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Fourth World Thinking, Transcending the First Three

Chris Lucas


We contrast, from the viewpoint of the complexity sciences, the three world systems currently believed to exist (based on thought, emotion and senses) and develop a new paradigm based on a world integrating and going beyond the limitations of each. It is shown how such a balanced system can overcome many of the political and social problems that face us in changing times and allow us to take a further step jump in civilisation.

The Aristotelian World

The ideas of Ancient Greece form a backbone throughout Western civilisation, spanning the 2500 years from the time of the great philosophers to the present day. In the Greek city states the thinkers were very distinct from the artisans, slaves and women that did the actual work, and regarded themselves as educated and civilised only if they were aware of such abstract arts as geometry and philosophy. The writing of Plato sets out in 'The Republic' the required attributes for wise rulers of an ideal state, and these abstract attributes of intellectual understanding, as a measure of worth, survive to this day.

The deductive methods of Euclid, the mathematical reduction of Pythagoras, the logic of Aristotle and their common disdain for real world experimentation pervaded Western learning until Renaissance times, ideas that dominated both the thinking of the Christian Church and the behaviour of learned men. Even today the very word 'learned' has the connotation of academic abstract knowledge, an intellectual ability unsullied with emotional or sensual corruption. The lack of what is called objectivity is the greatest sin in this world, the inability to stand detached from the world around us and take a dispassionate logical view condemns a person to ridicule and obscurity.

Yet the assumptions of this world view were being challenged. The growth of scientific method following the Renaissance added the method of induction to the Greek deduction. Here it was necessary to actually look at the world, and to create theories that accounted for its structure, getting your hands dirty in collecting data in a way quite alien to earlier times. Despite this new development however the attitude to the world remains the same, that of independent observers rationally and objectively making value free measurements on a timeless, external, reality.

This world view relies exclusively on consciousness, it is an idealised and serial mode of working, a linear progression from absolutes via analysis to truth. It is a very dualist philosophy, concepts must be true or false, mind is superior to body, objectivity to subjectivity and this leads naturally to an paternal, yang, male domination based social organization, but one requiring oppression and violence to maintain the dogmas of the self-appointed leaders. This hierarchical organizational view persists in our academic and business systems, and reflects its origin (and continuation today) in European political agendas and in obedience to 'higher' authority.

The Freudian World

Contrasting with this emphasis on conscious thought is another viewpoint, usually associated with Freud but really having origins in Buddhist philosophy, that of the influence of the subconscious. Here we are concerned more with attitudes and emotions, ways of life and belief. These are part of our human nature but not immediately amenable to conscious control. In the previous world view these were regarded as sordid and base, animal behaviour patterns, to be transcended not indulged.

Yet psychoanalysis and the Eastern equivalents of introspection and meditation show both positive and negative aspects to this subconscious world. This is a world of cycles, of recurrent behaviours, of interactions in a social and psychological subjective world. Here our inherent values shape our behavioural traits and these are determined more by feelings, instincts and intuition than by analysis. It is a world of multiple influences, not clear choices, a compromise world of hates and loves, yet ultimately a communal and agreed self-sustaining system of psychological values and social norms. In political terms, this is an anarchistic, ungoverned, self-organizing system.

This largely internal world of relative truths and compromise is based in our past, the gradual development by trial and error of effective instinctive reactions, and a similar process of learning in childhood, leading to innate but mostly unconscious social behaviour, including language (written, verbal and body). It is known that our emotional reactions are faster than conscious decisions so, despite our rational beliefs, our world view here remains mostly in accordance with our subconscious values.

These are largely monist, yin, female systems, taking an holistic view of questions, but with a plurality of issues included. The principle is that of cooperation with others, mutual respect, perhaps best classified by saying that here the measure of worth is that of love or sharing, and that the external world is partly an illusion generated dynamically by our minds, selected aspects of a greater whole.

The Consumerist World

Since the machine age began, we have been moving towards yet another world view, typified by the American way, that of mass production and consumption. This is the view of the individual, free and unconstrained by either fixed hierarchy or agreed social norms. It is a world of change, of evolution, a world of competition replacing both control and cooperation.

In this world the senses are king, all is related to the instantaneous needs of the body, innovations that cater for animal comfort, convenience, hearing, sight, taste, smell and touch. The growth of new products and services is exponential, driven by a desire for profit and to create and sell what people find enabling, better, desirable or beautiful. From the point of view of the other worlds it is exclusively material, denying the values of intellect and emotions both, unless they contribute to personal economic success, where worth is money.

This conversion of the external world into internal values to some extent blends the other two, the objective understanding of science merges with the subjective wants of society to form a synthesis, purporting to be better than both. In terms of evolutionary improvement in our options this is certainly true, each person has many more choices than were available in the past, yet we can question a value system that is restricted to just the concept of trade and the things that can be bought and sold. Such a view denies that an individual stranded on a desert island can enjoy any values at all !

This is an industrial viewpoint, work ensures success, production levels determine both profit and income, and the power structure of the society reflects this reduction. Each action must be better than the last, lest the competitive advantage be lost and we sink into the oblivion of the failed, replaced by those more innovative. An evolutionary Darwinian dynamic of the survival of the fittest operates here, corresponding to an animal mode of behaviour.

Axiomatic Problems

We have seen three systems. Each of these systems emphasises a different aspect of our world, abstract truth, social cooperation, evolutionary creation. Is it possible to have one system that values all three ? In other words to get the advantages of all these worlds and the disadvantages of none ? We think maybe that it is possible.

