Education and Elitism

I deleted my twitter account a few years ago but every now and again I’ll end up on twitter by following a link I find somewhere on my internet travels. People who have visited twitter know that it has a “What’s happening” section on the right hand side which is mostly filled with paid propaganda. You know the kind of thing – “Hollywood celebrities reveal why eating bugs is super cool”; “10 reasons why using air-conditioning is worse than kicking puppies”. But the section also includes trending words and phrases and so it was another “coincidence” last weekend when I happened to be on twitter and noticed that the phrase “Patrick White” was trending after I’d just finished writing a couple of long blog posts about him. I decided to click and see what people were saying.

It turned out that some celebrity with lots of followers had asked for recommendations to Australian literature and numerous people had responded by telling her to check out Patrick White. What was particularly interesting, though, was that the recommendations were almost universally something like this: “I don’t understand/like Patrick White. But he won a Nobel Prize, so he must be good.”

This is yet another example of an Appeal to Authority. Rather than recommend an Australian author that they actually like, people felt it more appropriate to recommend one they didn’t like but who had been formally recognised by the authorities. This was a dynamic White was well aware of and apparently he had strongly considered rejecting the Nobel Prize for the exact reason that he didn’t want to become one of those writers that people read just because he was officially certified. No doubt he is turning in his grave as we speak.

In any case, the responses on twitter didn’t surprise me because I had noticed the same problem in reading some of the longer reviews of White. Most people don’t understand his books and if you don’t understand what he is doing you can’t appreciate it. White was doing things in his books that hadn’t been done before. Unless you know what those things are, you can’t parse the book and grasp the bigger picture.

That is what I was getting at in my recent post about White’s book, Voss. I barely even scratched the surface of interpreting the themes in the novel itself. Rather, I was trying to provide a high level understanding of how to parse the book. This requires some knowledge of the theory of stories as well as a knowledge of some classic literature and, arguably, some Jungian theory too. Without these, it’s not possible to understand White in the same way that you can’t just start learning calculus one day unless you have a solid foundation in geometry, trigonometry and algebra.

The reference to maths here is directly relevant to another important development in modern thought which is Quantum Mechanics. My maths is nowhere near good enough to validate this claim, but I’ve heard it said that the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics is quite simple and elegant once you get your head around it. Thus, even though the concepts of Quantum Mechanics violate our common sense understanding of the world, the maths is quite straightforward. I think the same is true of White. It took me a long time to unpack Voss, but once I did I could see the elegance of the underlying structure and, crucially, that the structure built on top of what was already there historically. White did not throw all the rules away, he added to them and extended them in the same way that Quantum Mechanics built on and extended the science of physics. These developments were not the arbitrary whimsies of people with too much time on their hands. They were responses to the larger historical and social context.

Of course, both White and Quantum Mechanics are not understood in the general culture and this is where Gebser and systems thinking come into the picture because they both believed that what was really going on was that we had reached the end of the road with the old ways of thinking and it was time to move to a new paradigm. That new paradigm is not a break with the past but a response to it. The 20th century showed exactly what happens when you try and break with the past and declare a Year 0 (I suppose the French Revolution had already foreshadowed this lesson). Spoiler alert: everything goes to hell. We don’t need to reject the old thinking. On the contrary, it’s only through an understanding of that old thinking that you can follow the path into the new because the new came out of the old.

What we are talking about here is education. To understand White, you need a certain education that you bring to the task in the same way that you need an education in maths and science to grapple with Quantum Mechanics. If we assume, with Gebser, that both White and Quantum Mechanics represent a new form of consciousness, it follows that a new kind of education might be required to bring that about. What might that education look like? Before we try and answer that, let’s do a lightning history lesson on the modern education system.

Viewed in historical terms, our current system of education is both very new and also very unusual. In terms of years spent in education, we are the most educated society in history by a long way. No other large societies achieved universal education beyond elementary level.  Even as recent as the pre-war years, the majority of students in western countries did not finish high school and only a tiny minority would go on to higher education. Nowadays, a significant fraction of students in western countries will go on to university. That’s historically unprecedented.

