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« Sapience, Intelligence, and Creativity Delineated | Main | The complications of life! »

March 13, 2010


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It's funny, but I just don't 'get' the gardening, food-growing thing. Perhaps it's to do with a need for instant gratification, and that crops just take too long to grow, but in my case I get more satisfaction from making 'things', so that as an antidote to the 9-to-5 office existence I couldn't be happier than when putting up buildings or creating machinery. I can see the appeal of making fire - it has often been observed that men *always* supervise the running of a barbeque - but my primeval urges don't run to cookery or food preparation for some reason. However, I might be persuaded to become passionate about brewing beer!


George, as well as looking back to before the industrial revolution, I would be interested in your view on the peoples of the world in existence today who might be considered by some to be relatively 'primitive'.

Channel 4 in the UK ran a TV series about the visit of three representatives from an isolated Tasmanian tribe to Britain, where they experienced our life for the first time. Their life in Tasmania was a real grass huts and grass skirts affair, without much influence from outside, but they were the happiest people you have ever seen, and had their own funny, off-the-wall philosophy. They concluded that life in the UK was amazing, but that there was, at heart, something deeply wrong with it.

I am interested to know whether you think that their relatively primitive, but clearly sustainable and happy life is something we should aspire to, or whether their ignorance of science and technology etc. is something that should be corrected - even if it makes them less happy! Are these people 'self-actualized'?

I could also bring up 'Brave New World' ideas, where most of the population exists in blissful ignorance. Is it better for people to know the truth even if it makes them miserable?

Robin Datta

The key to the whole essay is in the line
"This education would not be viewed as the end-all of learning, but just the beginning."

And another significant concept would be that education would be everyone's responsibility. When one sees someone fumbling around for lack of certain information that one has, one should be expected to transmit that information. And someone comes upon a new process, method or fact, one should share that with others (some already do, after communication with the patent office).

Some elements of the knowledge and technology already acquired will be applicable to a low energy society, in an ecologically sustainable way. These will be the basis of The Ecotechnic Fucure.

The fascination with fire and tools is something that Hominid males have been selected for over more than a million and a half years (for tools) and about half that time (for fire). Hence the enchantment of the tool section in the hardware store (which is quite absent in women) and the appeal of barbecues - we have been selected for these.

As for agriculture and education, the old Chinese saying goes:

For a return on investment in a year, plant rice.

For a return on investment in a decade, plant fruit trees.

For a return on investment in a century, educate men.


To George Mobus the Dean of the University of Noesis,

This piece is absolutely brilliant and I have no disagreements.
I would say though that I believe that the potential for culture is greater than the genetic blueprint for each and every one of us.
I have said many, many times that the keys to our next step up the ladder of advancement lie in BOTH the education system and the MEDIA (see, "The Century of Self (Edward Bernays).
Without changing the "brainwashing" all the proper education in the world won't stick.

Anyone that wants to know how the world really works must first:
Stop watching Television and seek their own information. This takes about 2 months for the head to clear and is psychologically gut wrenching.( This is where the internet has had an enormous impact on the order of Gutenberg's printing press).
Think critically (Question Everything).
Become life long learners.( My greatest joys have come from figuring things out (Richard Feynman).
Try to relate everything to natural process (The only true laws.)( compound interest violates this philosophy and is one big reason that such socio-economic inequality exists)
I have an eleven year old son and I want him to be educated at your University of Noesis.
One last thing the Dean you really ought to learn how to spell NOESIS!!!

George Mobus

Hi David.

" my case I get more satisfaction from making 'things'..."

And in all likelihood you would end up being the village smithy! Nothing wrong with that. Somebody has to grow the food. I suspect that food production, which includes things like canning, salting, etc. will occupy most of the people much of the time. But clearly, in the winter there will be plenty of other activities to pursue.

Brewing beer???? Now you are talking. If I made the cut I'll be in your village!

