Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : a Paradigm
(2002 - 2013)
|Knowledge as science|
|The choking of knowledge|
|The splitting of knowledge|
|The current state of knowledge|
|The basic aspects of knowledge|
|The development of knowledge|
|The new paradigm of knowledge|
|Epilogue : the paradigm facing reality|
Knowledge as science (^)
Knowledge is the gathering and linking of data (bits of information) and their structuring in an intelligent (inter - lego), i.e. meaningful and useful, way.
In the course of time, some highly structured knowledge, circulating amongst learned individuals (sages, savants) came to receive the name of science (from scio = to know).
These educated, or just curious individuals, explored reality as an interconnected whole, without separating phenomena into different (or even opposite) fields of inquiry.
The epitome of the inquirer is Leonardo who applied his ingenuity and skill to a rich variety of endeavours in various centres of Europe.
Up to the time of Leibniz (end of XVII century), the knowledge seeker was a true philosopher, that is a friend-lover (filos) of knowledge-wisdom (sofia) who did not limit either investigation or reflection to any circumscribed area of experience.
Besides that, the philosophers were also cosmopolitan individuals, in touch with each other, without territorial or cultural borders restricting their movement or the circulation of their ideas.
The choking of knowledge (^)
This freedom of investigation and circulation of ideas was not general and, certainly, not totally without limits.
In fact, throughout the Middle Ages and after, the advancement of knowledge was retarded or even blocked by some suffocating aspects as, for instance:
- the pedantic exegesis of text (e.g. of Aristotle's writings) instead of the productive analysis of experience;
- the sterile discussion of terms (e.g. the debate between nominalists and realists) instead of the fertile observation of facts;
- the forced conformity to the power (e.g. the Church's doctrine) instead of the free investigation of reality.
The prosecution of Galileo, his trial (1633) by the Inquisition, his condemnation and forced recanting of the Copernican system, marks the high point of interference by the Church in the advancement of knowledge.
After that episode, following the decline of the authority of the Church and the coming to preeminence of the state, some aspects of knowledge were emancipated from the tutelage of the ecclesiastical dominion and found encouragement and support by the state rulers who saw their utility for military and commercial purposes.
The splitting of knowledge (^)
With the increase in the amount and depth of knowledge, a sort of re-organization took place, that is a specialization of knowledge into separate fields of investigation, each one with its own tools and techniques.
The most visible aspect of this specialization came to be represented by the sharp divide between the so-called natural (material-physical) sciences and the social (moral-human) sciences.
The natural sciences became detached from current diatribes and devoid of emotional overtones, more experimental and less esoteric, subject to more rigorous methods of investigation of phenomena and corroboration of beliefs.
In contrast, the social sciences were more and more the preserve of individuals linked to and supported by some powerful patron (Hobbes and Charles II) or entity (Hegel and the Prussian state).
In the course of time, this resulted in an increase in the split between natural and social knowledge, with the former extending and deepening the domain of theoretical understanding and practical uses while the latter was intent on producing grandiose syntheses (e.g. positivism, materialism) based more on wishful thinking than on careful observation and experimentation.
It was then almost inevitable, from the middle of the XIX century, for the word science to be generally associated only with the knowledge of matter and nature.
The fact is that the stumbling block to the investigation of nature represented by the Church had been remove only to be replaced by the stumbling block to the analysis of human beings and communities represented by the new power: the state.
The current state of knowledge (^)
As previously pointed out, in the Middle Ages, the cult of Aristotle, the empty diatribes of the nominalists and realists and the heavy hand of the Church contrived to slow down the development of the knowledge of nature.
When the suffocating influence of the Church was overcome, the sciences of nature started developing and flourishing and the advancement has not stopped ever since.
In more recent times, the cult of Marx, the use of magic words and the heavy hand of the state, have succeeded in slowing down the development of the sciences concerning human beings in communities.
In fact, the present state of the social sciences is one of total disarray. The social sciences have relied for decades on pre-cooked ideas presented as the miraculous solution (e.g. mercantilism à la Keynes) and are painfully rediscovering, as an absolute novelty, views that have been expounded ages ago (e.g. Hayek's road to serfdom).
