The Enlightened Caveman


Caveman Radio – Born To Run – Wed, Feb 17th, 11pm EST
February 12, 2010, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Books, Endurance Sports, Enlightened Caveman Concept, Enlightened Living, Science

Here we go.  Round two.  It’s on the schedule.  If you haven’t read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, tune in to hear why you should.  If you have read this book, tune in and participate in the discussion.  I’ll provide a brief overview of what’s there – for the uninitiated – and then we’ll get into the good stuff – from how I personally have changed as a result of reading the book to the notion that our society is slowly disintegrating the best of our humanity.  The latter idea ties very well into the Enlightened Caveman concept, so I’m excited to get into that.  And I’m excited to have some people call in with their own stories and points of view on these topics.

Same deal as last time – go to my Blog Talk Radio page at showtime and click the “Click to Listen” link.  I hear that sometimes the page seems to have nothing on it.  If that happens, just keep refreshing.  The service is free, and I suspect they periodically make it suck to lure hosts like myself into paying for the premium service.  Such is the strategy in a world of freemium.  Anyway, when you get to my page, you’ll see a number to call in if you want to be part of the show.  Be sure to send an email to me at the email address you see in the masthead above.  In the subject line, put your phone number – the one you’re calling in on.  Then in the body, tell me what you want to talk about.  This is poor man’s phone screening, but I think it’s workable.

Okay – hope you can make it.  If not, stop by after to grab the podcast.



Notes from Intellectuals and Society

In case the radio thing isn’t your bag, here are my takeaways from Thomas Sowell’s latest (and perhaps most important) book – Intellectuals and Society.  Most is paraphrasing what I took to be important points from the book, but some of my own interpretations are mixed in, as well.

1.  Intellectuals are defined by Sowell as people who make their living off ideas.  So this would be someone like a historian or sociologist, not a brain surgeon or engineer.  This is key because the circumstances associated with being supported monetarily by the production of abstractions lead directly to many of the problems that are discussed in this book.

2.  Intellectuals generally have very little likelihood of achieving mass acclaim by succeeding at their chosen area of expertise.  For example, it is unlikely that a historian who is an expert on the Civil War will ever be famous for that expertise.  Yes, he or she may be well-known among Civil War buffs, but that’s about it.

3.  There are normally no external criteria for determining the success or failure of an intellectual’s ideas.  Whereas an engineer who builds a bridge has objective external evidence of success or failure – the bridge stands safely for an extended period of time – intellectuals need nothing more than the approval of other intellectuals to succeed.  For example, one intellectual is granted tenure by a group of other intellectuals.

4.  Intellectuals find themselves in an emotionally unsettling place after they “arrive” in intellectual circles.  Far from being the smartest person around – as most no doubt are as they are growing up – being a tenured PhD in a sea of other tenured PhDs leaves little room for distinction.  In other words, the status engine that was stoked all through life is suddenly sputtering and choking.  (This is my addition – connecting the book to the Enlightened Caveman concept.)

5.  To assuage this emotionally unsettled feeling, many intellectuals venture thoughts and opinions in areas for which they have no expertise.  For example, Naom Chomsky, the esteemed linguist, fancies himself a political affairs and history expert, so he holds forth ad nauseum about politics and foreign policy.  Truthfully, he has no more expertise in these topics than the typical above-average college-educated person.

6.  The reason an intellectual ventures beyond his or her expertise is due to perceived status.  (Again, my interpretation.)  That is, many, if not most, intellectuals think themselves cognitively superior to the masses – mainly because they have been treated as such for most of their lives.   They “get it,” while the rest of us do not.

7.  When intellectuals venture beyond their expertise, they almost always do so in an iconoclastic way.  In other words, they say the opposite of what most people believe.  (Yet again, I’m extending Sowell’s thesis based upon my own observations in the context of the Enlightened Caveman concept.)  This only makes sense because an intellectual holding forth about something everyone already believes would have little, if any chance, of getting mass attention.

8.  Mass attention, by the way, is always available to intellectuals who stray beyond their expertise to alert the masses of how wrong they are about this and that.  This is because of what Sowell calls The Intelligencia – “…individuals would include those teachers, journalists, social activists, political aides, judges’ clerks, and others who base their beliefs or actions on the ideas of intellectuals.”  The Intelligencia loves intellectuals because, by peddling their ideas, the halo of superiority of rubs off on them.  They, too, can think themselves cognitively more advanced than the average rural dolt, since they can both recognize “the truth” when they see it and they have the job of delivering that truth as far and wide as possible.  This, incidentally, stokes their status engines, which is why the distribution of nonsense is so pervasive.

