its destiny.

It is precisely its best specimens that know the least quiet, happiness, or enjoyment.

[Oswald Spengler]
Man and Technics, p. 58

To rise in the social scale, even in calm and normal times, the prime requisite, beyond any question, is a capacity for hard work, but the requisite next in importance is ambition, a firm resolve to get on in the world, to outstrip one's fellows.

Now those traits hardly go with extreme sensitiveness or, to be quite frank, with ‘goodness' either. For 'goodness' cannot remain indifferent to the hurts of those who must be thrust behind if one is to step ahead of them [….] If one is to govern men, more useful than a sense of justice and much more useful than altruism, or even than extent of knowledge or broadness of view—are perspicacity, a ready intuition of individual and mass psychology, strength of will and, especially, confidence in oneself.

With good reason did Machiavelli put into the mouth of Cosimo dei Medici the much quoted remark, that states are not ruled with prayer-books.

[Gaetano Mosca]
The Ruling Class, p. 449-50

Lucretius and Epicurus did not promise this kind of complete knowledge at all and took no interest in the technology that might grow from it. Their belief in chance went deeper, making them much more radically sceptical.

They had no confidence in any practical attempt to improve human life. Epicurus himself actually despised the pursuit of theoretical knowledge for its own sake as one more distraction from the pursuit of inner peace and warned his followers against it. 'Set your sail, O happy youth,' he cried, ‘and flee from every form of education.'

Lucretius is indeed more interested in details about atoms, but for him too knowledge itself is not the aim. Knowledge is a means not an end, a means to inward peace, not to improved outward activity. Primarily it is a cure for anxiety, a path to ataraxia, peace of mind.

What the Epicureans were preaching was essentially a fatalistic quietism. They did not think that human happiness could be increased at all either by political activity or by the satisfactions of love, or indeed by knowledge either.

Instead, they put their faith in a stern limitation of human ambition, a concentration on what little is possible to us here and now.

They thought that people who had once fully grasped that they could not change the world at all, either by sacrificing to the gods or by any other kind of effort, would cease their anxious striving, would compose their minds, would be able to enjoy the satisfactions that life actually gave them in the present, and would console themselves for their sorrows by admiring the cosmos.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.37-8

Contrasting free societies with those that are not free, Tocqueville writes that the former are “all bustle and activity,” while the latter are static and self-satisfied. In the former, “improvement and progress are on everyone’s mind.”

He thus seems to have judged that the constant change to which Americans were exposed made them adventurous and innovative, and this drove them to success in commercial pursuits. Even Lawler, whose book The Restless Mind greatly illuminated the influence of Pascal’s profoundly negative view of restlessness on Tocqueville, acknowledged that “Tocqueville sees greatness in the restlessness of the Americans.”

While Tocqueville spoke admiringly of the energy he observed in Americans, and of the lively, vibrant pace of their economic and political life, his praise for the spiritual effects of the “universal movement” occurring in America culminates in the suggestion that it gives rise to excellence in commercial pursuits. 

That is certainly noteworthy, but Tocqueville himself did not regard excellence in commercial pursuits as the highest kind of human excellence.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.446

Notes: Iain McGilchrist - ‘Iain McGilchrist on The Matter With Things’

Notes: Iain McGilchrist, The Jim Rutt Show - ‘EP 154 Iain McGilchrist on The Matter With Things’, ‘EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things’


Jim: But to turn loose of objects as a core object in cognition for useful action in the world, I think is very dangerous. I often run into people trying to sell too much quantum mechanics with respect to its relevance higher up in the world.

Iain: […] my point is not that thinking of things as objects in daily life is necessarily wrong from a pragmatic point of view. I’m really making a philosophical point that actually when you come to look at them, that they’re better understood as processes, some very slow processes, some much more rapid processes. But it stops one from making elementary mistakes, like seeing them as sharply defined and distinct from the environment that they thrive in.

Jim: Maybe time is discontinuous at that range, or as I like to think, the distinction between continuous and discontinuous disappears into a fog of confusion at that scale, but I think my takeaway is that things that occur at this ultra micro level do not matter at the level of us.

