History – From human beings to Human knowings

An enquiry in to man’s alienation from knowledge.

SOCRATES:

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

‘Modern’ crisis is a crisis in cognition.

Some aspect of knowledge is to be recreated, reinvented and relived each time a human being is born and this is what would have helped the human being to live wisely or to co exist wisely on earth with other living beings. The knowledge that reminds the human being of its connection with nature.  Perhaps the knowledge that all living beings possess to lead a harmonious life.

Unfortunately with modern human beings dependence on external, codified  knowledge this wisdom was lost. If evolution had this in its design then instead of children 70 year olds and 700 year olds would have been given birth.

The whole tragedy of modernity is a direct result of dependence on codified knowledge. With textualisation of knowledge senses  become the tools of the textualised mind and notions and belief replace knowledge. For true  and authentic knowing to happen autonomy of sense becomes a must and text to become the tools to record experience.
In the digital age ‘organisability’ and ‘softwareability’ is  becoming   the criterion for what constitute knowledge. With the change in what constitutes knowledge and how knowledge is accessed the third cognitive shift is already underway. There  will be a total change in the paradigm.
Many years ago a similar shift happened which went unnoticed. That was the shift from experiential paradigm to textual paradigm. Textualisation of knowledge altered the notion of what constitute knowledge.
Knowledge and process of knowing has undergone three fundamental cognitive shifts depending on the process of creating knowledge. The knowledge in these three paradigms-experiential, textual and digital  are very different from each other even though for the people belonging to these respective paradigms their knowledge is very much real. And these are the three most basic worldviews.
With each paradigm shift there is reorganization as to what constitutes knowledge and hence experience itself is altered and this further leads to further cognitive shifts. Some experiential modes are dropped and new ones are added.

 

Textual paradigm.

The dependence on codified/memorized knowledge must have caused the evolutionary pressure to evolve text in order to release the burden of memorizing.

What I mean by textual paradigm is the knowledge created by means of text.

Text replaces experience as the means of knowing. The cognition is effected by text.

Knowledge/experience/world view in the textual paradigm underwent several changes and knowledge got restructured in the process. Textualisation of knowledge altered the notion of what constitute knowledge.
When knowledge got textualised the feelings and emotions were dropped.

The word intuition was out of use for many years and it came back few years ago when textual cultures started addressing its fragmentation, alienation and rootless ness .The over use of reason and logic and the neglect of intuition is due to textualisation of knowledge and by extension to the corresponding experiential mode it created. The textual experience is  linear and fragmented which is the only way text can mediate. Imagination is a word overused by textual cultures as text demands imagination, where as in experiential cultures the reality is always present. At several levels one can see the fragmentation in textual cultures.
The internal fragmentation has made us to fragment our perception  and compartmentalize and reorder the world to suit our textual notions about life. Textual experience being personal and independent of others separated the self from community. The individual and the ego must have began at this point. Textual cognition must have caused fragmentation, alienation, boredom etc
The self is fragmented as male and female ,as body and mind and as childhood, youth and old age. Spontaneous activities were broken up in to planning and doing thus thought and action got fragmented so are beauty and ethics. Entertainment and boredom has become the new dichotomies.
Boredom is also another of those qualities typical of modern mindset and so is waste.
The internal fragmentation has made us fragment the outer world.
Thus beauty and knowledge which is an integral act is divided in to art,science and language, and into artists and scientists. Politics,ethics religion were also separated.
Education has been the most powerful tool to condition and colonize the people as it has completely overturned the worldview of the so-called educated people of the world all over. It just replaced religious superstition to scientific superstition. It turned us into believers of a different kind. It turned us from active creators and inventers of knowledge to passive believers of text and experts. We no longer use our senses and feelings and experience to know the world. We are taught about everything-including beauty.
Beauty is the most fundamental of human existence. Beauty is what truly makes one authentic. Beauty is what binds us to the external world. Beauty is what creates culture- the food, the architecture, the music, the artifacts, various dance forms and agriculture (knowledge). Beauty is biological facet where as art is a construct.
Even the spiritual state of being here and now also became impossible with the textual culture. A total act of being in the present encompasses both past and the future. Our relationship with the text is itself an absence of the present. Textualisation removes the present and creates only the past or the future.
Another word that got popularized is abstraction. Textual  experience is an abstract experience. As far as Authenticity is concerned experience is authentic and original. It cannot become second hand. Text by its very nature is second hand.
Our relationship to the unknown, which was of awe and wonder probably changed with textualisation as the knowledge is acquired with in the comforts of the non-threatening text. The same must be the case with “controlling” nature.
Even beauty which is an exclusive domain of the senses and experience got textualised and it became a matter for intellectual activities.

Music gets written down as text which can be ‘read’.
Children because of their natural tenacity remained out side the textual world so also some women. I would further claim even the true scientist who have time and again disapproved the  conventional educational systems also belong to the experiential paradigm.

The crises in modern schooling is precisely due the conflict in these two paradigms. The adults who belong to the textual culture is attempting to textualise children as early as possible. This can also be seen as a conflict in intuition and reason or of  two ways of knowing. The one which wants to recreate, reinvent and relive and the other which wants to impose.(Democracy?)

The left brain/ right brain division is actually  the result of fragmentation caused by the textual schooling process.

Even at the activity level mechanization brought in mechanical and repetitive act further alienating the person from the present. Both at the level of activity and mind being here and now became unnecessary.

With the removal of unknown from our experience predictability / planning and reasoning became the dominant relationship to the outside.
Many people belonging to the textual culture is realizing the crisis and are also coming out with several solutions but are unable to break free as all these solutions are textual.

