2005/03/20

Painting (13)

About Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is an old concept used to indicate what follows the modern age but it has been associated with so many different ideas that the concept ended up being foggy and perceived as some kind of metaphysical rareness. I'm using the concept "postmodern" in its narrow sense of "what follows the modern age". Another denomination shall eventually impose itself out of the practice of what comes after modernism but only the future will tell.



1. Preliminaries. ......................... ................ ...................(post Painting 10)

2. The context of the new societal paradigm in the forming (post Painting 11)

3. On the road toward a postmodern societal paradigm.. (post Painting 12)



4. The postmodern societal paradigm.



I described earlier how science and technology have been derived as functionalities of the rationality that has been creeping out of the logic of capital and how they spread to all corners of the world. They were pulled by the globalization that capital searched for itself and have been presented as being and containing all the truth there is about reality. We all know, by now, that science is not the truth, or does not project all the truth, it is only functionally superior to all other approaches in the eyes of the logic of capital and as such it has been privileged to the point of being the exclusive approach that was accepted in all industrial societies. In consequence, most of us have come to believe that there is no other way out of the scientific approach to understand reality.
But if science were really the only way to understand reality how do we begin to explain that after less than 200 years of application, by less than 10% of the world population, it landed the whole world in such a mess?

The problems that science helped to create and its impossibility to come up with satisfying answers has fortunately led some scientists to recognize the limitations of the traditional scientific approach.

-............So what is the problem with the scientific approach?
Answer: the vertical approach, the tunnel.
The scientific tunnel starts with the perception by the scientific traveler and ends upon what his perception is looking for. The scientist isolates the phenomenon he is studying and rushes toward it with a microscope or a telescope. He zooms and instantly reaches the zone of his interest. But by doing so he eliminates all the interconnections his subject is entertaining with all the other components present in the ensemble wherein his subject belongs and furthermore eliminating the interconnections between this ensemble and all other ensembles being part of the whole of the universe. In other words the scientific approach is like boring a vertical tunnel through the environment of the observed hoping that by focusing on the observed; light will be shed on its reality.
The only problem is that the observed exists only as a component of the whole and the light that is shed by the scientific approach can thus only be a mirage of its reality.
To put this in other words here is how the late Ilya Prigogine, who was awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize for his work on the thermodynamics of nonequilibrium systems, is putting it in a conversation with Marilyn Berlin Snell Senior Editor at NPQ: "Let's consider, for a moment, a cup of hot coffee. Is this coffee aging? Will it cool down until it reaches equilibrium at room temperature? In order to determine whether the coffee is aging I cannot consider the water molecules taken separately. If I do that I will not see the aging process. But if I consider the relationship between molecules I can then see quite clearly that the coffee is aging. We must view the encounters, the collisions and correlations between molecules, in order to see the flow of time."

-...........What are the solutions scientists came up with?
Answer: the horizontal approach or the horizontal linkage between multi-vertical-tunneling.
Becoming conscientious about the limitations of the tunneling model scientists began to refer to multi-tunneling (vertical tunneling toward multiple observed) and later to multi-disciplinary vertical tunneling (the tunneling by different sciences toward the same observed).

.............*............In a first move the practitioners of one scientific branch decided to link horizontally the multiple objects of their vertical-multi-tunneling focusings. By combining the results observed at multiple points of observation they gained more complexity inside their field of specialty and they reached predictive validity in modeling narrow segments of reality. The calculating power of computers expanded the reach of multi-tunneling to relatively simple mechanisms: metal forming, chemical reactions, etc. But the multi-tunneling approach is basically limited to narrow fields in closed ensembles.

.............*............In a second move multi-disciplinary observations, from various vertical tunnels of a unique observed, are reconciled into a synthesis. The next logical step was then to combine the multi-disciplinary approach with multi-tunneling. The result is without any doubt much more complexity but this did not help gaining much more real practical understanding. The multi-disciplinary approach certainly sheds more light on the working of wider fields closed ensembles but their shedding light on more complexity does not necessarily procure much more understanding about what is going on at the point of focus. This approach has been initiated by the Santa Fe Institute of the sciences of complexity since the beginning of the 1980th but in the words of one of its pioneers, Stephen Wolfram, it did not help to advance as much the level of understanding reality as was initially expected.

Science has unmistakably helped us gaining some functional knowledge that led to immediate commercial applications that in turn eased on us the weight of necessity. Without that kind of functionality financing would have been rare indeed. But one is left to wonder if modern science is not foremost driven by the desire for marketable knowledge which would be far from the image of science that is projected in the public's concienceness. Big bucks in the expectation of big returns. The saddest for the lucid observer is that no one seems really bothered by the general weakness of scientific understanding. Often very crude measures are sufficient to turn out doing the trick of profit. So why bother? Well we better bother for the good reason that we did so many things that turned out to be doing the trick of profit but in the end appeared to carry a price that we would never have accepted had we just known about the size of the cost initially. Climate change is one of such costs that we learned about long after the industry started to propose us individual cars and we could multiply this kind of examples ad infinite. But in the eyes of our children and grand-children this could well spell so much trouble that our attitude could be seen as having been totally unacceptable. We'll long be gone and we'll not have to endure their wrath; is it not?
What I want to indicate here is that the scientific community as a whole can't be trusted to generate societally sustainable knowledge. It is so fundamentally skewed by its dependence on the financing by capital holders that it's freedom is limited to the only production of knowings that will generate returns for those same capital holders. Such knowings have nevertheless the weakness to be out of knowledge of the impact that their application will impose on societies, individuals, nature and other species.

