Changing Images of Man


in Books and literature, Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, Rants, The environment, Writing

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First published in 1974, and available for free online, Changing Images of Man is a kind of philosophical reflection on science and how human beings understand themselves. While it does touch on some interesting ideas, the degree to which it is fundamentally lacking in rigour or discipline means that it is also choked with nonsense, impenetrable jargon, and pointless speculation. In short, it does not have the feel of a text whose ideas have been borne out by subsequent history. Rather, it is more like a monument to a kind of faddishness that has long since become dated, though elements endure in the more superstitious aspects of contemporary culture.

Much of the book concerns environmental issues: specifically, how human civilization can cease to be such a destructive force, and how ecology is affecting science in general. Neither discussion is very satisfying. The former discussion focuses on a kind of caricatured extension of the Beatles going to India to lean yoga and discover themselves. While significant transformations in human behaviours and self-understanding may well be necessary to generate a sustainable society, the perspective on those changes offered in this work doesn’t seem either plausible or compelling to me. The latter discussion exaggerates the degree to which the study of complex dynamic systems challenges the practice of science: while they are certainly more challenging to study scientifically than systems that are more easily broken down and understood in terms of constituents, science is nonetheless proving increasingly capable of dealing with complex systems like climate and ecosystems, and is doing so without the kind of radical extension and modification endorsed by this book.

Much of the book is no more comprehensible than a random string of pompous-sounding words strung together in a grammatical way. It seems telling that the chapter on ‘feasibility’ is the least accessible and comprehensible of the lot. The report perceives a crisis in science that I don’t think existed at the time it was written, and I do not think has emerged since. Complex phenomenon are being grappled with using enhanced versions of conventional techniques, while UFOs and psychic phenomena have been effectively rejected as quackery, due to the absence of any good evidence for their existence. Basically, Changing Images of Man is an exhortation to abandon rigorous thought in favour of a kind of wooly inclusiveness, exceedingly open to ideas that are too vague to really engage with. The book has a naive counterculture tone, overly willing to reject what is old and unthinkingly embrace novel concepts that register with a 1960s/1970s mindset. While the questions it considers are generally good and important ones, the answers provided are vague, preachy, and largely useless.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan May 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

This isn’t a book review, it’s a diatribe that attacks the style of the book rather than any particular claims made in it. As far as it “not being born out in the history”, chapter 4 seems basically sound. As far as the speculations that follow it, they are only speculations – attempts. You really need to read after chapter 4 as a response to the books purpose – it was commissioned by the U.S. office of education as an investigation of future possibilities for educational policy. That said, the policy researchers are naive to think you can “teach” an image of man.

In other words, the book was not meant to predict what “image of man” would follow the modern techno-scientific one, but determine which image ought follow. Whether it happens or not, even for the authors, is not something they are “predicting”.

If you want to criticize the book, you need to respond to the motivations behind their methodology rather than criticizing the methodology as un-rigorous (xxi). Claiming they got things wrong about historical conceptions of man is beside the point. (They did, but probably not for reasons historical anthropology can understand – it has to do with the problem of thinking the image of man as “image” – too contemporary).

The serious claim made by this book is chapter 4 – the existing status of our scientific paradigm, how it is breaking down, and how we respond to the way it breaks down. The most crucial points, as far as I can figure, are the point about reductionism on 74, the point about Goedel and AI on 79 (it would be good if Neal could elucidate that for us), the voluntary control of the body (85) (there is a good book out “how the brain changes itself” which is about this in a contemporary context). This continues with the section in “biofeedback” on 89-90.

In general it appears that consciousness research has proceeded more in accord with the reductionistic paradigm than seemed likely when the book was written. But, we shouldn’t assume that simply because it happened, it happened properly. It might really be that the research was overly limited by what was seen as reasonably possible (no paradigm shifts ever seem reasonably possible in advance). It’s quite possible that the 60s were a more productive period in experimental psychology because the anti-Kuhn brigade, which goes hand in hand with the repression of the democratizing forces of the 1960s, were not yet mobilised.

Milan May 15, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I admit that it’s more of a response than a review. I look forward to reading yours. Quite probably, having greater familiarity with the terms they use and the ideas they are responding to will mean that you got a lot more out of this book than I did.

R.K. May 16, 2009 at 4:31 pm

This reminds me of a quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

“We’re all wired into a survival trip now.
No more of the speed that fueled the sixties.
That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip.
He crashed around America selling consciousness
Expansion to anyone who would listen.

All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy
Peace and Understanding for 3 bucks a hit.
But their failure, is ours too, because what Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole lifestyle he helped create.
A generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers,
Who never understood the essential old mystic fallacy of the acid culture,
That desperate assumption that someone,
Or at least some Force,
Was tending the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tristan May 17, 2009 at 7:36 pm

I must say I don’t understand the role of the book review within the book club. Book reviews, both the kind found in newspapers and scholarly journals, are written for people who have not yet read the book, and serve to help people decide whether or not to spend time reading the book. It seems to me that the discussion here should follow a style similar to a seminar, where we might suggest the points in the book which we agree or disagree with, and a discussion cold ensue – grounded in the text. The fact we (those who read the book this month) have the text as a shared experience means we are in a good position to understand and evaluate claims made by others.

Milan May 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

It seems sensible to start off by having everyone who read the book write some kind of post to respond to. It need not be a ‘review’ per se.

Peter May 20, 2009 at 6:52 am

As the preface to the second edition predicted, my reading of the book evoked a strong reaction. I found Changing Images of Man [CIoM] to be an infuriating book. On one hand, I’m smitten with the project, which I took to be a quasi-historical, anthropological, genealogical investigation into possible images of humankind and a criticism about the desirability of those images.1,2 On the other hand, I loath the eventual and inevitable descent into pseudo-scientific quackery in chapter four, that I had been dreading since certain inclinations are revealed early on in the report. These issues can be separated, as some have suggested3, but it is awkward because the conclusions about the desirability of images in chapter five and the feasibility of the image in chapter six does depend, to some degree, on the specific scientific studies referenced.
To expand on this point, I wish to briefly detour and enunciate my main complaint about the book. The book was released in 1974. It is 30 years later, so we know how things have progressed. This doesn’t matter if scientific references are established and still currently accepted, like Godel’s incompleteness theorems, or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, or, on a larger scale, the uncertainty about science and objectivity that quantum weirdness introduced. Additionally, it doesn’t matter if the particulars are discredited, but new examples or further research has emerged along the way. Finally, specific dated examples do not matter if they are only incidental to the main point. However, the most questionable predictions about the potential explosion of psychic research that occurs throughout the entirety of chapter four aren’t incidental to the larger project.
Other examples appear quite dated, because the book references certain crises, which I assumed to refer to the gas shortage, the emphasis in the early 80s on the problem of overpopulation, and (ironically enough) predictions of global cooling.4 These don’t necessarily invalidate the book, because the notion of an imminent crisis and the relation of certain outcomes (desirable or otherwise) to certain images of humankind remains a valuable project. As long as the analysis of the images remains strong, then finding more gas to advert the gas shortage, which was a concern at the time of publication, doesn’t undermine the larger idea of an imminent, yet indefinite crisis caused by our values. Consider the point that complexity breeds specialization, or that the scale of technological intervention risks ecological destruction, or excessive nationalism risks nuclear war, and so on. Nuclear annihilation as the result of the cold war can be dismissed as incidental, because we have plenty of other examples of how our images contain inherent risks.
While the potential crises maybe dated, but might be dismissed as incidental for consideration of a general crisis, the claims about precognition, telepathy, and telekinesis aren’t as easily dismissed because they lend support to the image of humankind selected in chapter five. Although I have agreed that it is possible to separate these references from a project of exploring and evaluating images/values, I do not believe that it is possible to separate these claims from the book’s actual conclusions about which images of humankind are desirable and possible.
For example, a synthesis between an objective scientific image of humankind and a more subjectively flavoured image becomes more plausible when highly subjectively dependent and interpersonal (for anti-individualistic images) abilities like telepathy can be objectively verified. (Precognition for images that emphasis the subconscious, etc) The assertion that we need to stop viewing individuals as separate, or only the conscious part of the mind, or reject reductionist thinking gains plausibility if one is able to point to an unexplainable trait that appears to operate below conscious thought that connects us all, as the authors allege telepathy does. The problem is that when telepathy isn’t accepted thirty years later, it should properly cast scepticism over the plausibility of the image of humankind the book argues for.
The observation of such traits suggests that the respective (objective-reductive and subjective) images might drive themselves to synthesis – this has not been the case. The objective, and to some degree the reductive image hasn’t run into inexplicable effects or phenomena that pushes for increased subjective consideration. Some of their examples still stand, although their interpretation of the implications of quantum physics maybe challenged, but the essential problem remains – it is 30 years later, and quite arguably society affirms a reductionist image ever more completely. Additionally, the failure of research to validate telepathy also undermines the appeal to a deeper and more mystic understanding the individual, mind, etc, because the emerging scientific evidence was supposed to provide the objective breadcrumb or hook (if you will) that the general reader, heavily influenced by and faithful to western images of humankind (objective, scientific, reductionist, utilitarian, industrial, apart from nature) could not ignore. With nothing to break the resistance and shatter the generally accepted image on its on terms, there is no impetus to accept the strange suggestions the report makes.
To someone of this disposition the subjective claims appear as quackery5*, and I think their pseudo-scientific claims of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and telekinesis are quackery, because to my knowledge these phenomena have never been demonstrated and reproduced in controlled settings. However, the reports central point might continue undeterred by dismissing my objections and this is where I have a significant problem with the conceptual methodology. If the phenomena disappear or appear depending on how objective or subjective our image is, than no objective proof is required. This makes it somewhat odd that the book spends considerable time citing scientific studies.5* To be fair, I think this is sensible, because I can understand the drive to synthesis model of images, where the objective scientific processes produce findings that subjective states like moods can influence our perception and thus has to begin to further qualify subjectivity more carefully. Unfortunately, I often fail to see how this challenges the fundamental Archimedean character of science, as enhanced models of subjective states doesn’t necessarily lead to an acceptance of observations influenced by subjective considerations; it could just as easily lead to the opposite conclusion and culminate in our rejection of many observations as insufficiently neutral. At any rate, even though the book claims that objective evidence is unnecessary, it follows what I consider to be the more acceptable dialectical model of trying to supply objective proof of subjective phenomena. It is the interpretation of what counts as evidence, to be explored soon, that is especially problematic.
In the most defensible form scientifically, the example of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and observer induced effects, which prevents us from finding the location and speed of subatomic particles, because pinging the particle with any wavelength of energy (to determine the location) would change the speed, remains intact. Although there is some debate over whether quantum theories are epistemological or factual claims. I.e., that subatomic particles have both speed and location, but the limitations of our knowledge prevents us from figuring out both because knowledge would require verification and pinging would require altering the variables, as opposed to, the particle gets a location only when we look at it.
In the most defensible form sociologically, Foucault’s work springs to mind. If the report was trying to suggest that all “facts” are products of social construction, then the notion is not as dependent on scientific reports of psychic phenomena as it first appears. If the book was talking about the social construction and legitimization of experts, authorities and knowledge, then this vein of the book has considerable merit. However, I repeatedly use the term “if” because it is not abundantly clear that this was the authors’ intent. This observation may merely be the synthesis of my interpretation of a single sentence that suggests this possibility and my sense that they were strongly influence by William James, which they mention twice. It might only be my attempt to create a more intellectually rigorous and defendable version of some of the central trends in the book, based on some claims about truth that I thought stylistically resembled James. The reading of what is actually written doesn’t clearly convey this position, and tends to be peppered with extreme, and less defensible claims than devout (by contemporary standards) students of James, Foucault and Derrida would never suggest.
This forms the basis of my claim that questionable examples offered are not incidental. While I agree (with Tristan) that some things (like which specific crisis we might wish to address) might be incidental, and that the project itself could conceptually be carried out in a radically different way that didn’t involve these claims, the questionable assertions remain central to the conclusion. It is my position that the authors didn’t just cite studies and note that there is some exciting research that allows for potentially interesting possibilities, but actually bet heavily on the outcomes of those questionable studies when predicting a rise in scientific interest and increased acceptance of phenomena like telepathy. Some of the acceptable images of humankind only retain plausibility if we believe a telepathic force subconsciously connects us. If that isn’t the case, at least part of the specific image the authors have selected isn’t possible, and the general methodology is called into question.
I feel this keenly when I consider their disposition to promote synthesis, and their belief that we can synthesize (almost?) every, including conflicting, images of humankind. (parts of chapters five and six) I take this to be a feel good attitude that allows them to avoid making the crucial decisions. While admitting that the images will have to be modified to accommodate opposing images, the process is left deliberately vague, which allows them to be critical of images and yet ultimately endorse all. It’s utopian6 and flowery7, as it finds the good in all images. (PDF-pp140-142, 152-168)
While I have tried to make the necessary implications of the questionable claims clear, I have given somewhat defensible accounts of the practice until now. At it’s worst, the book argues that subjective phenomena are not visible to those with an objective image. (PDF-pp95-100) Once this position is accepted, anything can be established. Following their own footnotes (PDF-pp122-123), evidence for telepathy goes from the standard concept of person to person communication of an articulated message, to subconscious apprehension of another’s experience, which necessarily requires an expert to implant (errr, I mean – bring out of) the sensing subject, to subconscious apprehension of the experience through subjective interpretation of meaning. If this sounds confusing, that is because it somewhat is, but the point boils down to this: The study might find evidence of telepathy if one person is shown a picture of boxing match, and the other person (the sensor), when prompted by an expert reports seeing an image of waves hitting the shore. After we understand that the transferred images must occur within a subjective framework of visualization, naturally, anyone will see that the boxing match image was transferred, but merely represented by waves, because the continuous and forceful waves striking the shore really symbolize the beating the loser is taking. I take this to be first rate quackery, highly absurd, and of little scientific merit, but then again, the book may always (and probably appropriately) allege that I have fidelity to the scientific objective image (and I’ll even through in some reductionism), so you’ll have to decide whether the above evidence speaks to you personally, or has specific merit (scientific or otherwise).
I shutter to include this, as this necessitates an entire new level to the debate, but I also have a tendency to disagree with some of their conclusions of established theories. For example, I agree with the expression of Kurt Godel’s theorem on PDF-p99, but reject the conclusion on PDF-p106. At least this application of Godel is typical, although the conclusion is still a matter of debate. Often, I question whether the authors are overly optimistic in deriving some conclusions from the scientific evidence; it is a long way from my sympathies for Nietzschean drives and Freud’s notion of the subconscious, to claiming humans possess a supra-conscious part of the mind that is cosmically connected to the universe. I also think references to experimental research should be qualified by notes about the potential of preliminary findings rather than statements of fact, and I wonder if a more conservative approach recommending the narrow interpretation of the implications of scientific studies might have protect the report from such disastrous criticisms. At other times, I have no idea how the reported results of the scientific study actually qualify as support to the far larger claims. For example, I’ve heard of monks being able to regulate body temperature, and the book cites studies to suggest we might control other autonomic functions, however, the possible assimilation of sub-conscious functions in no way suggests we possess an innate telepathy as an sub-conscious ability. The example doesn’t remain consistent, since we knew people could regulate body temperature before we knew they could do it consciously, the second revelation doesn’t involve revealing new, unknown abilities. Yet the studies, and very often the potential of new findings in multiple studies are chained together in a very tenuous manner, to provide evidence for an extreme claim. The problem is that the characterizations of theorems and implications are often spot on, but then the larger claims are bizarre. Absurd examples of this don’t happen too often, but it a tendency to hype potential and leap to extreme interpretations was noticeable.
I’ve severely criticized the dependence on psychic phenomena in chapter four, and more generally the attack on objective science these claims were meant to support. I’ve also tried to demonstrate how these claims influence the evaluation of images of humankind and the feasibility of the final image. While I admonish the conclusions, I would like to turn my attention to some of the positive aspects of the book, which represent themselves through my interest in the nature of the project. The book is expansive, and Table Three (PDF-pp44-46) is fairly comprehensive and the subsequent treatment of the historical images is worth considering. I’ve started with sickly-sweet praise because the chart (and most of the others) is not without its flaws. Some of the images are simplistic, and I wonder about the tendency to devolve into binary oppositions as much as I wonder about the unqualified references to dialectical processes. (PDF, pp167,191) However, the presentation of the historical and anthropological images of humankind, as well as the brief narratives about the development and the rise of each image (Chapter Two) is entertaining and appears to be essentially correct. I could nitpick, as I disagree with some of their specific claims, but these aren’t abnormal, game ending assertions like the ones covered in the first half of this review. Unfortunately, the accounts also won’t thrill anyone with a moderate knowledge of history and I would easily recommend other anthropological surveys or history of ideas type books over CIoM.
Generally, I found most of the categories the book introduced as interesting. I also thought many of their predictions or conclusions they drew about the tendencies associated with specific images were quite good. I found chapter three, and more generally their treatment of technology particularly strong. At times the authors seemed visionary in the prediction of problems or tendencies resulting from technology. For example, consider my paraphrase of some of the issues:

Possibly Obsolescent Premises (PDF-p80)
(1) Progress is synonymous with growth of GDP. Growth is inherently good.
(2) That individuals are essentially separate and that competitive self interest is the best means to secure the common good.
(3) Humankind is separate from, and master of, nature.
(4) The technological imperative – if it can be done, it will and (should be done) Utilitarian values driving development of manipulative technologies.
(5) That humans are rational and reductionism is a trusted form of knowledge.
(6) Materialism
(7) Affluence does not secure freedom – then the target nation states, idealism, and capitalism.

Almost all of these became major issues or produced significant academic debate. Sen’s work deals with (1) and has been debated on this blog. (2) The rise of collectivism and the possible demise of libertarianism, and – on blog. (3) Still at issue, and in some sense the purpose of this blog. (4) This smacks of Heidegger, Ellul and George Grant. Both Heidegger and critiques of utilitarianism have major academic followings. (5) Is probably the weakest, especially combined with the tendency of the report to drive towards mysticism…. And so on.
Along the same vein, while their examples coloured their specific image of humankind, we might look at the more abstracted report of their conclusions. An adequate image of humankind must be:“(1) provide a holistic sense of perspective on life, (2) entail an ecological ethic, (3) entail a self-realization ethic, (4) be multi-leveled, multifaceted, and integrative, (5) lead to a balancing and coordinating of satisfactions along many dimensions, and (6) be experimental and open-ended.” (PDF-p140) Is there anything in there most people can’t accept? (3) is one that I find highly dubious, and (4) and (5) are confusing without exposition. As it often is, the devil is in the details. (3) draws heavily on the endorsement of paranormal phenomena, and pseudo-science, and the details even infect (4) and (5). But it might be possible to re-interpret the abstracted form. And in that sense I fully agree with the separation of the examples and conclusions from the project, because I keep thinking that it is such a shame that this great project was interpreted and pursued in such a terrible and far fetched way involving paranormal occurrences and long discussions on the value of perennial philosophy.
Perhaps on an overly specific point of praise, I thought the discussion about why technological change is undirected and the treatment of complexity and specialization was exceptional. (PDF-pp85-88) It was presented in a concise, straightforward manner, yet dense, and is quite probably the best short work on the topic that I have ever encountered. Of additional note, I also thought chapter three was the highlight of the book.
Returning to my enthusiasm for the project. I interpret the facts differently, and I would have taken the exploration in a radically different direction. That being said, I probably would not have been as optimistic and as uncritically accepting (in terms of promoting one giant synthesis). I still find the concept of the project fascinating – a historical accounting of what the likely outcome of holding certain values could be, and what does that say about the values we current hold, or should hold?
Apart from their specific conclusions, and my already expressed condemnation of the mass synthesis approach, I’m somewhat sad that they didn’t explore the possibility of entirely new or radically different images. The synthesis is a new image, and the report fancies itself contrarian by bucking capitalism, and other orthodoxies and at times given goes so far as to suggest polyamourous family structures, but it isn’t really radical, or novel. This is somewhat encapsulated in the admission that the book failed to predict the rise of sexual politics, however, I think the failing runs deeper in the sense that the essentially Marxist dialectical critique that regularly sharpens its teeth on capitalism would be ill-suited to “explode” the binary oppositions of sexuality and gender.
Additionally, I think there is an element in naivety in the idea that we could produce new images. The authors try to temper this by playing up the disastrous effects of forced image change, which helps address my footnote on utopias, but in the end have to settle for some type of naturally occurring synthesis. I am not sure why they buck Heidegger’s conclusion, that there will be a new historical relation of being in the world, when the borrow so heavily on the motif. Nevertheless, we are left with this rather odd hodge-podge where we have value-loaded images, which are the appropriate ones, but can’t be forced on people, and none of which are novel, and the need for novel images is rejected implicitly by the synthesis (of all old images) model, and since it would be disastrous to force the right images on people the only thing left to do is educate(?), or prepare the way, yet the dialog is peppered with urgent calls to action. The conflicting tendencies only seem to work when the end image is unknowable, because their specific critiques of images demand immediate action, and their project seems to entail that the synthesis won’t occur naturally.
In the end, I am left with a sense of sadness from a good notion poorly executed. I return to the beginning of both the book and my review by affirming the statement in the preface to the second edition that the book often leaves readers wondering about the authors’ influences and intellectual commitments. I think that is such a shame that someone with my potential sympathies – to Nietzsche, to genealogical approaches, to pragmatic theories of truth, in analyzing technology, with an intense interest towards some of the modifications some of their images suggest like holistic studies of interactions and bio-mimicry, (to some degree) to Deleuze’s interplay of forces, dynamic systems, need for open ended experimentation and actual ontology – ends up so hostile to their conclusions.
To toss out one last specific example, the idea of truth as a label attributed to specific claims through social interaction, which depends on evaluative consequences, is something from William James that I might be interested in playing around with and defending, however, when I looked for the citations, or even James inclusion on in the referenced works, I found nothing. While the epistemological influences of James connected with me on some level, strange claims possibly linked to a bizarre interpretation of the already troubled radical empiricism grated my nerves. The problem is that I know James influenced them, since they referred to him by name twice (PDF-pp136,137 – and by implicit reference somewhere else), I just don’t know how much, which parts, or how they’ve twisted his work, because there was no reference, and I am only left with a feeling that in such a project the authors influences matter immensely.
I would not recommend that anyone should read this book. Chapter four is simply too hard to shallow and too loud to ignore, and the book can never surpass the major failing that we know how things have played out. The authors gambled on emerging scientific research, claiming that it would validate their image of humankind and they lost big. The only notable exception for potential readers is if you have an interest in research methodologies. If one was specifically interested in genealogy, deconstruction, and their “bricolage” method, how people have used them, and how the respective approaches developed (or have been twisted), then this might serve as an interesting historical example. If you’re interest the history of ideas, or history, or anthropology, or are just looking for a good book, there are considerably better books out there.8,9

