Opposition




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
 



One of the underlying generators is because we define the problems in too narrow a way. When we define a problem in a narrow way then we can create a solution to that narrow problem that does benefit that thing, but that interacts with a lot of other things and ends up causing externalities, or harm, in those other areas.

When we define problems in a narrow way in a world that is actually interconnected, we’re separating out from that interconnectedness a particular part that we care about or want to advance - and this is what is unique to humans, our capacity to understand particular parts with abstraction in a way that allows us to build tools - and we can advance parts irrespective of, and in ways that are harmful to, wholes, and that end up creating other issues.

Our way of thinking about problems is one of the problems.

We need to have a much more holistic way of thinking about what is worth advancing - what are all of the things that are driving a particular problem, what are the possible things that will come out of a particular solution that might create the other problems, and how to factor all that in to work out what solutions are worth advancing.

[Daniel Schmachtenberger]
'In Search of the Third Attractor, Daniel Schmachtenberger (part 1)', YouTube




[…] complex systems tend to have higher metabolic costs, higher energy costs. If you compare the opposite extreme, what did it cost to maintain a hundred gatherer society 300,000 years ago? If you measure that in terms of calories, it's not very many. It's basically just the human metabolism of a handful, or maybe even a couple of dozen people. Compare that to the thousands of kilo calories that every individual in our society uses today to maintain complexity.

Complexity always has a cost and ultimately the cost is energy. We're largely not aware of that today, because to us complexity seems to be free - we pay for it through fossil fuels. But in the past, increase in the complexity of a society meant that people had to work harder. There were always constraints against growth in complexity, because people realized that growing a more complex society would be costly.

Well, in terms of the long-term evolution of human societies, this brings up a fundamental question: why do human societies ever grow more complex? If growing more complex costs more, why didn’t we just stay as simple hunter-gatherer bands?

The answer I’ve proposed is that most of the time complexity increases to solve problems. In other words, we might develop new technologies to solve a problem, we might develop new kinds of social structures to solve a problem, we might increase the size of bureaucracy to solve a problem, we might initiate new kinds of programmes to solve a problem - all of these things are increases in complexity that are undertaken to solve problems.

In the past 90% of human populations were involved in producing energy, primarily though agriculture, which means that there is only 10% of the economy in the society left for education, training, specialisation, learning, developing new technologies, innovation; that all had to come from something like 10% of the population and also 10% of our energy budgets.

There are occasions in human history when access to energy gain has allowed human societies to grow complex, and we think this is normal because we’re in a period like that now with our reliance on fossil fuels. Because of that we think that this has been the normal course of human evolution, but in fact it’s highly abnormal and has occurred in human history only a few times, and it’s never lasted very long.

[Joseph Tainter]
'Joe Tainter: “Surplus, Complexity, and Simplification” | The Great Simplification #27’, YouTube




[…] one of the important things I've realized is that growing in complexity to solve problems is what I call a seductive process.

It's seductive in the sense that it is natural for us to want to solve problems. Each increment in complexity seems small and affordable at the time because we don't look at the long term cumulative costs. Ultimately, it's the cumulative costs that seem to do the damage, that make a society susceptible to collapse. 

By a 'cumulative cost', I mean the cost of solving the last problem before, and the last problem before that, and the last problem before that; all of which may have required increases in complexity and increases in the society's energy budget.

Again, I want to emphasize that people today are largely unaware of this because complexity to us appears to be free. We pay for it through fossil fuels.

[Joseph Tainter]
'Joe Tainter: “Surplus, Complexity, and Simplification” | The Great Simplification #27’, YouTube



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
 



Art comes before language in human evolution - we learned to draw on the walls of caves before we really spoke.

Like everything in evolution, its accident. Basically we draw because it has use for the hunt, but what it also does is allow us to shift up a level of abstraction. If you go up a level of abstraction you make novel associations. I have some of my best ideas either walking or at the opera, because I’ve moved up a level of abstraction. My mind associates things in a less concrete way. Abstraction is key to innovation.

It is one of the arguments most of us from a scientific background are making against the focus on STEM education, because if you don’t have art you don’t have innovation. It is this engineering culture coming through again. Engineers who appreciate art are more likely to be exaptive.

[Dave Snowden]
'#12 MANAGING IN COMPLEXITY - DAVE SNOWDEN | Being Human'




[William James’s] preoccupation with "optimism" and "pessimism," together with his identification of these qualities with "health" and "sickness," suggests a certain deterioration in the intellectual atmosphere of the times, from the effects of which even those who set themselves against the times could not altogether escape - a coarsening of thought, which would eventually reduce all spiritual questions to questions of "mental health."

At first sight, James's work appears not merely to foreshadow this therapeutic view of religion, the dominant view in our own time, but to present it in a fully developed form. James conducts his investigation of religion, after all, in the psychological mode.

In […] The Varieties of Religious Experience […] he endorses the religious insight that only forces outside a person's conscious control can bring about real changes in character and outlook, but he takes the position that these forces enter the self not from above but from below, from the subterranean depths of the mind.

He judges religious ideas, or at least appears to judge them, solely by their effect on mental health, waving aside the question of their truth. Thus he argues that Christian Science and other mind-cure movements should be taken seriously because they sometimes produce a "change of character for the better," whereas liberal Christianity "does absolutely nothing" for the believer.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 284




Niebuhr had reservations about the political implications of Barth's neo-orthodoxy, which seemed to him to write off the political realm as irredeemably corrupt; but he too came to accept original sin as an "inescapable fact of human existence," to reject the shallow optimism of liberal theology, and to acknowledge the impossibility of justifying religious belief on purely rational grounds.

In the face of “nature's ruthlessness” - of the "brevity and mortality of natural life" - feelings of trust and gratitude (in other words, a belief in God) could not be defended by an appeal to reason, as Niebuhr explained in An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (1935).

Just as an "impartial science” could not fully justify the “right to believe” in justice or in the possibility that justice would prevail in the political order, so it could not justify a belief in the goodness of God's wicked world.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370-1



Related posts: