Progress as a Process
Communicating abstraction was a big theme last post. It’s not something we tend to reflect on in our day-to-day lives unless confronted with a related challenge. It’s an area of particular interest to me, as I find the influence of the theoretical, what cannot always be easily defined in ‘real’ terms, on the tangible to be enormously powerful.
Depending on the cultural norms and context you find yourself a part of, value is applied unevenly across different principles. There was a boy who painted portraits with his ideas who grew up in an environment that looked disparagingly on philosophy and the discussion of ideas. He was utterly stifled and went on to create nothing of worth when he could have been the next Einstein. Value had been given to obedience, and real-world practicality, with no room for the ideas that fuel both. Geniuses are killed every day this way. It’s a common story, and sadly reflects a reality where developing institutions often give precedence to the principles of compliance and practicality so as to circumvent the grit that goes into true development.
Real growth is hard work. Little fiefdoms look at their bigger neighbors and want their riches and successes with absolute immediacy, with no interest in the complicated intellectual wars that paved their way. Progress is a process – cyclical, where action is put into practice, only to fail in order to produce results that are interpreted in many different ways. The conclusions war against each other, and the prevailing train of thought is then put into practice, only for the process to be repeated again. It’s in this process that we develop. Sometimes very quickly. It took mankind 150,000 years to leave Africa, but less than a century to progress from automated terrestrial travel to floating around in space. Without critical thinking, creativity, and seemingly purposeless abstract philosophy, we would have nothing to pit against each other in the intellectual dogfights that spur us forward at this rate.
I recently attended a workshop that discussed an interesting case study, where a group of students were divided into two groups before undertaking an unsupervised exam. The first group took the exam, and many of them cheated. The second group, however, were made to sign a contract agreeing they would not cheat before taking the exam. Cheating amongst the second group was far less prevalent. A lot can be said for why things unfolded the way they did, but the concept resonated with me. Broadly speaking, this is the story of how the power of an idea, not coercion, can be translated into measurable positive results.
Make ideas and throw them at each other. Learn and push forward. Seek, channel, and enable truth, beauty, and meaning.