The current system of education in western countries was based on the Prussian model introduced by Frederick the Great in the 18th century. Prussia achieved a version of universal education well ahead of other western nations. Even the United States sent envoys to Prussia in the 19th century to learn about the education system there in order to set up something similar in the US. Meanwhile, Britain and France did not achieve universal education until the 1880s.

Frederick the Great or, as his friends called him, Fantastic Freddy (No, they didn’t. But they should have).

No doubt there were many good intentions and high ideals in relation to the idea of universal education. But, as G K Chesterton pointed out, the two main drivers for universal education in most countries were the fact that child unemployment had become widespread due to increased productivity from industrialisation and automation. Children who were out of work would often turn to crime or get themselves into other kinds of trouble and so universal education became a way to get them off the street.

The second driver was the desire by the State to get the Church out of education. This was a long battle and was a big part of the reason why Britain and France were behind Germany. Germany would later have its own fight with the Catholic Church in what was called the Kulturkampf (yep, the culture wars are nothing new). Of course, the State eventually won the battle and the rest, as they say, is history.

In Hong Kong now, apparently students are having to sing the Chinese national anthem

Another big driver for the rollout of universal education was nationalism and we shouldn’t forget the role that universal education played in creating the conditions that led to the world wars. With the universalising influence of religion removed from the picture, states were free to push nationalist dogma in the schools. To take just one small example, it’s only in recent decades that the Australian national anthem is no longer sung at the start of the week in schools. That was a relic of the nationalist agenda tied up with universal education.

The Prussian system of education, in line with Prussian culture at the time, was by modern standards unbelievably rigid. Rote learning was the norm and strict discipline was maintained. Again, this is another element of modern education that has only very recently disappeared. The use of physical punishments such as the strap and the cane were all par for the course until recent decades. Teachers quite literally beat the education into you in the old system.

The Prussian system was partly inspired by the Chinese system that goes all the way back to Confucius. Europeans thinkers such as Voltaire had just started to learn about Chinese culture and history and the meritocratic system of education that had been instituted in China all those millennia ago appealed to the thinkers of the 18th century. That system was never designed for universal education. It’s purpose was to educate bureaucrats in the tasks required of them in the administration of the State. Exams were there to determine who got a job in the civil service. Since only a small fraction of the public could become bureaucrats, it made no sense to educate them as such but that’s what European countries accidentally ended up doing by rolling out universal education in the late 19th century. Is part of the reason why we have all these bureaucracies these days simply because we educated so many people in a system designed to produce bureaucrats?

Within Gebser’s model, this all fits into the Mental Consciousness. The bureaucracy is, in fact, the ideal organisational structure for that way of thinking. It makes everything explicit, concrete and rule-based. It’s no coincidence that a system partly designed by Confucius would work because, according to Gebser, he was the leading exponent of the Mental Consciousness in ancient China in the same way that Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were for the West. Thus, the modern education system also had its exponents among the intellectuals such as Fichte, Humboldt and Voltaire.

Let’s summarise.

The modern education system in the west is a very recent development by historical timeframes. It emerged via a conglomeration of social, economic and political factors. It was based on a style of education aimed at training bureaucrats for the boring, mundane work administering the state but got rolled out to everybody in western societies as universal education became the norm. This style of education fits into the Mental Consciousness as seen in the strict, rule-abiding discipline that was followed.

Here’s the problem from a Gebserian point of view. At exactly the same time we were rolling out a form of education based on Mental Consciousness, the Integral Consciousness was starting to appear. The modern education system was already out of date by the time it started. If this is true, it raises the question of what type of education is required for the Integral Consciousness. Here is one guess at an answer.