Iain: Yes, you are right in one sense that when we’re dealing with daily life, we don’t have to be thinking about whether there is continuity or not.

Rutt points out that there are certain distinctions that are irrelevant at the everyday scale - that, for instance, it doesn’t really matter to most of us whether time is ultimately discontinuous because whether it is or isn’t has no impact on our decisions.

McGilchrist makes the point that distinctions at the level of ‘deep code’ are in fact important - that everyday life is, in fact, downstream from such deep, philosophical distinctions, and so it is important to get them right. Our worldview is the water that we swim in, it affects everything albeit in a very indirect fashion.

For instance, to give ‘process’ primacy over ‘state’ is important as it gives us a philosophical base which leads to wiser decisions at the everyday level. It establishes that the right hemisphere is primary and checks the expansiveness of the left hemisphere from the get-go.

Deep code, defaults

I take randomness to be an asymptotic element that we can only approach ever nearer to, but never actually to achieve - that order is the principle that is visible everywhere and that true randomness is not a reality. 

Although degrees of chaos, degrees of disorder are very, very important to the functioning of almost anything that we can think of, especially of life.

Animism, consciousness, order, process are the defaults, and their opposites - inanimacy, chaos, stasis - are asymptotic, limit conditions. That they appear to be real - that an object appears still, or a process appears chaotic - is an illusion of scale. Look closely enough and a deeper reality is revealed.

State / Process

I’m a follower of process philosophy. The most famous person in that sphere is A.N. Whitehead. And I effectively believe that what we see as things - which implies somehow that they’re contained and perhaps rather static and until given a push - is a mistake if we see it that way, because what they really are all processes.

I sometimes give the example of the mountain behind my house, which looks very solid, a very great big lump and a thing. But actually if you had a time lapse camera going back 13 billion years, you would see that it’s part of a wave that still hasn’t finished its motion.

So yeah, this business of freezing things, examining little tiny parts […] it can tell you something about the little bit you’re looking at, but it can’t tell you about the bigger picture.

I sometimes quote Yates saying, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?” Because in a way, we are what we do, we become what our actions and interactions in the world make us.

Life is in some sense a speeding up of specific fundamental processes within a bounded region, a whirlwind.


[…] we have to have some idea about how we come towards ideas that are truer than others. And I’m not suggesting that there is one simple truth, but we wouldn’t be able to do anything or say anything unless we believe that certain things were truer than others. So how do we get that?

[…] there’s a difference between the left hemisphere’s idea of truth and the right hemisphere idea of truth.

[…] correspondence truth is the idea that the propositions that we make or have the thoughts, beliefs that we have a kind of version of the world, they reflect the world so that we’ve got a model to be able to work on. Whereas, coherence theory says it’s not about correspondence in a one-to-one way, it’s more about do these various aspects of what we believe to be true make a coherent whole?

I don’t think that either of these is right and I quote Anthony Quinton saying that probably truth will turn out to be an amalgam of these points of view.

But I think we can also, using the hemisphere approach, see a certain difference, which is that the left hemisphere is again viewing the world, the cosmos, as made of things, of stuff, bits here and there, whereas the right hemisphere is likely to prioritize relationships. This is what it is always seeing in both the human and the non-human world. And so it’s interested in the relationships that come and go between the observer and the thing that’s observed.

And the idea of this is not truth as a thing or correctness - which lies in a way behind all the left hemisphere versions of how we get at truth, including the coherence theory and the correspondence theory - it’s not so much like that, as a clearing a way of error.

So it’s working apophatically, in the way that science actually works, which is to clear away mistakes. Science never says this is true, it just says, this doesn’t look true on the basis of what we know now. And that leaves you with something else that you can work with.

[…] truth [is] as a process […] a never ending journey of a reverberative kind in which our consciousness and the consciousness of what is around us come into alignment. And this doesn’t really have the same features as a world of things that are in principle knowable, even if we can’t actually know them too well.

I oppose to that, the idea of truth as unconcealing, in other words, clearing away so that we see the picture ever more clearly, rather as a sculptor makes a statue, not by putting together an arm, a leg ahead, and a torso, but by actually clearing away the stone, that makes the thing stand out.

