Education and the Problems of Intellectual Fashions

One of our tasks is to avoid “captive mind” syndrome. A key ingredient in this is avoiding being “vacuumed up” in group mental pressures of the moment. Here’s an example:

Think back to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Kubrick classic from the sixties.

Why is it structured the way it is? The “killer ape” discovers the use of skeletal remains as weapons for killing and a bone flies out of his grasp and becomes the spaceship with Keir Dullea and HAL 9000 (the computer), and the monolith and the space “Mysticism” of Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke.

All of this comes out of Robert Ardrey’s best seller African Genesis from 1961 which obsessed Kubrick. (Ardrey wrote many famous anthropology books such as The Territorial Imperative).

It starts, “Not in innocence or in Asia was mankind born.”

The “not in innocence” refers to the killer-ape aspect of man: man is a talking murderous ape, according to this view.

Not in Asia refers to Africa as “cradle of humanity,” hence “not in Asia.”

All of this Robert Ardrey mental fashion imbued Kubrick and the movie. It comes out of Ardrey’s encounter with Raymond Dart of Witwatersrand University who argued that fossils of early man show signs of blunt force trauma (such as the find, Taung Child) and this indicates that man is basically a kind of killer by nature. This confirmed Dart’s experience as a medic in World War I, where he was traumatized by all the brutality. From 1925 and Dart’s announcements from Africa, these beliefs began to infect all thinking worldwide and the writer Robert Ardrey was the “Saint Paul” of these beliefs with Dart as the origin.

By the time one gets to Arthur C. Clarke/Stanley Kubrick and the movie 2001, this “mindset” (i.e., Dart/Ardrey/World War I/killer ape view) tyrannizes the atmosphere worldwide.

All of these beliefs were refuted later but at the time it was most difficult to fend off this “vacuum cleaner” of intellectual atmosphere.

Thus a task of education is realizing the rigid “pre-shaping” of the mind that can easily sweep one along since one is semi-blind to the very existence of such a “Zeitgeist bullying” and its grip on our intellectual “invisible axioms.”

Education and Causality Changes

Scientific classification
Species:H. naledi
Binomial name:Homo naledi
Berger et al., 2015

The box above shows you, if you reflect for a moment, how involved and hierarchical taxonomy can be. The box refers to the tremendous fossil finds around 2013 outside Johannesburg, South Africa by Professor Lee Berger of Witwatersrand University and his team and associates in caves nearby.

The fossil finds are determined to be “homo” and not “australo” as you see in the table above (to the right of the word genus).

The PBS NOVA program “Dawn of Humanity” (2015), is about the story of these fossil finds and the interpretations of the finds which are deeply instructive for all knowledge-seekers, students, etc. because they leave behind any idea of a linear clearly branching “tree of life” in favor of the “bushiness” of evolution (no clear tree structure) and the whole process finally seen as a “braided stream.” This refers to a geological concept of the multiple pathways and reticulations of glacial ice and snow melt going down a mountain valley to a lake. The rivulets, channels, are crisscrossing in a “fluvial” flow pattern that is so complex one doesn’t know exactly which “exact” water went into the lake. If you say the lake is “homo sapiens” (humanity) and the swirling bushy tangled flow is the evolutionary raw material, some final causality is elusive.
When a “braided stream” (this kind of glacial water flow) metaphor gets fused with a “bushiness” one, then one sees that the random factors and endless crisscrossing obscures linear mono-causal explanations as we always imagined.

If you imagine a time when these concepts are applied to history, economy, and society you can begin to sense many “causality revolutions” in front of us where today’s textbooks will seem charmingly naive.

Every student, enrolled or not, should ponder the concepts of “braided streamtaxonomy (shown in the initial table above) and “bushiness” as opposed to tree structure. The student might also “walk around” these metaphors and ask what they imply for the “fractal geometry of nature” (a twig is like a little tree or branch on a bigger tree or branch and so on).

Essay 53: Incomplete One-Field Analysis

Prof. Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago is an outstanding paleontologist/evolutionary theorist and has written marvelous books such as Your Inner Fish:  A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.

“Cleverly weaving together adventures in paleontology with very accessible science, Neil Shubin reveals the many surprisingly deep connections between our anatomy and that of fish, reptiles, and other creatures.  You will never look at your body in the same way again—examine, embrace, and exalt Your Inner Fish!”

Prof. Shubin has done outstanding work in trying to understand post-dinosaur mammalian history and timelines.  (Rise of the Mammals was a recent PBS program that is relevant.)

What is inadequate about all such “bones-and-stones” approach to “how we got here” is that the human creature is ultimately downstream from culture as expressed in language (epic poems) and images (e.g., the Lascaux caves in France, say) and fossils, as wonderfully intelligent as the detective work is, are one flashlight and not the system of “searchlights” one really needs to understand anything.

The very first lines of Homer’s great epic, the Odyssey shows you this:

“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer…”

(Quoted from Robert Fitzgerald’s translation.)

Here one sees the cultural soul of the human: the invocation of muses, gods, the telling of stories, the singing of songs, contending and wandering.

All evolution: cosmic, earthbound, whatever, does not capture the essence of humanity as the first words of Homer’s Odyssey where words, songs, stories take us into the human while the fossils and fossil archaeology are fascinating material infrastructure, as Prof. Shubin’s outstanding skeletal digs and “detective work” show us.