Let’s take Quantum Mechanics and Patrick White as our starting point and let’s assume, as I believe, that they are both paradigm examples of the Integral Consciousness. As we are trying to teach Integral Consciousness, we start there. The first thing to note is that an Integral understanding of both is only possible if you grasp the historical precedents that led to them. In the case of White’s Voss, the main historical precedents are Goethe’s Faust and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But in order to understand Faust, you must have read the Book of Job and in order to under Pride and Prejudice you probably need to know Romeo and Juliet as a bare minimum. You also need a basic technical understanding of literature and storytelling and modern psychology. Based on all this, we can surmise the following syllabus; the minimum set of requirements to parse what White was doing in Voss:

The Book of Job
Faust
Romeo and Juliet
Pride and Prejudice
The Hero’s Journey and 3 Act Story Structure
Basic Freudian and Jungian psychology

We could do a similar thing for Quantum Mechanics. I’m not in a position to write it, but I think it would look something like this:

Pythagoras
Euclid
Newton
Einstein
Algebra
Trigonometry
Calculus

Note that these syllabi also entail a history lesson as the locating of things in historical context is crucial to the Integral Consciousness. Thus, rather than just teach the Pythagoras theorem and how to use it, you have to understand what problems Pythagoras was trying to solve. Same with Newton. Same with Einstein. In doing so, you place Quantum Mechanics in its historical context and we give it meaning as the result of real people grappling with real issues.

This raises the question also for the student: what issues are you grappling with? Why are you learning Quantum Mechanics? Why are you reading Patrick White? Are you doing it just to get good grades which you think will lead to a well-paying job? Do you need it for some practical engineering problem? Are you trying impress your friends and family? Are you trying to figure out the meaning of life or the secrets of the universe? Are you just curious? All these and more are valid reasons and by making them explicit you also put yourself into historical perspective. Pythagoras, for example, would have thought it pathetic to learn something just to impress others. That was called sophistry back in the day. For the Pythagoreans, there was no vocational education, there was only spiritual education. Thus, to remove the Pythagoras theorem from its spiritual/historical context is to miss the most interesting bits.

All of this might sound impractical. But without this understanding, what happens is that people perceive writers like Patrick White as “breaking the rules”. Then everybody decides that the way to write modern literature is to break all the rules and churn out stream of consciousness vomiting the contents of their mind onto the page and calling it high art. Thus, what gets called modern literature explicitly rejects any form of structure. It throws away all the old rules and replaces them with, well, nothing.

That is not what Patrick White did. In many respects, he was a very disciplined writer who followed the rules to the letter. He didn’t throw away the rules, he built on top of them. That is an incredibly important distinction because everywhere in the modern world we see the old rules being abandoned. This is, in fact, exactly what our modern elites do all the time in all areas of life, not just the arts. That’s how we got the unprecedented idea of lockdowns and the equally impossible idea of a vaccine stopping a respiratory virus. There was never any evidence these would work; no foundation in history or science. They just got wished into existence while all the old rules of public health were thrown in the bin.

The mindset that encourages such things to happen is the mindset taught by modern education. It’s a mindset that explicitly rejects or problematises history. As a result, it has no clue that the new developments in the culture (Integral Consciousness) were built on the foundation of the old. That’s what our modern elites believe. They were educated to think that everything old is wrong. Accordingly, the “new” ideas they come up with are completely untethered to history, to culture, to common sense and to practical reality. Because those ideas don’t make any sense, the public doesn’t understand them. So, they are fed through the propaganda machine which turns them into the form we see in the public discourse; an endless stream of hysterical fear and dread whose sole purpose is to discombobulate the public into bewildered acquiescence.

In the face of the constant exposure to absurd ideas and feverish propaganda, the public is naturally tempted to fall back onto the safe old ideas which, even though they got us into this mess in the first place, are at least understandable. Thus, modern society swings back and forth between demented neophilia and reactionary populism. This is a system without a future. It’s falling apart before our very eyes.

So, even though Gebser talked in abstract terms of “consciousness” and “spirituality”, the Integral Consciousness has a very practical element and tying modern developments back to history is a crucial part of the picture. Only by understanding that past can we track where we might be headed. Gebser’s message was the same as Jung’s. Either we educate ourselves properly and face the future standing up, or we get dragged through the mud kicking and screaming. Currently, the west is choosing the latter option but it doesn’t need to be so.

33 thoughts on “Education and Elitism”

  1. Simon: “Is part of the reason why we have all these bureaucracies these days simply because we educated so many people in a bureaucratic fashion?”

    Ha! Good point. One of those things that you easily miss, but that become obvious once someone points them out to you.