9.  By being insulated from reality, intellectuals are free to see the world as they would like it to be (versus as it really is).  They, therefore, reject the constrained vision, which suggests that man is deeply flawed by nature, and that no institution or understanding is going to change that.  Instead, they prefer to see mankind as unconstrained – that is, humans are perfectible if only the broken institutions and culture surrounding them are fixed.  This unconstrained vision underlies the ideas that emerge when most intellectuals stray beyond their areas of expertise.  (Examples – capitalism is bad, poverty is responsible for crime, etc.)

10.  Sowell distinguishes between what he calls special knowledge and mundane knowledge.  Special knowledge is what intellectuals have – it is very narrow in scope, but deep and comprehensive in understanding.  Mundane knowledge, however, is very wide in scope and often is very simple.  Intellectuals naturally think of special knowledge (which they alone have) as far more important than mundane knowledge, which is distributed haphazardly among the masses.  In other words, knowing about the mating habits of the Kalahari in Africa is much more important than knowing how to frame a house.

11.  This disregard for the critical importance of mundane knowledge in the day to day affairs of most people leads intellectuals to conclude that their special knowledge (confined as it may be to a particular area of expertise) gives them the right, nay, obligation to direct the social and economic affairs of society.

12.  Intellectuals, therefore, frequently weigh in on matters for which they have very little knowledge, no stake, and no consequences for being wrong.  For example, rent control.  Intellectuals assert that rent should be affordable to poor people, so rent prices should be controlled.  However, they know nothing about the role of the price of rent in conveying the realities of real estate scarcity in a particular area.  They have no stake in the property they seek to control – that is, they lose nothing by not being able to charge enough for rent to cover the mortgage.  And there are no consequences if the objective – providing affordable rent to poor people – is not achieved.

13.  In fact, success for an intellectual pursuing a policy is the enactment of that policy, not the results of the policy.  Intellectuals do not go back to see if the policy and/or program they advocated actually led to what they wanted to happen.  And if the results of those policies turn out to be the opposite of what they asserted, they will either attack the person bringing the results as biased with an axe to grind, or they will suggest that the policy was not executed properly.  In no case will they admit that either the vision – affordable housing for all poor people – was flawed (i.e. not possible) or the means by which they chose to achieve it – rent control – was intractable.  Again, there are no consequences for being wrong when you’re an intellectual.

14.  Intellectuals, though they claim to be the purveyors of reason and intellect, rarely engage in logical, dispassionate discussions with people who disagree with their assertions.  This, in my opinion, is directly tied to their perceived status.  How dare we, the inferior masses, question them?  Instead, they resort to personal attacks as to the moral (or rather, immoral) driver behind the criticism.  If you’re against rent control, they accuse you of wanting poor people to freeze to death.  They rarely, if ever, actually discuss the pros and cons of whether rent control actually helps poor people.  (Here’s a hint – it doesn’t.)

15.  In summary, in conjunction with a willing Intelligencia, intellectuals are ruining our Republic at a breakneck pace.  No doubt, they occasionally help push us forward when the grip on the status quo has long since been unnecessary (i.e. legalizing gay marriage).  However, on the whole, the damage they do far outweighs the good.

16.  To counter this, we need only return to reliance on the principles of logic in our public discourse.  Obviously, we need intellectuals in society, but we need them to stick to what they know, and we need a society that knows when they venture too far afield.  For example, if a person offers an assertion, he or she must be willing to be met with a counter-assertion and must be willing to defend the first assertion on logical grounds, if possible.  When this does not happen – because the critic is attacked or there are no logical grounds – we must reject immediately the original assertion.  Next, we must cease conferring credibility on experts in one field when they hold forth in another for which they have no expertise at all.  And when the media is a party to this intellectual shell game, we need only change the channel or stop reading.

I think that’s a little more organized version of what I took away from Sowell’s book.  (More organized than the hour-long radio rant.)  As I said, it’s an important book, and nothing would please me more than the general recognition of the doom that is being brought upon our society by these alphabet soup children who know nothing of reality and who are clamoring to be important at any cost.



Enlightened Caveman Radio – Episode 1
February 4, 2010, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Books, Caveman Radio

Well, last night was the first installment.  The attendance was, shall we say, pretty much non-existent.  That’s ok.  11pm EST is a bit late, I know, and since it was my first attempt, it’s probably best that I was basically speaking into space.  Here’s the audio if you want to listen to what went down.  (It’s a big file, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get started playing.  Patience, Jedi.)

