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The Geopolitics of Epistemological Warfare: From Babylon to Neocon

The Geopolitics of Epistemological Warfare: From Babylon to Neocon 

I think any sane human being can agree that while war was never a good idea, war in the 21stcentury is an absolutely intolerable one. The problem we currently face is that many of the forces driving world events towards an all-out war of “Mutually Assured Annihilation” are anything but sane.

While I’m obviously referring here to a certain category of people who fall under a particularly virulent strain of imperial thinking which can be labelled “neo-conservative” and while many of these disturbing figures honestly believe that a total war of annihilation is a risk worth taking in order to achieve their goals of total global hegemony, I would like to make one subtle yet very important distinction which is often overlooked.

What is this distinction?

Under the broad umbrella of “neo-conservative” one should properly differentiate those who really believe in their ideology and are trapped under the invisible cage of its unexamined assumptions vs. that smaller yet more important segment that created and manages the ideology from the top. I brushed on this grouping in a recent 3 part study called Origins of the Deep State and Myth of the Jewish Conspiracy.

To re-state my meaning: This group doesn’t necessarily believe in the ideological group they manage any more than a parent believes in that tooth fairy which they promote in order to achieve certain behavioral patterns in their children.

While belief in the tooth fairy is slightly less destructive than belief in a misanthropic neocon worldview of a Bolton, Pompeo or Cheney, the analogy is useful to communicate the point.

Cult Managers: Ancient Babylon and Now

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Epistemological divide: How we live in two different worlds of understanding

Epistemological divide: How we live in two different worlds of understanding

Epistemology is the study of how we know things. All of us cycle between two main ways of knowing in our modern culture: 1) the rational, reductionist way and 2) the holistic, relational, intuitive way. By far the most dominant way is the rational, reductionist way and our institutions, scientific, economic, financial and organizational are governed by this way of thinking.

For the reductionist thinker, everything in the universe is made up of parts. If we can understand the parts, we can understand the whole. Depending on the field, the physical world is nothing but atoms and molecules and the social world is nothing but self-maximizing, rational actors. The reductionist view is very powerful and filled with “nothing but” statements. It never occurs to the thoroughgoing reductionist that the idea of “parts” is merely a mental construct.

In our everyday relationships with friends and family, in our nonrational pursuits in music and the arts, in our religious lives, we tend toward the second way of thinking, holistic, relational and intuitive.

We cycle back and forth between these ways of knowing almost effortlessly and for the most part unconsciously. That seems to work well for us as individuals—except when we miscalculate or misperceive a situation and bad consequences follow. Mostly, we regroup and recover and go on, adjusting for what we have learned.

Can the same be said of society as a whole? Yes and no. Global human society can be likened to a superorganism that has its own logic and modes of action. Each of us is strongly influenced by its trajectory and constrained in our actions.

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Epistemology of a Dying Empire: How do Our Leaders Make Choices?

Epistemology of a Dying Empire: How do Our Leaders Make Choices?

Recently, Michael Liebreich published an article titled “The Secret of Eternal Growth.” I have been mulling over in my head if it is appropriate to spend time discussing one more mishmash of legends, including the one that’s by now a classic, the “errors” that the Club of Rome is said to have made with the 1972 report, “The Limits to Growth.” Eventually, I decided that it was worth a post, not so much because the post by Liebreich is especially wrongheaded or silly, but because it illustrates one basic point of our civilization: who, and how, takes decisions? On which basis?

In the end, I think we have a problem of epistemology, the question of the nature of knowledge. In order to make decisions, you have to know what you are doing — at least in principle. In other words, you need some kind of “model” of reality in order to be able to act on it. It was Jay Forrester, the father of system dynamics and the originator of the “Limits to Growth” report who pointed out that, (World Dynamics, 1971, p. 14)

Everyone uses models all the time. Every person in his private life and in his community life uses models for decision making. The mental image of the world around one, carried in each individual’s head, is a model. One does not have a family, a business, a city, a government, or a country in his head. He has only selected concepts and relationships that he uses to represent the real system.

And the big question is where these “selected concepts” come from. My impression is that the mind of our leaders is a jumble of ideas and concepts grafted from haphazard messages that come from the media.
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So, You Think Science Will Save the World? Are You Sure?

So, You Think Science Will Save the World? Are You Sure?

I understand that by publishing this post I may be giving ammunition to the anti-science crowd. But we can’t just hide in the ivory tower and tell people that science is perfect as it is. We need deep reforms in the way science is done.