    Re: reading prerequisites

    Ah, I’m currently struggling with this myself. 🙁 I got myself a copy of Thomas Mann’s _The Magic Mountain_ (in Czech translation; it’s supposed to serve as a contribution to my project of reading 10K pages of Czech). This is supposed to be one of the three great modernist novels, the other two being Proust’s _In Search of Lost Time_ (I’ve read parts of it, and one of these days – or one of these years – I’ll go back to it and hopefully read it in full) and Joyce’s _Ulysses_ (which I would read only at gunpoint 😛 ).

    Anyway, back to Mann’s book. My edition has about 900 pages. The first 300 pages or so were interesting enough. Nothing earth shattering, but it was okay, and I figured it would progressively get better. After about 450 pages, though, I was seriously bored, and now (some 170 pages from the finish line), I want to pull my hair out. 🙁 I don’t know if that book is simply overrated, or if I lack the prerequisites for it. I’ve been reading (and listening to) some interpretations. Apparently, various characters are supposed to represent various European countries from the period, etc. etc. etc. I’m still bored as hell. What do you do in such situations? Do you declare the book overrated? Declare yourself unworthy? Read some more interpretations so that you would understand a bit more? Suffer to the end just so you can say you’ve read the thing, even if you promptly forget everything other than the excruciating boredom? (Look, it wouldn’t be *completely* useless: 170 pages of Czech will still contribute to my Czech, though not necessarily to much of anything else.)

    I just don’t like abandoning projects half-way (or worse: 80% of the way).

  2. Irena – I’ll admit I haven’t read any of the modernist classics but I have read some modernist writers and I hated all of them. Many were explicitly rejecting the use of narrative (3 Act story structure). Part of what excited me about Patrick White was that he kept the underlying structure while also incorporating all the good parts of modernism. He showed that you don’t need to throw away the “rules” to communicate new ideas. I think of the 3 Act structure as a kind of information technology. It allows you fit an enormous amount of information into a small space. When you get rid of it, you lose that density of information and you end up with exactly what you are describing about Mann’s book: long-winded, waffling and boring. 900 pages to communicate what could probably fit into 300 pages if he had the discipline to follow the structure.

    Oh, well. Sounds like you’re in a classic sunk cost fallacy. Might as well finish the last 170 pages 😉

  3. One of my grandfathers had a picture of Frederic the Great hanging above his desk. He is one of our legendary leaders. From my point of view, the universal education model created by Prussia worked really well for a long time. When I hear the school stories from my mother, it was a very hard but in general very positive experience for her generation (high school diploma in the 1960s) and also for the generation of her father.

    Somehow, this changed for the worse between the 1960s and the 1990s when I went to secondary school. Basically, nobody was motivated anymore. Most of the teachers were just counting the days until person, while the pupils counted the days until they could leave school with the high school diploma, only to encounter that university now is nothing more than extended school. The demands to the pupils have been lowered and lowered with each generation. There is a saying ging around on the Internet “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men”. I think that our current incarnation of universal education is run by weak persons and therefore is less and less able to fulfil its function.

    Regarding the interpretation of books, I have to add that my German teachers were among the worst teachers I ever had. Therefore, I hated the interpretation of literature so much that at some point I refused to read the predefined books at all (first only reading only the interpretation, then nothing related to the books at all). This experience kept me from reading serious literature for a long time, and I know that a lot of my classmates had the same attitude. No wonder, nobody understands serious literature anymore…

  4. Secretface – what books were you reading in school? Modern ones or classics? We had a pretty good selection when I was at school so there were several Shakespeare works and George Orwell’s Animal Farm among others. English was probably my favourite subject for that reason.

  5. Violently agree with most of what you said, but since I am descended from a rather disagreeable highland tribe in central europe, I must pick some nits.
    While Einstein laid the groundwork for quantum mechanics, he spent most of his later life fighting it. I’d pick Schroedinger or maybe Bohr as the main proponent.
    Is there historic precedent for the integral consciousness? If not, it means it is something totally new. How would you counter accusations of progressivism in the “Myth of Progress” sense.