What characterizes the social sciences seems to be:
- servitude: the social scientists (economists, sociologists, anthropologists) are mainly paid/supported by the state (universities, research centres) and under the tutelage of the state (juridical status). Not a situation apt to encourage the development of creative and critical thinking.
- divarication: the gap between fields of knowledge has never been so wide and the inability of most social scientist to make sense of the (whole) reality has never been so deep. In fact, some original ideas spanning many aspects of knowledge have come from physicists not sociologists.
- backwardness: the social scientists, or most of them, are stuck in the XIX century, with some reference to the first half of the XX century. The basic armoury of ideas (political, social, economical) comes from that period. We are not referring to universal values and methods, but to outdated positions and practices. What the social scientists do is just to add footnotes, erratically, from time to time.
The way out of this bleak situation, in which social myths are accorded the status of true beliefs (knowledge) consists, as in the past, in abolishing the interference of power (in this case state power) on social thinking and acting. Moreover, in order to start anew the process of knowledge in the social sciences, we need to make clear, once again, what are the basic aspects of knowledge and how the development of knowledge takes place.
The basic aspects of knowledge (^)
Knowledge is characterized by and is based upon three main aspects:
Knowledge can develop and flourish only in an environment where freedom is a common attitude and practice. Only freedom gives full rein to curiosity, ingenuity and critical thinking.
For this reason, the advancement of knowledge requires freedom as an essential pre-condition: freedom from external constrictions, freedom from internal conformities.
Knowledge is concerned with reality and with the way we perceive and organize reality. Reality is characterized by unity (consilience) within variety and so should knowledge be.
The consilience or unity of knowledge means that the multiple data of information, in order to become meaningful and useful, must fully represent reality as a variegated integrated whole.
Knowledge advances (grows, deepens) because it relies on past knowledge. We see further because we are, as the saying goes, on the shoulders of giants, that is of all the previous knowledge seekers. We do not look down or behind them but forward, on top of them.
Without progression every generation will be busy rediscovering the same truths and falling into the same fallacies, running in circles and remaining always in the same place.
On the foundations of these three basic aspects of knowledge, let us see the dynamic process of its development.
The development of knowledge (^)
The development of knowledge takes place through a process of generation and selection of ideas.
Let us assume, as is often the case, that there are different interpretations of a phenomenon and different solutions to a problem. They freely compete for attention and acceptance; methods are employed to assess their worth; some interpretations and possible solutions become adopted and then extensively used while others are tried and soon discarded. Eventually, one or a few of them prevail on account of their fertility, utility, elegance and become a widespread theory or technique.
If this does not happen it is because vested interests, in conflict with the interests of knowledge, prevail to obfuscate the issue and put obstacles to its resolution.
To avoid this happening, some tricks and tools, devised in the past, should be used for unblocking the development of knowledge. We point out three of them:
- Ockham's razor (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem)
Usually, an old theory, in order to survive in the presence of radical transformations of reality, undergoes a series of modifications that multiply the provisos and subtract simplicity and elegance. Ockham's razor cuts through this growing invasive jungle and points the way to the discarding of obsolete useless theoretical constructions grown to an abnormal pathological size.
- Turing's test
In the social sciences, the observation and interpretation of a phenomenon should be affected by openly declared values not distorted by hidden preconceptions. Turing's test, applied, for instance, to the analysis of political behaviour, means that political entities (e.g. parties) should be studied without knowing their name and their proclaimed/presumed cause, in the same way as, in the analysis of intelligent behaviour, we should ignore if the entity replying from behind a door is a human being or an electronic computer. An extensive use of Turing's test could assist in getting rid of duplicitous concepts and fake alternatives.
- Kuhn's paradigm
A paradigm is a way of looking-thinking-acting with respect to the world; it is an attitude of mind that becomes a practice of life.
A good paradigm allows for a better interpretation, conception and construction of reality.
