Razor Edge


According to Carlos Castaneda clarity is one of the enemies of knowledge.

This applies to all fields of human activity, including academia.

If you know the answer in advance, there’s no point in arguing or doing a research. A scholar or a a scientist needs to stay puzzled, as well be aware of the limits of his knowledge.

At the same time, however, there must be a sense of commitment, perseverance, and even stubbornness with pursuing a research question. After all, what’s the value of a scholarly investigation if it’s given up easily?

So on the one hand a scholar needs to be determined in his inquiries and views. On the other hand he needs to keep an open mind for a fresh perspective.

Finding a proper balance may not be easy. The term “golden middle” is not appropriate here. Rather, it’s a razor edge, as slightest leaning towards either side can lead to a disaster.

Yet the efforts are worth the result.

After all, razor edge is just another challenge – although a tough one – on the way towards a man of knowledge.

Everyday vs. Scientific Thinking

Always Seek Knowledge Acronym

There is a common view of science that it consists of collecting experimentally verifiable facts arranged in some orderly manner… a telephone book or an airline schdule is an orderely collection of facts…[neither] is a science. Science is the formulation of general statements of explanatory power from which a multitude of veriable facts can be deduced…Science does not begin with facts, it begins with a perception of a problem and the belief in the possibility of an answer.

M. and I. Goldstein, “How We Know”

There are three types or levels of thinking.

The first one is common, or everyday reasoning. Most people use it to evaluate different issues and events. This is the so-called “kitchen expertise”. For example, if you ask an average person his or her opinion on a political topic, in most cases you will get some sort of an answer.

The second level is expert thinking. This type is mostly found in the media – TV, newspapers, and Internet. Various experts give their “expert opinions” on various subjects. While expert reasoning positions itself as “rational and professional”, quite often it rolls back to everyday thinking.

The third type is scientific thinking. Its main differences compared to the common one can be summarized as follows (Note: expert thinking is somewhere in between).

  • Common (C): faith in the obvious. Scientific (S): obvious is the first stage of knowledge.
  • C: “I personally know / feel”, “My friend said…”, “I like … S: testing information against all achievements in the field irregardless of emotional reactions.
  • C: Everyone’s opinion matters. S: It is knowledge that matters, not opinion.
  • C: If something’s unclear, it needs to be explained immediately. S.  Some scientific problems needs agree to sort out. This is normal.

With the overwhelming amount of information that needs to be analyzed today, it’s good to be aware of these different types of thinking. It’s even better to be able to switch between them depending on the circumstances and target audience.

And a final quote regarding self-knowledge.

Science is not to blame for men’s lack of self-knowledge. Giordano Bruno went to the stake because he told his fellow men that they and their planet were only a speck of dust in a cloud of countless other specks. When Charles Darwin discovered that men are descended from animals they would have been glad to kill him, and there was certainly no lack of attempts to silence him. When Sigmund Freud attempted to analyse the motives of human social behaviour and to explain its causes from the subjective-psychological side, but with the method of approach of true natural science, he was accused of irreverence, blind materialism and even pornographic tendencies. Humanity defends its own self-esteem with all its might, and it is certainly time to preach humility and try seriously to break down all obstructions to self-knowledge.

Konrad Lorenz (1963), “On Aggression”

Knowledge Dynamics

Knowledge is a key asset in the twenty-first century.

In the agrarian world the main value was attributed to the land. In the industrial world and still today – to the capital. In the emerging information society, development will be mostly driven by knowledge and intellect.

Knowledge here not only means an arithmetic sum of acquired theories from formal education. It also means a set of working skills, qualifications, personal attributes – anything that makes one competitive on the world market.

There is one issue here though.

We live in such a fast-changing world, that once you lean something new, i.e. acquire knowledge, it is already becoming outdated!

For example, I had to rewrite my PhD research proposal more than once in two years as life was constantly presenting new evidence, and new social developments were taking place that challenged my ideas. Today I understand that my research proposal is not entirely up-to-date, as political, social and economic landscapes have changed again!

So how to keep up with this “pace of the world”?

I am afraid – or should I say happy? – that there is no easy answer. Though it may sound simple:

Never. Ever. Stop. Learning.

From my experience (personal and by no means exclusive) this means:

1) Always staying up-to-date with the current trends in your field. RIDE THE WAVE or it will smash you.

2) Being open to conflicting opinions. FRESH PERSPECTIVE is a pre-requisite to keep your ideas and practices original.

3) Using every free moment to read. Less social media, MORE BOOKS.

And last but not least, we must keep in mind a well-known saying:

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Uber: Digital Economy Vs. Rigid Society

The recent protests of the Paris taxi drivers against Uber are a bright illustration of the profound trends and dynamics taking place in the present-day world.

On the one hand, there is a rigid, inflexible, slow and bureaucratic state that tries to regulate every field of activity within its territory. This includes legislation passed to regulate different professions. For example, issuing licenses for taxi drivers.

Next to the state, there are individuals who believe that state is still the most powerful actor, and therefore abide by its rules. For instance, taxi drivers who pay dozens of thousands of euros to get a taxi license from the French government.

