Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

A question for Rudd’s gabfest

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-06

Continuing on this post’s theme, I have a question and partial answer for Rudd’s gabfest:

What will allow a country to develop an entirely new mechanism for competitive advantage, a range of disruptive products?

I cannot give an answer, but I can suggest how an answer can be found.

This answer requires a new perspective on things, which in the world’s history, is most likely when there is a synthesis of different ideas, either across domains, or the resolution of ideas that had seemed contradictory.

There are two major schools of sophisticated thought in the world, one from Greece, one from China.  These have only been partly resolved, mainly due to 19th Century German philosophers who assimilated some Indian philosophies rather than the broader corpus of Chinese works.

As I see it, the difference between the Greek and Chinese viewpoints was in what they considered too chaotic to measure, analyze and control.

  • The Chinese perceived the chaos and emergent phenomena in the physical world, whereas the Greeks believed they could eventually get fine-grained understanding and control over it, and succeeded until faced with the difficulties presented by quantum physics, chaos theory and Gödel.
  • The Greeks perceived chaos in the social world, developed democracy as a chaotic partial solution, whereas the Chinese believed details control was possible, whether through Confucian mechanisms of education and leadership-by-example, or by the Draconian Legalist School.

So, Chinese technical and scientific advances were more irregular than those when hellenic humanism dominated in Europe, while Europe was less successful at social engineering.

In modern times, as our world approaches limitations from many directions, we need a large number of people who have resolved these contradictory viewpoints so we can develop more rounded and holistic solutions.  Using only the separate perspectives will only lead to stale thinking and inadequate solutions.

How can we achieve this?  By including a decent broad understanding of both abstract perspectives in the education of all citizens.

The synthesis of Eastern and Western perspectives can either happen in an Eastern country that absorbs a lot from the West (India is a good candidate), or a Western nation that absorbs a lot from the East (which Australia might do).  Let’s hope Australia can get a lead here.

For a start, I’d suggest that no-one should finish secondary school without a grasp of the two concepts that underpin Greek and Chinese thought: Logos (λόγος) and the Tao (道), and have a feel for the fact that these two concepts have a lot in common.  Such a change in our education system requires political leadership.

Notes / See Also:

  • Schopenhauer Lecture Notes from Oregon State University discussing his assimilation of Buddhist ideas.
  • An excellent illustration of the difference between "Eastern" and "Western" social and personal outlooks is what happens when you show children a picture of a school of fish, all but one going the same way, and ask the kids about that one fish:
    • Westerners, especially in the US, ascribe happiness to that fish, as it is able to exercise it’s individuality.
    • Chinese and Japanese children feel sad for the little fish, as it is divorced from the rest of the group.
  • "Do the classics create people with progressive politics? (2)" (2007-05-21) discusses how the study of the classics prompts you to ask questions.  While focussing on occidental classics, the same applies to the oriental.


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