1) I view their project as heavily influenced by Nietzsche. I treat “image” and “values” as nearly, but not entirely synonomous.2 The term quasi-historical, archaeological, and genealogical might appear as highly inaccessible and confusing jargon. Nietzsche’s genealogical method was to study the history of how a flawed value could continue to perpetuate itself in society through practice. As a result, his project was both historical – as it traces the development, adoption and impact of a value, and critical – as it necessarily involves a critique of why the value is fundamentally flawed. The authors of CIoM further develop this approach anthropologically because they look at other cultures’ (historical and contemporary) images of humankind. Furthermore, they add an additional critical level by analyzing the suitability of values, because it adds another form of criticism beyond the logical confusion or self-defeating aspect of the value Nietzsche brings to light. Sometime their criticisms of values runs deep to the point of the value being incomprehensible or hollow, as Nietzsche reveals in The Genealogy of Morals, but often the authors seek to preserve (usually through synthesis) past images, which would lead one to conclude that while part of the image is rotten, at the core it is the second (consequence – suitability – future oriented) considerations that CIoM is most interested in, meaning that the images aren’t entirely specious.

2) Tristan strongly disagrees with both points. I acknowledge that there is a difference in use and in properties between images and values, which Tristan has pointed out, cannot always be interchanged in a manner that makes sense, and so he views an essential difference between Nietzsche’s genealogical studies of values and CIoM. I wish to properly attribute this point to him, but still disagree with his conclusion, because I do not think those situations occur very often (if ever) throughout the book. At times the interchange is awkward, but I think it is best seen when they discuss which images of humankind it would be valuable to adopt, and how this would effect social policy. Consider the following three quotes with regards to image/value term neutrality, which I take to be typical accounts of their project, and the authors willingness to alternate between images and values, [The purpose of the project is to] “Illuminate ways our present society, its citizens, and institutions have been shaped by the underlying myths and images of the past and present.” (PDF-xxii), and the easy use of values in, “Any image of humankind implies normative values and goals, which are turned by the society into operating rules for social policies.” (PDF-xxiii), and the relative neutrality of the terms when considering the effects on policy making, “All public and private policy decisions necessarily embody some view (or compromise of views) about the nature of man, society, and universe.” (PDF-p28) The authors often refer to values (Fred Polak quote on PDF-p6) as the practical effects of changing our image of humanity – while a holistic-naturalistic image would properly only refer to a self-portrait of humanity as part of nature, the policy implications and the desirability of the image can be expressed in terms of accompanying values – our respect for nature, focusing on interrelation, interpreting complexity in the proper way, and a preference for organic growth, etc, are all values we come to accept due to the image. Perhaps it is incorrect to characterize these accompanying values as part of the image, however, this is a conceptual debate, and I think little is lost in the reading of the book by indulging in the ease of use by referring to attitudes towards policy in terms of “values”.

3) Tristan’s criticism of Milan’s “review” as diatribe underlies this particular criticism, which was then followed up in a private conversation. I agree with Tristan that such a project (image evaluation) could be re-characterized without direct reference to the specific questionable phenomena – psychic abilities, precognition, telepathy, etc. I also agree that the book’s larger criticism of changing scientific paradigms remains largely intact. Unfortunately, I don’t view the specific cited studies as entirely trivial or incidental. I talk about the necessary linking, and the work I believe the reference to psychic phenomena is doing later in the review.

4) As Milan points out, the imminent crises are often left deliberately ambiguous. I tried to impose a historical context on the book as best as I could. I do not think, as Milan potentially alleges that the book was written with the global warming crisis in mind. I thought this might be an area of potential interest for him – how particular images were crisis disposed, and how predictions of time frames might be off, while the warnings and assessment of the problems (complexity, interconnectiveness, consumerism, individualism, our independent status from nature, and the scale of our activities) are ultimately sound. One ambiguous mention of a specific disaster (almost a contradiction in terms) is the authors oft noted potential for massive ecological damage. I thought this might strike a cord with Milan, although I was sheepishly waiting in the bushes to inquire how Milan felt about (what I considered to be fear of) global cooling, and the impassioned pleas for immediate and necessary action for crises that either never occurred or are ongoing. This is not to suggest that the warnings are fruitless, as I have said that I think much of their analysis is sound, we still risk ecological disaster today for the very reasons they suggest. So in this sense, the relation between values and an ambiguous crisis remains and might even strengthen the authors’ point. The timeframe was wrong, but the scale of our ecological interactions might still be problematic, but the timeframe estimation does influence the debate on necessary action qua technological and market oriented solutions. Further analysis of the textual use of “crises” vs “crisis” is required to determine whether the book refers to specific problems, or one general ambiguous event at some unspecified date, or some combination where specific examples were contemporary contenders for THE crisis. The latter two options avoids the claims that the book is necessarily out of date, and is probably more honest given what I suspect is an immense Marxist influence through World Systems Theory, and multiple unqualified references to “the dialectic”.

5*) This footnote appears in reference to multiple claims. I consider the assertion that such phenomena exist quackery, however the book’s presentation is well researched. Numerous scientific studies and journals were cited. The charitable interpretation is that these were emerging fields at the time, which the authors of the report believed had potential, so they bet heavily on research that never panned out. As I have suggested earlier, I think this has dire implications for their conclusions, and that we shouldn’t entertain suggestions about these types of phenomena as having scientific legitimacy today, but I wish to deliberately avoid Milan’s strong assertions that the report was little more than words strung together, and obfuscating technical jargon, without substantive research. I go on to suggest the authors are over optimistic in assessing the potential of new research and perhaps a little fanciful in interpreting the conclusions, but they do seem open to criticism. The second edition contains lengthy footnotes, and appendixes often from the cited scholars criticizing the report and offering clarifying positions. We might be concerned that many of these critics seem involved in the same type of research, and potentially the project, but at least I can report there is no attempt to hide the fact that many people disagree with the report, or silence criticism. Maybe the claims were as far out when the book was written as they are today, but it would be misleading to construe the book as unconsidered, or unwilling to refer to supporting research. The quality and bias of the publications might be questioned, often the studies and articles cited belong to the authors or commentators, and the quality and status (peer-reviewed, unreviewed, metro news) of the publications would require far more research than I am willing to do for an informal review, but I just want to stress that my view is informed by my main complaint about the book – it is 30 years later and we know how things played out – and not due to a lack of research or citation on behalf of the authors.