The process view of truth is provisional and more humble - it stops us from thinking that we have the truth, and so prevents the ‘seizing up’ of fundamentalism.

'Correctness' is only truly relevant to closed systems, such as mathematics. There is no binary correct/incorrect within a complex domain, only probability.  

Tradition is the container of innovation, which is another way of saying that the left hemisphere is contained within the right. 

In modernity the left hemisphere is uncontained and rampant, and so innovation becomes aimless and ultimately toxic for the wider collective.

The presence of complexity indicates the presence of a soul.

Finite and Infinite Games

Finite                -                 Infinite
Bounded           -                 Unbounded
Extrinsic            -                 Intrinsic
State                  -                 Process
Zero-sum           -                 Non-zero-sum
Short term          -                 Long term

Infinite and finite games can be roughly mapped to McGilchrist's conception of the left and right hemispheres. 

The idea that "finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game" mirrors McGilchrist's suggestion that the relationship between the hemispheres is asymmetrical, with the left contained within, or subordinate to, the right (the left acting as the 'emissary' to the right's 'master').

There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game.

A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants […]

‘Finite and Infinite Games’, Wikipedia

Here are the rules of finite and infinite games:

  1. A finite game has a “playing field”, either physical or virtual, while infinite games have no boundaries.

  2. We cannot play a finite game alone. We must have an opponent to play against and usually teammates to play with.

  3. Only one person or team can win a finite game.

  4. Participation must be voluntary. If you must play a game, you cannot play a game.

  5. The rules of a finite game are the mutually-accepted terms that dertermine the winner. In an infinite game, the rules must change during the course of play to prevent anyone from winning, and to bring as many other persons as possible into play.

  6. Finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game.

[Al and David Blixt]
‘Never Win the Infinite Game’

James Carse has a distinction between finite games and infinite games. A finite game is a game that’s played because there is a goal to this game, which is as it were to pot all the billiard balls and win.

But there are other games in life which are absolutely not pointless or purposeless, but don’t have any interior purpose.

What is the purpose of playing music? What is the purpose of a play? It’s not something external that it has utilitarian value in reaching. It’s that the process itself is the purpose and the continuing of it infinitely would be a fulfilment of that purpose.

So it’s quite different from the finite situation in which you’re closing down on one particular outcome.

[…] the infinite games have intrinsic purpose, whereas the finite games have extrinsic purpose. They have a goal that’s definable. The purpose of the system is only fulfilled once it reaches that particular goal, whereas many purposes are not of that nature. They don’t have to have reached a certain point or certain goal, but their purpose lies within them.

When you come to think of animals, I think this is rather important, because the tendency is to think that somehow the purpose of living is to pass on life. Well, it depends how you think of that. If you think of life as a celebratory entity that we don’t understand, that we are part of and wish to continue being in and to continue making, then yes, but not in the sense that its purpose of life is to propagate your genes by copulation.

This is to reduce things to an almost absurd level.

[Iain McGilchrist]
‘EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things’, The Jim Rutt Show, YouTube

Related posts:

The Goldilocks Zone

The edge of chaos is a transition space between order and disorder that is hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. This transition zone is a region of bounded instability that engenders a constant dynamic interplay between order and disorder.

In the sciences in general, the phrase has come to refer to a metaphor that some physical, biological, economic and social systems operate in a region between order and either complete randomness or chaos, where the complexity is maximal.

Adaptation plays a vital role for all living organisms and systems. All of them are constantly changing their inner properties to better fit in the current environment. The most important instruments for the adaptation are the self-adjusting parameters inherent for many natural systems. The prominent feature of systems with self-adjusting parameters is an ability to avoid chaos. The name for this phenomenon is "Adaptation to the edge of chaos".

Adaptation to the edge of chaos refers to the idea that many complex adaptive systems (CAS) seem to intuitively evolve toward a regime near the boundary between chaos and order. 

Physics has shown that edge of chaos is the optimal settings for control of a system. It is also an optional setting that can influence the ability of a physical system to perform primitive functions for computation. In CAS, coevolution generally occurs near the edge of chaos, and a balance should be maintained between flexibility and stability to avoid structural failure. 

