January 2010

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Angels on the head of a pin. See them multiply – like bacteria in an agar jar, fed on the nutrients they most desire, yet going nowhere, until they eat all there is and die of their own success. The scholars who read and write and multiply words feed upon one another in the arrogance of their self-contained world.

Words, words, like angels; terms, more words, untied to any reality, yet hinting that they know something deep, profound, wise. But the words and angels are not about anything beyond themselves: words, words. It all sounds good, correct…as long as there is no demand to do anything, to apply, to give us some understanding of any experience, of our being. For being is simply, merely assumed, and not relevant, and experience cheapens the theory and ideas; so we are told.

It is all the Glass Bead Game, where the players control the concept of the world, and the concept itself controls the world. But it is not clear, increasingly not relevant, whether there is any world…or any life.

Reality? Muffled by the crowds of angels on the head of the pin, spinning stories, dizzying our thoughts.

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[Download the PDF version or read the full text below. Updated from previously published version in Organization, May 2001; vol. 8: pp. 403 – 415.]

Abstract. My vision for the future university acknowledges the facts of rapid change in the world. It attempts to conserve the idea of the university as structures and process by centering the university on a study of changes as they are redefining knowledge. As vision, it asks that faculties join in Centers for the Study of the Present Age to discuss, teach and attempt to shape the futures of Science and Technology and their ramifications. Key words. future university; new vision; re-center the university; study of present age

The vision: when I speak and think of the university, I have in mind the largest institution, the greatest number of students at all levels, professional as much as academic; graduate and postgraduate, as well as undergraduate.

The curriculum is at its maximum: some 150 subjects/disciplines in which one can garner a PhD. I have in mind, then, the largest public research universities, especially those which (also) educate their students to serve their states in the traditions of Land Grant: including agriculture and the mechanical arts.

While there are ample reasons to describe a private (research) university of fame or privilege as the descriptor of the university – say, the top of the pyramid of American universities, an Oxbridge or a Berlin – I think it important for our understanding of the present toward the future to consider the university serving the interests of the widest public or publics. In this setting, I intend to focus on the structure-processes of the institution, but particularly on how the idea of a university will intersect with, even help to define, the nature of the future.

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“What scientists do when a paradigm fails is, guess what, they carry on as if nothing happened.”

After watching this TED video of Elaine Morgan, updating us about the latest evolutionary research supporting the hypothesis that we evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats and the connection between nakedness and water in mamals, I thought I’d share my unedited essay on Elaine’s other examined ideas about m/other-child interaction from her book “The Descent of the Child: Human Evolution From a New Perspective“. Many paradigms need updating these days!

So, first the TED video updating on how we evolved, followed by my essay updating how we become somebody (interested folks might also like to see my (shorter) post about this.)


Seeing Somebody There


The broader context of this essay explores the fact that we humans are socially interactive creatures: “bodies-in-interaction.” Our individuality, the development of the self and/or the I, is an “emergent” aspect of the human condition.

Fact is italicized since the history and current thinking about the human and how we are, think, know…has managed to omit this fact. Why so, and what differences it makes in how we think about the human, the world…are at the heart of this discussion.

The human has been characterized as each (physical) individual, essentially separate or independent of others – at least early on in life. The individual has been characterized in terms of knowledge or mind: the individual is taken to be an embodied mind. The mind – how we know or have knowledge – is the factor of our being which is raised to the status of definition of our being.

In my experience, thought, and observations, this is not an accurate characterization of the human. Though it has been the completely dominant idea of the human – particularly in Western thinking – it leads us away from the experience and truth of our being – tends to focus on certain of our (presumed) abilities as definitional – and mis- or under-estimates many others. The facts of our faces being central to our being, for example, has been hardly studied or much considered in thinking about what is the human.

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Am I on target?

Do I know where I am going? And why am I headed in a particular or certain direction; and not in some others?

Where I am?

I am often confused: between doing what is polite and what is right – and clearing some sense for which is which.

Confused between knowing what my work was and was for, and what is my work, now, in changing times, between being who I am for others, and who I am for myself. Confused about the future and its possible directions.

Living in a world where everyone is presumed to be out for oneself, for success, for power, fame and gain…I am pulled and pushed and yanked around by an aging vanity.

But which sense of self endures; which will I find, and be found?

If I am so smart: “why ain’t I rich,” my neighbors ask; “why am I not at Harvard,” my colleagues whisper; “why am I here,” I ask. “And where am I?”

I am a life-line for some of the people I know, enjoy, and love. Their lives become grim in a central aspect of what they do, or who they are, yet I remain somehow steady for them: not a therapist to tell them it’s all O.K.; not a teacher or an advisor to tell them what to do; more a constant person who wants to engage them in serious (or light) talk about an idea, do some analyses of situations we think about in common, seek each other’s experience or advice or critical thinking-through together.

Each of us occasionally, find ourselves in difficult times; times from which we will probably emerge, yet see no present light emerging. What seemed momentary now tries to fill all of life’s spaces; all thinking thoughts drift like a mud-slide into these moment’s dire straits. We call each other, find one another in such times, and here I am, fairly reliable, knowing what grimness is and how it may travel in the mind’s eye enveloping more and more of your being. I have done such journeys, you see, and know them all too well; as close to the edges of their dirtyness and down-ness as staying being has permitted me.

Now restricted, I practice them each day, much like practicing the violin. I confirm their being, I can confirm your being. And we move on, I a life-line, pushing your thoughts beyond the sun-eclipsings of doom’s concentrations, into some thought development we share. I seek you, I want your advice out of the larger experience of memory’s brighter days, into tomorrow’s openings.

Come on: there is work to do!

Not-talking, not being with, those who breathed life into us, in whose imagination we reside permanently, is a journey which wrenches, threatening full-time to keep us in childhood memories and meanderings. Justifying why we do not talk, trying to redo memories, as if their correcting in today’s thinking will update the actuality, like plastic surgeons uplifting the faces of age and antiquity.

Not-talking because talk is impossible; because the words which would be loving turn too easily into threats; wishes to please, to hold, to be with, fall outside of immediacy into some abyss…where terror resides, lurking; its cheshire-cat leer preparing to pounce upon any momentary weakness perceived.

Not-talking, now the resolve of life weakened into last words. Talk, not-talk, now altered into the what-would-have-been. Talk, the might-have-been, battling at last to come into today, so we can all breathe the same air, unpolluted by the burdens of not-talking…