6) This is both a joke and a serious point. The book contains a section on the need for utopian thinking. I can strongly identify with the notion that effective action requires a schema, or else we slip into perpetual crises caused by unrestrained and undirected action. However, I think the authors fail to realize that dystopian literature is a rejection of the value judgments unconsciously pressed into any image of a specific utopia. This is the dark humour of the genre– take one image that someone views as desirable, or the highest good, or perhaps even more generally societal trends or assumptions about desirable or promising technologies, and paint such a complete and detailed picture that everyone else will be horrified. The reaction is to the implicit value judgments in the utopian image. The awareness of this embedding has a long history, but the populist acceptance and acknowledgement of it is fairly new. Such literature serves as a warning that individuals can’t agree on the common good, and so utopian thinking is off the table in liberal societies. The joke is that the authors of the study wouldn’t consider this criticism because they believe there is a dire need to utopian thinking. The serious point is that, while the authors are cognizant (to some degree) that the images are infused with normative judgments, they are willing to jump into such as project, seemingly ignoring the horror and irony made apparent by dystopian literature. Furthermore, while a strong case can be made for a rise in dystopian literature, this doesn’t support the conclusion that society has stopped thinking about the future. The authors work on the technological imperative is superb, but the allegation of a lack of societal direction is problematic. The notion of progress, which many share, contradicts the authors’ suppositions. Or, if we maintain the supposition, but learn the proper lesson from dystopian literature, it is that consensus about the desirability of change among individuals is going to be a piecemeal process and not come in the form of some grand, totalizing static image of an ideal society. In some ways society has never been more micromanaged. I think there is a little select editing in the conclusions, as the will to progress is one of the values the book dislikes, the authors are going to refuse to consider it as an example of future oriented thinking/planning. After all, Francis never misses a new opportunity to tell us that history has ended. Even if we go the opposite route and agree with the study that public discussion about where society is headed no longer occurs, evoking the Kojeve (the far more reputable one as far as I am concerned) – Fukuyama line could have disastrous consequences for the study, as it would not imply that we are lacking a direction, but merely that the debate over the direction (and by extension – the image of humankind) has been settled.

7) I believe Milan conveys this with roughly the same language. There is a flowery feeling that we just need to think positively. At the same time nominalism invades the entire project. Even the images the book is critical of aren’t really bad, as they contain a grain of truth. Only an unspecified part of any particular image needs to be purged to synthesize with the opposite, and this is why I allege nominalism, because in the end it amounts to a trivialization of what I consider to be very real differences. This is another reason I prefer “values”. Such sleight of hand is harder to achieve without the multifaceted nature of visual imagery and only a vague sense of what a relation between imagery and action would entail.

8) If anyone is filled with an uncontrollable desire to read the book, I would recommend simply asking me for my somewhat complete notes. If people really care, I could probably write a sufficient summary and save a lot of time.

9) I apologize for the lateness of my review. I was out of town for the weekend.

Tristan May 20, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I’m willing to acknowledge that chapter 4 did not predict what actually happened in Science, but although its content might be faulty, it’s form seems true (it’s just Kuhn’s account of revolutionary Science). Add a a Hegelian premise to Kuhn and one can explain why it failed – thinking can’t grasp in advance the outcome of incredibly complex events, although it is excellent in retrospect at explaining why they (seem to have) had to happen the way they did.

Anyway, it seems a bit silly to talk about the book as a failure because it failed to predict a new image of man. It doesn’t actually claim to predict a new image of man – it claims to infer what a good new image of man would be, and deliver that information to the national department of education. The idea that you could “teach” an image of man is a modern-technological notion. People in the past had “images” of themselves, but didn’t conceive of that image as contingent as we can. That is our greatest strength. However, there is no guarentee that we can decide in advance what a new image should be simply because we can recognize this contingency.

Anyway, the reason why I recommended this book in the first place was that I found the logic of the first few chapters (1 and 2) convincing, vaguely phenomenological/Nietzschean, but in a state sponsored Scientistic technological setting.

It just might be the case that the most insightful books are themselves errors. If it is in fact the essence of man to err, this would not be surprising at all.

Milan May 20, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I am not bothered by the fact that the book seems erroneous in retrospect, per se. I do, however, think the most dubious parts about psychics and UFOs demonstrate the poor judgment of the authors.

I think they were driven by a counterculture impulse to an extent that undermined their ability to generate an improved image of man, or useful guidance for educations. You often see the same thing in the environmental movement. People who reject certain things in a well-justified way (coal power, for instance) often go on to reject things that are basically sound (vaccination, the scientific method, etc).

Tristan May 20, 2009 at 4:42 pm

The reason I’m uncomfortable with this kind of rejection talk about paranormal phenomena is that what we call “paranormal” is just any phenomena which can’t be explained within the normal frameworks. All of the paranormal phenomena they cite, they cite as Science – in journals. The fact that this kind of research was possible then and is impossible just means there was more money for research into phenomena that challenged the paradigm.

You tend to reduce revolutionary science to normal science, to falsifiability. This is an example of that, and I don’t think it does any good. But rather than have a debate about Kuhn again (maybe it would be a decent choice for the book club one month, however), I’d rather talk about the first few chapters – about whether we think that we have something like a self-image which has been different in different eras and which governs what we desire and what we think is possible.

. May 20, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Previously, on Kuhn:

Defining science
August 21, 2008

The Resolution of Revolutions
February 7, 2007

POPs and climate change as ‘anomalies’
January 30, 2007

Science and external social needs
January 6, 2007

Kuhn on research
December 29, 2006

Roles of scientists
October 17, 2006

R.K. May 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Epic comments like this one might make more sense as blog posts.

Setting up a site on WordPress or Blogger is very easy, and requires little time.

R.K. May 20, 2009 at 6:00 pm

5,895 words! Eleven single-spaced pages!

Like a term paper!

Peter May 20, 2009 at 10:16 pm


I have very little interest in blogging. For one thing, I am lazy. I am constantly amazed by Milan’s prolificacy. I did briefly consider posting the review and my chapter notes separately with a link, but I was told to write and submit a review, so I wrote a review, and then I submitted it. If I was told to discuss, I would discuss, albeit in posts that are probably much longer than others would prefer. I figure Milan can just delete anything I post that ruins a thread or whatever. However, I do apologize for the wall of text effect. I often forget that the site drops it into a standardized although limited format. The document actually has paragraphs, endnote links and various other format niceties.


I understand and agree with your comment. The book wasn’t designed to predict an image of humankind. However, I did try to show how the paranormal studies were linked to the selection and the feasibility of that image in chapters five and six. So my complaint isn’t that their image didn’t come to fruition, but that the studies directly affected what they considered to be desirable or possible images of humankind.

