The Egotism of Expertise. Sampling the luscious fruits of Self-Esteem
A few recent posts have been devoted to a collective wail about the impossibility of non-genre books ever being discovered in the goose step parade of all the others who polish their boots and take steps in synchrony with guidelines and expectations.
A sharp interruption from an unbelievably perceptive reader who posted a review of both my books and how they interconnected both in time and causally rather answered the wail of despair. He said…
‘all events are simultaneous, and the future can easily reach back to the present—which is, in any case, far longer than we would guess. In 1969, an Eye blinks above a beach on the southernmost tip of Florida; some 45 years later there is a book called Involution. Cues wait only to be understood as such. Our hearts must be open, and our ears must be gigantic’.
These ‘gigantic ears’ for connections have mitigated my misery, and I am jubilant that ONE reader is enough. I knew that; but feared never to discover him. Yet this post (planned for today) still has relevance. It moves from the collective tramp to the individual stamp and an examination of what limits any individual if tethered to any ‘authority’ -his own or that assigned to an institution. In short it is about ‘interiorised’ conformity.
It is a central plank of what all my work seeks to topple: Conformity being deadly to the spirit.
A commonplace promise to writers of non-fiction who might publish is that it ‘positions’ you as an expert, gives you ‘credibility’, enables you to compete with the other experts (like Tony Blair whose ‘expertise’ the Middle East will live with forever) who then are able to give ‘talks’ for a fortune. That may be true of those to whom life has bowled curved balls and who found ways to catch, deflect or detonate. Having had to think on their stumbling feet, they usually bring something new to the table; their creative management of life.
Not so those who amass, bit-by-bit the facts or experiences from which to distil this alleged ‘expertise’, the dogged and methodical, and frequently uninteresting accumulation in some ‘arena’. I call this second grade ‘expertise’. Most especially in the competitive bull ring of academia ( more about that anon) whereby ‘my collection’ ( better distilled than ‘yours’) must trump, through vehemence, debate and prickly defence. This I call the egotism of expertise, and its capacity for jealousy and sustained antipathy runs through the history of science from Plato’s expropriation of Parmenides, through Newton v Leibniz and flows on now with Dawkins and Polkinghorne, Lennox and Dennett, and even turned into a tedious running bet by Sheldrake and Wolpert. Twigs of irrelevance feeding a fire to warm the egotistical.
Why are ideas deemed to ‘belong’ to anybody?
The world is all enfolded mind…
All speaks to all, as grass when broadcast
Appears first in green bubbles where the hedge gives shade,
Joined later by struggling drier seed, it makes the sward
Full velvet by joining fescue hands.
New crystals grown in Montreal create copies in Peru…
Once born, existence is assured elsewhere and far away…
A dragonfly may initiate monsoon in Kathmandu
By struggling in Tennessee to open iridescent wings.
If two people, with the same ‘facts’ available, interpret them differently to draw different conclusions, the facts will not decide, each has its opposing one; belief determines the interpretation, the ‘nose’ or ‘appetite’ for conclusions. I am not referring to experience but why is this factual ‘expertise’ so trumpeted when it answers no questions?
Precluding Experience in Favour of Testable Hypotheses ( the smell of a rose?)
One of the central filters blocking advances in science is the preclusion of any experience that cannot be measured, repeated or validated; which is why so many unsung geniuses went to their graves before their contribution was acknowledged. They experienced what had yet to be substantiated, but egotism dismissed their unorthodoxy; ridiculed until enough accumulation of supportive facts toppled the opposition. By that time their originality had often been expropriated by someone else.
Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to Watson and Crick’s DNA modelling was quietly buried (it is now being acknowledged; she is safely dead). Science, the so-called objective, rational pursuit of truth, is pretty untruthful when egotism is given its head, and in Oxbridge circles it is accepted as the game. Supervisors publish students’ work, and take the plaudits and the prizes.
I have many stories to tell because I never derived an idea. It derived me. Unfortunately it did not ensure letters after my name first, so there was never any moderation to contempt. The experience described in my interview (with Alexander Zoltai) came uninvited, and destroyed my world. So I can hardly claim ‘expertise’, although if I now have a field of ‘expertise’ it lay in the study of those similarly afflicted, with an idea too big for boots’ conformity and without the necessary credentials to argue their idea or even the right to hold it. They were the beads strung on the rosary of science.
There is a glorious disparity,
The paradox whereby the caravan
Was led by travellers, uniquely unafraid
To find established emperors had no clothes.
They dragged all cheering, jeering men behind
To gather up and measure what fell short
Below the turning spokes; securing paltry spoils
Of disputation and the fashioning of hats
From small distinctions, narrow ribbons of reward,
Proving them mistaken, finding brighter claim…
(Perfecting with triumphant diadem
What was, in general, adequate au fond)
Dipping a toe in the shark infested waters?
