Beyond Our Tower of Babel Part 2

Confronting Problems with Integrated Knowledge

 Bernard Phillips, Andy Plotkin and Neil S. Weiss

Academy for Individual Evolution

Every single one of us is the product of 14 billion years of evolution. No blade of grass, no bird, no dog, no cat comes even close to having the incredible potentials of any one of us. We are writing these words exactly 47 years after Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon. Since then, we humans have invented the internet and the cell phone, linking all of us humans together, and we have accomplished a great deal more. Yet why do we all feel so helpless? Why are we so pessimistic about the future of the world? Why are there so many films and novels about the end of the human race? Why does each of us feel insignificant compared to the movers and the shakers, the rich and the famous? Fourteen billion years has produced a mind like nothing else throughout the known universe and a body that has changed the very nature of our planet. Why, then, do we feel so powerless in the face of increasing problems, like terrorism with weapons of mass destruction, wars without end or growing environmental catastrophes? Why do we feel trapped, unable to change our fate or the fate of the world?

Our answer is a very simple one: we have failed to pull together our knowledge of human behavior. When Phillips was getting his doctorate in sociology there were five or six Sections of the American Sociological Association. Today there are 52, and counting. This situation of the specialization of knowledge

without its integration is duplicated not only throughout the academic world. It is also par for the course in society as a whole. In our first column we mentioned the 9/11 attacks that might well have been prevented if the FBI, CIA, NSA and State Department had gotten their act together. Mathematics and computers have been successful in integrating knowledge of the physical world. Yet it is our complex human behavior that we’ve failed to understand as a result of narrow specialization. Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Building on what has been previously learned is the very heart of the scientific method. Yet the name of the game in academia and throughout society is the isolation of knowledge along with individuals and groups rather than their integration.

Can anything be done about our ignorance of ourselves, which is getting ever more dangerous with the development of ever more deadly weapons of mass destruction? Absolutely! The book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten suggests the answer. For kindergarten is interdisciplinary, opening up to the child’s intellect or “head,” emotions or “heart,” and actions or “hand.” Recall the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, which illustrates these three basic parts of human behavior. There was the Scarecrow whose head was filled with straw, the Tin Woodsman who had no heart, and the Cowardly Lion who was afraid to act. By contrast, as our education continues we learn more and more about less and less. At the Ph.D. level, only a very limited number of people are able to understand what a doctoral candidate is learning for it is so narrowly specialized. We justify this kind of education by thinking that “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” But that idea fails to pay attention to the incredible potential of an organism that is the product of a 14 billion-year evolutionary journey.

What would a curriculum look like that carried forward kindergarten’s broad approach to “head,” “heart” and “hand”? Our manuscript, “Invisible Crisis: Toward an Interdisciplinary Scientific Method,” illustrates this direction, as outlined in our first column. It will be published around November, 2016, by Universal Publishing, The first four chapters emphasize “head”: (1) vision of individual significance, (2) the scientific method, (3) language, and (4) structures. The next three center on “heart”: (5) emotions, (6) bureaucratic and democratic values, and (7) aspirations-fulfillment gap. And the last three focus on “hand”: (8) addiction, (9) aggression, and (10) the power to solve problems. We will use this column and the following nine columns to present the bare bones of an interdisciplinary education. And we will follow that up with seven columns that describe the changes in society’s institutions that will give us such an education: religious, educational, economic, political, family/friendship/community, mass media, and health.

Since this column has the task of developing (1) a “vision of individual significance” by contrast with our present vision of pessimism and powerlessness in the face of increasingly deadly weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, what is that vision? It is a vision of all of our institutions educating all of us to continue to develop our “head,” “heart” and “hand” with absolutely no limit as to how far we can go. Instead of those institutions teaching us our personal insignificance, they can open us up to our infinite potential. Instead of teaching us ignorance of ourselves and our possibilities, they can teach us to follow Socrates’ advice that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We can learn to believe in William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” a poem that encouraged both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela in their time of need. The first and last stanzas read:


                  Out of the night that covers me,

                  Black as the pit from pole to pole,

                  I thank whatever gods may be

                  For my unconquerable soul . . . .


                  It matters not how straight the gate,

                  How charged with punishments the scroll,

                  I am the master of my fate:

                  I am the captain of my soul.





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