As a response to coping with turbulent environments; CAS bring out flexibility, creativity, agility, anti-fragility and innovation near the edge of chaos; provided the network structures have sufficient decentralized, non-hierarchical network structures.

'Edge of Chaos'

Related posts:

Sedentary / Mobile

Sedentary                -                      Mobile
State                        -                      Process
Permanence            -                      Change

A sense of looseness, negotiatedness, or temporariness is prominent in Pintupi social action. Very little ever seems "settled."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.275

When individuals have the capacity to choose which social relations to sustain, such relations tend to be fragile.

On the other hand, Pintupi personal autonomy depends upon sustaining relations with others. Thus, the temporary polity must be continually renegotiated among the autonomous actors who are involved with each other. Aurarky is not by any means the goal of Pintupi action. On the contrary, they prefer to live with others. 

The question is whether any particular aggregation of persons can endure.

Thus, the relief with which older Pintupi describe the traditional movements out from the large, fixed gatherings at summer water holes to small, autonomous family groups is paralleled by contemporary events. Since establishing the early outstations in 1973, Pintupi continue to move centrifugally outward from the large settlements, where conflict and tension have been marked, to smaller and relatively more peaceful outstations.

The Pintupi system of organization places little emphasis on maintaining the structure of any residential community, finding its duration in other social forms. The relations that endure, objectified in the reproduction of "country," are those of the broader translocal social structure.

What it preserves, rather than community integrity, is individual autonomy. But the structure assumes the possibility of mobility among people who live in small and changing local groups. These have not been the conditions of the large, sedentary Aboriginal settlements of the past fifty years.

The critical feature of Pintupi politics is the continuing emphasis on individual autonomy, that sociality is reproduced without an individual's subordination to a higher-order social unit such as a “community.”

The Pintupi, in other words, are not communal. Society is not accomplished through an individual's duty to a corporation of which he or she is a part, but by obligations individuals have to each other.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.256-7

The Pintupi case illustrates that the relations enduring through time are those of the broader translocal social structure. Thus, the production of social persons is concerned specifically with the reproduction of the condition of widespread relatedness among people.

However much actual bands may coalesce and disperse, an underlying nexus of relations must be sustained.

On the one hand, individuals do not identify entirely with or subordinate their autonomy to the band they are currently living with; on the other hand, they must sustain the possibility of entering into productive relations with others not included in the current residential group. With the ironies so characteristic of history, the enduring dimension of Pintupi structure reflects regional organization as the condition on which any concrete residential community can exist.

Broader ties, in turn, limit the continuity of any residential group.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.291

Pintupi "trouble" is resolved less often by collective action and subordination of individual autonomy than it is by a reaggregation of people in space.

Pintupi remember the large aggregate communities that once formed around the few available water sources in summer months as exciting and socially intense. However, their descriptions also testify to mounting tension and conflict when coresidence had to be sustained for a long time.

During these larger gatherings, ceremony was the effective means of integrating coresidents into a more comprehensive community by coordinating autonomy and relatedness. Insofar as ritual requires large numbers of people, this correspondence was obviously more than a felicitous coincidence.

The large and semipermanent quality of contemporary Pintupi communities makes them similar to the temporary aggregations of Western Desert summers. Indeed, throughout the Northern Territory, observers have commented on the tension, conflict, and strain that settlement life imposes on Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal people who came to live at Papunya attempted to integrate themselves as "one countrymen" by traditional means, through marriage exchange and shared ritual. But the problems presented by the increased social scale and the permanence of sedentary life proved too great to surmount except by fission.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.259

Related posts:

Come Together

The cultural meaning Pintupi attribute to "happiness" is clear in the following example. 

Informants frequently told me that the settlement where they lived was "not a happy place." There were fights all the time because there were "no ceremonies." There should be, they said, "ceremonies all the time." Indeed, on a day in which numerous fights and arguments were occurring, several men suggested that a ceremony be organized to stop the fighting. This would, it was thought, make everyone happy.

There is a reality to this expectation. Singing functions as a "ritual process" that reduces discord, and it also presents participants with a lesson about what it means to be among walytja.

