Chapter 1. About the formation of human knowledge
1.4. Conclusions (2)
1.4.5. Science and animism have different finalities
Humanity has witnessed three forms of knowledge formations along the path of its long history: animism, religion-philosophy and modern rationality.
Religion versus science
I have, until now, willingly avoided to enter into a discussion of the internal working of the field of religious knowledge for the good reason that it is a form of knowledge whose function is strictly limited to societal obedience. Religious narratives are about power, authority, and the obligations of respect by the citizen toward authority and the message that is contained in the creed. Religions don't offer the individual any practical means to understand the working of reality nor how it affects their lives nor do they teach the individual how to increase his daily well-being. That's not their objective. Religions are worldviews that were founded to serve the men of power by gluing the minds of the citizenry and thus enabling the reproduction of their institutions over the generations. In this process individual religious believers are left in the dark about the production of their daily lives and have thus to follow the movement of what is happening out there without questioning because that is what they are being told is the will of god.
Some will object that this may be true for some religions but not for other. But this observation is rooted in a confusion between religion and philosophy. The etymology of the word religion comes from the Latin “religare” that refers to the action of 'binding together' or as I refer in other places as 'gluing the minds'. So 'religare' addresses the function of solidifying societal cohesion and nothing more. On the other hand, while also addressing 'religare', the corpus of philosophies addresses something else. Philosophies address the individual mind with the big question 'what is reality all about?'.
Both religions and philosophies have their rituals but, while religious followers are entirely immersed in the rituals, the followers of philosophy are encouraged to observe the working of their minds in the mirror tended to them by their brains albeit most often in a very incoherent fashion (I'll come back to this aspect in the following chapter 2 devoted to the mind and consciousness). Philosophies have a stated target which is to nurture the mind. This is in stark contrast with religions that encourage and force the individuals to obey or to follow. In other words, to put this into perspective, philosophy is about an expansion of the mind to higher forms of knowledge while religion is about a containment of the mind inside the confines of the creed.
As I'm concerned here with knowledge formation that addresses the condition of human daily life I deliberately chose to ignore religion. Containing the mind, through obedience, within the confines of the creed helps to solidify societal cohesion and in that sense religions' role is societally positive. But containing the mind means also that knowledge formation is being stuck by force to the narrative of the creed which can only be construed as an anxiety booster which limits the scope of societal answers to emerging problems.
The aim of philosophy is to supply the individual with a better understanding of his place in the universe in order to allow him to take charge of his presence in the here and now. But when philosophy encountered the reason at work within capital it gradually submitted to its functionality which prepared it well for participating as the active scientific agent in the emergence of industrial capitalism and philosophic rationalism. In the early years of the industrial revolution philosophers and scientists were not distinguishable. They were invariably assuming the different roles of philosophers, scientists, experimenters, investors, and entrepreneurs. Once industry had matured in thriving and sizable enterprises these different roles gradually started to specialize. This specialization was soon recognized by society at large and university faculties were expanded into applied sciences.
Science and animism
Most traditional philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism have their roots in animism. Having just seen how philosophy branched into science let's see how science relates to animism.
One essential difference between science and animism that comes immediately to mind relates to their impact on the well-being of the citizen. Animism is like a condensation of the long haul observation by the men of knowledge of the rhythms of nature. It is focused on a finality that is steeped in pragmatism. That means that the observers were looking for knowledge that could practically impact the production of well-being in the tribesman's daily life; individually and societally.
The finality of science is to generate financial surpluses for capital holders
What drives science are not considerations of well-being in citizens' daily life. Science is financed by investments realized by capital and as such it has to generate financial surpluses for its investors. That's the finality of science.
The well-being of citizens is only a marginal consideration of scientific activity and even when such a consideration about well-being is on the minds of the large majority of citizens the fact remains that the mechanical reason at work within capital is the ultimate decision maker. Considerations by large majorities of the population about the well-being of citizens or their societies will be heard and satisfied only when the application of measures ensuring such well-being happen also to maximize the surpluses generated by the initial capital investment.
People nevertheless often assume that the reason at work within capital equates to the well-being of citizens and following this assumption it is often believed that capital serves the needs of life. But this is an illusion that reflects the ideological reliquary of image polishing public relation campaigns financed by the owners of capital or their financial servants in order to assuage public opinion to the idea that the corporations they own should be given the largest chunks of public money from the “welfare redistribution” of state income (1). These campaigns are relentlessly shaping an idealistic image about the role of capital as if it acted at the will of the people. But behind this facade the reality is starkly different:
The result of this “laissez-faire” policies in favor of the corporations has unleashed the corruption of the entire Western political and legal systems that now exempt the biggest corporations of respecting the rules of law; something that has never been seen before in history. This corruption is now gaining legal ground in the form of international treaties that give multinational corporations their own kangaroo courts where they'll be able to take legal actions against the nation states whose legislations prevent those same corporations from making a profit. The judges of those who will be sitting at these kangaroo courts will be lobbyists from the same corporations. These measures are at the core of the secret drafts treaty texts that are presently being negotiated under the labels TTIP and TTP. Were it not for Wikileaks, who leaked some of the secret texts in negotiation, the world would have swallowed these treaties without any knowledge about what they are all about.