(Here’s a link to download the mp3.)

It’s somewhat structured at the beginning because I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say to establish the ground work.  But the last 45 minutes are literally off the top of my head, no notes or anything.  And it shows.  I don’t think it’s bad, per se, but I could definitely deliver that material better if I did it again.

Frankly, and I knew this going in, it’s hard to really appreciate how difficult it is to be good at talk radio until you try it.  As I’ve listened back, all I hear is stammering and speeds varying from painfully slow to rapid fire fast.  But I think in long spans of time, so I chalk this up as a learning experience.  I have a few things to work on for next time, but I think I like this.

Let me know what you think…and let me know if there are any specific books that you think would be good to cover in the future.  The next book I’ll be discussing goes off in a completely different direction – Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall.  Easily one of the best, most inspirational books I’ve read in a long time.  Think “Enlightened Caveman meets long distance running” because that’s the tie in.  Date and time to be announced.  I’m virtually guaranteed to at least double my audience, so that’s exciting!  Hope you can make it.

(P.S. – the bumper music in the audio above is a song called “Oyster” written and performed by me and my friend, Park Ellis.  You can hear the entire song over at his blog.)



Enlightened Caveman Radio – Maiden Voyage

Okay.  This site has languished for far too long. It’s time to get back to it.  But since I’m way short on time these days, I’ve decided to try my hand at something new.  Thanks to Al Gore and other inventors of the Internet, I can now host my own call-in radio show online.  So this Wednesday, Feb 3rd, I’ll be hosting the first one – the Maiden Voyage – at 11pm EST.  (That’s to accommodate as many time zones as possible, so forget about the Leno/Conan crap and come on.)

I’ve been noodling on exactly what to do with this concept.  I could just ramble for an hour on various topics, taking calls and having public discussions, but that seems a little narcissistic.  If possible, I’d like to add value for a listener/participant beyond just hearing my point of view on a variety of topics.  So, the plan is to cover a book in every show.  In some cases, they’ll be current books that have come out recently.  Other times, I’ll pull in some of what I consider to be classics.  In all cases, I’ll be connecting the book to the Enlightened Caveman concept where applicable.

The upcoming show will be about Thomas Sowell’s latest book – Intellectuals and Society.  I’ve read a lot of his work, and this one seems like a culmination of some of his best ideas.  In short, this book rocks, and I think it’s really important that as many people as possible absorb what it’s saying.  If you’ve read it, great.  Show up and we’ll discuss it.  If you haven’t, no worries.  I’ll give you enough of a flavor for the book that you can either decide you know enough, that you could care less, or that you have to pick it up right away.  Regardless, the discussion will center around the ideas in that book, and you’ll have the chance to call in and voice your thoughts on the matter.  (And don’t let the title spook you – this isn’t meant to be a high-brow, brainiac kind of discussion.  Quite the contrary, as you can see, if you check out the Amazon page.)

To be honest, I have no idea what to expect here.  I have no problem holding forth (i.e. bullshitting) at length on a wide range of topics, and I love a spirited discussion.  But it’s the logistics of managing calls coming in and all of that at the same time that has me a little nervous.  Nevertheless, I want to do this, so nerves be damned.

Here’s how it’ll work…

I have a show page on BlogTalkRadio.com – (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/caveman11).  When it’s showtime, just head to that page and click the “Click to Listen” link.  That’s it.  The audio will come on and you’re rolling.  There will be call-in number there, which you can use to get on the air with me.  (Of course, I’ll have to figure out how to screen callers, etc., so no promises I can get more than a few people on.)  There’s also a phone number you can call if you want to listen on your phone.  That’s pretty cool.  But wait!  There’s more.  If you miss the live show, you can download an MP3 of the show from my BTR page, or you can actually subscribe to the podcast of it in iTunes.  In a word – BADASS!

So come on Wednesday night.  Let’s tawk.



The Caveman Speaks: Artifacts of the Caveman Mind
April 23, 2009, 8:53 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept

These video clips are from the Humanists of Georgia monthly meeting, which happened last weekend (4/19/09). The talk is called “Artifacts of the Caveman Mind.” This is yet another experiment in communicating the enlightened caveman concept. What do you think?

