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Posts Tagged ‘Buckminster Fuller’

05 MARCH, 2014

Buckminster Fuller Presages Online Education, with a Touch of TED, Netflix, and Pandora, in 1962

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A prophetic vision for mobile, time-shifted, tele-commuted, on-demand education.

In 1962, Buckminster Fuller delivered a prophetic lecture at Southern Illinois University on the future of education aimed at “solving [educational] problems by design competence instead of by political reform.” It was eventually published as Education Automation: Comprehensive Learning for Emergent Humanity (public library) — a prescient vision for online education decades before the web as we know it, and half a century before the golden age of MOOCs, with elements of TED and Pandora mixed in.

Fuller begins by tracing his own rocky start in traditional education and his eventual disillusionment with the establishment:

I am a New Englander, and I entered Harvard immaturely. I was too puerilely in love with a special, romantic, mythical Harvard of my own conjuring — an Olympian world of super athletes and alluring, grown-up, worldly heroes. I was the fifth generation of a direct line of fathers and their sons attending Harvard College. I arrived there in 1913 before World War I and found myself primarily involved in phases of Harvard that were completely irrelevant to Harvard’s educational system. For instance, because I had been quarterback on a preparatory school team whose quarterbacks before me had frequently become quarterbacks of the Harvard football team, I had hoped that I too might follow that precedent, but I broke my knee, and that ambition was frustrated.

[...]

Though I had entered Harvard with honor grades I obtained only “good” to “passing” marks in my college work, which I adolescently looked upon as a chore done only to earn the right to live in the Harvard community. But above all, I was confronted with social problems of clubs and so forth.

[...]

The problems they generated were solved by the great [Greek] House system that was inaugurated after World War I. My father died when I was quite young, and though my family was relatively poor I had come to Harvard from a preparatory school for quite well-to-do families. I soon saw that I wasn’t going to be included in the clubs as I might have been if I had been very wealthy or had a father looking out for me, for much of the clubs’ membership was prearranged by the clubs’ graduate committees. I was shockingly surprised by the looming situation. I hadn’t anticipated these social developments. I suddenly saw a class system existing in Harvard of which I had never dreamed. I was not aware up to that moment that there was a social class system and that there were different grades of citizens. My thoughts had been idealistically democratic. Some people had good luck and others bad, but not because they were not equal. I considered myself about to be ostracized or compassionately tolerated by the boys I had grown up with. … I became panicky about that disintegration of my idealistic Harvard world, went on a pretended “lark,” cut classes, and was “fired.”

Out of college, I went to work and worked hard. In no time at all, reports went to Harvard that I was a good and able boy and that I really ought to go back to college; so Harvard took me back. However, I was now considered a social maverick, and I saw none of my old friends; it hurt too much. Again I cut classes, spent all my year’s allowance, and once more was “fired.” After my second “firing” I again worked very hard. If World War I hadn’t come along, I am sure the university would have taken me back again, and I am sure I would have been “fired” again. Each time I returned to Harvard I entered a world of gnawing apprehensions, not an educational institution, and that was the problem.

But Fuller, known for his public distaste for specialization, managed to get an education anyway, “in due and slow course” — one of “[his] own inquiring, experimenting, and self-disciplining.” In the thirty years since his “Harvard fiasco,” he was invited as a “lecturer, critic, or experimental seminarist” at 106 universities around the world, including nine times at Princeton, eight at MIT, and four at Cornell.

Then, forty-seven years after he had been expelled from Harvard, the university’s Dean Bundy, at the time one of JFK’s White House advisors, invited him to return to Harvard as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry — a prestigious and unusual position created to emphasize the value of cross-pollinating ideas from different fields, lending to the concept of “poetry” the most expansive possible definition, also held by such luminaries as Umberto Eco, T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, and Leonard Bernstein. Fuller, who wasn’t a “poet” in the traditional sense despite his poetic scientific revision of The Lord’s Prayer, writes:

The chair was founded because its donor felt that the university needed to bring in individuals who on their own initiative have long undertaken objective realizations reflecting the wisdom harvested by the educators, which realizations might tend to regenerate the vigor of the university world. Harvard fills this professorship with men* who are artists, playwrights, authors, architects, and poets. The word poet in this professorship of poetry is a very general term for a person who puts things together in an era of great specialization wherein most people are differentiating or “taking” things apart. Demonstrated capability in the integration of ideas is the general qualification for this professorship.