Typically, when ceremonies take place among people who do not usually camp together, they are organized to reflect cooperation and complementarity (through exchange of functions and meat), drawing symbolically on the model of the individual camp. Ceremony presents intergroup relations as involving the same mutuality and sharing as other relations of walytja. Indeed, those with whom one takes part in a ceremony become walytja to a degree.

To the Pintupi, singing provides a salient image of sociability. Whenever large groups came together in traditional times, they would sing together at night. Ceremony-song and dance was the real content of most intergroup relations.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.112

Related posts:


Juniors, then, experience the authority and autonomy of The Dreaming as mediated by their seniors. Through their own acquisition of knowledge, they move toward a similar autonomy vis à vis their successors.

The metaphor of "holding" and "passing on" the Law, conceived of as an object, mediates the relations between generations [...]

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.242

Ritual knowledge constitutes the widest, hierarchically encompassing sphere of exchange among men within a region.

The transmission of knowledge not only differentiates older from younger, but comprises a critical element in reproducing the regional system by increasing the ties of "overall relatedness" which an individual has with people from far away. This hierarchy is established in the social production of persons.

Such hierarchy in Pintupi life assures that “relatedness” does not have to be totally recreated anew by each individual. 

Shared identity already exists, as it were, not merely as the product of individual arrangements but inscribed in The Dreaming, objectified in the landscape from which persons come.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.221

Related posts:

Transcendent Law

Immanent                      -                      Transcendent
Human                          -                      Gods
Temporary                     -                      Permanent

As the Pintupi see it, morally binding social consensus cannot be generated by human decision-making. Rather, consensus is maintained by common adherence to a shared, external, and autonomous code: The Dreaming.

What they call "the Law" is not something made by humans. Not the creation of any person or group, the Law is outside human control and cannot be the vehicle of any private interests or selfish pursuits. 

Those who cite The Dreaming as dictating a certain course of action are not perceived as making a personal statement of preference or desire, but rather as offering an impersonal, non-self-related precedent, divorcing themselves from any interest in the outcome. Thereby, they avoid "shame."

By following this course, one presents oneself as not trying to force others to submit to one's own will. All submit, instead, to the same transcendental moral imperative, before which humans are merely passive. Besides avoiding "embarrassment," this strategy also removes the decision from any quarrel or negotiation, from pleas for "compassion."

The Dreaming externalizes social facts into binding normative rules in a way that human consensus never can. It constitutes impersonal models for reality, to which everyone must submit: ground rules beyond negotiation. 

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.125, 255

The principles to which the Pintupi look for guidance and which they manipulate in daily life are not seen as the creations of contemporary men and women. Consequently, current action is not understood as the result of human alliances, creations, and choices, but is seen as imposed by an embracing, cosmic order.

The Dreaming, then, can be reduced to its significant features, which constitute it as transcending the immediate and present. The concept dichotomizes the world into that which is yuti ("visible") and that which is tjukurrpa, where the latter lies outside human affairs and constitutes an enduring, primary reality.

This construction occurs in space, on the landscape, where it creates places with enduring identity and relationship to other sites.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.69

What sustains the social objectivity of norms that transcend immediate relations? One might argue that the importance of male initiation and male cult provides a way in which a man is reoriented to a greater value than his relatedness to kin—to The Dreaming.

Those who violate The Dreaming's Law, say the Pintupi, will be killed "without sorrow." Male initiation provides a mechanism for reorienting subjectivity, for assuring conformity to things of transcendental value, for ensuring that concerns beyond the immediate feelings of relatedness will prevail when vital moral issues are at stake.

The description of sacred objects, songs, and the like as "Law” emphasizes their obligatory power. In Pintupi theory, it appears, the binding power of Law over compassion comes from "sorrow"—itself the very expression of relatedness to others, just as in Freudian theory the superego derives from the id in order to oppose it. How else could Pintupi overcome the tendency to "compassion"?

Men are bound to the higher Law through the same considerations of relatedness and "sorrow" for the dead, and they deny "compassion" as agents of a higher authority and not of their own will. It is not an egotistic denial of relatedness but an acceding to the authority of the framework on which Pintupi society is based.