This shows that capital is not innocent. Capital plots to gain full control over all decision making mechanisms within Nation-States and at the international level in order to short-circuit consumer protection, social, environmental, labor or any other legislations that reduces the freedom of corporations to increase their profits. Late-Modernity is the end of the cycle in the centuries long balancing of the interests of the people and of capital. The people seem now losing big time and capital seems to assure its total control over all decision making institutions. What this means is that a mechanical principle, the reason at work within capital, is now superseding what has been the overriding finality of human action along the near totality of humanity's existence as a species.
A second essential difference between science and animism relates to how their output relates to the context humans live in.
How different worldviews affect the context humans live in.
Along the entire span of our biological evolution the human brain has acted to protect the life of its individual holder from dangers lurking in the natural environment. This observation by the animist men of knowledge opened their minds to the absolute necessity to preserve life. To realize that objective they soon observed that:
In the meanwhile the systemic nature of the universal whole pointed to the radical interdependence of all species and their individual particles. From this ensued a profound respect for all life under the sky and the recognition that life was sacred and so tribal hunters were communicating their reconnaissance to the spirit of their prey in recognition of its contribution to the life of their tribe. Such a state of mind taught 'primitive man' to avoid any waste and to use all parts of their kill as a token of respect. In other words the acute and conscious understanding by tribesmen of the inter-relation and inter-dependence between all particles living in his environmental context led him to sanctify the principle of life. And when it was necessary for him to sacrifice the life of another living particle he negotiated this sacrifice with the spirit of that particle which necessarily instilled the greatest respect in his mind for that specific particle and also its species. This ultimate respect for life by 'primitive man' contrasts sharply with the attitudes of humanity in High and Late-Modern times.
We late-moderns have indeed completely forgotten where our food and our stuff comes from and are careless of our earthly environment to the point of destroying our habitat without any after-thought for the consequences on the life of the future generations. But the consequences of our detachment from nature are not only a matter for the future. They are manifest already today. Children are victims of emotional and intellectual dysfunctions that move them deeper and deeper into the hallucinated world of technology and the virtual where everything is thought to be possible. In this hallucinated world the bounds of humanity with the other particles and with nature have disappeared from the radar of the mind which is then left to compute the successive steps of life on the arrow of time within a context that is completely detached from reality. The side-effect of this process is a final sprint to the finish line of the complete destruction of the human habitat while not giving a damn about the suffering this will unleash for our descendants. Any living being with a shred of humanity left in his heart would weep at the knowledge of these facts.
A good number of scientists are conscious that this is happening but they are prisoners of the game that procures them their incomes. They are also not the decision makers who unleash these facts upon the principle of life. They are merely collaborators in committing these atrocities. This late in the destruction process some scientists are finally starting to inform the public about what is going on. The very strong position taken recently by Stephen Hawkins is illustrative of the disquiet of scientists. “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality” (2). The system driven by the reason of capital may start to interrogate the conscience of some scientists but the case of climate change illustrates how powerless they really are and how the reason at work within capital leads humanity by the tip of its nose into the abyss.
All this shows without a shred of a doubt that the nature of the knowledge generated by animism and the nature of the knowledge generated by science are incompatible. The acquisition of knowledge under animism is steeped in a sense of responsibility for the preservation of the principle of life while science has visibly been unconcerned by its impact on life albeit for the last 5 minutes.
At best science expresses its concern only after negative consequences manifest themselves but it is powerless to stop these negative consequences because it does not dispose of the decision making power to do so. This illustrates the nature of the difference between animism and science. Both acquire knowledge from observing the working of reality. But they diverge in how they select what works and what does not work. Animism retains only the knowledge that conforms to the well-being of life within the bounds of the preservation of the environmental context of humanity while science retains anything without any consideration of its implications once put into application. In other words animism is concerned primarily by the continuity of the principle of life while science is concerned primarily by the results that will please their financiers and as such humanity has to face the consequences of the irresponsibility of science and the eventual ruptures it provokes.
