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Getting under Bono's skin: Western Thinking


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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 these things.

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 system.

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 "just happen".

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 produce?"

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 too.

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 the future.

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

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:19:59 (EEST).
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