In a previous post on symphonic prose I attempted to explain the principal reason behind using it, the appeal to the intuitive heart rather than the didactic left brain. My encounters with the ‘jeering men’ had played a part certainly, not by inculcating fear but the recognition that egotistic intellect precludes understanding of anything meaningful. That certainly came first, and of it I have woven a whole hypothesis about the separation of intellect from consciousness. Science has arrived at objective ‘materialism’ through intellect, and divisive intellect alone.
But ‘for the avoidance of doubt’ I would also say that the Involution ‘played’ its tunes on the harp strings in my mind. Unlike logically argued prose, which demands chronological structure ( of language itself- grammar is ‘frog marched by time’) this ‘playing’ was multidimensional; I could listen to the strands by heeding them individually. In that sense I think Involution wrote itself ‘through’ me. I do not mean to suggest I was ‘channelling’, or that like Mohammed I had Gabriel on side. It wasn’t quite that easy. Rather that, having experienced the ‘all’ was rather like removing a central stone of a beaver’s dam in a fast flowing river, the sticks carefully intertwined were loosened, and in the flow catapulted into the current of understanding. Everything flowed towards the sea.
Jumping in to Deeper Flowing Waters
Having tried six variants of ordinary prose this sense of being pulled by the current was incredibly liberating; I just let it take me where it listeth. This has some penalties, inasmuch as when you claim to be writing science, nobody wants the irrelevant. Tight argument is usually expected. Censoring the river was not an option. It took bye-ways and flowed into small cul-de-sacs, and spiralled in eddies, and slowed with sluggish intervals. It seemed arrogant to imagine I could select from the weight of water which rivulets I would allow or prohibit.
Besides, this was a journey and I wanted a reader (if I ever found one) to take it with me and to feel the coldness, the pull, and a sense of destination, not a contrived subterfuge to camouflage a polemic. The reader who was mentioned above, seems to have jumped in and let it flow round him, and what he heard was multi-instrumental music. Was ever ‘symphonic prose’ better rewarded? Although I believe that Involution as a hypothesis does sing a better song about creation, (and has much evidence to support it), I am phobic about proselytization, or evangelical certainty. As a theory it will be refined, because its story is all about hypotheses replaced by bigger and better ones, but the first journey into unknown land is always the most vivid.
Behind us will come other minds
Recasting all in oak…
Filling its gaps with detailed plate
A stanchion bridge to stand.
I do enjoin you, just enjoy
The flowing river below…
The sway, the pendulum that swings…
You will not lose sight of land
Nor yet the constant sight of sea
Reminding you of Turner’s brush, it seems to come and go…
The Meaningless Didactic: Avoiding Bruises.
But there was another reason, to write for those who did not call themselves ‘seekers’ or ‘scientists’. That decision had been born with bruises I touched on in previous posts, particularly my encounter with the evangelical Epiphany Philosophers in Cambridge, who cheerfully tore it (and me) to shreds. They straddled the ‘spiritual /scientific divide’ but with the waspish competitive ruthlessness of academia. I had been through something close to hell, had to borrow the train fare to accept their invitation to present the theory, but nothing moderated their savage mockery. I sat at the focal point of an oval inquisition, and bloodied to silence, could scarcely rise when it was done.
Intellectual cut-and-thrust and demolition is the nature of such expertise.
That brings me to the essence of this post, the egotism of expertise, the blinkered and narrow lenses through which all those who deem themselves knowledgeable preclude new ideas, require credentials they respect (Oxbridge or Ivy League natch) before they heed reluctantly, if at all.
The Wrong Kinds of Consistency?
Involution as a thesis traces this very process through recorded history, and how the maverick emissaries of genius (on which all of scientific progress has rested) all shared the symptoms of certainty and obsessive stubborn adherence, yet even that consistency never budged the refusal to the new. ( Brave new ideas are sensitive/To antigen attack from the body politic).Which was why Arthur Koestler warned me that although Involution was worth expanding, it would be unlikely to find a publisher. That was in 1970.
In 2013 it still could not find a publisher. Not even with a letter of Introduction from Laszlo to his own publisher. A notable academic Director for a spiritual organisation refused initially to even accept a copy. His reason? That I had taken the ‘shameful liberty’ of claiming that Koestler had supported it.’ My dear girl, if that was true it would have been published. People say kind things in letters they will not stand up to say in public’ ( He knew nothing about my encounter with Koestler, but assumed because I was unknown, I could be dismissed with unfounded accusations and contempt. I was ‘shamefully inventing’ what Koestler was not alive to deny!)
The planet has been almost destroyed by expertise, over-populated, deforested, over-heated and at war. God save us from too much respect for expertise, expropriation of ideas, exclusive paths to truth, either religious or scientific.
Now, vehemence spent, I promise to shut up!
(Images reproduced under Wikimedia Commons Licences)