I strongly endorse your statement, “… “paranormal” is just any phenomena which can’t be explained within the normal frameworks”, because it was the book’s claim that such unexplainable phenomena would push science to (1) develop more complex notions of the subconscious, and (2) treat those notions seriously, which would involve (a) accepting subjective reports on par with objective, and (b) come to view phenomena in a non-reductionist manner. The problem is that the unexplainable phenomena never materialized (not just the ones mentioned in the book, but any), so there is no impetus to reject the western image. As a result (1) kind of occurred, but in a slightly different fashion, but (2,a,b) did not, nor has there been any reason to move in that direction since the reductionist position has been able to exert even more power. (I don’t mean influence, as in it has achieved greater acceptance, although it probably has greater influence as well. I mean power, as in we’ve been able to do more and more things with it, so it appears as the proper framework to view the world) The push in selecting images might be motivated by tendencies. The S-curve was something they did pretty well; e.g. a competitive nature might become unproductive in an era of guns, or looking to the future, homemade bio-weapons. But when they argue for things like the Yogi image, it is predicated on the belief that we are connected to a cosmic consciousness. We should strive for productive images and values, but we can’t buck reality to do it. So they commit a fundamental error in asserting certain images are desirable and feasible based on the recent research they presented.

To add a little more intellectual flavour, I think the authors were heavily influenced by William James’ The Will To Believe. In the book he argues that you can hold things to be true, if they are otherwise unverifiable, but holding them to be true would have an auxiliary positive effect. He came under fire from Bertrand Russell, who claimed that James definitions of truth (there were several and they are vague) meant that wishing something were so would make it so, and utility is not the standard for determining reality. The reply to Russell is that he missed the – if otherwise unverifiable – part, so one can’t believe the train is running three minutes late, because it would be convenient, but one could believe in God, if such a belief was shown to have a positive effect. I’ll stop the James sidetrack, but the relevance to the book was that these alternative images of humankind, which the authors seek to promote, only remain viable if they can survive an encounter with reality. So the book is weakened when it claims that objective science will suffer a crisis because it will encounter phenomena it cannot explain (and thus have to accept this broader, more inclusive images of humankind) if no such phenomena exist. Otherwise, the scientific image appears acceptable and correct. I mean, they endorse a gestalt, supra-conscious image of a person. What happens if reductionism ends up explaining everything? You can’t just insist on gestalt because it would be nice if the world works that way. I’m not saying reductionism will, or is ultimately correct, but the base evidence for why gestalt was the necessary method and image has certainly been blown away.

However, I agree with you on several important points. (1) While I found a necessary link between chapters four-five-six, I did point out that the abstracted form of their selected image of humankind wasn’t that bad. I only outright rejected the third facet. This was meant to convey the sentiment that it was still possible to find something interesting and useful in their conclusions. I have a vast interest in the project for the very reason you’ve suggested, (2) that is some strange Nietzschean, phenomenological, educational project. (3) The project itself could be separated from the referenced material. I don’t think the books conclusions can, but that is why I am sad. They took a good idea and ran the wrong way (in my opinion). (4) Their work on Kuhn was decent. (I wouldn’t say great, but decent) So you are right that there is a larger sort of investigation of science and paradigms that is independent (and thus survives) their quackery.

In the end, my recommendation not to read comes from my inability to get past chapter four, and my dislike of the lame synthesis approach of chapter five. I enjoyed reading the first three chapters, but in the end, my lack of a recommendation isn’t a strong condemnation of the book as a failure, but just that there are many better books out there. For instance, even if I wanted to preserve the same flavour, I would refer people to William James. I found the good stuff in the book came from influences that did it better, and that didn’t make the questionable claims CIoM did. So, perhaps there should be less emphasis on whether it succeeded or failed, and more on what it could have done better, or are there better accounts of these ideas already in the literature. By way of direct questions: (1) What, specifically about this book makes it deserved to be read? (2) Why is it more worthwhile, or what does it add to Nietzsche, Derrida, Heidegger, Dewey or James?

Tristan May 20, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Lift your arm. There, an unexplainable phenomena. Sure, you can give an explanation of it – but that explanation will be one of lawlike behavior – some photons hit your eye, some other things bump into some other things, and your arm goes up. You can’t explain the possibility of freely accepting a command, or any normativity at all, through lawlike behavior. And anyone who tells you they don’t believe in normativity is lying. So, you either have to accept you aren’t free (probably impossible), or accept that freedom is something entirely cut off from the world of experience.

Peter May 21, 2009 at 12:02 am

To some degree I share sympathies for phenomenology, but that doesn’t change the fact that reductionist accounts have demonstrated considerable power, and the specific dichotomy I offered was reductionist – gestalt.

There are accounts of normativity. Hart approach is basically point to statistical groupings and saying, see normativity. However, your point is well taken, because I think he cheat. To show normativity through the effects doesn’t really explain the normative effects of laws, especially where we want it – on the front end. Why did the law provide a reason for social conforming behaviour? But Hart does offer what I would consider to be a neutral view – just the facts. Others offer better, but non-neutral accounts, like any of Raz’s work on values, reasons and motivation.

However, I believe my point continues undeterred. The types of phenomena offered were different from your examples. You said we may give an account, but it isn’t the whole story, or potentially even a useful one. The authors postulated (in psi phenomena) events that objective images could not make any sense of, and thus a reductive account, regardless of how insufficient you may feel this mode is, would not be possible. I’m quite serious, it was the hook that those informed by western images would have to swallow, and the failure of the examples, means there is no hook.

Is there any chance of answering my direct questions? I’m actually very interested in your replies. You’re the only one (although there are only three commenting on the book) who would recommend it, and you haven’t written a review yet. As far as I am concerned, you don’t need to produce massive work that will irate others (like I did), but I would like to hear your characterization of the book, specifically what is valuable about it, what it did well, etc.

Milan May 23, 2009 at 2:02 pm

I often forget that the site drops it into a standardized although limited format. The document actually has paragraphs, endnote links and various other format niceties.

Comments can be formatted to a considerable degree using HTML. The following tags are permitted:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Tags that are disallowed are forbidden either because they could introduce security vulnerabilities into the site or because they could break the formatting of pages.

If you don’t want to style text using HTML, you can always upload a .doc file or a PDF and then post a link to it in your comment.

Peter May 24, 2009 at 9:29 am

The standardization is a good thing. I just forget often, which leads to the wall of text, which isn’t a good thing.

tristan May 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Usefulness is a value. If you decide its the prime value, you might get reductionism for-the-sake-of-use. However, it will break down in many cases, because often the reductionist account doesn’t work better and takes more time to calculate than a non-reductive account. In other words, calculation takes time, and usefulness won’t necessarily always meant exactitude.

Comprehensiveness is a different value. No where in “usefulness” or “powerfulness in use” exists the notion that the story must be comprehensive. But reductionism pushes towards comprehensiveness. Which is to say, there’s no way to know in advance that reductionism will be through and through the method for-the-sake-of usefulness.

Comprehensive, reductionism, and usefulness are all different values. If you pick one to be the chief value (nonsense talk about “the chief good” put aside. Chief in Aristotle doesn’t mean “highest” but “unqualified”. Highest means highest with regard to a set of lower things. Unqualified with respect to qualified is outside the set), then the others will be expended as soon as they don’t serve it.

Phenomenology is just a method. It turns out to be the method which helps us really understand what value-epistemology is (N4 best work on this). But, you know, it’s a bit German, and kind of associated with Naziism, so I guess we should just stick with reductionistic science. I can’t think of any American reductive scientists who had anything to do with killing millions of Jews. Ad-hominum argument looks fine here!

Peter May 24, 2009 at 4:02 pm

I don’t understand your reply (on any level).