From what I have read about "primitive" peoples and their "happiness" I think that there is a pattern emerging that speaks to the attitude of happiness with what nature provides, family as the center of life, general contentment as long as the environment isn't changing radically (e.g. deforestation in Brazil), and the sentiment, expressed by several indigenous individuals exposed to modern life who express dismay at the modern mind's psychology (did you ever see "The Gods Must be Crazy"? Totally made up, but themed on this pattern).

Now I don't think that we should aspire to primitiveness. Humanity worked long and hard to gain knowledge of all sorts of phenomena that allow us to exploit leverage (machines). Just because we will have a much lower energy flow through to work with doesn't mean we need to go back to hunter-gatherer status (e.g. Olduvai theory). The trick for eusapience is to learn to live with less energy but as comfortably as possible and not attempt to push nature's boundaries the way we have in the past. We (our genus) needs to learn to live with an appropriate balance of science (systems science providing the guidance), engineering, and natural processes consistent with our minds and desires. Put simply we need to live wisely whatever that means. Self-actualization is actually just that, the self actualizing its potential. Human minds do not require advanced scientific knowledge to be actualized. But that such knowledge exists, and to the extent that it provides one with 'understanding' of the world and the self, it should be made available to any mind desiring it.

AFA Brave New Worldian thoughts. Remember, the occupants of that world were mere Homo caladus (or pseudosapients) -- the vast majority of the extant population today. Such people (as we?) could be made unhappy knowing the "truth". But I envision a eusapient able to handle whatever "truth" is out there. I imagine, for example, history lessons (stories actually) about the days when energy flowed freely and people made really stupid choices about how to waste it. I imagine the eusapient child wondering why her ancestors were so foolish. I don't think this translates into unhappiness that the then population no longer has access to such treasure as oil and coal.

With a better level of sapience I imagine not a "Brave" new world, but a "Content" new world.

But that is why the title includes the word "Dreams".


George Mobus


Well said. But you will have to explain this to my wife:
"...Hence the enchantment of the tool section in the hardware store (which is quite absent in women)..."

She (as well as a number of women I know) loves tools, especially garden hand tools, but also a few handy hand tools for the house. I think the male disposition toward power tools (fire) has another etiology (if I may borrow that term) that is due to testosterone! I know that when I get behind a power tiller, a chain saw, or a wood splitter I feel powerful (also when I ride my dinky Honda 250 motorcycle at 60mph!!!) I guess my pseudosapience is showing!


George Mobus


Thanks for the spelling alert! I fixed it.

And thanks for the comment, esp. about your son. As a matter of fact I am considering forming such a school in the not too distant future! Obviously I will have to solve the funding issue as I do not want to have to charge actual money. Rather, I see students as participants and contributors, where their learned skills and knowledge will bolster the school's existence. I have no idea how this might work in practice but if anyone wants to help me make this happen, feel free to contact me!

The older I get, the more I want to turn my attention to things that are fundamentally important for the human spirit, especially the spirit of the young.

As a colleague recently said -- Dream on George.

PS Porge, no TV's hooked up to antennas or cable allowed in TUN!


I am reminded of the Classical Greeks once again.
The entire city of Athens was set up to be one giant learning environment.
I can't believe we have drifted so far from these ideals and I contend it is because of material over abundance due to the enormous exosomatic(is this really a word?) energy source provided by fossil fuels.
In fine.......we don't have to be that good at stuff anymore.

Again I will say that the media is the most ubiquitous and penetrating conduit of culture and basically defines the ethos.
The problem is that the bad guys won and control the media and it really isn't tough enough yet for the masses to start any bottom up changes to turn the tide.
Panem et circenses until further notice.
I would love to be involved in making your vision a reality as I am sure would many others but how would you even get started??
Maybe start with a book??

I sum our situation up thusly.

Our culture has lost it's taste for QUALITY.



… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

(Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81)

Mark Twain

George -

You wrote:

"It is the lack of comprehension of systemness that keeps most people ignorant of how the world really does work. It's lack is one of the main reasons so many people today cannot see the impending crises that we face."