Thus, they are not responsible personally: The Dreaming is something outside of them to which they must conform.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.119

An individual is identified with his Dreaming. 

People are often referred to in terms stressing their identity to The Dreaming, that is, a man may be called “Emu Dreaming" or "Possum Dreaming." And just as others refer to figures in The Dreaming by kinship terms, people frequently discuss the events of their own Dreaming in the first person. 

In this sense, an individual is, from conception, identified with a Dreaming and through it to a place. 

As transformations of the same Dreaming, place and person share an identity of substance. That a person's identity is thus founded on something that is unchanging, not created by human beings, and absolutely distinctive, defines individuals to possess a degree of autonomy as part of who they are. 

In this theory of human substance, a part of each person is owed to no other person.

This belief is part of the ontology that perceives everything as having "become real" from The Dreaming. Indeed, the strongest claims of place identity are those that are clearly "from The Dreaming."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.131, 145

Pintupi will accept an elder's actions in sustaining the level of organization they call the Law as a form of “looking after.”

Such is clearly not the case for actions intended to sustain “the community." The authority of a "boss” does not include the right to create laws that impinge on other people's autonomy, but to mediate determinations that are already accepted.

No direct mechanism exists for objectifying political decisions into guiding principles. To do so would require removing from the actions of men their identification with subjective personal will, interest and responsibility. In the context of the Village Council, an acceptable resolution of hierarchy and equality is thus difficult to maintain.

The traditional Pintupi construction of authority accomplishes its resolution of hierarchy and autonomy outside the consciousness of actors.

The projection of artifacts of legitimate social consensus to a realm of being divorced from subjectivity - The Dreaming - enables these norms to be mediated to human society through the nurturance of senior males. Such norms are not perceived, consequently, as arbitrary injunctions placed on one's actions by the will of others […] The authority of seniors is thus not their "own idea" but rather a mediation of the transcendent authority of The Dreaming.

As with many undifferentiated societies, inequality is represented as deriving from powers exogenous to the social system. The "higher" level of society (in the Pintupi case, The Dreaming) is not understood by participants as a product of human activity, although it is human social action that reproduces it. Instead, the genuine ontological difference that the higher level presents to individual consciousness is articulated as the presence of a self-sufficient reality on which the realm of human life depends.

Village Council decisions and rules, contrastingly, lack this ontological resonance. Because council decisions are clearly perceived not as principles transcending time, but as human products, they lack legitimacy. Rarely do such decisions stand.

The problem is that the councillors are not mediating an authority that exists outside of themselves […] At one point, the Yayayi council agreed that alcoholic beverages would be prohibited in that settlement. One man's reaction was indicative of the issue: "It's only their idea," he insisted. "They are just men, like me."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.265-7

Related posts:

Ghost in the Machine

The trouble is not just that Democritus' proposal of fitting mind into the atomic scheme by supplying it with smooth round atoms turned out not to work because there were no such atoms. Even if there had been those atoms, they still would not have furnished a usable way of thinking about mind or consciousness.

To do that we have to have a language for the subjective. We have to take seriously what happens at the first-person point of view. And there is no way of doing this inside the atomic scheme, which is irredeemably an external, third-person one.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.89

[…] the imaginative picture which has shaped our supposed modern problem of free will shows human life, no longer as a drama where active people struggle against difficulties, but as one where they do not exist as distinct entities at all, only as areas of matter which are passive cogs, parts of a vast alien machine.

That is the picture which Richard Dawkins presents so forcefully at the outset of his book The Selfish Gene, writing that 'We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes' (p. 10). Dawkins evidently does not regard this phrase as rhetoric but in some sense as literal fact, for he adds 'This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment'.

This kind of image, however, is not one that could be literally believed in. It belongs essentially to third-person talk. It is a way of thinking devised for describing other people. There is no way in which we ourselves could set about living if we really envisaged ourselves as cogs or vehicles. For people who are not actually paralysed, this pattern is too fatalistic to provide any usable view of life.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.143

Related posts: 

Cutting Ties

Free                    -                       Tethered
Shallow              -                       Deep
Short Term         -                       Long Term

Liberalism tends to place the emphasis on the individual and on the universal collective that contains all individuals. Groupings - those intermediary levels between the individual and the global collective - are generally deemphasised, or discouraged.

