“(Human beings) don’t use the knowledge the spirit has put into every one of them… and so they stumble along blindly on the road to nowhere—a paved highway which they themselves bulldoze and make smooth so that they can get faster to the big empty hole which they’ll find at the end.”
― Lame Deer, Lakota Shaman
|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
This is not a comfortable topic. It’s always uncomfortable to compare oneself. Does anyone like doing this?
I’ve recently been introduced to other people who seem to be on a similar path. My friends and the universe have put the task of comparison in front of me, so it seems worth doing. The recent podcast I did with Bonnie Groessl gave me a chance to speak in broad generalities, which provides a basis for comparison. I’ve attached that recording HERE.
I seem to be moving toward the realm of celebrity academics because of my academic degrees, the constellation of my interests, and my own marketing efforts. This doesn’t mean I will join them, just that I’m heading in that direction. I find myself compared to:
Steven Kotler, TEDx: How to open up the next level of human performance. Journalist, performance coach, and coauthor of The Rise of Superman and Stealing Fire.
Moran Cerf, TEDX: Free (Will) Won’t. Neuropsychologist, management advisor, and author of Consumer Neuroscience.
Steven Pinker, TED2003: Human Nature and the Blank Slate. Psychologist and author of Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Joe Dispensa, TED: Transformation. Chiropractor and author of You Are the Placebo and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.
These are pundits of the New Psychology, a vortex I feel I’m being sucked into like a river through a narrows. I also work in therapy, research, systems theory, trance states, indigenous culture, and education. These areas are all related but this isn’t being emphasized. I try to create bridges between these fields, but I find much resistance. There is tremendous resistance to a unified understanding. This is a fundamental aspect of the nature of ego, which struggles to keep itself separate and distinct.
In mathematics there is something called “proof by contradiction”, and there are theorems most easily proved in this fashion. You do it by assuming what you don’t believe, and then proving it isn’t true. In general, demonstrating the negative of an assertion does not indicate the positive is true. For example, it’s false that all politicians are liars, but it’s also false that all politicians are not liars. Nevertheless, if you’re careful, disproving a negative assertion can, if not prove the positive, at least make a strong case for it.
Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true. —Yogi Berra
I can’t prove the teaching profession is a fraud, but I can make a good case for it. I base this partly on the fact that the only teachers who express any interest in my work on the fundamentals of learning are those who repudiate the teaching profession. I also base this on what my son and I learned in public education in grades 1 through 4 (so far), which hasn’t changed in 50 years—amazing!—and is nothing we couldn’t have learned—or in his case, couldn’t be learning—better ourselves. In spite of the huge changes in what and how people need to know, school teachers haven’t changed their attitudes toward learning or the content of what they’re teaching.
School teachers are blinded by pedagogy and elitism and believe their efforts are not a waste of time. Every school teacher I’ve known feels they know more than those they teach. This is generally wrong, and it’s especially wrong in the case of children because children, with their malleable brains, are able to understand new concepts difficult for most adults. What is currently being offered to children in schools is a total waste of their time.
Mentors don’t behave this way. Mentors don’t tell you what or how to think, which is why mentors typically spend little time with mentees. A mentor’s role is not to teach, expound, or direct, but to inspire and suggest. The future of humanity hinges on our ability to learn. This will be determined not by the details of things, but by their connections.
I’m starting to feel the same way about research scientists as I do about teachers. We see this in the rise of celebrity scientists, and the descent of scientists into celebrities. These pundits are typically people who are not so much “doing” science as “teaching” it; following rules and not making them. Most researchers, like most teachers, work to establish old ideas rather than explore new ones. Shoring up old ideas is not a bad thing, but it’s not what these folks are paid to do, which is to create new ideas and new idea makers. To create new connections.
If you listen, watch, and read the performances and presentations of celebrity scientists—such as my friend Neil deGrasse Tyson —you will hear more policy than science. Reflect on your visceral memory and you will notice their effect is more directive than educational. They would like you to believe that being directed is being inspired. What do you think?
The original goal of science was gnostic, but the present effort is social, commercial, and political. This is the same trajectory taken by religions, and the comparison between religion and science has long been whispered. My own attempts to engage research scientists in considering the personal context of their actions have fallen on deaf ears. My suggestion that researchers examine their own minds, if only to perform better, is met with disdain.