(You can click on the icon to the left of the word “Vimeo” to see the full-screen version. The quality is actually pretty decent. Thanks to my man Radlmann for the use of the HD Cam. Badass.)



The Caveman Speaks
December 19, 2008, 1:57 am
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept

I spoke at an Atlanta Freethought Society meeting a while ago. Finally got the video online. Check it out. It’s a good background on how I arrived at The Enlightened Caveman concept.



An Integral View of HTUC: Chapter 1
August 7, 2008, 7:24 am
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept, Integral Theory, My Book

Picking up from the Introduction to Integral Thinking I posted a while ago, it’s time to put my book into integral terms. I’ll go chapter by chapter so as to keep things manageable.

The first chapter of Healing The Unhappy Caveman is called, “The Truth About Truth.” It is essentially about the relationship between UL (upper left quadrant – individual subjective) and UR (upper right quadrant – individual objective). Though I had no knowledge of integral thinking at the time I was writing the book (2002-2004), I had a sense that my message would lack real gravitas if I didn’t immediately address the relationship between objective reality and what we, as individuals, experience of it.

The gist of my stance is there is theoretically such a thing as absolute truth. In integral terms, there is an objective reality (the two right quadrants) that is quite independent of what subjective minds (the two left quadrants) might think about it. (Yes, I believe a tree falling in the forest makes a sound even if no one is around.) Of course, the trouble comes when you try to do something with that reality – measure it, describe it, manipulate it, etc. At that point, subjective interpretations of that objective reality are in play. And for us, with our impressive, yet limited, abilities to truly perceive reality, the result is a mental model of our world that is both massively reliable and relative to its core.

The model is reliable because the pieces fit together most of the time. Though the notion of red as a color is an artificial construct of our minds, it works well enough that we can use it to describe things that are similar in color, even if they’re different in every other way – apples and fire trucks, for example. It is relative to the extreme because everything we know (or believe we know, to be exact) is related to something else we know (or believe we know). And if you keep deconstructing things you know or believe into their component pieces, you eventually wind up in the land of the very, very, very small – the quantum world. And there…well, everything is a guess, an approximation, a probabilistic measure of absolute reality.

So, I assert that a critical step in making progress toward ridding our lives of unhappiness is coming to grips with the limitations our minds impose on us when it comes to interpreting reality. Now, I’m not suggesting, not even for a moment, that we should just interpret reality however we want because we acknowledge that we can never be sure. Quite the contrary. I argue that there are two very important things to take from this realization.

  1. We need to get comfortable with uncertainty, and we need to run like hell from anyone or anything that requires us to maintain a stance of certainty about anything
  2. Though we recognize that we can never be sure, we should endeavor to get our subjective version of reality to align as closely as possible with absolute reality</li?

And what exactly does all this truth talk have to do with happiness? Well, the short answer is that the more your UL perspective on reality differs from a UR perspective on reality, the more likely it is that you’ll be unhappy. I believe unhappiness generally comes from pervasive frustration – life just isn’t turning out as it was supposed to turn out. If this happens for long enough, we become unhappy. And what is the number one source of frustration? I say it is mis-set expectations. Things aren’t turning out like they were supposed to because our expectations were unrealistic (the UR kind of realistic, that is). And why would we have unrealistic expectations? Bingo! Because there’s a disparity between our UL interpretation of reality and the more concrete UR perspective of reality.

So… it makes good sense to be aware of the significant differences between these two perspectives. Chapter 2 discusses a method for aligning them with one another as much as possible. Stay tuned…



Levels of Consciousness
July 8, 2008, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Integral Theory

In keeping with my intent to frame the enlightened caveman concept in Integral terms, it’s necessary to discuss the notion of consciousness development. Once again, it was Ken Wilber who introduced me to this highly useful codification of natural phenomena.

Let me start by framing what sounds a bit esoteric in more practical terms. You can think of consciousness in this context as breadth of perspective – that is, how much of your world you consider from moment to moment. If you have a narrow perspective, you think about yourself primarily, whereas, if you have a wide perspective, you think about yourself as well as others. The most important thing is that expanding perspective (or increasing the level of consciousness) is a developmental thing, which is to say that you have to proceed from narrow breadth of perspective through ever-expanding perspectives – you can’t simply adopt a broad perspective without first having a narrow one.

One approach to describing this is to say that people develop from egocentric (focused exclusively on the self) to ethnocentric (self plus in-group, which can be family, community, church, nation, etc.) to world-centric (self plus in-group plus everyone and everything else). We can easily see this with children.