(* Alas, this isn’t merely a reflection of the era’s gender-biased language, wherein “men” really means people. “Men” really does mean men here, as Harvard didn’t appoint a female Norton poet until 1979 — Helen Gardner — and as of this writing, has only had two other women hold the position since its inception in 1925 — Nadine Gordimer in 1994–1995 and Linda Nochlin in 2003–2004.)

Fuller considers what made him qualified for the position:

By my own rules, I may not profess any special preoccupation or capability. I am a random element. … There is nothing even mildly extraordinary about me except that I think I am durable and inquisitive in a comprehensive pattern. I have learned much; but I don’t know very much; but what I have learned, I have learned by trial and error. And I have great confidence in the meager store of wisdom that I have secured.

He admonishes that traditional education incentivizes and measures precisely the opposite — not the ability to be “inquisitive in a comprehensive pattern,” but to memorize with a narrow focus, which in turn stifles innovation:

I am convinced that humanity is characterized by extraordinary love for its new life and yet has been misinforming its new life to such an extent that the new life is continually at a greater disadvantage than it would be if abandoned in the wilderness by the parents.

[…]

The kind of examination procedure that our science foundations and other science leaders have developed is one in which they explore to discover whether [a] capable student is able to unlearn everything he has learned, because experience has shown that that is what he is going to have to do if he is to become a front-rank scientist. The frontiers of science are such that almost every morning many of our hypotheses of yesterday are found inadequate or in error. So great is the frontier acceleration that now in a year of such events much of yesterday’s conceptioning becomes obsolete.

[…]

I am quite confident that humanity is born with its total intellectual capability already on inventory and that human beings do not add anything to any other human being in the way of faculties and capacities. What usually happens in the educational process is that the faculties are dulled, overloaded, stuffed and paralyzed, so that by the time that most people are mature they have lost use of many of their innate capabilities. My long-time hope is that we may soon begin to realize what we are doing and may alter the “education” process in such a way as only to help the new life to demonstrate some of its very powerful innate capabilities.

Writing several years before the historic moon landing, Fuller argues that while such cosmic feats might be admirable aspirations for scientific, technological, and cultural progress, “nothing is going to be quite so surprising or abrupt in the forward history of man as the forward evolution in the educational processes.” He goes on to present a prescient vision for the future of mobile, time-shifted, tele-commuted education:

Today we are extraordinarily mobile… Comprehensively, the world is going from a Newtonian static norm to an Einsteinian all-motion norm. That is the biggest thing that is happening at this moment in history. We are becoming “quick” and the graveyards of the dead become progressively less logical. [Educational planners] will have to be serving the children of the mobile people who really, in a sense, don’t have a base…

And yet, noting that the world’s population is increasing in exponential rates and greater and greater numbers of people will need to be educated, he prefaces his vision for the future of education with a cautionary note about the importance of remaining rooted in history and connected with the great minds who have come before. (Massimo Vignelli’s famous contention that “a designer without a sense of history is worth nothing” is equally true, after all, of any field.) Fuller writes:

The new life needs to be inspired with the realization that it has all kinds of new advantages that have been gained through great dedications of unknown, unsung heroes of intellectual exploration and great intuitively faithful integrities of men groping in the dark. Unless the new life is highly appreciative of those who have gone before, it won’t be able to take effective advantage of its heritage. It will not be as regenerated and inspired as it might be if it appreciated the comprehensive love invested in that heritage.