I am not claiming science fails to progress but that researchers are weakly aware of their direction, similar to teachers who do not question the educational paradigm or soldiers who do not question patriotism. Teachers are soldiers, in fact, and scientists are becoming soldiers, too.
I advocate exploration. You don’t need to be certified to explore, and exploration, almost by definition, is a field in which one is always self-trained. The desire to explore, like the desire to play, create, grow and achieve, is in our blood and is at its best when left alone. Explorers understand the territory in ways that teachers cannot.
Consider this for a moment. When you know your way around a city, it’s not because you only know how to go from A to B. Rather, it’s because you know many ways from A to B and, essentially, you know all the paths that do not connect the two. It’s knowing all the wrong ways that constitutes understanding, whereas knowing one right way is akin to a blind person who has memorized the route. If you ever need learning, get it from an explorer.
Here are what explorers say about themselves, taken from my book, The Learning Project, Rites of Passage:
Try to find your place in the world, and make your mark in that world either through accomplishments or through your voice. —The Phantom Street Artist
I go about things in a way that has nothing to do with what universities teach… You make it up as you go along, and god knows how it comes out; you don’t know. —Jerry Lettvin, neurophysiologist
I don’t think I can tell you one thing that motivates me, but certainly, love motivates me, and also anger motivates me—all my life—and hope motivates me. Love, anger, and hope. —Tom Hurwitz, filmmaker
Chuck Strobel … said, ‘You know, Nancy, you and I … we’re really the pioneers of the field. We are the foundation…’ And I’m thinking, ‘Who, me? I don’t even have a clue what I’m doing!’ —Nancy White, psychotherapist
Where does it come from? I don’t know. Half the time I don’t even know what I’m doing. —Lou Giani, wrestling coach
I don’t have any answers anymore. I’ve learned that answers are things you just make up… and until it falls apart, it’s reasonable enough. —George Plotkin, MD, PhD
Explorers aren’t teachers because they don’t work with established knowledge. They’re not pundits because they don’t have a crowd following. They can be mentors, though that isn’t their goal. To an explorer, celebrity is ridiculous because no one who only sees what they’ve accomplished can know what they’ve gone through, and because of that, they cannot understand what they’ve accomplished, either. What explorers achieve is not just new information, but new ways to understand information.
People rise to stardom on paths of internet marketing, academic celebrity, and self-promotion. This seems to be part of our cult of technology, as anyone with the imprimatur of high-tech is seen as an expert in everything. Yet the definition of high-tech has increasingly more to do with how it is delivered than what it contains. High-tech used to mean science and electronics. It now means taxi services, grocery delivery, office rental, YouTube, and exercise equipment. Tech-stars have become the new salespeople.
As I watch the videos and TED talks, which I referred to above, I get the feeling that some of these folks are more nourished by celebrity than by exploration. They are commodities unto themselves, and it’s unclear whether they’re uncovering new knowledge or just repackaging the old. I’m not saying this is bad, I’m just asking if this is inspiration or direction? How much exists beyond the presentation?
Clearly, there are defenses for enthusiasm; there is proof in the pudding. We have made progress, as Steven Pinker demonstrates. Helping to generate this enthusiasm is a pyramid of science-to-policy advocates who range—in descending order—from Steven Hawking to Neil Tyson to Bill Nye (the science guy) to Jamie Hyneman (Myth Busters) to Stephen Barrett (Quackwatch) to—at the low end—an army of lobbyists and informers.
Each of these experts has their own audience, message, and social effect. Each of these agents has a progressive, evolutionary effect but that does not mean their effect is positive. What is in the pudding?
Some of these folks have special knowledge, and their explorations have been essential. Others simply explain or fail to. People believe them not because they know them to be right, but because they like them. Their authority has a simple explanation: it is the cult of celebrity and the attraction of group-think.
Prophets and futurists swing the rudder of investment. Will we plant trees or build spaceships? Fund research or house the elderly? Should we even be spending money at all? Shouldn’t we be talking about what happens when we create money from nothing?
Now, you might think business endeavors are held to the lowest social standard, being entirely material and self-serving; but this isn’t necessarily so. Stable businesses fulfill a social function and maintain the social structure. In every case and to varying extents, businesses not only adapt to change but create it.
