Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Prime Sources 1

One of the books which could claim a lot of responsibility for my auto-didacticness is Guide for the Perplexed by E. F. Schumacher. Fortunately for Mr. Schumacher, who is a reasonable man, I do not hold others accountable for my opinions -- hair-brained or otherwise. I haven't read it in more than a decade. It is however a book like oatmeal: it sticks with you. I particularly recall experiencing an aha moment(tm) when he described the distinction between convergent and divergent problems.

If you are hunting for a light weight, human powered, low cost, transportation system that requires minimal infrastructure, and can carry more than one human plus freight at need, then you will probably come up with a bicycle. It may look as strange as weird can be, still on sight all of us call it a bike. That's a problem with a convergent solution. There is no fun in re-inventing it because it will still be a bike.

Now consider that dinner time approaches and your family is known to be ravenous. There is some ground meat, a variety of forms of starchy carbohydrates, a plentiful bunch of vegetables, a variety of cheeses and an ample collection of herbs and spices. No two of us are going to come up with the same thing even if we both call it spaghetti. Yet all our families will be fed. That's a problem with a divergent solution. Solving it unleashes creativity.

When I researched the book at Barnes & Noble I found that the publisher had another take. Selling books is also a divergent problem.

The author of the world wide best-seller, Small Is Beautiful, now tackles the subject of Man, the World, and the Meaning of Living. Schumacher writes about man's relation to the world. Man has obligations -- to other men, to the earth, to progress and technology, but most importantly himself. If man can fulfill these obligations, then and only then can he enjoy a real relationship with the world, then and only then can he know the meaning of living.

Schumacher says we need maps: a "map of knowledge" and a "map of living." The concern of the mapmaker--in this instance, Schumacher--is to find for everything it's proper place. Things out of place tend to get lost; they become invisible and there proper places end to be filled by other things that ought not be there at all and therefore serve to mislead.

A Guide for the Perplexed teaches us to be our own map makers. This constantly surprising, always stimulating book will be welcomed by a large audience, including the many new fans who believe strongly in what Schumacher has to say.

And then they provided an excerpt which I have excerpted

Chapter One
"On a visit to Leningrad some years ago. I consulted a map to find out where I was, but I could not make it out. From where I stood, I could see several enormous churches, yet there was no trace of them on my map. When finally an interpreter came to help me, he said: "We don't show churches on our maps." Contradicting him, I pointed to one that was very clearly marked. "That is a museum," he said, "not what we call a 'living church.' It is only the 'living churches' we don't show.
It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show many things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life. I remembered that for many years my perplexity had been complete; and no interpreter had come along to help me. It remained complete until I ceased to suspect the sanity of my perceptions and began, instead, to suspect the, soundness of the maps"

Highly recommend.
-- ml

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