Very true, and I would also add that another one of the main reasons so many people today cannot see the impending crises that we face is simply that they do not want to see it (for various reasons).

Regarding your discussion of systems thinking - I completely agree.

However, part of the problem is that there are already systems that people understand and believe in, and it is these systems that inform most people about how the world works. The systems I am referring to are religions. Of course, these are not systems in the scientific manner, yet I would argue that these are the systems that most people use to determine "how the world works".

I would even use a point you make (slightly altered by removing the final word):

"what natural capacity that exists in the human brain has been sacrificed in the name of the god."

The concept of God replaces our ability to think critically - for if there is an afterlife, if I will be rewarded in a place that is much better than this reality called life, then there is very little motivation to think systematically (except for thinking systematically about the dogma of the religion - following the rules of the particular religious system to achieve the greatest reward).

You note (and I agree with ):

"We will have to rekindle the strengthening and sharpening of systems thinking as a key goal of education in the University of Noesis."

I would extend this further and note that we will also have to weaken and dull the beliefs in religious systems as a key goal of education in the University of Noesis. One of these must be superior in our systems-thinking - religion or science. At the moment (and for almost all of human history), religion is dominant.

However, I estimate that ridding the human species of its reliance on religious-systems-thinking is much more difficult than your excellent point that education must be based on sound science-systems-thinking. Religious-systems offer a free lunch - as long as you follow these 10 simple rules (for the Judeo-Christian religious-system), then nothing else matters. That's an oversimplification, but it gets at the point: science-systems-thinking requires opening one's eyes to the interconnectedness of everything. Religious-systems-thinking only requires one to see the connectedness of the deity (faith) and oneself.

We are in agreement in regards to living within the carrying capacity and the limitations on population. This points to further problems with the religious-systems-thinking, since almost all religions bestow unlimited population growth as a basic right of the human species (and particularly to the believers of that particular religion). Since most would rather believe that god has given them a right to have as many children as they want, then I would argue that this tendency will be dominant and tempting for a long time.

I my mind - laziness wins. Religious beliefs are lazy beliefs, as compared to scientific beliefs. Hence, religious belief is incredibly dominant in the human species. If we define religious-systems as a belief in a god, spirit or life force, then the vast majority of the human species holds religious beliefs. I contend that these religious beliefs are (often) at odds with the very science-systems-thinking that you rightly encourage.

However, there does seem to be a trend in the last few decades of the human species turning away from these religious beliefs, as self-identification of religious belief has been dropping (though religious beliefs are still a large majority - 80-90% in the U.S.).

My point in bringing this up is to add to the great work you've done in your article. We must build a better system of education that teaches systems-thinking. However, before we can build that better system, we must deconstruct the existing religious-systems-thinking that dominates our species.


Your points on the Humanities are excellent and are not talked about enough, IMHO.


Your concluding points about "Helping Each Individual Achieve Self-actualization" are also excellent. I would extend your thoughts about this:

"If I am right about the 'direction' of human evolution toward yet greater sapience then dreams of human life as an integral part of nature will not have proven a fool's game. And tomorrow's children may yet find education a wonderful and natural experience."

In that future village, I see sapient humans not only living within the carrying capacity of their environment, but living well BELOW the carrying capacity of their environment. Perhaps a new belief in "quality not quantity" in regards to children. Of embracing the ancient African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child" (as you propose). Of allowing more space within the system of Nature for evolution to take its course.

To me, sapience does not mean calculating the carrying capacity and then using that number as your maximum population (and trying to stay very close to it). It means something much more unselfish - realizing that our species is not the greatest form of life in the universe.

When our species begins to realize that fact, I will start believing that sapience is possible. Until then, I must come to the conclusion (using systems-thinking!) that our species (taken as a whole) is a plague, not a benefit.

As Agent Smith says in The Matrix:

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague and we are the cure."