Deborah Tannen has a good piece in the LA Times that addresses this problem from a different angle: "The Feminine Technique, Men attack problems, maybe women understand that there's a better way". Her article addresses a substantive differentiation of attitudes, between men and women, and further between Westerners and Chinese in trying to apprehend reality.
" The assumption that fighting is the only way to explore ideas is deeply rooted in Western civilization. It can be found in the militaristic roots of the Christian church and in our educational system, tracing back to all-male medieval universities where students learned by oral disputation.
... contrast this with Chinese science and philosophy, which eschewed disputation and aimed to "enlighten an inquirer," not to "overwhelm an opponent." As Chinese anthropologist Linda Young showed, Chinese philosophy sees the universe in a precarious balance that must be maintained, leading to methods of investigation that focus more on integrating ideas and exploring relations among them rather than on opposing ideas and fighting over them. "

This short citation paints a realistic description of how far pole apart are the methods used in trying to apprehend reality in the West and in China.

The West is stuck in its civilizational roots based on the struggle for survival among opposites (see Painting 4: The axioms of civilization) and the individual atoms perceive themselves on the side of the 'good', the 'right' so that the opposing party can only be perceived as on the side of the 'bad', the 'wrong'.
"The assumption that fighting is the only way to explore ideas" is thus what is framing the intellectual debate and "overwhelming an opponent" is what each party in a debate is concerned about.
In real life this cultural characteristic, inherited from as far as the roots of Western civilization, combines with the dependence of the scientist on the financing by capital holders. The result is sheer incapacity at listening to a fundamental critique or proposition at repositioning the scientific investigation. Science is presented as the optimal truth as something sacred that can't be criticized and daring to pass over that interdiction is then presented as a sacrilege and the one who commits this sacrilege is accused of committing a profanation. In this process science has been transformed in a new religion for short sighted individuals.
Fortunately some scientists eventually are enlightened and are then calling for a shift in the scientific paradigm. Those are our contemporary men of knowledge who are showing us the path toward the future. They are the revolutionaries indicating the path, to humanity, toward a new and superior paradigm of what reality is all about. Let's listen once more to Prigogine: "The very aim of science is to show how we are related to the universe. We can no longer have a 'unified' picture that shows nature as an automaton but which shows us as free and ethically responsible. The theory of instability does not encourage alienation. On the contrary it is an idea that makes us feel that we are living in a universe that is not so different from ourselves. ... The classical view was that we could reduce the history of the universe, and thereby science, to a geometry. Because of instability this is no longer possible. I very much like the fact that instability opens up a horizon of possibilities, since our actions at a given time depend on the way in which we view the future. If we looked on the horizon and saw only death, pollution and decay, I think it would erase any argument for reasoned, ethical action today."

The roots of the Chinese civilization are based on a similar approach to what Prigogine expresses in his late years: a holistic vision of reality constituted by the principle of change with no beginning and no end but with an arrow indicating a movement forward.
In each state of disequilibrium a point of bifurcation is eventually reached where an infinity of possible roads forward appear. At this point we have the choice or the chance to favor this or that outcome by our actions; if we are conscientious that means. In this view the universe is "in a precarious balance that must be maintained, leading to methods of investigation that focus more on integrating ideas and exploring relations". For thousands of years the Chinese have learned that they are no more than a particle of dust on the waves of changes. They learned to surf and they thus do not resist the waves but try to understand where are the obstacles in order to avoid being killed. Here is where the Chinese gained their pragmatism. They understood that there is no way to oppose the working of the whole but they also understood the possibility of an homeopathic dose of will gaining themselves a more favorable outcome.

Late modernism witnesses an expansion without precedent of the reach of capital its ideology and the scientific method while simultaneously the level of confusion in all spheres of human life has never been more intense. In this very complex environment two worldchanging trends are on the road of their convergence:

-............Some enlightened scientists are acting as our societies' new men of knowledge. As says Prigogine "In a sense there is a hierarchy: The fundamental aspect is instability or chaos, which then forces us to incorporate the probabilistic aspect into our concepts; then the probabilistic aspect forces us to include the arrow of time in our formulations. Chaos, then, and not immutable, deterministic laws is really the basic law of the universe. Chaos is at the origin of the variety of physical experience. Today we have moved from determinism to determinations; from stability to instability and probability."

-............In "On the road toward a postmodern societal paradigm = The result of a global rebalancing act" I described the shaping of a process leading toward Chinese economic dominance that in turn is leading to their future cultural hegemony.