He goes on to outline the technological advances that would give our world’s “new life” access to universal education, describing a paradigm that presages the concept of network-based online education, combined with the high production value of TED talks:

I have taken photographs of my grandchildren looking at television. Without consideration of the “value,” the actual concentration of a child on the message which is coming to him is fabulous. They really “latch on.” Given the chance to get accurate, logical, and lucid information at the time when they want and need to get it, they will go after it and inhibit it in a most effective manner. I am quite certain that we are soon going to begin to do the following: At our universities we will take the men who are the faculty leaders in research or in teaching. We are not going to ask them to give the same lectures over and over each year from their curriculum cards, finding themselves confronted with another roomful of people and asking themselves, “What was it I said last year?” This is a routine which deadens the faculty member. We are going to select, instead, the people who are authorities on various subjects — the men who are most respected by other men within their respective departments and fields. They will give their basic lecture course just once to a group of human beings, including both the experts in their own subject and bright children and adults without special training in their field. This lecture will be recorded. . . . They will make moving picture footage of the lecture as well as hi-fi tape recording. Then the professor and his faculty associates will listen to this recording time and again.

“What you say is very good,” his associates may comment, “but we have heard you say it a little better at other times.” The professor then dubs in a better statement. Thus begins complete reworking of the tape, cleaned up, and cleaned up some more, as in the moving picture cutting, and new illustrative “footage” will be added on. The whole of a university department will work on improving the message and conceptioning of a picture for many months, sometimes for years. The graduate students who want to be present in the university and who also qualify to be with the men who have great powers and intellectual capability together with the faculty may spend a year getting a documentary ready. They will not even depend upon the diction of the original lecturer, because the diction of that person may be very inadequate to his really fundamental conceptioning and information, which should be superb. His knowledge may be very great, but he may be a poor lecturer because of poor speaking habits or false teeth. Another voice will take over the task of getting his exact words across. Others will gradually process the tape and moving picture footage, using communications specialists, psychologists, etc.

For instance, I am quite certain that some day we will take a subject such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and with the “Einstein” of the subject and his colleagues working on it for a year, we will finally get it reduced down to what is “net” in the subject and enthusiastically approved by the “Einstein” who gave the original lecture. What is net will become communicated so well that any child can turn on a documentary device, a TV, and get the Einstein lucidity of thinking and get it quickly and firmly. I am quite sure that we are going to get research and development laboratories of education where the faculty will become producers of extraordinary moving-picture documentaries. That is going to be the big, new educational trend.

Noting that these “documentaries” will be distributed in various ways, Fuller even presages the feedback loop of content recommendation algorithms, envisioning a sort Pandora of education:

There is a direct, fixed, wireless connection, an actual direct linkage to individuals; and it works in both directions. Therefore, the receiving individual can beam back, “I don’t like it.” He may and can say “yes” or “no.” This “yes” or “no” is the basis of a binary mathematical system, and immediately brings in the “language” of the modern electronic computers. With two-way TV, constant referendum of democracy will be manifest, and democracy will become the most practical form of industrial and space-age government by all people, for all people.

It will be possible not only for an individual to say, “I don’t like it,” on his two-way TV but he can also beam-dial (without having to know mathematics), “I want number so and so.” It is also possible with this kind of two-way TV linkage with individuals’ homes to send out many different programs simultaneously; in fact, as many as there are two-way beamed-up receiving sets and programs. It would be possible to have large central storages of documentaries — great libraries. A child could call for a special program information locally over the TV set.

While Fuller acknowledges the “general baby-sitting function” of traditional schools and the value of these social experiences for kids, he argues that this new model of long-distance education also provides the additional benefit of greater capacity for solitary contemplation of materials. He points to Einstein, who he had met a few years earlier, to illustrate his point:

Einstein, when he wanted to study, didn’t sit in the middle of a school room. That is probably the poorest place he could have gone to study. When an individual is really thinking, he is tremendously isolated. He may manage to isolate himself in Grand Central Station, but it is despite the environment rather than because of it. The place to study is not in a school room.

This, Fuller argues, wouldn’t threaten traditional universities but, rather, fortify them and amplify their power by allowing education to serve a broader purpose in human culture — not mere memorization, but a lens on how to live. He concludes optimistically:

Education will then be concerned primarily with exploring to discover not only more about the universe and its history but about what the universe is trying to do, about why man is part of it, and about how can, and may man best function in universal evolution.

