Friday, June 19, 2009

Simplicity, Western thinking and Autism

During my university years at the Catholic University of Louvain, I studied philosophy. Though I did not maintain or upgraded any of the knowledge since the 30 years that passed since then, some of the concepts and ideas learned in those days have firmly influenced my spontaneous thinking about things.
My confrontation with Indian culture makes me become very aware now of the relativity but at the same time also the strengths of that thinking.
By meeting Indians, I discovered how deeply my own individual relationships and communication is based on certain philosophical assumptions.

From what I remember to be general principles - (how typical Western is this expression !) - some popped up lately.

- The general advice embedded in all education of young people in Europe is: "Build yourself a theory with few concepts. Try to interprete everything that happens in your life (= reality) with these concepts. If reality is unexpected or doesn't fit into the simple mental schemes, then first try to change reality so that it fits into the concepts (see Hegels concept of reality, who went so far in this that reading him can drive you utterly insane). If you don't succeed in changing that reality, then change your concepts, but please, keep them simple ("God does not play dice" - Einstein and f.i. this blogmessage."
Hegel was one of the great thinkers who attempted to build up a complete worldview on the basis of the simple scheme "these/anthithese/synthese". He tried to include all aspects of reality in his philosophical thinking. As an answer to his critics telling him that a lot of observations in reality did not fit entirely in his theory and could not be explained by his simple these/antithese/synthese-scheme, Hegel answered: "That's a pity for reality".

- "Reduction of complexity into simplicity" is the main technique of Western thinking. It's been the uncritisized assumption in Catholic teached philosophy (the only one that I think I can really understand) and in general of Western thinking. You just have to think about any of the great philosophies produced in the West to realise that all tried to explain complex reality by reducing the complex reality into simple concepts.

- "Truth lays in simple concepts". According to me this is the leading conviction in European culture. It's the basis of science itself. This idea is even the basis of Western economical thinking.

- "Simplicity is beautiful" (Einstein). The idea that even esthetics is connected to simplicity is a logical consequence of the techique applied in thinking.

- "Morality is the application of correct rules". Rules must be simple to apply and to be spontaneously felt/accepted as "valid". In Europe nobody is interested anymore in people who doubt.

- In society itself "Success" is the proof of Truth, Beauty and Morality. In Western thinking there's no doubt that by correct applying the technique of Reductionism, everyone can be successfull.

Success can be economical, financial, artistic, interpersonal or whatever. It is my impression that in Western society, more and more the concept of "Success" itself is being reduced to measurable data, like money and even mentioning simple digits leads to a spontaneous appreciation.
I give an example. If you ask a Westerner to describe his holiday-experience (= complex experience), then you typically get answers like "Hotel had 3 stars", "Walked 50 miles", "Expenses were high", "Visited X number of cities", "Bus drove yyy kilometer", "Bought this and that at xxx euro", "This or that trip was very well (= a 6 and above filled-out on the obliged quality-form) or very badly organised (= a 0 on the form)"
A good holiday for a Westerner is a holiday during which not too much unexpected happened. The perfect holiday-experience for a Westerner is one during which he doesn't have to change any of his habits and in which the organising companies on which he had to rely were able to create and maintain an illusion of a simple reality. Sometimes I wonder why Westerners are travelling that much ...

- Since Enlightment all these basic assumptions are again simplified by connecting them only to the individual sphere: “What can I know? What ought I do? For what may I hope?” (Kant). The questions are not what WE can know, what WE have to do, what WE may hope for.
This has led to an extreme feeling of individual responsability in the Western world.


Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.
The number of people known to have autism has increased dramatically since the 1980s, partly due to changes in diagnostic practice; the question of whether actual prevalence has increased is unresolved.
An autistic culture has developed, with some individuals seeking a cure and others believing autism should be tolerated as a difference and not treated as a disorder.


In my opinion, Western culture's basic assumptions are essentially of autistic nature in the sense that it easily leads to communication disorders in individual lifes. In other words: the technique of simplification can easily lead to a very restrictive and poor individual thinking.

In one of the next blogmessages I will try to show how Indian culture is essentially different (which doesn't mean necessarily: better).


As a westerner, I will try to find many examples in Western society to proof my point and if necessary I will even be ready to cutout many of the observations/experiences in reality which don't fit in my reductionist view on Western society.