The point of convergence of those two trends will affirm, around the world, a new paradigm or to say this in a better understandable form: a new worldview about reality is shaping through the encounter of modern science and Chinese traditions that will bring the whole of humanity together behind a common understanding of reality.
That new worldview is what postmodernism is all about.
We should remember that the concept has been coined by us in late modernity to indicate something that comes after modernity but the concept has unfortunately covered many various explanations all more meaningless than the others. As such the concept postmodernism should not carry over much significance for the men and women who will be witnessing that convergence and who will surely find a more appropriate coinage to describe that worldchanging event.

"With every new intellectual program always come new fears and expectations. But consider the unity between knowledge and culture that has emerged within the paradigm of chaos: At this moment, when as a human civilization we are beginning to sense our connection with the environment--we are understanding the importance of preserving biological diversity, etc.--and with the universe as a whole, we are also coming over to a theoretical view of the universe that connects us in fundamental ways to nature. At the moment we see bifurcation points in human history--consider the coup attempt in the former Soviet Union, which had many possible outcomes--we discover new bifurcations in physics. In this way, we are building a kind of unified cultural identity for the 21st century. Finally, we can move beyond the classical conflict between being and becoming. Being is no longer the primordial element, just as becoming is no longer an illusion, the product of ignorance. Not at all. Today, we see that becoming, which is the expression of instability in the universe, is the primordial element. Yet, in order to express this, we also need elements that are permanent. We cannot have becoming without being, just as we cannot have light without darkness or music without silence." It seems to me that this is the point where Prigogine's thinking fuses with Chinese traditional philosophy in recognizing the impossibility, inside one unit, of the existence of one polarity without the existence of the other. Visual artists understand instinctively that white, or all colors coming together, this extreme possibility is indeed to materialize only if it is balanced by a total absence of colors, or black, at the other pole of the unit colors. Positing otherwise would be rejecting the possibility of the range of colors' shadings between white (all) and black (none).

Prigogine points to the polarities of the individual unit, being – becoming, and the dynamic that they engender and he then goes on opening the road to choice, determinations or probabilities at the bifurcation point inside a unit's state of instability.
The universe can thus not be considered any longer as being mechanically predetermined, the arrow of time does not point to an inevitable final outcome, there are an infinity of possible futures for the unit humanity and only our actions are what makes the difference.
Clearly our ideals about the future are thus what engenders our actions in the present and as such we discover that morality and virtue are the real shapers of our future. We are back in the realm of Chinese traditional philosophy: tao, the way and te, virtue.

Prigogine simultaneously rejects to the dustbin of history the founding axioms of our western civilization. "The view which we now have of the universe and our place in it seems to me to be absolutely anti-Kantian. In order to reconcile ethical behavior and the classical laws of physics, Kant had to introduce duality, which is a permanent fixture in the Western history of philosophy. Descartes introduced a division between intelligent thought, the brain, on one side and matter on the other. Kant introduced the difference between the noumenal world, which could be apprehended by intuition, and the phenomenological world, which could be apprehended through analysis. Physics would deal with phenomenology and ethics would be constructed in the noumenal world.
The main point of what I try to say in my work is that we no longer need this kind of dualism. Life is more deeply rooted in the laws of self-organization and coherent behavior than classical science led us to believe."




In summary:



-.............Postmodernism will bring about a vision based on the concepts of:

...............*............wholeness (vision of us, in the whole of our universe and
............................in the whole of .humanity, giving form to the idea of our
............................ responsibility towards the whole.)

...............*............inclusiveness (vision of us as being a part, being a particle,
.............................of the whole and of humanity. The repercussions here could
.............................be immense for how could we continue.to accept this
.............................disgrace of our humanity's inequality that so visually
.............................affects us all.)

...............*...........unity (the unity of the whole, the unity of all its ensembles
............................and the unity of allthe particles of those ensembles)

...............*...........change (reality is change on the pendulum of chaos to order
............................and vice-versa. Change occurs within all unities along the
............................infinite movement of the pendulum. .We better be
............................conscientious that change is not an abstract proposition it is
............................affecting our daily lives.)

-.............In postmodernism our perception of reality will focus on change as the essence of time and of life: as illustration of my vision here follows a poem that I integrated in a work titled philosophy that I painted in Beijing in the Fall of 2001:



The contact, between the polarities within any unit, generates a burst of energy fueling changes and transformations that are as the seconds on the ticking clock of evolution.

From this we know that the life of all species and their members is given by the changes occurring in the following 3 dimensions:

-............ The SKY or the influences of environments, from vicinity to infinity, on each specie and its members.

-.............The EARTH or the influences of the hardware and software assigned to the members of each living specie. This is called the drama of reproduction of the specie through sex and of reproduction of the individuals through the satisfaction of their objective needs.

-.............The SELF or the influences of the cultural and economic works of each specie upon itself, upon its members, upon other species and upon the environment.

Seeing that cultural and economic works are nothing more than the specific forms and answers of one particular specie to the influences of the earth and the sky, that is very wise indeed.
Seeing that individual works are nothing more than the specific forms and answers of one particular individual to the influences of the sky, the earth and the self that is pure wisdom.

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