By its nature a group is exclusionary, defining its identity as much by what it is not as what it is. The more vivid the identity of the group, the firmer its boundaries. Because liberalism is predicated on the notion of individual freedom and autonomy, and on the free flow of goods, services, ideas, and people within a universal, global market, it must work against anything that may inhibit this flow. In this context, groupings - with their localised customs and norms - act as circuit breakers, impeding the wider flow.

Accordingly, liberalism tends to focus on the restrictive aspect of groupings, characterising them as systems of oppression that place unnecessary and tyrannical inhibitions on the individual. The project of liberalism is to dissolve the boundaries of the group and to set the individual free within the global market - in other words, to maximise flow. Groupings are permitted to the extent that they do not impede this flow in any serious way.

Liberalism points out that groupings are artefacts of culture, rather than nature, and that our natural state is as autonomous individuals. Groupings are, in other words, constructions. They may once have served a purpose, but most are old relics that can be deconstructed.

When the idea of the group loses its positive meaning then to be ensconced unthinkingly within a group becomes pathological - ‘groupthink.’ The modern person must seek autonomy and is encouraged at all times to 'think for themselves', independently of custom and local norms, and to question received wisdom. 

We see this in the work of many twentieth century psychologists - from Jung, to Laing, to Berne, to Winnicott - whose theories of psychological development were all grounded in the liberal, progressive mindset. In their view an optimum, healthy person is unencumbered by group-ties, which are generally seen in only their negative light, as shackles to be thrown off.

[…] not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him: it throws him back for ever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.

[Alexis de Tocqueville]
Democracy in America, part 2, book 2, chapter 27

During the last four centuries political thinkers in the West have concentrated mainly on limiting [wider] claims. They have put genuinely heroic efforts into cutting bonds. They have managed to free people from endless forms of oppression, both political and domestic, and of course this has been a splendid achievement. The difficulty is just in seeing what it leads to now.

Freedom itself is a negative ideal. Its meaning depends in each case on what particular bonds it frees us from.

The reformers who fought each special kind of oppression were always led by a vision of a particular kind of freedom that would replace it, a special way in which society would be changed when they had cut a certain kind of bond. But it has gradually become plain that this bond-cutting sequence is cumulative, which means that it cannot go on for ever.

Humans are bond-forming animals. When all the bonds are cut - when the various kinds of freedom are all added together – when a general vision of abstract freedom from every commitment replaces the more limited aims - then, it seems, we might be left with a meaningless life. It begins to seem doubtful whether any kind of human society is then possible at all.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.21

Pintupi concepts of the emotions constitute a subjectivity that recognizes a significant identify with important others, such that these others are represented as part of the self.

The self is not an aggressive, self-contained, egotistic, or entirely autonomous individual. Rather, one must be malleable to others, not "hard.” One should be moved, not stolid in willfulness.

Going through initiation provides the means by which young males become able to exchange with older men, a step in the direction of equality. Initiation entitles them to take control of the sacred knowledge that is necessary for the performance and direction of ceremonies.

This control is a token of their personal autonomy, but the central theme of Pintupi sociality remains, that one cannot be autonomous by oneself. "Freedom” requires the help of other men. 

When a young man at Yayayi tried to assert himself as free of obligation to others, older men chastised him in a revealing way: "Did you become a man by yourself? We grew you up. We made you into a young man!"

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.124, 174

While there is no basis in subsistence production for inequality among adults, this is not true of the larger process of social reproduction. One can feed oneself, but it is easier to do so in concert with a larger, cooperative group - a "band."

Furthermore, living with a larger group offers some protection from the danger of attack. Finally, the division of labor makes it important for men and women to have access to each other's labor. Thus, marriage is desirable.

All these activities require sustaining one's relationships with others.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.254

In the same way that courses in economics claim merely to describe human beings as utility-maximizing individual actors, but in fact influence students to act more selfishly, so liberalism teaches a people to hedge commitments and adopt flexible relationships and bonds.

