Beyond Perspective

8 min read

If we assume that there is a single or at least primary cause for the many, many problems that we as humanity are now facing, then what would it be and how could we successfully address it?

When I look at the world, whether on the evening news or in my personal circle of acquaintances, I mostly see a complexity so great that almost every attempt to solve a problem seems to create a new one at least as big. Rational thinking, as effective as it might be for dealing with some technical problems, seems totally hopeless for the important human ones. And this leads me immediately to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous statement about problems:

The fact that life is problematic shows that the shape of your life does not fit into life’s mould. So you must change the way you live and, once your life does fit into the mould, what is problematic will disappear.

If we take this seriously, then the source of our problems would seem to be the discrepancy between the shape of our lives and the shape of life itself. I think what he means by “life’s mould” is wholeness; however, we live our lives as if life were composed only of parts. In other words, the fundamental blind spot, which prevents us from solving our biggest existential problems, is that we confuse wholeness with totality or the sum of the parts. The source of our difficulties is not the problems themselves, but rather the structure of consciousness from which we attempt to solve them. The rational, linear and dualistic mindset is confronted on all sides by a “Humpty Dumpty” situation. It perceives a fragmented world, which it is desperately trying to put back together again in order to reach wholeness.

While this paradigm may be useful for splitting atoms or inventing smart phones, it’s not too helpful when, for example, attempting to bring about world peace. Everyone may understand that war is insane, but our understanding doesn’t seem to be sufficient. This is because our actions aren’t derived from our understanding, but rather from the way the world appears to us. And how the world appears to us is given by the paradigm from which we’re looking. In other words, what we see depends on where we’re looking from and our actions, in turn, depend on what we see. So long as we see only a world of separate objects and we’re looking at it all from one of those objects called “me”, which is known as the subject, our actions can only lead to a Humpty-Dumpty futility.

But so much has already been written about the limits of the Newtonian/Cartesian paradigm, what could there possibly be left to say about it. People have been talking about wholeness for a long time and we even often say: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Furthermore, cognitive science has long recognized the role of perception in the determination of action. What might be new, however, is to appreciate that whether we understand it or not, the paradigm we now live in has actually already changed. This fact may not yet be widely accepted, just as I imagine not everyone living in 1493 accepted that the world was no longer flat, or even knew about it.

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