The current human predicament is precariously paradoxical. We live in a mass culture obsessed with the need to know at a time of such instability and unpredictability that knowing is of little good. If there is a way out of this predicament—and there is—then people need to hear about it and take part in what is no less a conceptual revolution than the Scientific Revolution, which is what gave us the knowing paradigm in the first place.
The Overweight Brain: How Our Obsession with Knowing Keeps Us from Getting Smart Enough to Make a Better World
In writing The Overweight Brain, my plan is to share the process with you. I’ll be posting draft chapters as I write them and ask for your feedback. “Would you read this book? Recommend it to colleagues? Friends? Students? Assign it? Give it away?” I’ll be asking for input chapter titles and illustrations, so please scroll down to the feedback section and poll on this page.
So let’s begin!
Knowledge may well have been freedom in the 19th and 20th centuries as Frederick Douglass famously said. But there’s little evidence for that equation today. To rephrase psychologist James Hillman who wrote a book entitled, We’ve Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, I say, “We’ve had The Information Age, The Digital Revolution and The Knowledge Explosion and the world’s getting worse.”
Slaves were forbidden to read in Douglass’ day. Today, African Americans are denied access to the world’s knowledge in other (often insidious) ways, Yet, I believe that the problem of freedom goes beyond unequal access to knowledge. Whether white, brown, black, yellow or red; female or male or other; rich or poor; heading up or heading down; young or old, what keeps us all unfree in all kinds of ways is how organized our lives are by the ideology of knowing and its institutionalization. (Think: being in school, applying for a job…)
Knowledge became “king” with the birth of the scientific era and it helped humankind accomplish incredible things, many of which have been of invaluable benefit (extending life, curing disease, advancing agriculture, sharing information, discovering and preserving cultures…the list almost never ends). But the depth and breadth of scientific and technological discovery has come with a price, which is that “knowing” has become ideological. An ideology is a worldview, a way of looking at things, a set of ideas that underlies beliefs and understandings and guides actions—that’s become “how things are” so we’re usually not even aware of it. The knowing ideology is simply this: human life and growth, solutions to social problems, and world progress require and depend on knowing.
But what if they don’t? What if it doesn’t “go without saying” that we must know in order to get anything done? What if the knowing worldview is stifling creativity and discovery and closing off other ways of understanding—not only in the human and social sciences, and health care and education, but also in how we relate to ourselves and others (and even how we relate to knowledge)?
We live in a mass culture obsessed with the need to know at a time of such instability and unpredictability that knowing is of little good. If there is a way out of this predicament—and there is—then people need to hear about it and take part in what is no less a conceptual revolution than the Scientific Revolution, which is what gave us the knowing paradigm in the first place.
For all the knowledge-gathering, evidence-based practices, diagnoses, assessments, evaluations, predictions and pontifications, are we any closer to peace in the Middle East or elsewhere, to bridging what educators call the achievement gap between white middle class children and minority and poor children, to eliminating poverty, to ending violence, to stopping the destruction of the planet?
I’m writing The Overweight Brain because the answer is no. And because there are other ways to tackle these issues. I have been on the ground floor of creating some of them, with my late mentor Fred Newman and many colleagues. I’ve learned of other innovations and met many hundreds of people who are creating alternatives that work. I‘ve written several books that touch upon or delve deeply into “the knowing paradigm”—scholarly books written, for the most part, in academic style. With The Overweight Brain, I’m trying out a different voice and writing (as best I can) in ordinary, everyday language. I want to speak to anybody who’s interested and share what I think and what I’ve learned and what I’ve built so that you don’t need a college degree or have to read every paragraph three or four times to understand. I need you to tell me how I’m doing.
December 9, 2013 The phrase, the overweight brain, comes from Hamletmachine by Heiner Müller (1929-2005), the East German dramatist. Hamletmachine is a postmodern distillation and reconfiguration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the play, Müller’s Hamlet embodies the dead end of West