On the other hand, there is a truly revolutionary idea of a shared economy. This idea has manifested itself in such projects and businesses as Couchsurfing, Airbnb, BlaBlaBlaCar, Uber and many others. These social startups offer much cheaper – and sometimes even free – services, and they are based on mutual trust and cooperation.

I can understand the French government as Uber threatens to reduce profit generated from licenses fees. I can also understand regular taxi drivers who pay enormous money to get those licenses. However, these two parties are missing a few major points here.

Frist, the majority of French people are happy with Uber like most of the passengers around the world. Beating off Uber drivers and authorizing use of police force are not ways to compete in taxi business.

Second, shared and digital economy is changing our lives drastically. It is much wiser to try to ride this wave than resist it. Revolutionary humane post-modern ideas will inevitably win over outdated modernist thinking of immediate-at-all-cost profit-making.

And finally, the alliance between the French state and the local taxi drivers is a minority compared to the majority comprised by a network of Uber users. While the latter has mainly remained silent so far, the future belongs to network communities.

Self-organized network communities have a powerful potential to resist both the state and capitalism.

I believe in Uber.

I believe in shared economy.

I believe in a more sustainable world that such economy creates.

Black Mirror: An Anti-Technological Manifesto

I have recently come across Black Mirror – a scandalous TV series depicting human addiction to modern technologies, gadgets and digital devices. Here are just a few sketches and reflections on the relationship between mankind and the technological world portrayed by the film creators.

In the first episode the Princess of England is taken hostage by the unknown. According to the ultimatum proposed, the British Prime-Minister must .. have sex with a pig LIVE on all TV channels. After a painful dilemma and under tremendous public pressure the PM does what is requested. As it turns out, the Princess was set free half an hour before the ultimatum expired. However, no one even noticed her walking in downtown London as everyone’s gaze was glued to the TV screen.

The next episode presents a futuristic picture of an ultra-technological digital society where you either have to pedal in a gym for earning points (salary) or can break through to the Talents Show where you are used in all senses. The main hero gives away all his points to buy a gift ticket to the Show for a girl he hardly knows. Eventually they both end up working in the entertainment and porn industries despite their sincere aspirations for the beautiful. Thus post-industrial technological mode co-exists with the New Middle Ages in human relationships.

And so on, and so forth.

In my opinion, the main idea set by the film directors is that technological progress is neither good nor bad. The point is for which purposes it’s used by the mankind.

In this regard, it would be also great to see White Mirror as continuation of the series. After all, for every black there is a white, like for every yin there is a yang.

Verdict: definitely to be watched, discussed and comprehended.

Crowd Vs. Community

Below is a quote by Viktor Frankl on the difference between a crowd and a community. This is an excerpt from the author’s Man’s Search for Meaning. The citation is a long one, yet worthy to read till the end.

From my side I can add that in the world where democracy is a disguise for the rule of capital, communities of mankind have a potentially big future in the brave new world. True democracy can only be established and exercised by communities of responsible individuals.

Note: translated from Russian, highlighted by me.

Crowd does not create at all such environment for man where he could develop as a personality. Masses can’t stand individuality. If we compare the relationship between man and society with a mosaic, the relationship between man and a crowd is like a paved grey stone. All stones have the same color and shape, any of them can be used to replace one another. It’s not necessary to use some specific stone to construct a high-quality pavement.  The pavement itself is not something unique – it’s just lots of stones together. A road cover doesn’t have the esthetic value of a mosaic. It has nothing but a utilitarian value, for crowds hide virtues and real value of people, using them only as a resource.

Human existence acquires full sense only in communities. Yet since a community needs to have a sense itself, it must bear the individual peculiarities of its members. In contrast, human peculiarities vanish in crowds, for a bright individuality is a destructive factor for any crowd.

By hiding and dissolving himself in a crowd, man loses his most inherent characteristic – responsibility. On the one hand, once taking on a task from society, he increases his responsibility. “Crowd escape” is an opportunity to release the burden of responsibility… A true community is in essence a community of responsible individuals; a crowd is just an array of depersonalized beings.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Other posts on Viktor Frank’s Man’s Search for Meaning:

Castaneda And Frankl: A Bridge Between Esoterics And Psychology
The Pillars Of Human Existence: Spirituality, Freedom and Responsibility
Three Types of Values That Make Life Meaningful
Where Space for Growth Lies
Death Makes Life Meaningful
Heredity And Environment Vs. Will and Action
Knowledge Vs. Wisdom

Education Must Raise Consumers

According to Andrey Fursenko, former Minister of Education of the Russian Federation. In 2007 Mr. Fursenko became notorious for telling at the Seliger youth forum the following:

The drawback of the Soviet system of education was its attempt to bring up a creative individual. Today’s task is to raise a consumer qualified to use the results of creativity of others.

In my opinion, Mr. Fursenko was just too honest. The global task that he highlighted can be ascribed to many educational systems, not only to those in the post-Soviet territories.

Such a direct declaration goes in line with Sir Ken Robinson’s claim that schools kill creativity.

What can we do in this regard?

To begin with, parents should help their children embrace a core principle: it’s not education, but learning that matters.

Never-ending learning approach is essential to develop bright and creative individuals capable to use their potentials to the fullest and make a positive change in the world.