In Italy, we have a term for those who engage in a task much too big and too difficult for them. We call them a “Brancaleone Army” (Armata Brancaleone), a term coming from the title of a wonderful 1966 Italian movie where an Italian self-styled knight tries to lead a ragtag army of incompetent fighters. The sad conditions of science nowadays sometimes look to me like the story of the Brancaleone army.

What is truth? These famous words come not from a scientist but from a politician, Pontius Pilate, governor of Palestine in Roman times. As a politician, Pilate knew very well how truth could be twisted, stretched, sliced, cooked, flavored, and rearranged in many ways in order to be sold to people. Things are not different, today. In politics, truth is what you perceive to be true. After all, isn’t it true that we can create our own reality? (a US government official is reported to have said that at the time of the invasion of Iraq, in 2003).

Eventually, the Roman Empire drowned in its own lies, it was an epistemological collapse. Something similar may happen to us: we cannot continue for long to ignore reality, believing that we can manufacture our own, and deceive everyone in the process.
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Axiom of Uncertainty

Axiom of Uncertainty

It’s simple. Given that there might well be an absolute nature/structure of the universe and our perhaps fundamentally limited cognitive position/abilities within it can we be certain that we can be sure about the true nature of anything? Can there be fundamental forces, matter, and material relationships of which we will never know?

While unanswerable in principle, the mere possibility of such an epistemological situation has many consequences.

Firstly, it considerably lets out the air out of our current secular hubris.

Science and technology have given us what is perhaps a false impression of our own cognitive and technical omnipotence. While we rightly marvel at what we have achieved during the last five centuries, it does not necessarily give us the right to think that we can, even theoretically, master and understand all that there is.

Would it be so far fetched to think that the human mind, both as it is now and will be in the future, will always be limited in what it can know?

Although we cannot even judge the actual probability of such a proposition it should nevertheless give us pause while constructing brash anthropocentric scenarios which inflate our own importance within the universe.

If we stop to consider the possible theoretical implications of this axiom of uncertainty we will quickly realize that we may never know more than a part, even just a small part of existence past, present, and future.

Of course that does not mean we should stop trying to know all we can.

On the other hand, it does mean that we should be far more circumspect when offering explanations about everything whether scientific, political, or religious.

In each of these domains, we may, it might turn out, be far off the mark.

Yet, the deeper point is that according to the above axiom we can never know for sure.

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Climate change and the alien gods of the Bible: an epiphany of epistemology.

Climate change and the alien gods of the Bible: an epiphany of epistemology.

Fish-god and assorted alienities from an ancient Sumerian cylinder seal (image from wikipedia). Nothing real but, oh, so fascinating!

As I was waiting for my train at the Milano station, last week, I toured a bookstore and I was attracted to a book titled “The Bible does not tell about God” written by Mauro Biglino. Books, books, books….. how many things are written in books? Never mind, I bought it and I read it. And here is a comment, not so much about the book itself, but about the epiphany it generated in me on how difficult it is to deal with such a complex world as ours has become. It is all, I think, a problem of epistemology, how we manage to know what we are supposed to know. And it is not easy.

First of all, about ancient aliens, I have to confess to you that in my youth I wasn’t just interested in that subject but, actually, addicted to it. You have probably heard of Eric Von Daniken; commonly considered the originator of the theory of the “ancient astronauts” having created the human civilization and perhaps humans as well. Perhaps you don’t know that Von Daniken had a precursor who wrote under the name of Peter Kolosimo – but he wrote in Italian and hence he is not so well known outside Italy.

I don’t know whether Von Daniken copied from Kolosimo, but I can tell you that in the 1960s I devoured Kolosimo’s books. A brilliant writer, a fascinating subject, a lot of fantasy. I can still find my handwritten notes about his books and I can see that, already as a teenager, I was trying to critically analyze Kolosimo’s claims. I think that at least part of my interest in science and in the cycles of civilizations comes from those books.

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Climate Change: a clash of epistemologies

Climate Change: a clash of epistemologies

In a post published earlier this year, Ugo Bardi explains that the debate on climate change is going nowhere due to a fundamental incommunicability – or a ‘clash’ as he calls it – between different types of epistemologies over climate change. In his post he refers to some exchange between scientists and a newcomer – not any newcomer, actually the vice-president of the Italian Coal Industry Associations –which happened on the blog of the Italian Society of Chemistry (SCI). The newcomer used this section to attack climate science and climate scientists. The latter fully felt the attack and reacted as if their own persona had been aggressed. Apparently, the exchange degenerated in assorted insults and personal smears.

