Part II: The Problem with Education is Knowledge
Part I to this essay pointed out that insofar as ‘education’ imparts the student with ‘knowledge’, this is troubled by the fact that knowledge is often in the ‘positivist’ terms of ‘how to make something happen’ and ‘making something happen’ is something we monitor by visual observation, ignoring the ‘spatial tensions’ that associate with change.
Knowledge of ‘how to make something happen’ is non-controversial for many simple tasks, but not so for more complex tasks. For example, the knowledge of ‘how to ride a bicycle’ is not something that can be imparted in terms of written or spoken concepts/instructions since it is not in that class of dynamic processes that can be decomposed into ‘what one does’. It is instead in the class of ‘resonant behaviours’ wherein one must let one’s actions be orchestrated so as to sustain a dynamic balance. It is akin to the ‘V’ flight of wildgeese where the spatial relationships one is included in (co-stimulating), one must allow to ‘take the helm’.
The general principle here is that no amount of detailed, visual observation-based ‘knowledge’ of a person riding a bicycle will inform one as to ‘how they are doing it’ because it is not as if ‘they are doing it’ in the positivist sense that they are the full and sole causal agents. They are included in a dynamic that is ‘bigger than them’, like the sailboat or surfer in the storm, the driver in the busy flow of freeway traffic and their positivist, ‘make-it-happen’, destination orientation must take second place to ‘sustaining balance/harmony’ with/in the flow.
What would happen if we made the student (who had never actually ridden a bicycle) who scored highest in the written and orally delivered (concept-based) bicycle riding course, immediately upon his graduation, the leader of an important (large scale) corporate initiative which depended upon his bicycle riding and on his ability to teach others as he had been taught?
It would be a fiasco. He and his associates would quickly realize that ‘riding a bicycle’ could not be captured in a simple, positivist set of ‘here’s how you do it’ instructions.
This bicycle example may be too simple to be realistic, but the basic situation itself is not unrealistic due to what is called the ‘fly-by-wire’ nature of control systems. In the beginning, pilots flew by ‘feel’ much like the bicycle rider. The relative resistance of the controls informed the pilot how much stress the wings and flaps were under. The pilot let his actions be orchestrated by the spatial dynamics he was included in; i.e. ‘flying’ was initially ‘flying-by-feel’ but in scaling up the system, his feeling-tuned movement of the controls was replaced by hydraulic servo-mechanisms (like ‘power steering’) which make the controlling actions 100% positivistic. In the ‘fly-by-feel’ system, if there were some obstacle, a ‘mechanic’ perhaps, interfering with the movements of parts of the apparatus when he moved the controls, he would feel it and ‘back off’ and investigate. But in the ‘fly-by-wire’ system, something that is in the wrong place at the wrong time (a stowaway in the landing gear compartment) is likely to become ‘yesterday’s pizza’ without the pilot even realizing it.
When the apparatus we are ‘flying’ is in the form of a hierarchical human organization, moving too far towards the ‘fly-by-wire’ mode where everybody is very obedient, doesn’t ask questions, and ‘follows orders’ literally, the man at the controls can put a lot of stress on the ‘parts’ (the leader-follower cascading of orders is the equivalent of ‘mechanical advantage’ and the leverage can be very powerful by the time the positivist commands get to where the rubber meets the road.
Highly knowledgeable (top-scoring) graduates recruited from the best universities were termed ‘humilityless twits’ in a wellspring interview with retired managers that I conducted back in 1996. A ‘wellspring’ interview is one in which the interviewee share a handful of the most significant (good and/or bad) experiential unfoldings that have shaped one’s life and understanding. These managers (American) had gone right into officers training on graduating (during WWII) from university in Oklahoma. One received his M.Sc in Geology and a few months later was an officer on a warship in the Pacific that was torpedoed and sunk six months later. Because of his bravery ‘under fire’ he was promoted and made Captain of his own ship (he had never been on a ship until his navy assignment).
The point is that this ‘generation’ of ‘pilots of industry’ was of a different mindset than the new graduates; i.e. they embraced the (a) worldview while the new graduates embraced the (b) worldview;
(a) “Life is something that happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
(b)“You can create the future of your dreams. This may seem far fetched for most people, but what they do not seem to realize is that their present is the future they created by their past actions or inaction. You are where you are today because of the decisions and actions you took yesterday.”