Infants and toddlers have very narrow perspectives – they are focused on their needs exclusively. They are egocentric. Indeed, for the first couple of years, they can’t even identify themselves as distinct entities within the world. As they get older, children expand their perspectives to include their family members – they become aware that the people around them also have thoughts and needs. Then, as they get older still, they continue to expand their perspectives to include larger and larger groups – kids at school, people at church, and so on. Eventually, they may come to include their nation in their perspective (especially in nationalistic countries). All of this still falls under the heading of ethnocentric. But then, in some cases (more on that in a moment), development continues and the perspective comes to include people (and things) that are beyond any sort of ethnic connections – the people of the world, and even the planet itself.

Now, this notion of development of consciousness brings with it an implication – that higher levels of development are better than lower levels. Yikes! That sounds a lot like a hierarchy, and the sensitive among us abhor hierarchies because the entities at the lower end of any hierarchy almost always fare worse than those at the top, right? That’s one perspective. I’m not ready to throw out hierarchies – they’re critically useful in many, many ways – but there is a cautionary note in all of this.

It is very easy to adopt an elitist point of view about our own level of consciousness development, especially with respect to significantly “lower” levels. However, this is a mistake, nothing more than baggage that we inherit as we climb the ladder of development. Which brings me to perhaps the most important concept associated with consciousness development – the notion of multiple tiers. But first…

To make this easier and more meaningful, let’s expand our ego, ethno, world-centric set of perspectives a bit. Back in 1996, a book called, Spiral Dynamics, was published by Don Beck and Chris Cowan. The book covers a theory of human development that is based upon the work of theory of psychology researcher, Clare Graves. From the Wikipedia entry

According to supporters, applications of this model allow the experienced user to analyze both micro- and macro- systems of human and cultural behavior. Dr. Christopher C. Cowan and especially Don E. Beck committed several years to applying the theory of Spiral Dynamics in an extended experience in South Africa to bring an end to Apartheid. The racial tension was so severe that in order to avoid a simplification of the deep-rooted cultural tensions into merely ‘black and white’ issues, Dr. Christopher C. Cowan developed a color scheme to aid in his communication of the theory. The colors act as reminders for the Life Conditions and Mind Capacities of each system and alternate between cool and warm colors as a part of the model.
Within the model, individuals and cultures do not fall clearly in any single category (color). Each person/culture embodies a mixture of the value patterns, with varying degrees of intensity in each. Philosopher Ken Wilber used the term ‘Holon’ to describe the state of not only representing the highest level of emergence obtained, but simultaneously inhabiting (at least a part of) each of the previous levels as well. Wilber references the notion of ‘transcend but include’ when speaking of the process of advancing to higher levels of development.

So, instead of using three levels – ego, ethno, and world-centric – spiral dynamics introduces a color-coded system with eight or more levels. From Dr. Graves’ site (parentheticals added by me):

You can think of the colors as representing what people in each level seek out in life as the levels grow out of those which came before.
* Beige. Survival; biogenic needs satisfaction; reproduction; satisfy instinctive urges. (Think infants)
* Purple. Placate spirit realm; honor ancestors; protection from harm; family bonds. (Think toddlers.)
* Red. Power/action; asserting self to dominate others; control; sensory pleasure. (Think tribal cultures)
* Blue. Stability/order; obedience to earn reward later; meaning; purpose; certainty. (Think conformist, rule-based cultures, Fundamentalist conservatives)
* Orange. Opportunity/success; competing to achieve results; influence; autonomy. (Think individualist, free-market cultures)
* Green. Harmony/love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness; belonging. (Think sensitive, anti-hierarchical, environmentally-focused cultures, progressive liberals)
* Yellow. Independence/self-worth; fitting a living system; knowing; good questions.
* Turquoise. Global community/life force; survival of life on Earth; consciousness.

Perhaps an image will help…

Visual of Spiral Dynamics

Found at Loosetooth.com

Now, you should be able to pretty easily see how these levels relate to people and cultures you know. Tribal cultures, such as the Taliban, are very “Red”, while Victorian England, for example, is a great example of “Blue.” The modern US is mostly “Blue” and “Orange” with a substantial minority of “Green.” Keep in mind that the same concept of development – specifically, that you must pass through lower levels to get to higher levels – still holds here. Indeed, if you look at human history, or at the history of a single human, you can see the progression. And what of multiple tiers?