Can we then just concatenate together these belief systems to get this result ? No. Bear in mind that these beliefs are not disjoint in any society, aspects of all of them are already present in every society (we have here just generalised their major contrasting features). The essence of the problem is that each of the beliefs is incorrect and unsustainable, even within its own world view, and when brought together serious incompatibilities are present between their respective positions.

Let us start with truth as our objective absolute measure. Given that we wish to exist in a real world and not in a mathematically abstract one, our concept of truth must mean correspondence to reality. Yet this causes major problems. If reality is what we measure, then this in itself proves inconsistent and dependent upon how we measure it, as seen in quantum theory. Truth, as a fixed concept, also requires the absence of change, but we know change is ubiquitous, even stars change over measurable timescales. Truth itself must therefore change to reflect the evolving world around it, new truths come into being with new inventions and old truths are disproved with the same process. Truths have different validity timescales and areas of applicability, but the eternal, universal truth so yearned for by many just does not exist. Any system of truths must be an agreed and evolving system, based upon the combined and increasing knowledge of the whole society, not based upon either unchanging axioms or the imposed views of a self-styled elite.

If we instead take love (mutual respect) as the measure of worth, then we get into similar problems. Is it love to give someone something they want if it would make them ill ? Doing the 'good thing' seems to require that we know what it is, which we have seen is itself an impossible task. Cooperation cannot in itself tell us what to do, we need something else on which to base our values. A further problem in such an agreed 'nice' system is that of cheating, people that do not play the game, using the system to selfish advantage. This becomes more of a problem as our communications and relationships become more global and impersonal, allowing cheats to remain undetected. In attempting to maintain such a society, forms of cohersion and dogma tend to infiltrate and grow, destroying the fundamental trust on which the freedoms are based and creating barriers between groups.

Can the third system, that of money resolve these problems ? The exponential expansion of consumerism generates two problems for this. Firstly, it is unsustainable, both from an ecological point of view (in terms of resources and wastes) and also due to conflicts arising from imbalances (rich/poor, exploitation). Secondly, monetary values themselves are only relative, ungrounded in absolute terms. These values are subject to distortion by deceits (advertising to sell) and scarcity (exclusivity pricing) and vary considerably with evolution (fashions, novelty value). We need to have some firm concept, other than greed, on which to base monetary worth and choice.

When we take any decision we balance the various choices we have available, choosing the one that makes most sense to us, the one that maximises our fitness. This is ultimately what we mean by true or false (either helping us to make valuable choices or hindering us), and it is also the basis of love (where mutual fitness is important). Money also is related to fitness, where cost reflects the relative worth of the purchases available, the trade advantages or value add. Can this common idea serve to unite the three belief systems into one, without inheriting their disadvantages ? We shall see that it can, if we are prepared to allow some changes to each set of dogmas.

The Fourth World

There are a number of criteria which must be met in any system that is to serve our needs, and provide a fitness or 'Quality of Life' based society.

This aspect requires wide ranging access to knowledge, coupled with the education to be able to use it. Here the Internet is a prime source, and we see this beginning to shape our decisions, bringing global alternatives and free exchange of viewpoints, along with the computer resources able to filter such large amounts of information. It helps counteract the mis-information (for profit or control) aspects of the Consumerist world, along with their price fixing and monopolistic practices, and disrupts the closed nature of both domination and passive societies.

Many aspects of the Aristotelian world try hard to prevent this process, devolution of power removes much of the control traditionally enjoyed by rulers, establishment and pressure groups. It also counteracts the similar control abuse seen in company structures and monopolies.

Too often decisions are made, without the agreement or even knowledge of those affected, by people who have no personal interest in the issue and are not concerned with the result. Decisions that affect small groups should be made at that level, giving autonomy as far as possible, and breaking up the inexorable trend towards centralised power and control attempted by faceless bureaucracies.

Where too many people are involved and a representative approach is necessary, the ultimate power should still reside with the people represented, but the idea that once appointed for a 'term' the representative is effectively given carte blanche to do anything they want is unacceptable, invariably leading to corruption and self-interest becoming paramount.

This encourages the use of renewable resources, recycling and modular constructions, along with rapid self-organizing adjustment to change. It would rely on the devolved decision making mentioned above, the 'Small is Beautiful' approach, that better allows recombinations of options. .

Fitness requires that each person be able to optimise their own quality of life, so no decisions on how this should be done should be predetermined. To arrive at an equitable society however, we must insist that any decision not cause a disadvantage to any other society members, unless they have agreed to it.

Progress requires that new choices be made available, ones that enhance the possible fitness of the group or individual. To do this means going beyond the past, transcending the status quo. This aspect encapsulates the inherent genius of our species and should be valued highly.

Here we require a system of worth that can take account of all our values, able to balance intellect, emotion and material welfares equally and allow for optimisation of all three. Such a quality of life measure must take into account complex interactions amongst values and will likely be based upon fuzzy logic concepts (in its intellectual manifestation).

Such a postindustrial society may well be based on complexity theory considerations. These concepts naturally bridge the gap between the static theories of Aristotelian control, the chaotic theories of Freudian free association and the evolutionary development of Consumerism. The required balance point is the edge of chaos interface between the ordered and random worlds, yet one in which the need to shape our direction by barriers (to protect what we have from the past) and the need to grow by constant intuitive novelty (increasing the options for the future) can both coexist with a spectrum of different present day alternative lifestyles.