Moments ago, an interesting article appeared on The Guardian website and I can’t resist commenting on it. The article is entitled “Why it’s dangerous to outsource our critical thinking to computers”. It’s worth a read.
This kind of “outsourcing” concerned Socrates even in his day. He observed the paradoxical nature of the alphabet and of the printed word, lamenting that writing would lead to an atrophy of memory because the memory, once outered, externalised or objectified, would no longer be exercised. It probably accounts for why Socrates never wrote down anything himself.
Marshall McLuhan picked up and elaborated on that theme of Socrates with his notion of “technologies” or “media” as the “extensions of man” — literally outsourcing or outer-ance. It is a kind of magic. But, like Socrates, McLuhan thought that these extensions or “outsourcing” would also numb the function that was so “uttered”/”outered”, resulting in the atrophy, or obsolescence, of that particular organic function in the very act of its objectification.
This is the theme that the authors of the article pick up also in their concern about “outsourcing” our critical faculties in the form of computer algorithms in which we no longer take responsibility for our own critical thinking or reason once it is so “outsourced”, and much of this has to do with “post-rational” or “post-truth” society. This condition, however, was even prescribed as an ideal Brave New World by Rolf Jensen in his book The Dream Society: How the Coming Shift from Information to Imagination with Transform Your Business.
So I have punned on the term “out-sourcing” as “out-sourcery” to emphasise Algis Mikunas’s point about “technocratic shamanism” as he described it in his Gebser-influenced essay on “Magic and Technological Culture”, for Gebser is right that once the critical faculties of the mental-rational consciousness are benumbed or becomes “deficient” in this sense, the “irrational” faculties in the form of magic and myth begin to take over, but without anyone understanding this.
The problem lies in our understanding of the word “critical”, as in “critical thinking”. Critical means crucial, what what pertains to the “crux of the matter”. The crucial or the critical is a cross or a crossroads. And this is why the Sioux Sacred Hoop or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” actually model “critical thinking” in its truest form. Unfortunately, “critical thinking” has largely come to mean negation or even cynical reason. But as Rosenstock-Huessy has demonstrated in his social philosophy, real critical thinking is the continuous effort to restore the “cross of reality” and the sacred balance whenever it threatens to disintegrate and dissolve. Even in Buddhism what we call “critical reason” is called “discernment” or “discerning reason”, and it amounts to much the same thing. We can’t do without it. And the elements of discerning reason are represented by the “Guardians of the Four Directions”, as illustrated here,
These same guardians of the four directions, which belong to the four fronts of reality which form the “cross of reality” are equally represented in the Buddhist “vantra”
which, as you can see is structurally very similar to the Sioux Sacred Hoop and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”. Critical Reason is, in this sense, our responsibility to uphold and perserve and to restore the integrity of the cross of reality — the two time fronts of past and future, and the two space fronts of inner and outer –, and no machine can do this. This is precisely the task of “integral consciousness” and it is in that sense that “critical thinking” and “integral consciousness” are really two aspects of the same thing.
The problem, then, is not “critical thinking” but the particular form this has taken hitherto. It has not been considered in its fullest fourfold character, but as “triangulation”, as euclidean mind or as dualistic rationality. This is not it at all, and if we are going to master technology, rather than be mastered by it and by the “Anthropocene”, we have to relearn the authentic meaning of “critical thinking” as the very meaning of “fourfold vision”.