As I mentioned earlier, this concept really gets interesting when you introduce tiers into it. Graves, Beck, and Cowan divide the aforementioned list into two tiers. First tier includes all levels up to and including “Green.” Second tier includes “Yellow” and “Turquoise.”. There is also a third tier, but I haven’t wrapped my head around it yet, so I won’t trouble you with any more on that. Suffice it to say that third tier ventures into spirituality in a big way.

Anyhow, the defining characteristic of first tier is that individuals at these levels tend to think of their way of thinking (or perspective, if you will) as the only correct one, and they think that those who think differently are deeply confused (and even evil, in some cases). Second tier, on the other hand, embraces the notion that each level has its value and that individuals at any given level are not to be blamed for their perspective. More importantly, second tier places importance on nurturing the entire developmental spiral (which gets its name from the notion of an expanding spiral of development – as in the image above). That means allowing people and cultures to be where they are while facilitating their growth to higher levels – one level at a time. Again, it’s about recognizing that we get good and bad things from all levels.

Though the “Red” level accounts for a great deal of human suffering thoughout history – what with the focus being on power and wielding it, even if that means the wholesale slaughter of one’s enemies – there is certainly value in nurturing relationships with inner circle people and with unflinching loyalty. Same with “Blue” – while being overly attuned to “the rules” can literally erase notions of individuality, there’s no doubting that law and order came about as a result of going from “Red” to “Blue” consciousness, and that, perhaps more than anything, has allowed our species to organize and advance in spectacular ways. The point is that every successive level “transcends and includes” the lower levels. Hopefully, you minimize the negative aspects while accentuating the positive ones, but one thing is for sure – you don’t simply get to “Green” and shrug off all that has come before. But…”Green” being the height of first tier, this truth is very often lost on those who get there.

(Ken Wilber goes deep into the problems that come with getting stalled at “Green” – as opposed to pushing on through to second tier – in his book, Boomeritis. There lies the elitism I warned of earlier. The book is an entertaining eye-opener, and it explains a lot of what we see today in terms of left versus right political discourse. Check it out.)

Anyway, there you have it – a perhaps new way to think about human perspectives and how they develop. It’s amazingly useful on so many fronts, but in the context of The Enlightened Caveman concept, it has a particular value. In short, the ethics that are derived from understanding our evolutionary history, our minds, and how they work in this modern world are all second-tier ethics. Just the act of stepping back and thinking about how we think places us on the path to second tier. And when we realize how our inherent focus on status and reciprocity colors our perceptions of and reactions to other people, we can begin to get some sense of how much perspective really matters – both ours and that of the people with whom we interact.

So, apologies for the length, but this is a foundational post, one that I’ll need to refer back to as time goes on. Hope it makes sense…



Have Popper, Don’t Need Quine
June 26, 2008, 12:42 am
Filed under: Philosophy

I’ve been reading Stuart Kauffman’s latest, Reinventing The Sacred, and it’s chocked full of mind-bending ideas. I’m planning to write a review soon, so I won’t go further than to bring up one issue I have with his thesis – a nit, but one worth exploring, if only as a good philosophical hand-waving exercise.

Kauffman argues that the reductionist approach to the natural world is seriously limited – there are many phenomena that are beyond our notions of modern law, and no matter how much we discover, over as many centuries as we can imagine, we’ll never come up with laws that can predict how some (actually, a great many) events will unfold. Unfortunately, says Kauffman, as modern science has been under what he calls the Galilean spell for decades (or more), this truth has been hidden from view. The Galilean spell is the idea that all things in the world are explicable in scientific terms, even if we do not yet have the knowledge to recognize or grasp those explanations. One culprit, accused of prolonging the spell, is Karl Popper.

The argument goes that scientists have, for quite a long time, gravitated toward Popper’s Critical Rationalism as the basis of their quest for truth in the natural world. After all, he is credited with the notion of falsification – the idea that the only good theory is one that has withstood attempts to disprove it (the more the better). Now, if we are to believe Kauffman that reductionism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (and I do), then clinging to falsification as a sound methodological approach to science inhibits our ability to “see” what is right before our eyes. Suppose the falsifying evidence we cite is faulty itself. If we buy it, and decide that the hypothesis of interest is false, then we have failed in our search for truth. Not the best method then, right?

I should pause and state, for those unfamiliar with my work, that Popper’s approach to science and truth is fully ingrained in my thought processes. I agree with him on most things, and I have found his insights immensely useful in life. So to hear Kauffman, one of the true heroes of modern science in my book, criticizing Popper is unsettling, to say the least. But I give him his due and hear him out. (To be fair, this is a passing mention in the book. But we Popperians die hard, I suppose.)

