Exerpts from personal replies on Epistemics LO220

Kent Palmer (palmer@netcom.com)
Thu, 23 Feb 1995 19:52:37 -0800

Part of a reply to Sean Gwane concerning LO129

Philosophy Practical?????? How could that be?

We have spent so long making this distinction that separates physus
(practicality) and logos (impractical philosophy) that it is almost
impossible to think how philosophy could be practical -- in fact it might
be a cultural taboo to suggest that philosophy was anything more than
useless. In my own experience I have found it the most useful thing I have
ever come across in the whole world. That is why I have pursued it with
such ardor. What else tells you how the world is constructed as a whole?
How can you understand any specific speciality to any depth if you just
know that one thing and not how it fits into the picture of the whole.
Knowing how the whole works and how specialities fit together is the most
useful and practical thing for any generalist. --- Did I neglect to
mention that I consider myself a generalist? Practicality is a value
judgement from a particular point of view. We use this value judgement to
condemn many things within our cultural milieu -- like philosophy. But
depending what you are trying to accomplish different things may become
practical or impractical depending on the situation and the goals. I have
found myself that starting as a generalist and attempting to understand
the whole gives you incredible leverage on the specifics and details that
most people do not appreciate. Most people believe the way to
understanding is by concentrating on the details and specifics of things
-- no matter that we are going in the wrong direction and sub-optimizing
because we never tried to look past the trees to see the forest. Our whole
culture is geared to produce specialists that cannot understand each
other's language. They are all working at cross purposes on different
aspects of existence without any coordination or interdisciplinary
communication. And as a result no one has the big picture and things are
like Kevin Kelly says OUT OF CONTROL.

What I have found is that in my studies I have had to learn many
specialist languages to talk to specific people and that what is happening
in most disciplines can be reduced to a very similar formal-structural
model. The best generic example of this is George Klir's ARCHITECTURE OF
SYSTEMS PROBLEM SOLVING. Once you understand the general model then you
can make very powerful cross references between discliplies and get
insights not available to those who do not go to the trouble to learn
multiple disciplines. A very good book to read in this regard is Bateson's
MIND AND NATURE. He points out in that book that if you study to
completely different disciplines at the same time the quality of
information you get about each is much higher than if you studied either
one separately in sequence. I have found this effect is true. I always
study several disciplines simultaneously. And the cross-talk that occurs
in ones mindbody as one does this yields a much greater understanding of
the separate disciplines. Specialization is a means of preventing high
quality learning.

A Wild learning/change organization (person) must be interdisciplinary.
The feedback between disciplines pursued in parallel gives a quantum leap
in the magnitude of learning and understanding in such a system over the
fragmented organizational and life models we live by these days. But
merely learning multiple disciplines simultaneously in a heterogeneously
interactive fashion is not enough because without a philosophical
framework that merely leads to chaos because there is no way to recognize
meta-disciplinary (episteme level) organizational principles or those that
function at the level of the organization of the world. So I find that the
most practical thing is that which gives the greatest leverage to
understanding in the process of learning. Deep patterns that are universal
to all disciplines are what is explored by philosophy. It is those
patterns that are what make it possible to increase ones learning capacity
another quantum magnitude because once you see the underlying patterns (by
studying and thinking hard) then individual disciplines begin to resonate
within those underlying patterns and become mutually confirming.

So I would posit levels of learning the lowest of which is specialized
learning. The next higher level is when you learn in an interdisciplinary
fashion and attempt to become a generalist who can speak the languages of
different disciplines knowing what is the same and what is different in
them and taking advantage of the fact that one gets a greater
understanding from studying different disciplines together. The next level
is when one looks for underlying patterns that are in all the different
disciplines. At this level one becomes a philosopher because all the
questions that apply to all disciplines are fundamental and have been
traditionally addressed by philosophy as a meta-discipline. Remember all
specialized disciplines emerged from philosophy historically. Physics was
Natural Philosophy originally. And this was no mere name. It is because
philosophy must come first in order to set the stage for what ever
speciality we are engaged in -- because the question WHY ARE WE DOING THIS
always comes first.

Now it turns out that in our society very few people get beyond
specialization. A few get to the point where they can consider themselves
generalists. And the rare individual becomes a philosopher. But when you
get to that point one immediately realises that our cultural picture is
completely wrong. If one understands underlying patterns then ones ability
to grasp the surface patterns is much more effective. Learning occurs at a
much greater rate. Learning has a much wider effect because it applies to
multiple disciplines simultaneously. It allows immediate translation
between different disciplines to be effected. It allows one to recognize
more quickly the significant new material in a particular discipline.
Philosophy is incredibly effective in this respect. I am not talking about
the philosophy you learn in college courses that is made out to be its own
discipline separate form the other disciplines. I am talking about the
philosophy that considers fundamentals of all disciplines that the
generalist runs into when they escape from whatever discipline they
started out in.

Philosophy is most practical because it is the most effective tool of
human learning. Generalization is the next less effective tool.
Specialization is the least effective tool of learning. What
specialization is good for is control. What generalization is good for is
adaptation. What Philosophy is good for is allowing flexibility of
adaptions. Just think about it. A universal pattern must have more
leverage than a general but not universal pattern. A pattern for a
specific discipline unconnected to anything else in the world is the least
effective means of learning.

Disciplines are merely artificial barriers to learning. If we are brave
and go beyond our initial discipline then we automatically become a
generalist to some extent. We get the boost that Bateson talks about of
parallel learning. But only when we become fascinated with the
fundamentals of all disciplines do we get the maximum leverage of seeing
the basic patterns that all the disciplines exploit.

