Education for Enlightenment
By Bernard Scott
Former Reader in Cybernetics
Cranfield University BernCES1@gmail.com
The aim of this paper is to highlight the need for education that is truly enlightening, an education that provides reflexive awareness of what it is to be a human social actor in the context of the many problems facing mankind. Arguably, such an education is a necessary part of any solutions for dealing in a holistic way with global problems. The paper draws on concepts from cybernetics and sociocybernetics to develop both the form and content of the required curriculum. It also includes a discussion of “What is enlightenment?” from an historical perspective. After further elaboration of the proposed curriculum, the paper concludes with some brief considerations of what would be required for education for enlightenment to be recognised as a global need and what would be entailed by the implementation of such a curriculum.
Keywords education, enlightenment, sociocybernetics, curriculum
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Gothenburg, Sweden, July 11-17, 2010.
The paper highlights the need for education that is truly enlightening, an education that provides reflexive awareness of what it is to be a human social actor, one that is empowering for self-determination, one that makes clear the nature of ethical choices, in particular, the choice between, on the one hand, selfless service for the greater good or, on the other hand, the pursuit of short-term personal goals. The paper sets itself in the context of the many problems that are facing humankind globally in the 21st century, namely, as discussed in Scott (2008, 2009): unsustainable economic growth, unsustainable population growth, climate change and a wide range of other ecological disasters. The main thesis developed is that education for enlightenment is a necessary part of any putative solutions for dealing with the global problems holistically.
The main arguments are drawn directly from concepts in cybernetics and sociocybernetics that are helpful in providing a rational account of what is education for enlightenment. Works cited include those of Ashby, von Foerster and Pask. Armed with a clearly articulated cybernetic framework for understanding human social actors and their choices of how to behave, it is possible to usefully draw out from existing spiritual and pedagogic traditions those aspects which are shared and are compatible with the cybernetic understanding. On the basis of these comparisons and considerations, it is possible to set out, in outline at least, the curriculum for education for enlightenment. In spirit, the curriculum in itself is not new. What are innovative are (i) the use of concepts from cybernetics to stand as foundations for that curriculum (ii) the inclusion within the curriculum of teaching about concepts drawn from cybernetics and systems theory.
The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 is a brief summary of the context in which we are living. Section 3 sets out some introductory definitions, including how the author understands “What is ‘sociocybernetics’?”, “What is ‘education’?” Section 4 is an extended discussion of “What is enlightenment?” and looks back historically to the Age of Enlightenment. It then proceeds to consider what enlightenment means today. Section 5 discusses the idea of what could be the curriculum for education for enlightenment. In particular, it considers how second order concerns about the belief systems of actors and reflexive awareness might be usefully summarised for educational purposes. The paper concludes with a discussion about the possibilities of education for enlightenment being, first of all, recognised as a global need and, second, being implemented on a global scale.
2. The context
In Scott (2009a), I discuss the relevance of sociocybernetics for addressing issues associated with possible world futures. In that paper, I present a figure (shown here as figure 1) as an attempt at a holistic view of a wide range of issues that demand our attention. I comment that possible world future scenarios range from the optimistic to the extremely pessimistic. In Scott (2010a), with respect to the same set of issues, I discuss, in quite general terms, the concept of ‘education for awareness’ as a way of progressing the ‘global conversation’ that may in due course lead to at least an amelioration of the possibly catastrophic changes that face us. I suggest that, “The key idea to appreciate is that the conversation about possible solutions is the first step towards possible solutions.”
Figure 1. An attempt at a simple holistic overview of some global problems
In this paper, in discussing what is education for enlightenment, I argue that such an education always has the form of a conversation and part of that conversation is learning to understand what is effective conversation. These ideas are by no means novel. What I have done in later parts of the paper is, I hope, set out the ideas clearly and placed them in both an historical and contemporary context.
3. Introductory definitions
My understanding is that sociocybernetics is concerned with applying theories and methods from cybernetics and the systems sciences to the social sciences by offering concepts and tools for addressing problems holistically and globally.
The parent discipline, cybernetics, has been variously defined as “control and communication in the animal and the machine” (Wiener, 1948); “The study of all possible machines” (Ashby 1956) ; concerned with “feedback and circular causality in biological and social systems” (von Foerster et al, 1953). In Scott (2000), I characterise cybernetics as a ‘transdiscipline’ (Latin ‘trans’ - across) that abstracts from the many domains it adumbrates, models of great generality. I also characterise cybernetics as a ‘metadiscipline’, a discipline about disciplines (Latin ‘meta’ – above) that aims to understand similarities and differences between disciplines and their genesis as forms of human knowing.
For more about sociocybernetics, see http://www.unizar.es/sociocybernetics/whatis.html (accessed June, 2010).
Ashby (ibid) further states that ‘machine’ is synonymous with ‘system’ and that, “A system is that which persists.”