While one tends to think of the military as a fly-by-wire operation where the ‘top brass’ will pull so hard on the stick to get to their desired destination that the wings will drop off in the process (the foot soldiers will be yesterday’s pizza)., it is, at the same time, an excellent training ground that imparts an understanding of what is wrong with ‘fly-by-wire’ systems and why you would only want to use them in extreme emergencies and if everyone involved supported the approach.
The new sought-after graduates (their knowledge ‘is’ valuable), as part of their negotiated terms of employment, moved quickly into ‘management [piloting] positions’, eager to operationalize their ‘make-it-happen’ knowledge in the ‘fly-by-wire’ mode that is the default structure in a modern hierarchical corporate operation. The rank-and-file employees constituted the ‘compliant parts’ of the fly-by-wire apparatus and were therefore in for some rough rides when 100% positivist ‘make-it-happen’ as it should pilots were at the controls.
One can’t really blame the graduates for what was/is happening. The educational system encouraged them to ‘use their knowledge to make things happen’, to ‘create a desirable future’. The root of the problem is instead ‘cultural’, in the popular belief in the ‘causal model’ and the ‘purposive system’ models, both of which are unrealistically ‘positivist’ in that they fail to acknowledge the primary influence of spatial relationships in nature’s dynamics.
As Nietzsche contended, these positivist models stem from our ‘ego’. We see ourselves as ‘purposive systems’ in the sense that the relationship between our ‘self’ and ‘what becomes of us’ is understood in the way we (occidentals) understand that an acorn has within it the encoded knowledge and the purpose to become an oak tree. Such a view (which is cemented in place by Darwinism) excludes extrinsic spatial shaping influence and is incompatible with the understanding that ‘life is something that happens to us while we’re busy making other plans’.
This ‘occidental’ view that the world dynamic can be understood in terms of the causal and purposive systems models has a history that goes back to Aristotle and which was reinforced by Newton. It is worth a short diversion to review how Newton reinforced it..
When Newton tried to go from ‘two body’ dynamic to ‘three body’ dynamics he ran into a fundamental mathematic unresolvability in that where three or more bodies moved under one another’s simultaneous mutual influence, there was no way to impute ownership of the joint behaviour explicitly to each of participants; i.e. the joint behaviour could not be decomposed into the behaviours of the participating parts. This became known as ‘the three body problem’. One way to look at this is to recognize that we normally capture what we call ‘the behaviour of a particular local object/organism/system by referencing the local entity to a euclidian reference space frame (x,y,z,t frame). With two bodies, this still works but with three bodies, their spatial relations take over as the reference frame; i.e. they move relative to their joint movement. The self-referentiality in this situation invokes the use of non-euclidian space geometry.
In relativity, this problem is viewed differently in that the notion of simultaneous mutual influence of multiple bodies derives from ‘gravitation’ or ‘the gravity field’ which is ‘everywhere at the same time’. By equivalencing mass and energy as in relativity, it can be seen that the shape of the field is the source not only of the movement of the multiple bodies, but also for their being there.
Accepting that shaping influences in nature can be ‘nonlocal’ takes one into the realm of ‘nonlinear dynamics’, ‘complexity’ etc. where one is forced to go to develop an understanding of earthquakes, avalanches, hurricanes etc. where spatial (relational) energy charging and discharging is the source of movement and change rather than a local ‘causal agent’ or a local ‘purposive system’; i.e. this takes one out of the view where the present depends only on causal/purposive agents acting on the immediate past and into the view where remote regions of space and time can directly influence the present (e.g. the stresses that build up gradually in a building sand pile/dune and release aperiodically).
Newton put in a warning in the Author’s Preface in Principia to the effect that he was unable to identify and incorporate this source of dynamics in his laws of motion;
“I wish we could derive the rest of the pheaenomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from mechanical principles ; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they may all depend on certain forces by which the particles of bodies, by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other ;” which forces being unknown, philosophers have hitherto attempted the search of nature in vain; but I hope the principles here laid down will afford some light either to this or some truer method of philosophy.” . . . Isaac Newton (‘Authors Preface’ to ‘Principia.
Now, in order to avoid dealing with three or more bodies moving under one another’s simultaneous mutual influence, Newton invented the euclidian-space based ‘vector field’ which reduced the nonlocal shaping of dynamics to local causal origins. That is, instead of solving the problem of motion wherein everything was influencing everything else at the same time (as in the gravitational field being everywhere at the same time), Newton used the concept of a ‘local force’ which could be calculated at any point in space at a time ‘t’ based on the spatial configuration of mass at time ‘t’.. This force is expressed in terms of ‘unit mass’ and is now called ‘the Newton’ (the force needed to acceleration a mass of one kilogram one meter per second per second).
