Fatal Shortcomings of Enlightenment Thought

What is enlightenment thought? It’s pretty much a core set of ideas that began to catch on in 18th century Western Europe.
These are the ideas that grew alongside and helped inspire the development of the modern sciences, the industrial revolution, of human rights.
It’s the emergence of these guiding ideas that marked the decline of monarchy, traditionalism, and religion in the West.

Enlightenment ideas, once revolutionary, have become the orthodoxy– So ubiquitous and deeply entrenched that we take most of its assumptions to be self-evident.

I think the enlightenment had a lot of things right, that it was on the right track. But sadly, it never developed far beyond its origins.
Its proponents never grew beyond their rage at the excesses of the previous system and continue to destructively overcompensate to this day.

Now, in the 21st century blind adherence to this fossilized body of thought has not only become a hindrance to the development of civilizations. It has proven itself a threat to the survival of entire peoples and races.

Most of these problems can be traced all the way down to the axiomatic level:

1. The vehement denial of meaning and driving purpose.
Treating the universe as if anything that cannot be measured or categorized doesn’t exist. (Helps explain why AI research has been stuck for decades when it comes to artificial minds?)

2. Inability to confront, understand, and resolve the nihilistic implications of a meaningless universe. Refusal to separate the relevant concerns from the irrelevant in the absence of meaning.(i.e. Relativism)

3. Failure to understand that reason is but a useful tool. It can no more offer direction, meaning, values or a purpose in life to the individual or society than can a hammer or a nail.

4. Inordinate focus on precision for its own sake, phobia of infinitude. Obsessive compulsive drive to put everything in exactly its proper box. (Only to discover that there’s always another subatomic particle within particles. Or yet another gradation of gray between A and A’.)
(Follows from 3)

5.Contempt for, misunderstanding of intuition and the subconscious faculties.
(Good use of these faculties is how scientific discoveries actually get made)

6. Contempt for human perception, regarding it all as a misguided illusion there to “fool” us.
(Perhaps this helps explain why we seem to have hit a wall at the quantum level)

7. Naive over-valuation of ‘choice’ and ability to act ‘logically’ in human beings.

8. Shallow understanding of ‘rights.’ Inability to understand that unregulated ‘freedom’ for the individual can mean insanity on the civilizational level.

9. Obsession with order and regimentation at the expense of all things human. Tendency to vastly overestimate the ability of humans to order the universe around us.

10. Tendency to attach excessive importance to grinding through isolated ‘facts’ while forgetting that the ultimate goal is to recognize patterns.

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2 responses to “Fatal Shortcomings of Enlightenment Thought

  1. The first thing that pops into my mind upon reading the above is parapsychology.

    Brian D. Josephson, for example, is a Nobel Prize winner who argues for psychic research.

    http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/

    Enlightenment culture fails to recognize physical phenomena that remind it of “spooky action at a distance.” So it fails sometimes even when it CAN measure data.

    But beyond that is the philosophical problem. Enlightenment axioms are not perfect.

    Philosophy of science is something I can blather on about for hours, but suffice it to say that there are a lot of good critics out there who have been screaming about the self-imposed blindness of science for decades. _Strip the Experts_ by Brian Martin is a good book on this topic.

    I’d like to see you expand on a lot of these themes, particularly Relativism in philosophy. What do you think of Protagoras? Pirsig would argue that Socrates’ advocacy of dialectic caused a bunch of problems for Western philosophy by downplaying Protagoran relativism, but this kind of problem arises in any kind of philosophy. Even Buddhist philosophy runs into self-inflicted problems.

  2. Another angle is geography.
    Jack Donovan circumvented the whole theory aspect of the issue and boiled it down to geography – coming up with a surprising twist on C.S. Lewis.

    C.S.Lewis said that one should love one’s closest circle of intimate neighbors, and be indifferent to grand ideals such as Humanism and Progress.

    Donovan’s version is “hate globally, love locally.”
    http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/portland/hate-globally-like-locally/

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