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1106 Indigestible Knowledge

1106 Indigestible Knowledge

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Published by Richard Ostrofsky

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Published by: Richard Ostrofsky on Feb 17, 2012
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02/17/2012

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Indigestible Knowledge
from Richard Ostrofskyof Second Thoughts Bookstore (now closed)www.secthoughts.comquill@travel-net.comJune, 2011I have written before about our current glut of knowledge – what OttoRank described as "an over-production of truth that cannot be consumed.”In part this is a matter of sheer volume. Knowledge today is produced atsuch a rate that even specialists are hard-pressed to keep up with major advances in their own (increasingly narrow) fields. But there is another  problem as well, more serious as I believe: Not just specific items of knowledge, but the whole character and basis of modern knowledge hasundermined our conventional wisdom and 'common sense.' The situationis not just that experts know more than the ordinary man or woman in their special fields – rather that the worldview of the scientific experts nowcontradicts traditional common knowledge.It is not simply that people donot know what the experts know, but that they fear and prefer to avoid fullawareness of the general character of current knowledge. They havereason for this fear, but it is dangerous nonetheless.In previous writings I have described the overproduction of knowledgein general terms, and dealt specifically with (what I see as) the tremendous paradigm shift now occuring from a top-down,
designed and ordained 
world to a bottom-up
 self-organizing 
one. In this piece, I'd like to reviewthe indigestibility of current knowledge in somewhat broader, but stillfairly specific terms: the areas of modern knowledge that directlycontradict our society's tradition, conventional wisdom and/or commonsense. I want to take a brief inventory of current '
toxic
' knowledge that's proving so difficult to assimilate.We might begin with the overthrow of classical, Newtonian physics byrelativity and quantum mechanics. Fundamental physics has been a messfor some time now, but one thing it has shown clearly enough is that ou physical intuitions, spelled out by classical mechanics, only apply on thehuman scale, to medium-sized and slow moving objects. In the realms of the very small, and/or the very fast those intuitions break downcompletely, and nothing fully coherent has been found to take their place.The cosmos just doesn't seem to work the way we expect it should.Modern biology is still more troublesome because it touches us moredirectly. The theory of evolution caused a scandal when Darwin finally
 
dared to publish it because it contradicts the common-sense idea of distinct life forms that are forever what they are. Both from the fossilrecord and laboratory experiment, it is completely clear that life formschange and evolve much as Darwin described, but even those (like myself)who fully accept this finding still have trouble with its consequence: thathumanity is in no way central to the order of things, except in our owneyes; that we are a recent, largely accidental phenomenon, and quite possibly just a temporary one – a mere blip in the 'Big History' of theuniverse, and even of this one planet. Where does that leave us exactly?What are we to do what our lives, knowing that this is the case?So much has been clear at least since the beginning of the 20
th
century, but two recent findings are even more unsettling. The first of these,already well known, is that our Earth, given current technologies, isactually a very small planet. By vidcam telephone, you can send your voice and image around the world almost instantaneously. You can flyfrom Ottawa to Beijing by commercial airline in about 13 hours – justover half a day. The space shuttle orbits the whole planet in an hour and ahalf. Whatever goes around, comes around. Everything goes somewhere. Nothing just goes away – can really be disposed of when no longer wanted. Somehow, we will have to make the painful adjustment from the'cowboy economy' of a wide-open prairie to the 'spaceship economy' of asmall world, as Kenneth Boulding bluntly put it. Everyone knows thisnow, but no one knows how to do it. Most people with real power stilldon't really want to.Finally, perhaps most disturbing of all if one takes the point seriously(as few people as yet seem ready to do), are the findings of neuropsychology. Cartesian dualism is dead. We are not conscious, more-or-less rational minds, "made in the image of God," operating and cateringfor the needs of our animal bodies. Rather, our 'minds,' our consciousness,our whole sense of what we are, is a construct of the workings of ou primate brains. 'Thought' is a shifting pattern in the mutually triggeredfirings of about 10 billion unintelligent neurons. Learning happens througha kind of evolution: a competition and 'natural selection' of those patternsas guided by the feedback of experience – pleasant, painful and coloured by emotion in various other ways. Try getting your head around
that 
.The 'culture wars' in the headlines today should not be surprising.They can be seen, I think, as a collective thought process on a global scale,trying to digest on one hand the ineluctable pluralism of the world today,and this new, disturbing knowledge on the other. Since ancient times, theconsciousness of societies have been divided between cosmopolitans andethnic purists, and between the exploited who hope for change and the privileged who want to keep things much as they are. To these historicrifts has been added this new one: between people basically comfortablewith the new paradigms and knowledge, and the people who feel disturbed

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