So in summary we can safely state that the primary aim of knowledge acquisition under animism is to ensure the continuity of the principle of life while trying to ensure better living conditions to its citizens. The primary aim of scientific knowledge acquisition is to generate profits for its investors and because of this its applications are prone to provoke rupture. The contrast could not be starker.
What we already know for a fact is that the known side-effects of Modernity, that start to manifest themselves in Late-Modernity but whose real consequences will only be known in the coming decades, are not going to incline humanity to be kind on science. We can already envision that the day, when the consequences of scientific applications impose a degradation of people's well-being, will be the day people start rejecting the scientific approach in its present form and will ask for a return to something akin to animism that values the sanctity of the principle of life over anything else.
1.4.6. Knowledge is a product of the context
We have just seen how animism and science differentiate in term of knowledge acquisition. It is undeniable that the context in which they took root shaped the kind of knowledge they both acquired.
Animism was steeped in the observation of natural phenomena that was transmitted orally from generation to generation. This kind of encouraged a societal digestion of knowledge over the long haul and only after such a digestion had taken place would the lessons learned from trial applications be integrated in daily life. The societal digestion over the long haul of observations about natural phenomena is the major characteristic of animist knowledge acquisition. This means that the application of knowledge was tested before that knowledge was being integrated in the animist corpus. In other words animism required the verification by tribal societies over the long haul that all new undertakings conformed to the primacy of the principle of life. This means that the actors of the verification were the societies and the timespan of the verification was the long haul. And because this was practiced uniformly over the whole earth the outcome of animist knowledge acquisition was converging along the lines of several identical themes or values:
Such a systemic vision was shared around the world but local geographical, environmental or climatic, particularities eventually shaped the forms, lines and colors of the expression of local knowledge. In other words the local context fashioned a variety of forms out of animist knowledge but the content of that knowledge as described here above was fashioned out of the universal context of humanity and as such its content was universal.
The scientific approach can't be understood from outside of the context in which it emerged. As we have seen the axioms of the Christian Western civilization imposed dualism in the minds of all citizens which unleashed a competitive environment where the individuals were exhorted to fight against evil and by extension against anything or anyone appearing to be different from themselves. Christianity furthermore destroyed any remnants of animism and more particularly the egalitarian and collective vision shared in the minds of 'primitive men' which it gradually replaced with a vision of the individual for himself and by himself. Centuries of indoctrination to the cancer of the ego leveled the societal playing field which in the process was made fertile to sprout the seeds of individualism planted accidentally by the reason of capital in the footsteps of the crusaders:
The trade of Eastern luxuries, that the European aristocracy craved for, imposed the reason of capital in the minds of long distance merchants and the financial returns they were rewarded with, for submitting to the reason of capital, illustrated their success in the form of mansions and palaces that provoked the envy of all. Soon enough a new social class was born, the bourgeoisie, whose material successes others would want to emulate and so the reason at work within capital spread far and wide indeed.
It reached the intelligentsia and the universities sometime during the 17th and 18th centuries. As I wrote before “In the early years of the industrial revolution philosophers and scientists were not distinguishable. They were invariably assuming the different roles of philosophers, scientists, experimenters, investors, and entrepreneurs”. The early days of the industrial revolution were kind of a mad rush to richness by defrauding India of its textile industry and encouraging British and other Europeans to devise ways to spin and weave cotton in cheaper ways than India. The state encouraged locals to innovate by applying mercantile policies at home while it used force to break a flourishing industry back in India. The convergence of the following factors:
It is in this kind of a European context that philosophic rationalism and science emerged. It is all good and well to dream of a grand scientific ideal but the reality is that it emerged out of the context of a slightly smaller vision.
From this kind of small vision about becoming rich science and tinkering helped grow the industrial capital base of Britain and in the process science was forced to gradually specialize. Capital holders financed the specialization of science. Rich tinkering thinkers understood the power of thinking and of science and financed research in subjects that would help them generate ever wider profits.
The context of a society is thus without a doubt the ground out of which emerges its knowledge and any context generates its corresponding knowledge. Any knowledge furthermore shapes the contours of the narrative about the best approximation of what reality is all about as from the perspective of that particular context. That narrative will then be shared by all citizens procuring comfort in their minds while solidifying the cohesion of their society.
In this sense knowledge is not about the absolute truth. Knowledge relates to the conventional aspects referred to by the context (society, environment, climate, etc…) and it is thus at best an approximation of reality that fits the particular context of a given time. In other words knowledge is produced internally from within the sub-system the men of knowledge live in. This means that the observation of the larger systems, containing the sub-system the men of knowledge live in, are seen through the contextual lens of that sub-system. Knowledge is thus not about understanding the truth about the whole but more like an approximation of what it is all about as detected from one of its internal sub-systems. In this sense the absolute truth is really inaccessible to particles of a sub-system of the whole.