  6. Good question. From the top of my head, I would say that we also had a mixture of modern and classic German authors (Süßkind, Goethe, Heine, Kafka, Schiller, etc.). If I remember correctly, the classic authors came too late, as I had already lost interest when we started reading them. The major issue I had back then was that the teachers expected the “approved” interpretation of the text. If your own interpretation somehow deviated from it, you would get a bad grade. From my point of view, that seemed pretty stupid as a text interpretation is very subjective and not right or wrong like a math problem. So you could argue that I did not “get” the content of the books as I did not reach the predefined conclusions.

  7. Roland – that’s a hard question to answer. One way to start to answer is by another question: do we in the modern world have a uniquely detailed understanding of history, especially cross-cultural history? I think the answer is yes and Europe in the 19th century, for a variety of reasons, was the first to achieve that. Hence Spengler and Gebser were uniquely placed to produce such detailed works of comparative history. On purely logistical grounds, nobody could have done it before. Is that progress? Only when viewed from the Mental Consciousness, which is exactly what people in Europe thought at the time. When viewed from within the Integral Consciousness, I think we’d say it’s just another perspective on the “eternal” (alternatively, the fourth face of God). Which of these ways of viewing the world is actually true? That’s a theological/philosophical question. Gebser avoids it by focusing on the phenomenological issue of what the Integral actually looks like. Note there’s a similar problem in linguistics. Writing grammars of different languages is a skilled activity that can be done with appropriate training. Trying to deduce the underlying “language faculty” that facilitates those grammars is (probably) not possible or at least we haven’t been able to do it yet.

    Secretface – yeah, that sounds pretty dumb. The whole point of great literature is that it allows multiple interpretations. In English class, I remember we were graded according to the clarity of our argument and not whether we got “the right answer”. I think a lot of schooling is driven by the need to have grades so that students can be ranked. As you say, it makes sense in maths and some sciences but it just doesn’t work for other subjects. I remember in music class how we had to sit down and learn how to read and write music including memorising the different notation for different scales. If I wanted to teach somebody to hate music, that’s exactly how I would teach it. But it does make it easy to create exams and have answers that are right and wrong.

  8. A student getting a bad grade simply for deviating from the standard interpretation seems suggestive of a teacher incapable of thinking independently & thus of evaluating ideas not learned by rote.

  9. Shane – true. But there is a genuine question of where the line is between thinking independently and being too independent. That’s one of the drawbacks of the grading system.

  10. Simon: “Oh, well. Sounds like you’re in a classic sunk cost fallacy. Might as well finish the last 170 pages”

    I guess you’re right… Well, at least I’ll have a story to tell (“here’s how Thomas Mann bored me to tears”).

    Good point about narrative. Maybe it’s like this: a truly good book is multilayered, the first layer is the plot, and the plot should be interesting enough so that a precocious/reading-nerd 13-year-old would find it interesting, even if all the deeper stuff (symbolism, culture criticism…) goes way over his/her head. If you’re going to throw that away, you should probably stick to poetry and/or short stories. 900 pages in which not an awful lot happens is an awful lot to ask someone to get through…

    BTW, I know that there are a number of Germans reading your blog and posting. So, dear Germans (or anyone else who’s made it through _The Magic Mountain_), if you disagree with me on Mann, let me know. Maybe the whole thing is my fault, and I failed to detect obvious genius…

  11. @Secretface2097

    But high school wasn’t universal when your mother and grandfather went, was it? It’s different when it’s for a select few, and when you can leave (or be kicked out) if it’s not working out for you.

    The way I see it, pre-pubescent children are programmed to learn. After puberty, humans can still learn, more or less until death (or onset of dementia), but it’s just not wired into them as a top priority anymore. So, keeping people in school beyond puberty is rather unnatural. “Unnatural” does not mean you shouldn’t do it, but it does mean that, if you’re going to do it, you should have a damn good reason for doing so. The “damn good reason” used to be “this kid is smart, and we need him to learn all this complex stuff that our civilization depends on, but that most people aren’t able/willing to learn.” Now, it’s more like “if we don’t keep this kid in school, he’ll have nothing to do and will go out and cause mayhem” (as Simon suggested). So, you get universal high school, and with it, low quality.