[…]

The universities are going to be wonderful places. Scholars will stay there for a long, long time — the rest of their lives — while they are developing more and more knowledge about the whole experience of man. All men will be going around the world in due process as everyday routine search and exploration, and the world experiencing patterning will be everywhere — all students from everywhere all over the world. That is all part of the new pattern that is rushing upon us.

Fuller goes into his prescient vision in greater detail in the rest of Education Automation, including some timeless commentary on the complex politics of education. Complement it with his scientific revision of The Lord’s Prayer and his case against the specialization of knowledge. For a contemporary alternative to the path of traditional education, see Kio Stark’s indispensable Don’t Go Back to School.

Public domain photographs courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina via Flickr Commons

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12 JULY, 2013

Ever Rethinking the Lord’s Prayer: Buckminster Fuller Revises Scripture with Science

By:

A secular definition of divinity as a curiosity-driven love of truth bent through the prism of our subjective experience.

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science,” Einstein wrote to a little girl who asked him whether scientists pray, “becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.” “The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive,” Carl Sagan seconded, “does a disservice to both.” And yet the oppression of religious doctrine over scientific thought has persisted for centuries, from Galileo to some of today’s most celebrated minds.

In his 1981 classic Critical Path (public library), legendary architect, designer, inventor, theorist and futurist Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895–July 1, 1983) explores the subject with his singular blend of philosophical fringe-think, love of science, and cosmic poetics. He recalls being heavily influenced, at the impressionable age of ten, by the Russian Revolution and the Communist party’s demolition of all mystical thought, which was forcibly replaced with blind faith in “omniscientific technology” that manifested as institutionalized atheism. Three years later, Fuller wrote Einstein’s famous “Cosmic Religious Sense — the Nonanthropomorphic Concept of God,” which pointed out that legendary scientists like Galileo and Kepler had been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church as “heretics” for their resolute faith in the orderliness of the universe and the belief that it was driven by principles of nonathropomorphic nature — that is, no elderly gentleman with a big white beard. This, Fuller writes, shaped his thinking profoundly, so he created his own scientifically-inspired rendition of “the Lord’s Prayer,” a centerpiece of the Christian faith:

Since 1927, whenever I am going to sleep, I always concentrate my thinking on what I call “Ever Rethinking the Lord’s Prayer.”

He then goes on to write out his “prayer” — essentially a secular definition of divinity as a curiosity-driven love of truth bent through the prism of our subjective experience, something Philip Ball articulated a quarter century later in his eloquent distinction between curiosity and wonder — on his 84th birthday:

EVER RETHINKING THE LORD’S PRAYER
July 12, 1979

To be satisfactory to science
all definitions
must be stated
in terms of experience

I define Universe as
all of humanity’s
in-all-known-time
consciously apprehended
and communicated (to self or others)
experiences.

In using the word, God,
I am consciously employing
four clearly differentiated
from one another
experience-engendered thoughts.

Firstly I mean: —

Those experience-engendered thoughts
which are predicted upon past successions
of unexpected, human discoveries
of mathematically incisive,
physically demonstrable answers
to what theretofore had been misassumed
to be forever unanswerable
cosmic magnitude questions
wherefore I now assume it to be
scientifically manifest,
and therefore experientially reasonable that

scientifically explainable answers
may and probably will
eventually be given
to all questions
as engendered in all human thoughts
by the sum total
of all human experiences;
wherefore my first meaning for God is: –

all the experientially explained
or explainable answers
to all questions
of all time –

Secondly I mean: –
The individual’s memory
of many surprising moments
of dawning comprehensions
of an interrelated significance
to be existent
amongst a number
of what had previously seemed to be
entirely uninterrelated experiences
all of which remembered experiences
engender the reasonable assumption
of the possible existence
of a total comprehension
of the integrated significance –
the meaning –
of all experiences.

Thirdly, I mean:–
the only intellectually discoverable
a priori, intellectual integrity
indisputably manifest as
the only mathematically statable
family
of generalized principles –
cosmic laws–
thus far discovered and codified
and ever physically redemonstrable
by scientists
to be not only unfailingly operative
but to be in eternal
omni-interconsiderate,
omni-interaccommodative governance
of the complex
of everyday, naked-eye experiences
as well as of the multi-millions-fold greater range
of only instrumentally explored
infra- and ultra-tunable
micro and macro-Universe events.