“…and takes more time to calculate than a non-reductive account”

Sure. What does this have to do with your example being inappropriate?

“Which is to say, there’s no way to know in advance that reductionism will be through and through the method for-the-sake-of usefulness.”

What? And, what does this have to do with my point that so long as reductive accounts don’t run into unexplained phenomena the notion gestalt phenomena remains open to question?

“Comprehensive, reductionism, and usefulness are all different values.”

Reductionism was being referenced as a method. Utility and efficiency (which is related to power, which is what I think you are trying to get at) are different values, and might not be desirable ones to idolize.

“Unqualified with respect to qualified is outside the set), then the others will be expended as soon as they don’t serve it.”

As far as I can make any sense of your reply, I’ve interpreted this as an accusation that I’ve elevated a particular value that embraces the reductive approach and subordinates all other values as to expel other possible approaches or deem them insufficient, less desirable, etc. I’m not arguing for the position, I’ve only remained faithful to the author’s words. The book argued that an objective, reductive, utilitarian, individualistic,… image was dominant in the west. So the marginalization you’re referring to is noted by the rejection of subjectively dependent observations and phenomena, gestalt phenomena, humanistic accounts, etc. The examples were emerging scientific research of subjective phenomena that would force a re-evaluation of the subjective image, because the current western images would be unable to appropriate or ignore it. I’m not guilty of prompting some value; I’ve merely followed the scenario that was laid out.

“… so I guess we should just stick with reductionistic science.”

Once again, I’m merely presenting the case as it was presented in the book. You can argue against reductionism. You can also argue against efficiency as an unrestrained pursuit. I fail to see what this has to do with the fact you’re example is not of the same, and cannot perform the same function as the ones in the book.

“But, you know, it’s a bit German, and kind of associated with Naziism … I can’t think of any American reductive scientists who had anything to do with killing millions of Jews. Ad-hominum argument looks fine here!”

I didn’t mention Heidegger at all. I didn’t make an ad hominem argument. The Germans are a lovely people. Heidegger was more than kind of associated with Nazism. However, that is another debate, and a charge that I don’t think removes all merits of studying his work. I find it strange that you’d allege that I would outright refuse to read Nietzsche Vol 4, due to it being “a bit German”, since I sat beside you in the tutorial.

Peter May 24, 2009 at 4:07 pm


“I didn’t mention Heidegger at all.” (in the 76552 comment). I did mention him earlier, but as an example of someone that was worth reading over CIoM, which is one of the reasons your post continues to elude my understanding.

tristan May 24, 2009 at 7:09 pm

The book, as far as I can throw it, asserts that the reductionistic paradigm we are in is not useful for us, that there is a new one which will be more useful to us. If it turns out the reductionistic paradigm is actually the most useful, then the authors of the book would be the first to preach its virtues.

The book is, absurd, for two reasons. First, that the image of man as such could become something “useful”. Heidegger actually predicts this in Age of the World Picture, and other texts from the period of his Nazi involvement. Second, that “usefulness” somehow falls outside any particular image, such that when we pick the image that best serves life, we don’t include “to serve life” in the image – somehow it persists across images. This only means that “image” is gestalt but not thought radically enough. Thinking radically in this case means saying “why” to the will to power (will to will, will to life).

Peter May 27, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Actually, they don’t run into that problem. It is possible that modifying our current images will be serve the objectives those images seek to promote.

On the general naivety about actively choosing images – I agree. I’ve already noted this.
On the lack of a need for some new unforeseen image (like Heidegger requires) – I agree, I’ve already noted this as a failing.
On the fact that they are not Heidegger as an active criticism – I agree. The implication behind, “Why is it more worthwhile, or what does it add to Nietzsche, Derrida, Heidegger, Dewey or James?” was that I see no additional value to reading CIoM over any of those thinkers that they draw from.

It would be nice if you could post something substantial and sustained about your opinion of the book, since, setting these latest criticism aside, you were the only one that found value in reading the book.

tristan May 27, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Heidegger does not “require” the adoption of some unforeseen image. Heidegger is critical of the notion of worldview philosophy as early as work is published by him – see the 1919KNS course for his critique of normal worldview philosophy, or the “Critique of Jaspers” for a concrete interpretation of what happens when someone intelligent tries to give a “worldview of worldviews”.

“Actually, they don’t run into that problem. It is possible that modifying our current images will be serve the objectives those images seek to promote.”

This doesn’t make sense, and for reasons I’ve already explained. If modifying our image serves the interests of this image, then we haven’t modified our image at all. We are still acting on its basis. A “new image” would need to have its new basis for evaluation, otherwise it isn’t new at all. That’s why Nietzsche doesn’t assert “the answer” to the revaluation of all values, i.e. some new set of values. Eternal recurrence is the attempt to think becoming as becoming, but it is the highest will to power because it stamps becoming as being (a being – E.R.)

The book is of value because it makes the case, in a mainstream discipline, for the importance of a priori assumptions about man to all our everyday judgements. The book fails because it takes as its task not to think the a priori of man as such, but instead to take provisional account of it, to take an easy grasp on it, and then seek to modify it. I could write something longer, but I’d just be repeating myself. I think concision is a decent value for blog responding.

Peter May 28, 2009 at 1:35 am

Actually it makes perfect sense. Lets make a distinction between the image and the directive. (the term is arbitrary, so feel free to quibble with it) The image maybe changed, while the directive remains the same. Some of your previous comment lead me to believe that you located the directive inside the image, if that is the case, the directive will survive the modification of the image. So I don’t really care whether you want to locate the directive interior or exterior to the image, I’ve merely made the distinction for ease of communication. When you say, “modifying our image serves the interests of this image” you’re talking about the worldview entailed in the image, so you are correct in asserting that we aren’t promoting (or perhaps heightening is a better term) the reductionist image if we modify it to accept the gestalt. However, the directive, or the interests of those who hold the images might be.

For example – The reductionist image was adopted to enhance our understanding of the world. The image provides us with a framework. We take things apart. We break them into discreet packets. We study the parts. We study the relations between the parts. The directive in holding the reductive image is in providing an account of the world. If we were to into psi phenomena which can’t be explained by the reductive image, then the directive remains the same, but forces acceptance of the gestalt image. This is what the authors intended those scientific studies to do, force a change on the basis of what we utilized the reductive image. The presence of the supernatural causes a rupture that forces us to realize we’ve been looking at the world through a myopic lens.

Lets try another example: Take the technological imperative, and the notion of humanity as separate from nature. The purpose of these images was to drive progress to give us mastery over nature. Originally this was a very important evolutionary aspect because the harsh conditions of nature were the largest impediment to our survival. The directive was to enhance our survival. The authors’ argument in the book is that at this point in time the image no longer functions in the desired role, because of the scale of ecological change an attitude of unrestrained domination threatens our existence. The claim is that modification of the images is the only way to fulfil the directive, and we can see this with ideas like biomimicry. The technological imperative can only progress if the image of humanity as part of nature helps round the interpretative aspects of progress. And the images continue to fulfill their purpose, only if modified.

I was not suggesting that modifying and image didn’t move away from the perspective of the world that image supplies, but I was noting that they are not all encompassing for the authors; there are directives, desires or interests held by people, that the images of humanity are meant to service. I think that is a decent read, but you may cite textual evidence against it, however, it is the most charitable read, because it doesn’t allege prima facie incoherence.