  12. Irena – exactly. Poetry has its own rules of course. But even if a writer is going to throw those away, at least a poem is nice and short so the reader hasn’t spent weeks or months of their life on it. That’s a good point about puberty and learning. That was the time when you were initiated in tribal societies or put to work in non-tribal ones. Either way, you became an adult (socially and biologically).

  13. Hi Simon,

    Fascinating. The thing I don’t understand about all of this, is how is belief by the elites upheld in the face of repeated failure? Surely there is some semblance of shame? Or will consequences have to knock them out?

    There was serious disappointment when it finally dawned on me that Uni, was much the same as before. Rote learning is fine, but I prefer to understand why and how things work – at least as far as that is possible (there are limits!)

    I’m reminded of a drill Sergeant: “You’re not paid to think soldier!”

    Cheers

    Chris

  14. Chris – this might sound a bit wacky, but I think the elites are stuck in the Magical and, because they don’t know it’s Magic, they are actually possessed by it. Corona made that clear because there was simply no way any of the measures were going to work. You can say it’s a big conspiracy and they’re in it together to bring in the new world order. I think that’s a fairly small part of it. They are trapped so deep in layers of propaganda and power games (both forms of Magic) that they no longer have any touch with reality. But it’s not just the politicians. A large section of the public is also trapped in the same dynamic. Eventually, of course, reality will intervene and that’s going to be where things get interesting.

  15. Simon – My impression at school was that the teachers had some kind of checklist to evaluate the essays. If all boxes were checked, you got an A grade. This way they could have minimised their workload. I even heard of teachers who were only able to read essays while being drunk. So, the teachers were also very frustrated by the system. There was one part of the German courses which somehow could quantify how good you were in the German language – dictation, but we got rid of it after the 7th grade due to bad results. 11

    Your experience of your music class brings up fond memories of the worst exam my secondary school class encountered. It was about the scales. 2/3 of the class had an E or F while the pupils playing instruments had the good grades. What a mess of a test.

    Irena- you are right. My grandfather did his high school diploma with 4 people, my mother with 12 and I did it with 80 people. No wonder that the quality decreased with increased quantity as a lot of people got dragged along. Funnily, the same people who want high school diploma for everyone are crying that we don’t have enough “Fachkräfte” (specialists without university education). To compensate for this lack of specialists (e.g. strenous jobs), we import people from all over the world, while we produce an increasing amount of useless academics. This not only affects the so called soft sciences but also natural science (Biology being the worst offender). It is a disaster in the making.

  16. Hi Simon,

    It does sound wacky, however it is also a plausible explanation. And I agree. Hmm. Many years ago Mr Greer wrote about the Ghost Dancers, and the essay left quite the impression upon me as a good example of what not to do, and the story has been on my mind of late, as the same conditions are building towards the inevitable. It gives me a sense of foreboding that you are thinking and writing upon these lines, and your conclusion points to an ending, which also happens to be a beginning. The last two and a half years have been seriously weird.

    Cheers

    Chris

  17. Secretface – I know a couple of teachers and they both tell me they are not given enough time to grade essays (this is even more true at university level). It’s usually a personal decision by the teachers to dedicate unpaid time to grading. I guess like any other job most people do little more than the bare minimum required.

    Chris – yeah, and because it’s much easier to imagine what the end looks like than what the beginning might look like, people tend to focus on the former.

  18. Simon – It could be that teachers have not enough time to do the grading. On the other hand, my mother was surprised how few exams I had to write in comparison to her. This cannot be explained by lower numbers of pupils as they had a lot in the lower grades. Back then, the people were really motivated to rebuilt Germany after the war.

    I have to agree that most people just try to get along with their job. In my previous job, my supervisor presented us some study results showing that 1/6 of all employee live for their job, 4/6 just do what is required while the remaining 1/6 were sabotaging their employer on purpose. So it seems that job motivation also follows some normal distribution. As teachers in Germany are state employees, they have it very easy to get along with minimal effort as they basically cannot be fired, if they don’t do anything illegal.