Fourthly, I mean: –
All the mystery inherent
in all human experience,
which as a lifetime ratioed to eternity,
is individually limited
to almost negligible
twixt sleepings, glimpses
of only a few local episodes
of one of the infinite myriads
of concurrently and overlappingly operative
sum-totally never-ending
cosmic scenario serials

With these four meanings I now directly address God.

“Our God –
Since omni-experience is your identity
You have given us
overwhelming manifest: –
of Your complete knowledge
of Your complete comprehension
of Your complete concern
of Your complete coordination
of Your complete responsibility
of Your complete capability to cope
in absolute wisdom and effectiveness
with all problems and events
and of Your eternally unfailing reliability
so to do

Yours, Dear God,
is the only and complete glory.

By Glory I mean
the synergetic totality
of all physical and metaphysical radiation
and of all physical and metaphysical gravity
of finite
but nonunitarily conceptual
scenario Universe
in whose synergetic totality
the a priori energy potential
of both radiation and gravity
are initially equal
but whose respective
behavioral patterns are such
that radiation’s entropic, redundant disintegratings
is always less effective
than gravity’s nonredundant
syntropic integrating

Radiation is plural and differentiable,
radiation is focusable, beamable, and self-sinusing,
it is interceptible, separatist, and biasable –
ergo, has shadowed voids and vulnerabilities;

Gravity is unit and undifferentiable
Gravity is comprehensive
inclusively embracing and permeative
is nonfocusable and shadowless,
and is omni-integrative
all of which characteristics of love.
Love is metaphysical gravity.

You, Dear God,
are the totally loving intellect
ever designing
and ever daring to test
and thereby irrefutably proving
to the uncompromising satisfaction
of Your own comprehensive and incisive
knowledge of the absolute truth
that Your generalized principles
adequately accommodate any and all
special case developments,
involvements, and side effects;
wherefore Your absolutely courageous

omnirigorous and ruthless self-testing
alone can and does absolutely guarantee
total conservation
of the integrity
of eternally regenerative Universe

Your eternally regenerative scenario Universe
is the minimum complex
of totally intercomplementary
totally intertransforming
nonsimultaneous, differently frequenced
and differently enduring
feedback closures
of a finite
but nonunitarily
nonsimultaneously conceptual system
in which naught is created
and naught is lost
and all occurs
in optimum efficiency.

Total accountability and total feedback
constitute the minimum and only
perpetual motion system.
Universe is the one and only
eternally regenerative system.

To accomplish Your regenerative integrity
You give Yourself the responsibility
of eternal, absolutely continuous,
tirelessly vigilant wisdom.

Wherefore we have absolute faith and trust in You,
and we worship You
awe-inspiredly,
all-thankfully,
rejoicingly,
lovingly,
Amen.

He goes on to further explore the relationship between science and scripture:

In considering theology and science I think it is important to note their differences regarding familiar and not-so-familiar cosmic concepts.

It is the very essence of my thinking that, for a principle to qualify as generalizable in science, there must be no known exceptions to its reliability. Exceptionless means eternal. Principles can be only eternal.

He points to mathematics as an example of the eternal, for its principles are reliably demonstrable, and writes:

Acknowledging the mathematically elegant intellectual integrity of eternally regenerative Universe is one way of identifying God.

Stuart Firestein wrote in his indispensable Ignorance: How It Drives Science, one of the best science books of 2012, that “Real science is a revision in progress, always. It proceeds in fits and starts of ignorance.” So, too, Bucky reminds us that science is inextricably bound with the mysterious, its champion rather than its nemesis, as much of traditional religious doctrine would have us believe. He writes:

The synergetic integral of the totality of all principles is God, whose sum-total behavior in pure principle is beyond our comprehension and is utterly mysterious to us, because as humans — in pure principle — we do not and never will know all the principles.

Like Carl Sagan, who urged us to master the critical balance between skepticism and openness, Bucky reminds us that critical thinking is what separates the superstitious clinging to quasi-principles from the reliable recognition of pure principles:

Only minds have the capability to discover principles and put them to rigorous physical test before accepting them as principle. More often theologists and others discover principles but do not subject them to the rigorous physical-special-case testing before accepting and employing them as working-assumption principles.

