Lives in Painting
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 9 Mar 2020
Human History as Cultural History
We need to reform our teaching of history so that the emphasis will be placed on the gradual growth of human culture and knowledge, a growth to which all nations and ethnic groups have contributed.
A New Freely Downloadable Book
I would like to announce the publication of a book, which tells the story of the lives and work of some of the world’s great artists, from ancient times to the present. The book may be freely downloaded and circulated from the following link:
This book is part of a series on cultural history. Here are links the other books in the series that have, until now, been completed:
LIVES IN ENGINEERING
LIVES IN ASTRONOMY
LIVES IN CHEMISTRY
LIVES IN MEDICINE
LIVES IN ECOLOGY
LIVES IN PHYSICS
LIVES IN ECONOMICS
LIVES IN THE PEACE MOVEMENT
Culture Is Cooperative, Not Competitive
Cultural evolution depends on the non-genetic storage, transmission, diffusion and utilization of information. The development of human speech, the invention of writing, the development of paper and printing, and finally, in modern times, mass media, computers and the Internet: all these have been crucial steps in society’s explosive accumulation of information and knowledge. Human cultural evolution proceeds at a constantly-accelerating speed, so great in fact that it threatens to shake society to pieces.
In many respects, our cultural evolution can be regarded as an enormous success. However, at the start of the 21st century, most thoughtful observers agree that civilization is entering a period of crisis. As all curves move exponentially upward, population, production, consumption, rates of scientific discovery, and so on, one can observe signs of increasing environmental stress, while the continued existence and spread of nuclear weapons threaten civilization with destruction. Thus, while the explosive growth of knowledge has brought many benefits, the problem of achieving a stable, peaceful and sustainable world remains serious, challenging and unsolved.
Our modern civilization has been built up by means of a worldwide exchange of ideas and inventions. It is built on the achievements of many ancient cultures. China, Japan, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and the Jewish intellectual traditions, all have contributed. Potatoes, corn, squash, vanilla, chocolate, chili peppers, and quinine are gifts from the American Indians.
The sharing of scientific and technological knowledge is essential to modern civilization. The great power of science is derived from an enormous concentration of attention and resources on the understanding of a tiny fragment of nature. It would make no sense to proceed in this way if knowledge were not permanent, and if it were not shared by the entire world.
Science is not competitive. It is cooperative. It is a great monument built by many thousands of hands, each adding a stone to the cairn. This is true not only of scientific knowledge but also of every aspect of our culture, history, art and literature, as well as the skills that produce everyday objects upon which our lives depend. Civilization is cooperative. It is not competitive.
Our cultural heritage is not only immensely valuable; it is also so great that no individual comprehends all of it. We are all specialists, who understand only a tiny fragment of the enormous edifice. No scientist understands all of science. Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci could come close in his day, but today it is impossible. Nor do the vast majority people who use cell phones, personal computers and television sets every day understand in detail how they work. Our health is preserved by medicines, which are made by processes that most of us do not understand, and we travel to work in automobiles and buses that we would be completely unable to construct.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Human society is a superorganism, far greater than any individual in history or in the present. The human superorganism has a supermind, a collective consciousness far greater than the consciousness of individuals. Each individual contributes a stone to the cairn of civilization, but our astonishing understanding of the universe is a collective achievement.
Science derives its great power from the concentration of enormous resources on a tiny fragment of reality. It would make no sense to proceed in this way if knowledge were not permanent and if information were not shared globally. But scientists of all nations pool their knowledge at international conferences and through international publications. Scientists stand on each other’s shoulders. Their shared knowledge is far greater than the fragments that each contributes.
Other aspects of culture are also cooperative and global. For example, Japanese woodblock printers influenced the French Impressionists. The nonviolent tradition of Shelly, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi,
Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela is international. Culture is cooperative. It is not competitive. Global cultural cooperation can lead us to a sustainable and peaceful society. Our almost miraculous modern communications media, if properly used, can give us a stable, prosperous and cooperative future society.
I hope that you will enjoy reading “Lives in Painting”, and other books in the series on cultural history.
Other books and articles about global problems are on these links:
I hope that you will circulate the links in this article to friends and contacts who might be interested.
John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).
Tags: Biography, History
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Mar 2020.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Lives in Painting, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
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