I say again philosophy is the most practical of all disciplines. All other
disciplines are less practical than that to varying degrees depending on
their degree of specialization.

Ultimately this must be true because logos and physus are one thing. We
want wisdom to inform our action's do we not? Philosophy is nothing more
than the love of wisdom. Wisdom is the blend of knowledge (logos) and
experience (physus). Philosophy takes the global view and understands the
patterns of experience starting from that global perspective working down
towards the specific details. It can do that because it started from the
specifics and worked toward the global patterns. Philosophy is the most
practical of approaches to existence because it is the one that gives the
biggest payoff in learning capacity for those who engage in it not as
another breed of specialists but as those who would like to understand our
world as a whole not just a few parts of it.

Kent Palmer
Philosopher, Generalist, and sometimes even Specialist


Part of a reply to Cathie Leavitt concerning LO129

> Can we transform ourselves and our understanding right here on this list?
> Maybe, if we don't let the words get in the way, if we can see the sky between
> the branches, if we remember that "heaven" is under our feet. I invite you to
> turn off your computer for a while and go outside and breathe. Cultivate
> balance!

I agree with the idea of not thinking all the time and cultivating
balance. But guess what? Balance does not come from not thinking. Quite
the contrary. Balance can only be achieved by thinking. In fact many of
the problems we have in which we are thrown out of balance come from our
not thinking things through. Basically what pragmatism says is we just
need simple recipes and to act on them. But systems dynamics shows us that
when we deal with complex systems our intuitions are many times wrong and
so we will only make things worse by being short sighted and applying
simple solutions.

This is one of the major fallacies of New Age approaches. They have this
romantic image of Eastern Religion as being in tune with themselves
through meditation without ever thinking about things -- this is not true.
Adorno critizizes the fad of Zen in the United States because it invites
people to stop thinking exactly when what they need to do is more
thinking. The new age ideology of meditation that rejects thinking is
another guise for American pragmatism that rejects intelectualization and
is a distortion of the traditions for the east. Buddhism for instance
always had very sophisticated intellectual traditions and rarified debate.
That is why there is such a wealth of philosohical material from the
different branches of Buddhism including the Zen branch. Buddhism was
about obtaining the middle way. That means balance in everything including
between thinking and practice. Any rejection of any part of ourselves
drives us to an extreme. It is this extremeism that is so prevalent in our
culture that is to be avoided in these eastern traditions.

These religions did not deny this vital part of our human nature. The
point is that thinking like all of our human characteristics needs to be
refined. Thinking is refined by stopping thinking. But if you never
started thinking then it is impossible to refine it by stopping. The
chatter in your heads is not thinking. The best book on thinking is
Heidegger's book WHAT IS CALLED THINKING. In that book Heidegger says what
I think is his deepest insight. He points out that the Old English word
for thinking also means Thanking. So let me define thinking and what I
mean by it just so we all know what I mean. Thinking is Thanking. In fact
in Old English there is a word "Orthanc." The "Or" is the same root that
is in the word origin. It means the primal or primordial source. Thanc
means either Thinking or Thanking. To me thinking is an attempt to go to
the origins of things -- to their primordial sources -- by a process that
is not just chatter in our heads but which involves our entire beings --
both the logos and the physus -- in which we reveal those sources and show
are thanks to those sources. Thinking is the unveiling of the sources and
Thanking is the hearkening back to those sources. Unveiling is part of
manifestation -- the deepest part of manifestation as it shows us what
lies hidden within manifestation. But once we recognize what is hidden
within manifestation we need to harken back to it continuously -- i.e. it
becomes manifest in us and out actions. If we engage in nondual thinking,
perceiving, and action (as described by LOY in NON-DUALITY) then when we
uncover hidden sources of things they must reveal themselves in our
thoughts, perceptions, and actions -- In other words we are fundamentally
changed --- we have learned something and have been transformed by it.
Conceptualization is an important tool in this process. Wild and
persistent conceptualization is philosophy.

Breathing and experiencing the environment, etc is important but that
alone will only leave us on the surface of things. Thinking is looking for
the coherences in manifestation. It is the coherences and the
discontinuities that point to the hidden sources of things. We represent
these as concepts. That is the way we capture what we have thought so we
can share it and retain it. We make networks of concepts embodied in
statements and diagrams. But the thinking itself is the uncovering of the
intrinsic nature of the world to our intellects.

Look at the old english word Mood. Mood to us means a pervasive feeling.
But in Old English it meant the unity of heart and mind and body
expressing a particular state. We say state of mind. But really we mean a
state that encompasses our whole being. Heidegger uses mood as his
essential tool for the analysis of Dasein (Being there) or being-in-the
world. When you just breath you are discovering what mood you are in. But
mood in the sense of Old English is a deep thing. It is the pervasive
state of the whole self (including the mind). Moods do not just happen
when we concentrate on our breathing -- they pervade everything we do.
But in that silence our tacit knowledge of the world becomes apparent. We
do not have to be thinking to know myriad things about the world and use
them to guide our behavior. But the tacit knowledge alone is not enough.
We need explicit knowledge as well and the process of uncovering that
knowledge in order to guide our actions and be effective in a complex and
changing world.

The Mood that goes with thinking is exhileration. Once we have formulated
our thoughts to ourselves we need to continually harken back to them as we
go about our business of changing/learning as we are transformed by and
transform our environment and ourselves.

Thanks for your comments on my posts.