Principles are eternal. Special case interactions of principles are temporal and brain-apprehensible because in pure principle we have time, which is simply the principle of potentially different relative frequencies and not of beginnings and endings.

Critical Path, as necessarily mind-bending from cover to cover, can’t be extolled enough. Complement it with Bucky on synergetics and the perils of specialization.

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08 MARCH, 2013

Synergetics and The Wellspring of Reality: Buckminster Fuller Against Specialization

By:

“Only mind can discover how to do so much with so little as forever to be able to sustain and physically satisfy all humanity.”

Writer Alvin Toffler once described architect, theorist, designer, and futurist Buckminster Fuller as “one of the most-powerful myth-makers and myth-exposers of our time … a controversial, constructive, endlessly energetic metaphor-maker who sees things differently from the rest of us, and thereby makes us see ourselves afresh” — perhaps the richest and most accurate account of a mind to whom we owe more than we realize.

Today, the concept of synergy permeates everything from boardrooms to artspeak to hipster dinner party chatter — but it was Fuller who coined it as cultural currency in pioneering the study of synergentics, which concerns itself with the “behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately.” In “The Wellspring of Reality,” the introductory essay to his seminal 1975 volume Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (public library), Fuller decries specialization as the enemy of synergy and proposes a reframing of culture that could “get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous social behaviors that will avoid extinction.” At its epicenter he places the value of wide curiosity and generalist knowledge.

Fuller begins:

We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable. Consequently, society expects all earnestly responsible communication to be crisply brief. Advancing science has now discovered that all the known cases of biological extinction have been caused by overspecialization, whose concentration of only selected genes sacrifices general adaptability. Thus the specialist’s brief for pinpointing brevity is dubious. In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others. Specialization breeds biases that ultimately aggregate as international and ideological discord, which in turn leads to war.

He makes an eloquent contribution to history’s greatest definitions of science:

Science is the attempt to set in order the facts of experience.

While contemporary neuroscientists might scoff at the distinction between brain and mind, claiming that “trying to suggest one causes the other is like saying wetness causes water” — a contention biologically correct in some ways and spiritually impoverished in others, worrisomely neuro-deterministic and negating the reality of the malleable self — Fuller does make a noteworthy distinction, reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle’s concept of the “brain attic” and modern-day conceptions of how creativity works:

The human brain is a physical mechanism for storing, retrieving, and re-storing again, each special-case experience. The experience is often a packaged concept.

[…]

Mind is the weightless and uniquely human faculty that surveys the ever larger inventory of special-case experiences stored in the brain bank and, seeking to identify their intercomplementary significance, from time to time discovers one of the rare scientifically generalizable principles running consistently through all the relevant experience set. The thoughts that discover these principles are weightless and tentative and may also be eternal. … It seems also to follow that the more experiences we have, the more chances there are that the mind may discover, on the one hand, additional generalized principles or, on the other hand, exceptions that disqualify one or another of the already catalogued principles that, having heretofore held ‘true’ without contradiction for a long time, had been tentatively conceded to be demonstrating eternal persistence of behavior. Mind’s relentless reviewing of the comprehensive brain bank’s storage of all our special-case experiences tends both to progressive enlargement and definitive refinement of the catalogue of generalized principles that interaccommodatively govern all transactions of Universe.

In a sentiment that the late Aaron Swartz seemed to echo in his memorable wisdom on curiosity, Fuller cautions:

Specialization tends to shut off the wide-band tuning searches and thus to preclude further discovery.

(Indeed, we see such “wide-band tuning” as central to the expansive genius of celebrated “specialists,” as evidenced by the reading lists of Carl Sagan and Alan Turing.)

Fuller then moves on to the vital distinction between money-work and purpose, debunking the myth of the zero-sum game of prosperity:

It is also mistakenly assumed that employment is the only means by which humans can earn the right to live, for politicians have yet to discover how much wealth is available for distribution. All this is rationalized on the now scientifically discredited premise that there can never be enough life support for all. Thus humanity’s specialization leads only toward warring and such devastating tools, both, visible and invisible, as ultimately to destroy all Earthians.