  19. Secretface – wow. 1/6 sabotaging seems quite high to me. The only time I ever heard somebody admit to that was one of my university lecturers. He was a self avowed Marxist who worked in a supermarket when he wasn’t tutoring sociology. He told us he was stealing from the supermarket. Y’know, to help usher in the worker’s revolution 🙂

  20. so if I read you correctly, you are admitting original developments. Which is fair enough, since if there were really nothing new under the sun, there would not even be a sun. The universe would be a featureless cloud of hydrogen, if it would exist at all.
    Integral consciousness not as a new reality, but as a new view on reality. Is that what you are saying?
    Interesting that you brought up quantum mechanics here. Seems to me QM is giving the finger to mental consciousness. In the attempt to save rational materialism, interpretations have been brought forward, that make The Discworld metaphysics look bland, unimaginative and plausible.

  21. Roland – to know that we would need to know the difference between consciousness and reality :).

    The question of newness is an interesting one though. In the Mythical Consciousness, “there is nothing new under the sun” and, even if we allow that something is new, it is by default worse than what came before (the Golden Age/Garden of Eden bias). In the Mental Consciousness, everything new is super awesome. In the Integral, I’d say we try and balance both perspectives.

    Are there any new approaches in physics that try to build on quantum mechanics without a bunch of hand waving designed to save materialism?

  22. if progress is defined as a movement to a destination the odd new thing would not be progress anyway as the element of direction is missing in a one off.

    I am not sure about physics. I am not a physicist, and i lost my interest in the subject years ago. It was just getting too absurd. My take is, that we have simply reached the limit of what our monkey-brain can make sense of. So as the mathematics is getting closer to the “thing in itself” it is making less sense to us. You can hear Kant and Nietsche grumbling “told you so” from their graves.
    There is obviously Capra and Sheldrake (not a physicist, but still a scientist and definitely not a materialist) and at the moment I am quite interested in what Iain McGilchrist has to say.
    Physics seems to be lost in abstractions like much of the world is these days.

  23. Roland – systems thinking was all about combining different disciplines and I think it’s no coincidence that Jung and Wolfgang Pauli were also looking for connections between psychology and physics. So, I’d say the Integral is about looking for cross pollination. For example, I think psycho-medicine would have to be a fascinating field. I’m quite sure a lot of illness is not just at the biological level but at the “energetic/magical” level. I wonder if anybody has tried to combine, for example, Chinese traditional medicine (a magical approach) with western medicine? As for quantum mechanics, a theological/metaphysical collaboration might be in order (of course, most hardcore atheist materialists would laugh at the idea). This is what Gebser called the arational and the acausal. We either find a way into those or we’ll wind up back in the irrational and anti-causal.

  24. Simon – if I’m understanding what you’re saying re integral consciousness, the consciousness itself is what’s new, not what’s encompassed by that consciousness? (I’m researching new developments in astronomy – you know, to keep my astrology current 🙂 ) – & the astronomers who discovered the existence of the Kuiper Belt – circumstellar disc out beyond Neptune & way wider & more massive than the asteroid belt – couldn’t get grants to pursue their search because the astronomy establishment had the attitude that nothing existed out beyond Pluto. Total lack of interest. But then all these bodies appeared as soon as they started looking. Magic! Suddenly the solar system regained mystery. But what to call all these new objects, some of them resembling Pluto? So they redefined Pluto. Oops! It should never have been a planet to start w/. But the thing is, any definition is arbitrary. Hence the ongoing debate among professional astronomers about what exactly comprises a ‘planet’. The thing is, it was a category that was taken for granted. Until the Kuiper Belt entered astronomical consciousness – revolutionising understanding of the formation of our solar system.)

  25. Shane – yes. And it would come with its own ontology which might require a redefinition of a lot of terms, including planets. Viruses are another one. They sit right on the edge between biology and chemisty. They aren’t really alive but reproduce themselves. I saw a couple of fascinating articles suggesting that Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” ontology is a better way to categorise viruses. The problem is that method breaks standard logic and doesn’t give us the level of precision we crave. But if you look at the way they roll out these new “variants” based on genetic analysis, it’s pretty clear the current method of categorising is useless. Worse than useless because it allows all kinds of blatant and unprovable speculation. Again this seems rather coincidental. So much hysterical nonsense has been spoken about corona but, at base, it’s a problem of science or, rather, using outdated Mental Consciousness concepts where they don’t work.

