Patterning Intuition with the Fifth Discipline
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 May 2019
Critical Review of the Conclusion of the 5-Fold Patterning Instinct
Review of the concluding section of The Patterning Instinct: a cultural history of man’s search for meaning (2017) by Jeremy Lent.
This book has been widely praised, as indicated by reviews such as the following (emphasis added):
- A tour de force on the biological and psychological background of the human predicament. If you are concerned about our future, you should know about our past. This amazing, well-documented book should be read by every college student and every congressman. (Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Human Natures)
- A brilliant deep dive into the history of human cultures that brings us to today’s cultural dysfunctions that threaten the planet. Insight, illumination, and potential ways out of the seeming dead end that we’ve walked ourselves into. (Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Agent Sunlight)
- The Patterning Instinct is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future of humanity. (Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch founder and president)
- To have any hope of transforming this perverse and potentially apocalyptic worldview, we will need to dig much deeper into our own history—and this extraordinary book provides an authoritative and inspirational guide. (Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist and author)
- Now, thanks to the most profound and far-reaching book I have ever read, I feel I’m beginning to understand… almost every page caused me to rethink what I held to be true. Bringing together cultural history with neuroscience, Lent develops a new discipline he calls cognitive history. (George Monbiot, Stepping Back from the Brink, 31 January 2018)
The foreword concludes:
Cognition is embedded in matter at all levels of life… cognition is not a representation of an independently existing world but rather a “bringing forth” or “enacting” of a world through the process of living. Jeremy Lent applies this insight to history, recognizing the power of the human mind to construct its own reality and arguing that “the cognitive frames through which different cultures perceive reality have had a profound effect on their historical direction”… From this perspective, Lent proposes new answers to some age-old questions of human history… In our time of global crisis, which desperately needs guidance through new and life-affirming metaphors, the answers to these questions are more important than ever (Fritjof Capra, author of The Systems View of Life)
The focus in the following review is on the potential implications for the future, as implied by the highlighted indications above. Given the framing offered by Fritjof Capra in the foreword, it is appropriate to note that his own recent study was subject to a separate critical review (Transcending an Asystemic View of Life, 2014). Many of the arguments made there are of some relevance to those made here with respect to The Patterning Instinct.
The book is organized into five parts, and it is in the final part that the highlighted implications should become most apparent. The parts are understood as a “cognitive history” — a sequence corresponding to “the core pattern of meaning by which people made sense of their world”:
In considering Trajectories to Out Future (the chapter title of Part 5), it is appropriate to note that it mainly echoes speculation on strategic scenarios in other studies, notably by futurists. The valuable insights into patterns elicited in the other parts do not seem to carry over into any form of cognitive empowerment with regard to immediate challenges, or those to come.
In this sense, somewhat ironically, the book is best appreciated and deprecated for its enthusiasm — given the shifting ambiguity with which that has been understood over the centuries and to this day (Susie Tucker, Enthusiasm: A Study in Semantic Change, 1972). More cautious in this respect is Brendan Montague (Beating the system – metaphorically, The Ecologist, 3 July 2018). It can be appreciated as a decorous progress through humanity’s past, reminiscent of a pavane — a stately dance in musical terms.
The concern with regard to Part 5, in a book which offers a remarkable historical survey of patterning, is what it enables with respect to the future at this time. Is consideration of the future thereby transformed into a “historical afterthought”? What is to be gleaned from cognitive history? What are the “take-away” insights for action now?
This critique raises the question as to whether patterning is instinctive (as implied by the title of the book) or whether it is better understood as intuitive (the implication of its organization into five parts). To the extent that humanity is held to be unconscious, patterning is necessarily instinctive (John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, 1995). However, to the extent that a collectively self-conscious humanity is required to make conscious choices with respect to its future, survival may well depend upon intuitive patterning (Post-Apocalyptic Renaissance of Global Civilization: engaging with otherness otherwise? 2018).
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