[…]

It is eminently feasible not only to provide full life support for all humans but also to permit all humans’ individual enjoyment of all the Earth without anyone profiting at the expense of another and without any individuals interfering with others.

Indeed, I wholeheartedly subscribe to this notion of symbiotic prosperity, something my favorite graphic designer, Milton Glaser, articulates beautifully in Debbie Millman’s indispensable How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, in words I quoted in this hand-drawn slide from a recent talk:

Fuller points to the usefulness of useless knowledge as a critical element in this collective abundance and the salvation of our species:

Only a comprehensive switch from the narrowing specialization and toward an ever more inclusive and reining comprehension by all humanity — regarding all the factors covering omnicontinuing life aboard our spaceship Earth — can bring about reorientation from the self-extinction-bound human trending, and do so with the critical time remaining before we have passed the point of chemical process irretrievability.

[…]

Specialization’s preoccupation with parts deliberately forfeits the opportunity to apprehend and comprehend what is provided exclusively by synergy.

Amidst the obstacles to such synergetic success, he counts the bias of the news media — a point all the more prescient in the age of the “Gladwell Effect”, as editors would deliberately inflate information to make headlines more clickable. Fuller laments:

Today’s news consists of aggregates of fragments. Anyone who has taken part in any event that has subsequently appeared in the news is aware of the gross disparity between the actual and the reported events. … We also learn frequently of prefabricated and prevaricated events of a complex nature purportedly undertaken for the purposes either of suppressing or rigging the news, which in turn perverts humanity’s tactical information resources. All history becomes suspect. Probably our most polluted resource is the tactical information to which humanity spontaneously reflexes.

Bewailing scientific reductionism in a passage that falls squarely between Einstein and Tagore, Fuller — true to his reputation as a fringe-thinker — makes a case for the metaphysical as inextricably intertwined with the physical:

Science’s self-assumed responsibility has been self-limited to disclosure to society only of the separate, supposedly physical (because separately weighable) atomic component isolations data. Synergetic integrity would require the scientists to announce that in reality what had been identified heretofore as physical is entirely metaphysical — because synergetically weightless. Metaphysical has been science’s designation for all weightless phenomena such as thought. But science has made no experimental finding of any phenomena that can be described as a solid, or as continuous, or as a straight surface plane, or as a straight line, or as infinite anything. We are now synergetically forced to conclude that all phenomena are metaphysical; wherefore, as many have long suspected — like it or not — life is but a dream.

To be sure, Fuller is far from negating science. To the contrary, he — like Bertrand Russell — sees it as essential to democracy and social good:

Unguided by science, society is allowed to go right on filling its children’s brain banks with large inventories of competence-devastating misinformation.

Presaging the ethos of the Occupy movement, Fuller observes:

The youth of humanity all around our planet are intuitively revolting from all sovereignties and political ideologies. The youth of Earth are moving intuitively toward an utterly classless, raceless, omnicooperative, omniworld humanity.

Fuller portends contemporary grievances about our flawed education system and concludes with a hopeful vision for tomorrow:

Children freed of the ignorantly founded educational traditions and exposed only to their spontaneously summoned, computer-stored and -distributed outflow of reliable-opinion-purged, experimentally verified data, shall indeed lead society to its happy egress from all misinformedly conceived, fearfully and legally imposed, and physically enforced customs of yesterday. They can lead all humanity into omnisuccessful survival as well as entrance into an utterly new era of human experience in an as-yet and ever-will-be fundamentally mysterious Universe.

And whence will come the wealth with which we may undertake to lead world man into his new and validly hopeful life? From the wealth of the minds of world man — whence comes all wealth. Only mind can discover how to do so much with so little as forever to be able to sustain and physically satisfy all humanity.

Synergetics, a hefty tome of nearly 1,000 pages, is fascinating and mind-bending in its entirety. Complement it with Benjamin Betts’s Geometrical Psychology from nearly a century earlier and Bertrand Russell’s Education and the Good Life.

Public domain photographs courtesy State Archives of North Carolina

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