Western thinking is failing because its arrogance
prevents it from seeing the extent of its failure. It
is a sort of religious belief system which forces us to look at
the world in a way that reinforces the belief. Like most religious
systems, it is concerned with truth and defends itself with fanaticism.
Why has the United Nations failed so utterly
in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti? Why is Europe heading towards
26 million unemployed? How does a doctor diagnose measles in
a child who develops a rash? There is a close link between all
Traditional Western thinking was set in place
by the Greek gang of three: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Socrates
sought to discover the truth by removing the untruth. From him
came argument and attack as a way of finding the truth.
Plato believed that just as Pythagoras had
demonstrated ultimate truths in mathematics, so there should be
ultimate truths everywhere. Plato could not tolerate the messy
relativism of the Sophists because they were doctors, and as such
knew that a substance given at one stage in an illness was beneficial
but given at another stage was dangerous. Similarly, the right
amount was curative but a larger amount could be fatal. Whether
something was good or bad depended on the circumstance and the
Next came Aristotle who set up categories,
definitions and boxes. Such boxes were derived from past experience.
Once the boxes were established, it then became a matter of fitting
new experiences into the standard boxes. Analysis breaks things
down so they can fit more easily into boxes. Once something is
judged as fitting into a box then we read the label to determine
the appropriate action to be taken.
The doctor diagnoses measles by the symptoms
that suggest the 'measles' box. Action is determined by the label
or instructions on that box. The UN has failed in Somalia, Bosnia,
Haiti and Rwanda because the UN was set up to deal with conflicts
between sovereign states. These boxes have proved useless in
the situations mentioned.
So we are trapped in a thinking system based
on truth and boxes. We search for the truth by seeking to remove
the untruth. But if we remove the bad and untrue, we must surely
be left with the good and true. This is like prospecting for
gold by removing the dirt. However, there are many things that
are not there to be discovered. They only exist if we design
them into being. You build a house, you do not discover a house.
We often forget the sheer arrogance of Aristotle's
box system. The first of his laws stated that something had to
be either in the box or outside it. The second law stated that
all things had to be either inside or outside - they could not
be anything else (a fruit must be an apple or not an apple).
Thus, when Lotif Zadeh invented fuzzy logic
in the US and claimed that something could be 0.8 in the box and
0.2 outside the box, there was outrage. Learned journals rejected
any paper which included fuzzy logic. So the Japanese, who were
not worried about upsetting Aristotle, took and developed fuzzy
logic as a powerful control system and sold fuzzy logic washing
machines back to the Americans!
Edward de Bono
The future is dreamed of before it is created.
Everything we have around us, from the clothes we wear to the
cities we live in, was in someone's mind before it was made.
Tree lined streets or rusting car bodies on a city dump do not
What shapes our thought patterns? The kind
of world we will create, depends on this. Edward de Bono, pioneer
of much research into how we think, has written on this subject
in "The Positive Revolution". He's done a lot of thinking
about thinking! He is very concerned that a lot of our thinking
in the world is negative; humankind has taken a lot of punishment
- mental punishment. A generation has been told that everything
it did was wrong, that urban sprawl, environmental disaster, breakdown
of family life, and colonialism is all its fault and the future
is all 'doom and gloom'. De Bono goes on to ask the question
"What sort of world will that sort of beaten down mentality
Paul Zane Pilzer is a world renowned economist.
His book, "Unlimited Wealth", is very optimistic about
the future. It is a refreshing book, looking at the way we can,
and in fact, do go forward constructively.
Pilzer takes to task the gloomy prophets who
predicted in 1974 that world oil supplies would run out by the
1990s. Our oil reserves now are greater than they were in the
1970s. This is because we have found new technologies that make
car engines more efficient; the carburettor had reached the end
of its development as a means of getting fuel into an engine.
Electronic fuel injection means that just the right amount of
fuel is put into each cylinder at exactly the right moment for
the conditions under which the car is running. A top of the range
car now has up to 15 computers which enable it to be tuned 30
times a minute, running far more efficiently. It is also true
that with better technology, the depth to which we can drill to
reach oil and the means we have to find oil have been increased
The new technologies also mean that the air
coming out of the future cars' exhausts will be cleaner than the
air going into them in the middle of many cities! Pollution can
be beaten. But this does not mean that we shouldn't take care
of what we have. So what can we do?
It is terribly easy to criticise, to denigrate
and to despair. The sad additional fact is that what we think
is self-fulfilling. Henry Ford said, "Whether we think we
can or whether we think we can't, will be true."
It is in our minds before it's in reality.
De Bono is concerned that our present thought patterns will make
the future which is predicted on TV, in magazines and newspapers
a reality, because we gave up thinking of anything new. We have
been 'bullied' into thinking that there will be a disaster, and
this itself stifles the ideas that can save us. Early on, when
learning about computers, one quickly discovers that 'garbage
in' means 'garbage out'. The diet we feed our minds with, determines
to a large extent, the kind of people we are and the way we build
Many societies are very sensitive about censorship
- people should be allowed to watch what they want, when they
want to, and no one should be watch-dog for them, so they say.
There is even a reluctance in many to believe that what people
see, alters their thinking in any way, whilst at the same time
millions of dollars are spent in advertising for the purpose of
changing people's minds!
I have found that many of the 3,000 students
I have taught in the last three years are convinced that the world
is so sick that many are saying that they don't want to bring
children into it, and what's the point of trying to improve things,
as it's going to end anyway. The self-fulfilling prophesy is
already at work - in all directions.
Rob Pattison, Australia