The activity of building a new paradigm should be the task of any critical mind whenever and wherever the conventional tools are unable to make sense (explain, forecast) of reality.
We have now reached the point where a new paradigm of knowledge is needed more than ever.
The new paradigm of knowledge (^)
A paradigm is like an observatory tower from which meaningful and useful patterns are identified that make possible to understand reality in a rich and fruitful way.
Some of the aspects that should animate/compose the new paradigm of knowledge are:
- open fluxus/nexus of many-various entities
Reality is an open system where relations take place amongst entities. The main aspect that characterizes the entities and their development is just this multiplicity of relations. Furthermore, there is a strong link between openess-fruitfulness of relations and cognitive multiplication. The open fluidity and fertility of relations stimulate flexibility and adaptability, i.e. learning, with the result of strengthening the entity. In contrast, a reality characterized by a closed system is one where learning stagnates and the entities keep weakening.
- dynamic equilibration of many-various entities
Reality is seen as a dynamic inter-play of entities capable of self-organization and self-renewal through learning and the mechanisms of feed-back and feed-forward. This is in contrast with the banalization of reality centred on mono-linear causality and on mechanistic order imposed from the outside. The mono-causality of explanation is generally matched by the mono-solution of intervention and by the false conviction that order can be only achieved externally, univocally and forcefully. Examples of this, in history, are the imposition, whenever possible, of one power, one religion, one language, one provider, one carrier, etc.
In contrast to all of this, in a dynamic equilibration the cause(s) act on the effect(s) and the effect(s) act on the cause(s). On the whole, the new paradigm sees order as emerging from the free (internally motivated) interactions produced by dynamic equilibration of entities and views disorder as the likely result, sooner or later, of forced (externally contrived) interferences.
- multiple continua of many-various entities
Reality is composed of a plurality and variety of entities (and their factors-fields-features) without sharp contrapositions (e.g. human-animal) or clear-cut divisions (e.g. natural-social).
The strong mental attitude that characterized the old paradigm, based on contrapositions of entities and on the justification of their clashes and differences, gives way to an image where entities are arranged on multiple continua, where the distinctions are like tonalities on a musical scale or colours on a painter's palette.
In brief, the new paradigm sees reality as composed of multiple continua of many-various entities and their factors-fields-features in dynamic equilibration through an open flow of relations.
For this paradigm to come not only into existence but to be widely accepted and adopted, an essential value needs to be placed as its firm foundation, as the ground (humus) upon which it is based: humility.
A reflection on human history shows that the advancement of knowledge is marked by a reduction of hubris and a development of humility. The displacement of the earth as the centre of the universe allowed for the development of astronomy; later on the displacement of the human being as a superior and totally different being with respect to all living creatures allowed for the development of all the biological sciences, ecology amongst them. Now, humility as the basis of the new paradigm, should operate for further positive displacements, in particular:
- the displacement of the state or of any self-appointed or elected body as legislator and planner, in charge of controlling and addressing the life of individuals;
- the displacement of any territorial power from the exploitative ownership of the natural environment and, with it, the self-assumed right to dominate nature as it suits power's greed more than people's needs.
Epilogue : the paradigm facing reality (^)
When Thomas Hobbes was, prematurely, born on April the fifth, 1588, the son of a choleric father and an anxiety ridden mother, the news of the impending invasion of the Spanish Armada was filling the air. He later recounted that his "mother gave birth to twins, myself and fear."
It is then not surprising that, in order to suppress fear, security became his main/exclusive concern and that, to this aim, he championed the absolute power of the state. Fear is the cornerstone of every power, especially state power, and so the pillar of statism in every form and content (fascism, communism, welfarism).
The healthy human being is the one free from fear "for it is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of death and hardship." (Epictetus)
It is again not surprising that, only from human beings free from fear and keen on free thinking and free exploring, will the new paradigm emerge and put to test.
And the testing can only happen through a variety of small scale experiments, prototypes of personal/family/community life, in emulation with each other, aiming at learning from each other.
If this is so, the simple, clear message for those who care for the further advancement and diffusion of knowledge is: Let Polyarchy Be.