(To keep this post from being a complete downer, I'll share something I keep posted above my desk:

The Path to Success:

Here's something that you might find interesting:$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=30;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=5.59290322580644;ti=2002$zpv;v=0$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1jiMAkmq1iMg;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=tGdhNYGTGtunwzkKJ9aRhsA;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=8.21;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0XOoBL_n5tAQ;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=CATID0;by=grp$map_x;scale=log;dataMin=194;dataMax=96846$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=0.844;dataMax=8.7$map_s;sma=49;smi=2.65$cd;bd=0$inds=
It's a graph of children per female, by country, from 1955 to 2006 compliments of Hans Rosling. I use it in class to give kids a sense of scale and the global reach of policy.

I like the concept of teaching complexity. I'm at sea when it comes to how to go about teaching it.

George Mobus


Something is in the works, but details may take a while to emerge! There is always hope.


George Mobus


Can I alter your term, "religious-systems" to a more conventional phrase: religious dogma? I understand that religious dogma is a stand-in for systems thinking because it provides pat answers to many deep and complex problems for most people. A dogma, however, is given, as revealed truth, and does not require actually thinking about the systemic nature of the problems addressed.

I have found that the majority of people that I have known who seem particularly superior in their capacity for sapience have generally long past thrown off the shackles of dogma and let their inherent systems-thinking shine through. That is not to say they are not appreciative of spiritual expressions -- there are still many wonderful and beautiful aspects of life and the world that one cannot help but be 'grateful' for, even if one doesn't offer that gratitude to a super being but simply to nature itself. To me this is the basis for profound humbleness in the face of wonder. I think it may be the basis of your statement: " It means something much more unselfish - realizing that our species is not the greatest form of life in the universe."

That realization is, indeed, the antithesis of many religious dogmas about man's place in the hierarchy of life and angels! So I suspect that as sapience is selected for in the future, religions as such will find their proper resting place as having been a temporary binding of the real human spirit (religion means to bind back!) to a false, though possibly useful (in the context of the time) by an ultimately unbelievable belief structure!

I like your poster!


George Mobus

Hi Bob.

Very interesting graphical representation.

If I might suggest, you probably don't want to teach complexity in the conventional sense of the word teach. Rather I like to think that our role is to guide students through situations where they experience complexity and dynamics directly (with a fair amount of ambiguity thrown in for good measure). We can be there to help them develop systems thinking skills, or perhaps more rightly, sharpen the skills they already have. This has to be started at a young age though in order to capitalize on the brains early development capacities. The learning is experiential and that does more to advantage the brain's wiring than anything else. Later in life (like later in teenagehood) we can add the explicit skills, like mathematics and physics, etc., by which they will hone their critical thinking so as to be wary of often counter intuitive aspects of complex systems.

First, I think, children need a sense of what life is really like, and then we can show them how to deal with it and make something positive out of it.



Hi Mark and Mobus,

Your discussion about religion and sapience is very interesting. From my understanding, Taoism and Buddhism does not bestow unlimited population growth. Tao is close to the nature while Buddhism encourages learning transcendent wisdom by oneself (e.g. through reflection). But many adherents of these two philosophies/religions treat them as dogma/idolatry, probably due to lack of sapience among the people.

Then one way might be reinventing the philosophy based on science. I have re-interpreted the Tao as "nature", but it is written in Chinese (



If you are interested, I suggest you read English translation of Tao Te Ching (道德经 in Simplified Chinese, 道德經 in Traditional Chinese) and I Ching (易经 in Simplified Chinese, 易經 in Traditional Chinese). 易 can be interpreted as "dynamics", therefore I Ching is also known as the "Book of Changes".

George Mobus


Got a "Page Not Found" error on the link. In any case I can't read Chinese so it wouldn't help!

My co-author on the systems science text book is a philosopher of Eastern philosophy and systems science who has done considerable work in relating both Taoism and Buddhism to systems thinking. I have suggested he actually write a chapter in the book devoted to a summary of his findings. It isn't the kind of thing one expects in a text book on systems, but expect the unexpected, I always say!


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