Yesterday, I attended an informal gathering of private investors. We are in an unusual economic time where asset values are at historic highs and interest rates at historic lows. This boom has been going on for over a decade. A huge quantity of cheap money, largely backed by no assets at all—which is to say government debt—has had an amphetamine effect on the economy. Economies on amphetamines, like people on amphetamines, are impaired.
So much money is now available that only the worst deals remain unfunded. Money is being thrown at ventures that don’t have an expectation of generating a profit in a reasonable time-frame. There is so much money available that venture capital firms are investing in creating more venture capital firms in order to create a larger army of people to look for businesses to invest in. There is something delirious about this. Read what Wolf Richter has to say about this in his piece, “What Will Stocks Do When ‘Consensual Hallucination’ Ends?”
“Progress” strains at the bit, fanned by pundits in every industry. And the more enthusiasm, the more need for enthusiasm, and the more funding for it. It’s not that there is no reason for optimism, it’s that the optimism is not fairly reasoned.
The more it snows, tiddly-pom,
The more it goes, tiddly-pom,
The more it goes, tiddly-pom,
—Pooh, the optimist, on the way to build Eeyore’s house, from A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.
But it’s not just the economy, it’s each of us within it. We become engaged and optimistic. We are resonant circuits in a self-amplifying system. We want what feeds us and remember better those who assure it. No one is in direct contact with the final product, which is the whole of it and the future. We believe in the flow of time, our position in it, and the reason things are the way they are. We live in the now, listen to what’s ongoing, and aim ourselves toward targets we believe in. We are the network.
There is something more honest about having direct control of your product, thoughts, reality, and mind. Moran Cerf warns us not to believe everything we think, and this surprises me. Are there people who believe what they think? I find that almost unfathomable. I thought such thinking was limited to lower primates.
Consider this: you have a feeling and it stirs up images and feelings. Before you know it, thoughts have emerged and you have an opinion. Where does it come from? Is it even yours? How could anyone believe the ideas that arise in their minds? Moran Cerf warns that to believe what you think makes you vulnerable to the bionic mind hackers, those who think for us and will be putting ideas in our heads. Isn’t that the story of civilization?
As a therapist, my job is to examine the ideas in people’s heads. I’m a mind expander. I do for others what I do for myself: I doubt what I hear. At the same time, I will accept each message as the voice of someone, speaking from somewhere. The very fact the message has appeared, having made it through our elaborate internal vetting system, means it has some importance.
The ideas promulgated by celebrities echo public and financial interests. They echo unquestioned thoughts in our collective heads. To be a celebrity is to be a spokesperson speaking for and to this group-mind.
I don’t like the group-mind, it’s schizophrenic. I don’t like to listen or talk to it, and I certainly don’t want to speak for it. I understand that the group-mind has the power to approve, empower, and accept—not to mention enrich and authenticate.
I don’t feel approved and I don’t want to be. I used to want to be affirmed, but emotional abuse and disrespect by authority cured me. Affirmation forms a cyst around what you know that limits the uncertainty necessary for exploration. Don’t trust voices that affirm. Take responsibility.
I’m different from this roster of intellectual celebrities. I feel the intellect is a storyteller, not a truth teller, a perceptual amplifier that’s like a television. The intelligence that comes out of it did not originate inside it but is broadcast to it through the intellect’s perception of the structures around it.
The intellect is overreaching, self-centered, and egotistical. It may be the product of our more evolved brain, but that doesn’t mean it understands anything. Your intellect is a well-meaning bungler. “Trust but verify” was Ronald Reagan’s joke because it belied no trust. My dictum is simpler: never trust, never stop verifying. You never know if the awakening you’ve just had is just another dream.
When you listen to celebrities you are eating the poop digested by another brain, already denuded of most of its nutrients. You have to go out and do it yourself, perceive it for yourself, perform your own investigation.
You must alter your states and, in so doing, your network genetics: what you pass on. It’s not enough to read about travel, foreign culture, or mountain climbing—you have to experience it yourself. It’s not enough to listen to the pundits allowing your brain to be hacked in the guise of inspiration. Make the journey yourself. You don’t have to be great, you just have to experience it. The integrity of a network is determined by the independence of the hubs. Are you a link in the network chain or are you a hub?
The pundits deliver thought-pizza. Neil, Steve, and Joe will lead you to the promised land of health, order, and potential oblivion. I’m more interested in that big empty hole waiting for you at the end of the road to nowhere, your next frontier. It’s quite likely that you’re heading right toward it. “X” marks the spot.
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