Quoting Ugo, “stiffen up and look offended when someone belittles climate science is not useful.” Indeed, it is not. But as I dare reading through the lines of Ugo’s post, the reason why it is not has nothing to do with the consequences of such insulting exchange – certainly the newcomer has not changed his mind on climate change; it has to do with the reasons of such incommunicability between different categories of individuals, one which raises conflicts rather than mere disagreements. To understand such conflicts Ugo mobilises the idea that the two groups – the scientists and the newcomer – are endowed with opposite epistemologies, that is, opposite ways of knowing and believing the world. The discrepancy goes beyond differences in perceiving the world and understand it accordingly; the discrepancy concerns the way the world is analytically constructed and given a sense.

I am sure that Ugo would have appreciated the concept of ‘epistemological rationality’ used by Alban Bouvier, a French social epistemologist, with reference to discursive exchanges between reciprocally suspicious interlocutors, in which each party considers that the arguments of the other rely on false or unreliable knowledge.

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Who’s In Your Head?

Who’s In Your Head?

When you reflect on your life, do you sometimes lament the choices you’ve made, directions you took or didn’t take, and wonder what could have been? You may find that you’ve achieved success in one or more areas of life, yet feel like you have fallen short in others. You might ask if your life is really going as planned? But do you ever ask yourself if the plan was even really yours to begin with? If it wasn’t yours, what got in the way of living the life you wanted to live?

Have you stopped to think about what you believe and how it has impacted who you are and what you have become? If you take a minute to reflect on the path you’ve taken so far, can you say it was aligned with what you really wanted for yourself?

If you weren’t listening to your own heart-felt desires and aspirations, what were you listening to? Whose voice was in your head that made you choose a certain direction in life? Was it your parents, caretakers, family, religion, other authority figures, friends, peers, media and entertainment personalities, advertisers, the Internet?

cowboys and indians

Belief systems impact every aspect of our lives from our definition of right and wrong, good and bad, to what we do for a living, our idea of a perfect relationship, how we raise our kids, what we eat, how we spend our money and in countless other ways. Our beliefs forge a path for us, whether we know it or not, because they influence how we feel, our actions and the directions we take in life.

Regardless of where they came from, it’s important to ask yourself if you truly agree with the beliefs you have adopted and how they’ve served you. Are they liberating and empowering or limiting and fear-based?

 

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A clash of epistemologies: why the debate on climate change is going nowhere.

A clash of epistemologies: why the debate on climate change is going nowhere.


A few weeks ago, someone barreled into the comment section of a post on climate change on the blog of the Italian Society of Chemistry (SCI) with a series of attacks against climate science and climate scientists. The ensuing clash was all in Italian but, if you follow the debate on climate, you know very well how these things go. The newcomer monopolized the discussion by repeating the usual legends; climate has always been changed, there has been no temperature increase during the past 15 years, there is no proof of the human effect on climate, and so on. And you can imagine how the scientists following the blog reacted. The discussion rapidly degenerated into assorted insults and personal smears, until the moderator closed the comments. That was way too late: the climate science denier emerged as the winner; while the scientists managed to give the impression of being both narrow-minded and sectarian.

It was a classic case of climate trolling, but with one difference. This time, the troll didn’t try to hide his identity (as trolls usually do); rather, he came with a name, an address, and a CV. He was Mr. Rinaldo Sorgenti, vice-president of the Italian Coal Industry Association (“Assocarboni“). Mr. Sorgenti’s exploits on the SCI blog give us a chance to understand what generates the kind of behavior that we define as “trolling.” So, I am willing to bet that Mr. Sorgenti is NOT a paid disinformer – as he was accused to be in the debate. In other words, he doesn’t deny climate science becausehe is on the payroll of Assocarboni (actually, he maintains that he gets no money for his position of vice-president, but I figure he gets at least a few perks from it). I would also say that not even the opposite holds true: Mr. Sorgenti is not the president of Assocarboni because he is a climate science denier. No, I would bet that denying climate science and being involved in the coal industry are two non-separate and non-separable elements of Mr. Sorgenti’s worldview. And this worldview has little or nothing to do with what we call science. Mr. Sorgenti is not a scientist, he doesn’t know how the scientific method works or, if he knows, he doesn’t believe it works or it is useful for anything. He uses the methods of debate commonly used in the political debate; a method of discussion that we can define as “rhetoric.” 

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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