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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Optimising the World?

Here I am in Beijing again, having just returned from the city of Chaoyang, about 7 hours drive north-east of Beijing. I was in Chaoyang with my wife Ping’s family. As usual they were very kind to me, and even gave me several presents for Christmas. My ten-year old niece gave me a knife and fork set, no doubt inspired by stories that westerners don’t use chopsticks! Very cute. All the love and attention enabled me to endure the weather, which hovered at around -20 Celsius at night, and outside during the day it was often around -6 to -10. Now here in Beijing it is much “warmer”. Around freezing point as the daily maximum. Tonight I head off to Shanghai for a few days. Haven’t been there for seven years, so really looking forward to seeing one of China’s most dynamic cities again.

Once again today’s post is being put up by Dr Alick Lau in Hong Kong, as I am unable to access blogspot through the Great Forewall of China.

Optimising the World?
As I have read more about Julian Assange’s radical transparency, I have become m increasingly interested in the way he sees the world. Here is a man following his “Bliss” (at least in a certain sense), and motivated by a strong sense of justice. In this post I am going to pull together a few observations about Assange, especially in relation to the idea of ways of knowing. Ways of knowing are the particular intelligences which we prefer to use to make sense of the world.

The Light Side
Let’s begin with some positives.

Suellette Dreyfus, who wrote the book Underground with Assange, notes a positive trait in him, and that is curiosity – the bedrock of all learning. In a world full of so many listless people whose light, passion and curiosity has been snuffed out by dull education systems and the harshness of modern life, Assange is a tremendous example of someone following his Bliss, regardless of the consequences. Now in early mid-life, his passion is beginning to pay off in a big way – at least if we consider fame, attention and an ability to change the world as being “successful”.

Julian Assange is also man of ideals. Dreyfus says that Assange is driven by “the deep desire for justice”. As I mentioned in a recent post, this burning desire emerges from his soul issues. It is, however, accompanied by the burning rage of the Rebel and the grandiosity of the God-man archetypes. In terms of the former, Assange has been quoted as saying that during his recent week in prison, he has “burned with more rage than he knew what to do with.” This is perfectly understandable, especially given his soul issues.

Schools, fools and IQ tools
When it comes to the matter of Assange’s schooling, Suelette Dreyfus paints a picture of a frustrated genius, bored by his dull-witted peers and an education system which was unable to accommodate his enormous intellect. She believes that his IQ was “off the charts”, quoting a friend who says that it is 170 or more.

The problem with IQ scores, regardless of how measured, is that they assume that intelligence is a mostly verbal/linguistic and mathematical/logical process. This is important in understanding what Assange and WikiLeaks can and cannot do (and I won’t go into the many problems with the IQ concept here – see my book Integrated Intelligence for an overview).

As an aside, we have to wonder how much Dreyfus’ depiction of Assange draws from the computer geek/genius mythology. Perhaps it is a case of hyperbole, given that Assange received bare passes for his math courses at the University of Melbourne, according to Wikipedia.

Dreyfus reports that Assagne only attended public schools irregularly, and his teachers were at a loss as to how to instruct him. So Assange largely gave up on school, finding it more efficient to educate himself by reading books. He learned to tune out if people didn't feed him information fast enough.
Dreyfus writes:

I've watched Assange do this many times. It's not meant to be rude, though it can make him seem aloof. It is, I suspect, a habit learned from these early years. It can give him the air of an absent-minded professor.

This is not to be unexpected. A person who spends much of his time engaged in the intellect will tend to be absent minded. I can vouch for that myself. I have had to retrain my own mind to be more engaged in the real world, having spent the first 30 years of my life almost entirely in the intellect. The essential point I wish to make here is that the intuitive realms are best accessed, acknowledged and understood when we are in presence, and when the mind is still. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that Assange has little understanding of the intuitive or spiritual ways of knowing. Indeed, I have yet to see any reference to it in his writings, or in accounts of him.

Assange’s Super-Machine Mind?
I have often commented about the machine metaphor dominating modern cognitive science (and indeed much of science and society). I have also suggested that “money and machines” societies, where the dash for cash and computer technology are dominant, are creating an increasingly dissociated, disembodied, robotic expression of mind which cuts us off from the spiritual and intuitive. I call this the alienated mind. It is fascinating, then, to note the following way that Dreyfus describes Julian Assange:

…his brain is running several processors in parallel, like a high-powered desktop computer. If some information is of more interest, more processing power will be diverted to that to optimise the running of the machine. Sometimes he thinks he has told you something when he hasn't. This is probably because his brain moves so much faster than his voice; by the time he opens his mouth to speak, his thoughts have zoomed a million light years down the next thought path.

Equating intelligence with information processing speed is of questionable value. In intelligence testing, for example, there is only a relatively small correlation between the two concepts. Neither speed of operations nor volume of data can adequately define human intelligence. If such was the case, quiz show champions would run the world, and the Buddha would be classified as a retard.

Money and Machines Societies: No Place for the Wise?
Changing the focus from “intelligence” to wisdom provides further insight. If we take people generally considered to be wise, many would appear to have no particular abundance of information, nor a capacity for quick thinking: a few that come to mind are Mother Teresa, Eckhart Tolle, and The Dalia Lama. Indeed if I was to point out the single defining quality of wisdom, I would name “equanimity” as being key – the ability to remain present and at peace regardless of circumstances. Whether Julian Assange possesses these qualities remains to be seen; although Dreyfus does describe him as “remarkably calm” in person.

The lack of appreciation of wisdom and spiritual intelligence in modern societies and education systems is also highlighted in Dreyfus’ article, albeit unintentionally. She writes:

The computer geek in (Assange) always gravitated towards optimisation of everything. Some people are born engineers and the desire to optimise is a good test of this. Once, when Assange was packing boxes to move house, he complained at how long it took. Most people just throw things in boxes and tape them up. Not Assange. He approached putting his books in boxes as though he was solving a puzzle aimed at using all the space in the box most efficiently.

Optimisation and efficiency. These are qualities valorised by modern money and machine societies and their relentless drive for ego-gratification and material prosperity. A more significant question is whether Assange has qualities which move beyond these. Genuine leadership of humanity, and the development of the future cannot be mere monuments to efficiency and optimisation alone. Deep Futures require experiences, relationships and meanings which touch the heart and soul, and connect us with the body.


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