One can make the time steps as small as one likes so as to recalculate the change in the mass distribution over small intervals of time and thus get fine-grain estimates of the changing force that will be influencing the movement of some object in question.
But apart from all the math and physics gyrations, the point is that Newton reduced what is essentially a nonlocal sourcing of dynamics to a local causal sourcing of dynamics. Non-homogeneities in the gravity field have been pulling on themselves as is the view in the three body case, but this is then inverted by the invention of a notional ‘vector force field’ where the movement seems (in our mental models) to start locally, from a locally applied force. This is what comes to us by imposing an absolute euclidian space frame that allows us to reference the movements of individual bodies to; i.e. though the three bodies (or nine planets) move relative to one another, by imposing the absolute space reference frame, we can ‘synthetically’ impute independent motion to each of them.
Now, if we know where everything is and what the forces are at every point in space, if we know this for one time ‘t’, then we can know the future condition of space at any future time ‘t’. This gave rise to the notion of ‘causal determinism’ articulated by Laplace as follows;
“We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” – Pierre Simon Laplace (1814).
This is not simply the musings of physicists following the ideas and mathematical devices of Newtonian physics, it is an ‘acculturated intuition’ that is widely prevalent in the world today. If we have the intellect to know the current situation, then it follows that we can apply the necessary forces to construct the future we desire.
This worldview (the ‘American dream’ and the dream of purposive organizations such as governments and corporations) is a ‘positivist’, ‘make-it-happen’, ‘can-do’ worldview that launches many fly-by-wire initiatives.
We had a good look at it in the military fly-by-wire initiatives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When the commander in chief pulled on the controls, the servo-mechanism cascading down through the apparatus followed order in 100% positivist, ‘make-it-happen’ fashion and where some of the parts got between a rock and a hard place and were mercilessly crushed, that was accepted as ‘the way it is’. In modern warfare, aerial strikes are used to ‘tenderize’ the path ahead so that there is less resisting back-pressure on the advancing fly-by-wire apparatus.
But corporations also launch fly-by-wire operations that chill the heart and shiver the spines of the old mom-and-pop organizations, and while corporations can drop a lot of advertising pamphlets on the ground they plan to advance over, to try to psychologically prepare the way, the brunt of the crush where the rubber meets the road will be endured by the staff that make up the fly-by-ware apparatus.
When Herb Kelleher was CEO of Southwest Airlines, whenever a new ‘genius plan’ hatched by ‘the bigshots’ at the top was being operationalized, when it was in the most difficult phase, Kelleher would invert the order of things and put the senior management out at the customer interface to revive the ‘fly-by-feel’ capability.
When a corporation becomes very large, ‘fly-by-wire’ initiatives can become powerful crushers of smaller others without even noticing they are crushing them. The global economy is the epitome of a ‘fly-by-wire’ operation and it is correspondingly fed by fly-by-wire knowledge.
‘Knowledge’ is a degenerate type of understanding from which the spatial-relational particulars have been removed. The knowledge required to put a Starbucks or a Walmart into a local community is, for the most part, ‘positivist’ or ‘make-it-happen’ knowledge that doesn’t need to know about the mom-and-pop infrastructure in place and how resonantly it coevolved with the community. By installing major new flow-channels, the establishments left on the old highway are doomed and the old ports on the bypassed stretches of the river quickly become stagnant ponds.
The causal model and the purposive systems models, rooted in Aristotelian thinking and Newtonian logic that are taught in our educational system ‘work’; they ‘get the job done’.
They are based on the simplifying assumption that the present depends only on the immediate past.
This is just a ‘simplifying assumption’ that does not hold true in nature. If it did hold true there would be no earthquakes, avalanches, hurricanes, forest fires, floods and all those phenomena (everything in nature, basically) that involve the accruing and release of energy stored in spatial relations (implying that the ‘kinetics’ that are visible to us, are secondary rather than primary).. What is primary are ‘field’ dynamics; i.e. the transformation of the thermal/pressure field that, together with the gravity field, induces the flow of currents and winds in the ocean and atmosphere.