Systems thinking/ holistic approach, their engagement with spirituality etc are attempts in overcoming  these crisis.
The solutions to make the learning holistic is by adding more ‘sensitive’ subjects like ecology, gender, study of other cultures etc.
Whole is not a result of adding fragments.
The infinite is not the addition of finites.
This is the quality of the mind which is holistic, spiritual ,in communion with beauty all the time.

De-textualisation is essentially recovering the autonomy of senses and experience. A reconnection to the life sustaining knowledge accessible only to the selfless minds.
It will be interesting to look at the world that belongs to the experiential paradigm.

Experiential paradigm.

If we consider knowledge to be a biological response to sustain life, then the present level of estrangement between man and nature is unimaginable.
How could knowledge and destruction go hand in hand to the extent that the very survival of the earth now edges on the brink of cessation? Knowledge, devoid of the biological content fostered the grounds for depredation.
This biological response is what is inbuilt in the knowledge of experiential cultures. Indigenous knowledge the result of collaboration between people and their surroundings guided by the natures need to preserve all life. The biological element in knowledge is what has made the indigenous communities
to create ‘life sustaining’ knowledge.
The autonomy of the sense guide the people to access life sustaining knowledge. The so called indigenous knowledge (This is a term invented by the textual world) is the knowledge of experiential paradigm.
For over a decade now-since 1988to be a precise,  I have been in a process of unlearning and through creative engagement with the rural and tribal artisan communities. The unlearning process I am involved in is intended to scrub off the western influence that I had gathered through the years of “learning ” in the alienating environs of some  of the elitist institutions in the country. In 1991 or so I decided to stop reading altogether as I was only building on the already formed framework of the western knowledge. In order to see clearly and authentically  I felt I need to clean myself of all isms that dictated my cognition.
After years of spending time with the rural tribal communities who were still free from modern schooling and were still very much part of the indigenous knowledge system I began to see the fundamental difference between the two knowledge systems.
Once ,few years ago while I was in the process of developing exercises and activities to help children learn pottery, I was intrigued by the way with which the master potters arrive at a form. I wondered how the things they make could be so beautiful. I was keen to know what  guides them to arrive at a particular form . Mulling over it for several days I realized that there is a biological assistance that guides our sense of beauty.  People
undefiled by modern ways are far more open and receptive to this biological guidance.
This internal capacity and the external natural systems collaborate in some manner to produce a distinct aesthetic quality to their lives. The rural, tribal or non literate communities seem to act holistically endowing an aesthetic quality to their every act. What we understand as culture is a
result of this collaboration.
Sense of Beauty: In a profound sense, it is a community’s sense of beauty that delineates its culture. When a society or community loses its authentic sense of beauty or subjugates its sense of beauty to the corruption of alien influences, it  loses its authentic culture. The classical forms in the human culture came about by this process. These are archetypal forms that came out as and when the need arose. The pyramids, the tombs, the ancient places of worship all over the world, the folk dances, traditional music, traditional healing systems are all evolved by a very different process than the one adopted by ‘Modernity’. These must have been the intuitive leaps of humanity.

Children in natural learning cultures are like any other newborn animal. The nature has its ways to make them grow and all the skills of an adult world is introduced in the games, ‘toys’ children make. The way they explore the world of senses by the interaction with the  nature and the world of nature through the senses. Senses are a two way tool. to know out side and inside.

Digital paradigm.

And  now with the information technology  text  is being  replaced  by computer. The  computers  criterion  for  dropping  various  elements from the textual knowledge  would  depend    on  the  manageability  and  softwareability.
Like text it would also bring in new elements in the realm of what they claim as knowledge.
The comfort in seeking knowledge is far greater and they can also fake part of the reality though miniaturized and frozen. This could altogether remove imagination and bring in surety as they did see the event however miniaturized or even unreal it may be.
To quote from a writing  on ‘ Human Nature and the Digital Culture: The Case for Philosophical Anthropology’ by Dennis M. Weiss  of York College of Pennsylvania  “Where this world is chaotic and difficult to comprehend, the computer offers us the image of a world of order, logic, reason, and transparency. While we may have lost our cosmological map in this world, the
computer offers us a ready replacement: the pristine, orderly lines of the flowchart, which becomes the new image of an orderly and computable nature.
Flowchart, program, and microchip become part of the new cosmology. To the homeless and the rootless of this fragile world, images of the web spanning the globe, of the Internet encircling the world, of Netscape providing us with connections to the world are comforting on a metaphysical level. They assure us that we too may once again master the world and hold it in our
hands. Our own lives gain a sense of order and stability when reflected back to us in our Web pages. While we may have little control over the world around us, we can define the world and our links to it via our own home  page”.

The calamity of virtualization of knowledge will be far more destructive and elusive. Already the ICT stakeholders are claiming many advantages over the textual knowledge.
The  ultimate  loss  is  that  of  human  creativeness and the life at large.
If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be distorted and destructive.
The natural state of being is  to  be  authentic  and  original.
To  be  authentic  and  original  means   to  be  inventing  all  the  time,to be creative to be discovering all the time; to be new all the time.
This  brings  in concrete and first hand  experience  as  the  basis  for what is knowledge.
Senses are our tools that connects us to the concrete experience as well as our inner nature.
This demands us to sharpen or sensitize our senses  as  that  is  our primary tools  for  knowing.
Beauty seems to be the spiritual  way of relating to nature.
Sense  of  beauty  is  experienced  when the experiencer and  experienced become one  however  momentarily  it  may  be.
It  happens  when  all  over  senses  are  awake  and  we receive  life  in its  totality.

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Comments

  • Sameer Upadhyay  On March 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    A very interesting perspective… Thanks for sharing.

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