Kauffman prefers the Harvard philosopher W.V.O. Quine (dude, get a first name), who gives us holism in science. The idea is that, in searching for truth, the thing we really do (which implicitly works, apparently) is “provisionally alter those statements of fact or other laws that minimally alter our worldview.” So, rather than simply accept falsifying evidence (suspect as it is), we weigh the bigger picture – including the so-called falsifying evidence – and decide where we come down on the matter of the hypothesis in question. That makes sense to me, but I have a hard time seeing where that’s any great advancement over Popper.

You see, Popper’s whole critical rationalism concept is based upon three ideas:

  1. Practical action requires us to choose between more or less definite alternatives – theories, if you will.
  2. You can never be sure that any given theory is correct. This comes from Kant and Hume almost directly.
  3. You can, however, rationally prefer one theory over another. This is Popper’s big contribution to logically acceptable truth seeking.

So, in that context, Quine’s (and Kauffman’s) issue is that rationally preferring one theory over another does not take into account enough variables to be reliable. We may lose the forest for the trees. I disagree.

The key to internalizing Popper (for me) is grasping the relativistic stance of preference. To prefer something implies that there are multiple things and that they relate to one another (or to a separate topic) in some discernible way. In other words, some are better than others. Popper, in good form, did not attempt to prescribe how that preference should be given, at least not exactly. He gave guidelines, which have been stretched by the likes of Quine and Kauffman, to invent the need for a separate practice called holism.

The most important guideline is the notion that we should prefer that which has withstood rational scrutiny over that which has not – thus, falsification emerges as a value in assessing preference. And like all values in the real world, lots of factors go into determining how a specific instance relates to them. Popper is just saying, “I’ll fare better acting upon an alternative (or theory) that has been put to the test over one that has not.” That says nothing whatsoever about what goes into the testing.

From Popper’s “The Problem of Induction” (Section X),

Let us forget momentarily about what theories we ‘use’ or ‘choose’ or ‘base’ our practical actions on, and consider only the proposal or decision (to do X; not to do X; to do nothing; or so on). Such a proposal can, we hope, be rationally criticized; and if we are rational agents we will want it to survive, if possible, the most testing criticism we can muster. But such criticism will freely make use of the best tested scientific theories in our possession. Consequently, any proposal that ignored these theories (where they are relevant, I need hardly add) will collapse under criticism. Should any proposal remain, it will be rational to adopt it.

So Popper is saying that we have to consider our competing theories in the context of everything we know. There’s your holism right there.

Quine’s big example of critical rationalism’s limitation is as follows: if I believe the Earth is flat and you believe it is round, we can devise a seemingly falsifying test. We’ll watch a ship sail into the horizon, and if the hull disappears before the sails, we’ll know the earth is not flat. But, says Quine, what if the ship sank? We may come up with many other tests, but every time, I will be able to doubt the evidence against my assertion that the earth is flat. Thus, critical rationalism fails in helping us logically discern a fairly recognizable truth. Not so fast.

Remember that Popper’s second idea is that we can never be certain that a theory is correct. The reason is, very simply, that our abilities to either conceive of a proper test or accurately assess the results of said test are often too limited. As I said, this comes from Kant. So Quine is using Kant against Popper, when Popper’s entire concept is based upon the very same ideas. I don’t know exactly what you call that, but whatever it is, it’s pretty lame reasoning.

Of course, Popper would be the first to say that any piece of evidence can (and should) be doubted. But note that he insists that we must take into account the best tested theories in making our value judgements, our assessments of preference. It’s all relative. We are to take the full picture and weigh all our options, just as Quine recommends. If the assertions we make in rejecting seemingly falsifying evidence consequently require some “non-minimal” alteration of our worldview, then we are rationally justified in discounting them, especially with regard to our other evidence and other theories.

My point is that the Popperian approach to truth is holistic at its core. Quine would stretch the idea that we prefer tested theories over untested theories to mean that we limit our evaluations to actual experimental data and that we don’t scrutinize our evidence. Popper said no such thing; quite the contrary.

Critical rationalism does not, therefore, in any way, preclude accepting the limitations of reductionism. To be sure, Kauffman is right on about the Galilean spell and the blinders it has placed on much of modern scientific inquiry. But the blame – even for only prolonging it – cannot be placed on Popper’s shoulders.
Incidentally, I (as yet) know little about Quine, but I’m hoping holism was not his signature contribution to philosophy. That would be like inventing diet water.