Not only are all political and economic relationships seen as fungible and subject to constant redefinition, so are all relationships to place, to neighborhood, to nation, to family, and to religion.

[…] the default basis for evaluating institutions, society, affiliations, memberships, and even personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one's choices upon the community, one's obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God.

Liberalism encourages loose connections.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.33-4

Tocqueville points out that the constant movement of Americans from place to place and from one profession to another deprives people of their ties to one another.

It causes them to abandon their friends and families and makes the people in each profession “strangers to one another, each indifferent and almost invisible to all the rest.” This compounds the severing of connections between individuals in democracy that makes them “at once independent and weak.”

It also changes men’s relationship to their work. When people are frequently changing their professions, few experience the satisfaction that comes from long mastery of a craft or art. There is, Tocqueville reflects, “something unexpected and in a sense improvised about [Americans’] lives. Hence they are often forced to do things that they barely learned, to speak of things they scarcely understand, and to engage in labors for which no long apprenticeship has prepared them.”

Thus, democracy makes it harder to take satisfaction from work, even as it puts paid work at the center of men’s lives.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.450

Related posts:

Narrow Contexts

Science only ever deals with abstracted, narrow contexts which give partial views. It must always be nested within a tradition, a wider story that weaves all contexts into a cohesive whole, and that doesn’t allow the extremes of constructivism (all nurture) or biological determinism (all nature). 

Within tradition there must be a good reason to inquire, a reason that relates to the wider context and worldview of the tradition. Inquiry for the sake of inquiry, out of mere curiosity, is foreign to tradition.

Perhaps for many scientists their motivation is a progressive worldview, albeit unconscious in some cases.

Theorists - such as Descartes - have been tempted to try and find a standard entity for [the word ‘self’] to refer to. They have hoped for a Procrustean bed guaranteed to fit all [its many] uses. And in modern times the hope has been that something narrower and simpler still would emerge - a concept modelled on the most abstract scientific terms such as the names of physical particles.

This is surely a mistake because these scientific terms are designed only for a specially abstract context.

Even in biology it has not proved possible to standardise terms like 'species' in this way because they refer to things in the world which have to be looked at in a variety of lights, and this is still more true of notions that play an important part in the jungle of human life.

Attempts to impose simple, arbitrary definitions on the subtle and versatile words that play an important part there – words such as person, reason and feeling - are inevitably futile.

What is needed in such cases is rather to make clear just what the context of the particular enquiry is – why this particular question is arising.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.120

There are [doctrines], popular today, which do allow for a social context but deny a bodily one.

In sociology for instance, there is still quite a widespread belief that human behaviour can only have social causes, not biological ones, so that the constitution of people's bodies can have no effect on their personality.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.122

Related posts:

First Principles

Midgley suggests that there is a feedback loop between our deep assumptions and their surface level manifestations. Messages move from the depths to the surface, and back again.

So whilst deep assumptions are likely conditioned by biological factors (i.e. certain types are more prone to certain beliefs) they are also affected by practical experience. This is essentially the nature/nurture, genotype/phenotype split. 

Value-judgements about importance determine, among other things, what limits we set to the self itself, how far we think it extends and how sharply we separate it from what is around it.

A self is not a given distinct object like a ball or a stone. For instance, the extreme individualistic model of selfhood - the social atomism which underlies social contract thinking - treats each self as independent, an object like a billiard-ball radically cut off from its fellows. But it does not do this on factual grounds. It is not a scientific discovery that selves are in fact shaped like billiard-balls.

It arises chiefly out of moral indignation at the oppression which has often resulted from a more organic, connected, hierarchical view of social relations. Social atomism flows from deciding that the bad consequences of hierarchical systems are so important that the conceptual scheme underlying them must be ditched and replaced by a more separatist one.

These general ways of conceiving the world obviously make an enormous difference, not just to our notions about how we ought to act but also to our views about which facts we ought to attend to and what methods we should use in thinking about them.

By affecting our selection of topics they alter our factual view of the world as well as our moral view about how we must deal with it.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p. 204-5