In pioneering communities where enterprise emerges in ‘fly-by-feel’ mode, the enterprise operators, in effect’, learn how to ‘ride a bicycle’; i.e. the let their actions be orchestrated by the dynamics of the space they are included in. A naturally evolving community is inductively shaped by the dynamics of the ‘land’ it is situated in. It is not there because some corporate CEO threw a dart at a map. That comes later when fly-by-feel is overtaken by ‘fly-by-wire’, and when that arrives, literal, positivist ‘know-how-to-make-it-happen’ knowledge takes over the direction/pilotage.
If the present depends only on the immediate past then it must follow that the immediate future depends only on the present. The combination of ‘knowledge’, of the ‘make-it-happen’ variety, plus energy/money are all that is required by a ‘fly-by-wire’ operation to construct the desired immediate future from the present.
Education has become largely about cultivating ‘knowledge’ of the ‘make-it-happen’ variety, to be used in ‘fly-by-wire’ operations. The mom-and-pop entrepreneurs were like sailboaters, deriving their power and steerage from the dynamics of the community they were included in; i.e. ‘fly-by-feel’ operators who were keeping everything in balance on a first priority basis and keeping the destination orientation second. The transnationals are like powerboaters, fly-by-wire operators that come to town with more than enough onboard power and steerage to take them directly to their destination.
The conceptual ‘knowledge’ that comes to one from education, however valuable, cannot teach one how to let ones movements be orchestrated by the spatial dynamics one is included in so as to cultivate and sustain resonances therein. Yet with enough ‘backing’ it is possible to use that knowledge in a fly-by-wire operation to construct the desired immediate future from the present, to act causally and purposively to go directly to one’s desired destination.
This ‘inversion’ of the simplifying assumptions built into Newtonian physics (the present depends only on the immediate past) and into Aristotelian teleology (the acorn contains the knowledge and purpose to push its development into an oak tree out of itself), which aim to construct a desired immediate future out of the present, drops out the same understanding in both directions, that beneath the visual observation based kinetic aspect of dynamics lies their deeper nonlocal field-based source. We don’t see the spatial stress that comes out with the earthquake, and we don’t see the spatial stress that we infuse with our fly-by-wire operations. All we see is physical change when and where it happens.
Some people would argue that the ‘loss’ we are talking about here is in the realm of ‘sentimentality’. But philosophically and psychologically this issue goes back to the argument between Plato and Aristotle as to whether ‘extrinsic final cause’ (outside-in spatial receptacle sourcing of shape ) or ‘intrinsic final cause’ (inside-out-driving purposive sourcing of shape) prevailed in shaping the unfolding world dynamic that we experience inclusion in. The three-body problem implied that the outside-inward inductive shaping influence and the inside-outward pushing shaping influence were ‘one dynamic’; i.e. one difficult-to-deal-with-mathematically dynamic. Newton’s inventing of the absolute space based ‘vector field’ bypassed the extrinsic-shaping or intrinsic-shaping argument and allowed that we could always explain the shape of the unfolding by way of intrinsic local causal forces. In other words, once things were moving, we had theory to cover the kinetics of change, but such theory did not address the whys and whens of the emergence of new organization; i.e. we had no theory for the behaviour of ‘fields’ wherein potentially energy is continually being stored in spatial relations. Our theory starts giving us coverage only after the fact where potential energy is aperiodically discharged and ‘made visible’ by material change and kinetics.
The extrinsic/intrinsic issue crops up again, psychologically, where we have to choice to go either with; ‘life is something that happens to us while we’re busy making other plans’ (extrinsic final cause) or ‘we have the power and purpose within us to construct our personally desired future’ (intrinsic final cause).
If the former view is ‘sentimental’ (from ‘feeling’ as in ‘fly-by-feeling’- letting the sustaining of harmony in the journey have primary shaping power) then the latter view is ‘egotistical’ (from ‘purposive’ as in ‘fly-by-wire’- the 100% positivistic achieving of the desired destination)
Clearly, Plato and Aristotle’s argument is still alive and Aristotle viewpoint continues to hold sway on the popular preference. Employment opportunity is deriving predominantly from positivist, purposive fly-by-wire initiatives which require fly-by-wire pilots who don’t need to know to ride a bicycle or pilot a fly-by-feel mom-and-pop enterprise because they will not be tested in their ability to let their movements be orchestrated by the sustaining of harmony in the spatial dynamics they are included in; i.e. their assignment will be 100% objectives/destination oriented.
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