Disclaimer. I am not a credentialed philosopher, and as such, I am fully aware that I may be way off on this. However, as Popper says, “I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.”



Healing The Unhappy Caveman – An Integral View – Introduction
May 20, 2008, 11:44 am
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept, My Book

One of the most important changes in my world view has come in the last few months as I’ve digested a lot of the writings of Ken Wilber. Now, keep in mind, that I am very much a “pick and choose” kind of guy, so I have yet to find a personality/thinker with whom I wholeheartedly agree on all topics. Wilber is no different. Nevertheless, his efforts at Integrating disparate and seemingly unrelated bodies of knowledge (and experience) are nothing short of brilliant. And best of all, what he has come up with – a true feat of integral thinking – is amazingly useful when it comes to analyzing and communicating about most anything, including the enlightened caveman concept.

What follows is mostly groundwork, to set the foundation for interpreting the content of my book in Integral terms. I’ll start to connect the dots at a high level toward the end. A subsequent post (or posts) will dive deeper – taking the book chapter by chapter. (This is a serious case of, “If I knew then what I know now.”)

Moving on…The core of Wilber’s Integral framework is the notion of quadrants. I internalize this as perspectives – there are four that you can (and should) take when viewing a serious topic. (Non-serious topics do not require such rigor, and failing to recognize this usually results in missing forests for trees.) Anyhow, here’s a look at the four quadrants, lifted shamelessly from Wilber’s Wikipedia entry.

Ken Wilber's Four Quadrants

The Four Quadrants

The upper left quadrant (UL) deals with the internal side of things for an individual entity. In other words, it addresses the subjective interior of an individual mind. Upper Right (UR), on the other hand, deals with the objective exterior of the same individual entity. So, borrowing some insight from Smokey Robinson, “People say I’m the life of the party (UR), but deep inside I’m blue (UL).”

Similarly, the lower left (LL) quadrant focuses on the subjective side of things for a collective of individual entities – this is the culture view. The lower right (LR) deals with the external collective – the social side of things. For example, consider the difference between say a chess club and a religious sect. In LR terms, they’re pretty similar – a free-formed gathering of people. But in LL terms, they’re vastly different. One is a group of people who share a common interest – pretty tame as far as culture is concerned. The other, however, has much more going on from a shared subjective experience perspective.

Another way to look at the quadrants is in terms of I, We, It, and Its. The “I” is represented in the UL quadrant, and the “We” is LL. The “It” and “Its” are UR and LR, respectively. Or, if you prefer Plato, you can think of the UL as the beautiful (as in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”), LL is the good (as in, morality is a “we” thing), and the right quadrants (UR and LR) are the true (as in, the objective truths of our world).

Right away, you can probably see how useful this quadrant thing can be. It provides an additional bit of context for whatever we happen to be interested in. And when it comes to the enlightened caveman concept, it gives me a serious leg up.

In the most simplistic terms, my book is a method of improving one’s UL experiences by understanding more of the UR and LR reality of the human species. It is about improving the experience of “I” by really understanding the “it” of myself. It’s similar to how wild-life experts, such as Jeff Corwin, have to learn a great deal of objective information about animal behavior – as in, what kinds of circumstances cause what kinds of responses – in order to successfully navigate their trips into the bush.

For us, we have to learn objective information about how our brains are organized, what kinds of capabilities they have, how our emotions work, and when they come into play. Most importantly, we have to learn how much of the “out-of-the-box” human mind can be changed (read: improved), and we have to learn how to change it. When we absorb all this, we can discern how to better navigate the modern world we live in – in interior subjective terms.

Happiness is a subjective thing, no? So is unhappiness. There’s a lot of truth to the notion that choosing to be happy and to look at things in a positive way are the keys to happiness. Unfortunately, that’s a little vague. And it’s bringing a knife to a gunfight. The objective reality (UR) of the human mind includes a battery of emotionally-mediated modules that were designed to facilitate man’s survival in a world that no longer exists. Those modules are working against us all the time, until, that is, we become aware of them and we learn how to tame them. So there are two parts to Healing The Unhappy Caveman – the first provides the UR information; the second provides the method for integrating that knowledge into our daily UL experiences. (Incidentally, Part 2 also calls upon LL and LR perspectives to elaborate on the method.)
My next task is to place each chapter in its integral quadrant context. Stay tuned…