1.4.7. Science is not a societal approximation of reality
As we have seen at different junctures of this text societal worldviews are the approximation of reality that a society infers from the knowledge its men of knowledge acquire from within the context of their time. This means that the men of knowledge dig for knowledge in the context of their societies and their environment and the knowledge they gain helps them to write the narrative of the best approximation of reality in the particular conditions of that context. Such narratives are then shared by the citizens of their societies.
This general rule about knowledge acquisition and the elaboration of a narrative, out of that knowledge in order to share with all citizens an approximation of reality that best fits the contextual environment at that particular time, was interrupted in High-Modernity:
Financed by capital to specialize its activities, in order to understand the working of ever narrower fields of interest, science sank at the bottom of its silos where the farthest its field of vision can possibly reach is the walls of its silo-prison. No surprise then that scientists are digging their silos ever deeper and farther away from the only reality that counts; I mean the universal reality in which the principle of life evolves.
As I have repeatedly observed we have no access to the ultimate reality which is like the perception by the whole universe of its own self. The closest we ever possibly will be able to approach the ultimate reality is contained in the principle of life. Life emerged as an extension of the whole. Why it emerged in the first place is a mystery but thinking about the whole one is struck as Einstein once said by the fact that the universe can not possibly play dice. We have seen that the universe contains the explanation for what is possible inside all its sub-ensembles and the particles within those sub-ensembles. So it should logically follow that the universe also contains the explanation for life. What could possibly be the reason for the universe to let life emerge? Following the animist tradition the aim of the principle of life is to spread the understanding and possibly the consciousness of the whole to its particles. I find this view to be extremely elegant and beautiful and furthermore it makes plentiful of sense. In this view life is the principle that expands the consciousness of the universe to all its sub-systems and their individual particles. Wow I feel this is enlightening.
Animism sanctified the principle of life and its men of knowledge specialized in absorbing the understanding of the inter-relatedness and inter-dependence between all particles and species. They understood the systemic nature of the whole and the spread of its energy and understanding to all species and their particles. They understood the resulting animation as the breathing of a living universe.
By submitting the human mind to the mechanical reason at work within capital Modernity walked away from the sanctity of the principle of life and the idea of a living and breathing universe. After a few short centuries, I mean today, we discover that humanity has unknowingly been dismantling its house and its habitat and some start to question the wisdom of it all. But the system is powered by the capital holders and they do not intent to put the key under the mat.
The calls by some scientists for multi-disciplinary approaches don't change the nature of the specialized approach of each branch of science. Specialization is the rule of the game and inter-disciplinary approaches are no more than the acceptance of the limitations of specialization as well as its draw-backs. The choice of specialization in each field has absorbed the entire capacity of researchers brain-mind potential and is leaving not much of a spare capacity to dwell in the depth of another specialized field. And so science is stuck today in this dilemma that diverse fields of specialization can't all fit in a human brain and as a consequence a convergence or a synergy of the different specialized fields is impossible.
It is as if all specialized scientific fields, by digging ever deeper wells-silos for themselves, were navigating further and further apart from the systemic holistic vision that conferred life in the first place. While scientists are pointing to reason for their ever deeper zooming a question pops up in my mind that asks about the sanity of this whole approach. This zooming ever further apart from a holistic systemic vision is like an intensifying madness that has become a threat to the principle of life and eventually to humanity's survival. When are we going to start asking questions about the insanity of threatening the principle of life?
But the problem is that science has cornered itself to play second fiddle. Capital runs away with its discoveries in the different specialized fields in order to produce goods that are meant to generate profits. By cornering itself to play second fiddle science has limited its sphere to:
Becoming a methodology specialized in micro-fields science has completely detached from the citizens and it has completely forgotten about the traditional notion of supplying a grand narrative about what reality is all about that would strengthen the cohesion of their societies.
In Late-Modernity we have reached this paradoxical situation where:
1.4.8. What awaits us in the future
Modernity is the sole worldview that expanded to the whole world but the dominating empire did nevertheless not succeed to impose its worldview to all societies. Today in Late-Modernity we are indeed witnessing this rare feat of the absorption of Modernity by the whole world while the axioms of civilization of the empire that pushed it (the West) are being overtaken by the axioms of other civilizations.
China, for example, seems to swallow Modernity without accepting the destruction of its own past worldview. To the attentive observer it looks and sounds indeed more and more probable that China will possibly succeed to melt Modernity inside its traditional culture (worldview). The struggle to resist the pressure from outside influence undoubtedly is hardening the axioms of the Chinese civilization in the minds of those Chinese citizens who rediscover the roots of their traditional culture and this will ensure their lasting influence on the rest of the world.