  26. Simon – I wonder if the experience of reading a novel is different for someone who is themselves an author. Iain McGilchrist mentions that professional musicians are more activate in their analytical left-hemispheres when listening to music, presumably as they analyse the composition and structure (tempo, key, time signature etc), while non professional musicians are more active in their holistic right-hemispheres taking in the music as a whole. (And as McGilchrist points out, individual notes are meaningless on their own, and it is only in the context of the piece as a whole that they bring the music to life). I’m currently reading Voss and finding it a gripping experience so far, without the benefit of most of the historical literary context you mention: I can tell that White is making fresh connections in my mind without knowing how he is doing it. That said, I’m sure that having more of that historical context would add to the experience, and I don’t doubt that writers would benefit from it.

    On the question of making connections between Quantum Mechanics and metaphysics, I think David Bohm was someone who was very much interested in this, for instance in his book ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’.

  27. William – that’s a very interesting point. Although, I would frame it slightly differently. Artists/musicians etc fall into the trap of over-reliance on the left brain while the readers/listeners/viewers over-rely on the right brain. Thus, laypeople would benefit from knowing something of the technical details of the art they are partaking of and artists would benefit from thinking holistically.

    But there’s also a bias in our culture on this matter. We think art should be “processed” with the right brain only while science should be “processed” entirely with the left brain. Both are wrong, in my opinion. We need to engage the whole brain in both domains.

  28. Simon – a phrase I may have heard more often than any other over the last 2½ years is ‘Trust the Science’. Which sounds to me like a misunderstanding of what science is or does or ideally should do, how it gets funded & why etc. While the reclassification of Pluto was justified for the sake of general convenience, it probably has more to do w/ elite hierarchies of power (said one influential astronomer: ‘Pluto has lots and lots of friends; we’re not so keen to have Pluto and all his friends in the club because it gets crowded. By the end of the decade, we would have had 100 planets, and I think people would have said “my goodness, what a mess they made back in 2006”.’) So in a way, the redefinition fulfils a repressive function – it’s all about social order, not the reality of outer space. As also happened, in a different way, w/ the defining of a ‘flu-like virus’ as a ‘pandemic’.

  29. Shane – you’ve touched on the exact subject of my next post. I might steal that Pluto example 🙂

  30. @Secretface2097

    Re: high school numbers

    Right. I figured. I remember having a conversation with a certain gentleman from Denmark, now in his 70s, who was commenting on how much less Danish high school students study today compared to back in the day. So I asked him what percentage of the population attended classical high schools back when he was in high school, and how many do now. His answer? Approximately 10% and 90%, respectively. So, there’s your explanation.

    Another thing I find interesting is that in a number of European countries, they keep pushing the retirement age ever higher because there aren’t enough workers. Now here’s a radical suggestion: put people to work earlier (starting as apprentices) rather than having them finish later. Radical, I know…

  31. Simon- I agree that 1/6 seems very high. Back when it was presented by my supervisor, he obviously wanted us all in the 1/6 segment who love their job, just to start playing mind games with the old guard to get them out of the company due to their high salary. He luckily lost that battle.

    Irena
    I agree with your explanation. Unfortunately, this leads to a decrease of the quality of the learning material as many unsuitable pupils have to get through the system to get their high school diploma. As they are afterwards entitled to go to university, this quality decrease extends to the university where a lot of useless graduates are produced. Just an example: if you look for Biologist jobs, a lot of them are pharma consultants where the Biologist with a PhD (min 8 years of university education) competes with pharmaceutical technical assistants (3 years training). In the Humanities, it looks even worse…

  32. @Simon

    I just wanted to say I’m done with _The Magic Mountain_. For real! I’ve read it! To the bitter end! Well… There was one chapter (around 35 pages long) toward the end that was somewhat interesting. Ghosts and stuff. 😉 Other than that… The important thing is that it is over. 🙂

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