Incidentally, Nietzsche doesn’t recommend new values because he can’t, but this has to do with the tendency of values to separate from the purpose. You might suggest this, but only in the most opaque way possible. For I would be willing to give you values require new evaluative contexts, but the reason for that is because context of which values server the organism are constantly changing. So, the directive would be more general, something akin to Nietzsche noting that all values should service life, rather than the reification of any particular value. You have to remember, values aren’t bad in Nietzsche. They are necessary. It is the reification of a set of values and the transmission through third party perspective (morality) that leads to inappropriate values (those that do not enhance an organism’s power) being adopted by individuals, which is what is condemned.

I also have very little understanding of your position on the eternal recurrence of the same. Nietzsche thinks being as becoming. Your “becoming as becoming” is an atypical presentation of his work and seems highly confused. The eternal return is the highest expression of will to power because it forces an affirmation of what is, because when faced with the terrible proposition of infinite repetition the only worthy reply is to magnify or further heighten what one is.

. June 4, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Though it’s tempting to view the Phillips machine as a relic of a bygone era, in one way it’s just the opposite; there’s something about it as fresh as the day it began gurgling. Look at its plumbing diagram. It’s a network of dynamic feedback loops. In this sense the Phillips machine foreshadowed one of the most central challenges in science today: the quest to decipher and control the complex, interconnected systems that pervade our lives.

Unfortunately, we have poor intuition about such complex systems. And yet we have to come to grips with them if we ever hope to understand, with mathematical precision, such issues as cancer, climate change and, yes, the workings of the real economy. All of these are obviously far more complicated than Phillips’s cartoonish caricature, with its mere handful of pipes and valves, but still, the family resemblance is unmistakable.

In an earlier time scientists were content to break problems into smaller and smaller pieces and study the individual parts. Reductionism, as the strategy is known, makes good sense. The hope was always that once you figured out how the components behave, it should be possible to put them back together to make sense of the original ensemble. But only rarely has this dream come to fruition, and in too many cases reductionism became an end in itself.

Now, after three centuries of profound discoveries, the real challenge is to master the process of reassembling the pieces, in ways that faithfully reflect the inevitable interactions among them. Bill Phillips, along with many other pioneers of the 1950s, took the first steps on this difficult road. By rendering the workings of a complex economic system visible in real time, he helped us embark on one of the most momentous scientific journeys humanity will ever take.

Milan April 11, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Freud was mentioned in this thread, so I thought I should link to a good introductory lecture on the man, delivered by a professor of psychology at Yale.

mike May 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm


The power of your communication is inversely proportionate to the length of your explanation… And yours is longer the the PDF for CIOM… But really: this static text that was meant to impress the space and time in which it was written “is what it is”, and it really comes down to this comment in the report:
“There are forces beyond the rather accidental convergence and impact of technology which reinforce the feeling that ‘the course of social change is quite beyond our capacity to control or even influence’ (Keniston, 1965)”
In attempts to control the world into the “ideal image”, they give up happiness to obtain said control, making the means toxic…
“…true and absolute utter freedom, comes to you, when you discover, that you have guidance within you, that helps you to choose thought, that puts you in the place of being a vibrational match only to that which you want to live. It let’s YOU off the HOOK, because it gives you the freedom, of never again, having to control another… which you are utterly unable to do.” – Abraham-Hicks (practical Quackery)

Peter May 31, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Oh, did a little reading make your head hurt?

The way the book club was explained to me was: Read the book, post a comprehensive review, and engage in discussions from comparing the reviews. The fact that it didn’t happen doesn’t change the instructions. I’ve never heard so much whining about having to spend 2 minutes reading from people that wanted to start a book club. So, I shall just give you my standard, I’m trying to promote Lit-C BRAH! L2Read, and point out that the only thing your brief post communicated was that you most probably did not read the book.

But then again, I guess when you think every book can be reduced to a randomly selected quote, there isn’t much point to reading.

marcus busby October 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

wow. quite some responses. finally some people who have read the book and are willing to discuss it.
i have read CIoM three times. the terminology is accessible, admittedly, initially i frequented a dictionary and dictionary of philosophy, however, my opinion is that the publication is coherent and well referenced with numerous peer reviewed journal articles, and quotes from authors who many consider to be well regarded academics (of the time).
i first read the book whilst at university studying environmental protection. it served well to refine some of the environmental debates even up until four years ago. personally i found the book concise and extremely penetrating. i spent seven years at university and worked as a social researcher and the book appears, in my estimation, to be an incredible synthesis of fact.
i have managed to summarize what i consider to be the relevant points to thirteen pages of text. it is a shame not more people have read it, although i think many solutions to the concerns raised in the book are present and within reach.
i found the book useful as a text, and also useful as a source for further reading – many of the references have been invaluable.

it’s definitely worth reading if you want to read something which is ‘meat’ as opposed to ‘milk’, prepare to have your mind expanded and extrapolated!

my only concern and main (unanswered as yet) question about the book, is that in presenting the dialectic of two opposing images – ie technological extrapolation and evolutionary transformationalism the authors seemed to be alarmed by the fact that the latter image would undermine ‘established order’ which leads me to wonder what the motivation for the study was, particularly as it was a restricted text until its release on the internet a few years back.

my prediction, as indeed the back cover of the book predicts is that we are entering a new age or era that will demolish hierarchical power structures and finally redeem humanity, reuniting us with our heritage which has been withheld for, according to history, about 2000 years. the pagan beliefs which colored all the original tribes of the world and ultimately taught unity within a greater organism – a bit like Cor 12:12 describes ‘christ’. i feel as though technological extrapolation can only end in ecological disaster and anybody who feels we need to get off this planet is regrettably, intrinsically dissatisfied with the fact that they are alive – they want to run away from themselves instead of knowing themselves. if we pursue the techno-fix mentality it seems likely that we will end up with, initially, a 1984 scenario, followed by a ‘matrix’ and the machines type scenario when we have incredible power at our finger tips to create a world more like Ernest Callenbach describes in Ecotopia.

anyone care to comment?

well done for reading it and also writing such vast reveiws

. December 4, 2011 at 7:01 pm

“This is a book that contradicts itself a hundred times; but that is not a criticism of it, because its author thinks contradictions are a sign of intellectual ferment and vitality. This is a book that systematically distorts and selects historical evidence; but that is not a criticism, because its author thinks that all interpretations are biased, and she regards it as her duty to pick and choose her facts to favor her own brand of politics. This is a book full of vaporous, French-intellectual prose that makes Teilhard de Chardin sound like Ernest Hemingway by comparison; but that is not a criticism, because the author likes that sort of prose and has taken lessons in how to write it, and she thinks that plain, homely speech is part of a conspiracy to oppress the poor.

This is a book that clatters around in a dark closet of irrelevancies for 450 pages before it bumps accidentally into its index and stops; but that is not a criticism, either, because its author finds it gratifying and refreshing to bang unrelated facts together as a rebuke to stuffy minds. This book infuriated me; but that is not a defect in it, because it is supposed to infuriate people like me, and the author would have been happier still if I had blown out an artery. In short, this book is flawless, because all its deficiencies are deliberate products of art. Given its assumptions, there is nothing here to criticize. The only course open to a reviewer who dislikes this book as much as I do is to question its author’s fundamental assumptions—which are big-ticket items involving the nature and relationships of language, knowledge, and science.””

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