I'm well aware of the explosive nature of my words. What I write here is indeed in complete opposition to the consensus view that sees Modernity swallowing all other worldviews. Such a consensus was first described in a rather cartoonish way by Francis Fukuyama in his 1989 essay "The End of History?" that some declared premature after the start of the great depression unleashed by the banksters and their bureaucrat clients in 2008. But I think that the critiques expressed at Fukuyama are rather hollow. The world is indeed witnessing what Warren Buffet claims is “a class war that my class is winning”. This evidently manifests itself through:
In case of a societal collapse those who would eventually survive would be best served by the adoption of the pragmatism contained in animism or its +version contained in the axioms of the Chinese civilization and the traditional culture built on top of those axioms.
But the fact is that China plunged into Modernity without any regard for its own traditions and without any regard for the habitat of its citizens. This observation should nevertheless be tempered by the fact that its intellectual elite and the top of its political hierarchy are presently fully aware of those facts and are debating the implementation of corrections (environmental policies, cultural return to traditions, etc...). It remains nevertheless that China has deeply submitted to the reason of capital and that a correction of the societal trajectory will need much more work than what is envisaged at the present. What I mean to say here is that to save itself, as a nation, from the side-effects of Modernity China will have to re-learn in depth its animistic roots and rediscover the animistic substance of its traditional knowledge and culture.
In light of the sketch about knowledge formation that I gave in these last posts it is my deeply held conviction that animism is the last remaining chance for humanity to ensure its survival. We can't seriously count on Western so-called advanced countries to open that path. Something so tremendously world-changing could only happen in one of the following 2 scenarios:
1. survival by necessity: seen that climate disturbances, peak resources, and numerous other factors are inevitably going to collapse most of our societies in the coming decades it is most probable that:
2. humanity awakens to the reality of its troubles: this scenario could only succeed if China were able to measure the reality of what awaits humanity. In such a case a nationwide cultural revival of its traditions could set its economic priorities straight. The question in the future will no longer be about development but about survival. Survival will be in the hands of the family structure. If this happens the state will have done the best it could by impulsing a re-flourishing of cultural traditions and after that its function will concentrate on its traditional domains of competence: the defense from outside invaders and the procurement of the most favorable conditions for families to thrive in producing their daily lives.
If China were capable to impulse such a correction of its trajectory it would offer a working model to the rest of the world. The problem is that the convergence of all the side-effects of Modernity is being engaged already in a very advanced stage and when its effects deepen there will be very little time left for national institutions to impulse societal answers.
1. about welfare: see “Government Spends More on Corporate Welfare Subsidies than Social Welfare Programs” by Mike P. Sinn in Think By Numbers “About $59 billion is spent on traditional social welfare programs (not including Social Security Retirement, Medicare, Unemployment and Workers Compensation because they are insurance benefits). $92 billion is spent on corporate subsidies. So, the government spent 50% more on corporate welfare than it did on food stamps and housing assistance in 2006.”
2. evolution of world total debt
Figures by World Economic Forum (WEF) in collaboration with McKinsey
McKinsey cane out with a report of its own that have figures for total world debt by end of 2014 that are roughly 25% higher than their study realized in collaboration with the WEF.
3. Prof. Stephen-Hawking answers questions on his science pages.
Articles of interest
- "The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals" by Tim Flannery October 8, 2015 Issue of the New York Review of Books.
"...prior to the domestication of plants and the invention of writing, the differences between human societies and those of elephants, dogs, killer whales, and dolphins was a matter of degree, not kind".
- "Out of Our Heads" by Jonah Lehrer, March 1, 2009 in SF Gate
Presentation of 'Out of Our Heads,' by Alva Noë. Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
"The question of how the brain creates the mind - how these subjective experiences emerge from a piece of pale gray meat - is one of the essential questions of modern science. And yet, despite decades of research, we aren't remotely close to an answer."
- "Me and My Brain: What the "Double-Subject Fallacy" reveals about contemporary conceptions of the Self" by Yohan J. John, in 3QD, September 07, 2015
"In the aftermath of the scientific revolution, it seems as if one category of answer — the dualist idea that the essence of a person is an incorporeal soul that inhabits a material body — must be ruled out. But as it turns out, internalizing a non-dualist conception of the self is actually rather challenging for most people, including neuroscientists."
- "My Interests and Theoretical Method" by STEPHEN GROSSBERG
"how a brain gives rise to a mind
how can we solve the Mind/Body Problem? "