An essay on knowlege, learning, peace, and truth.

Six ways of knowing
Peace
The Two Deepest Ways of Knowing
Applications

by Dr. Abdul Aziz Said


The following appears on our web site with permission and by the courtesy of the Center for Global Peace American University, Washington, D.C.

It was given as lecture by Dr. Abdul Aziz Said Mohammed Said Farsi Professor of Islamic Peace Director, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Division Director, Center for Global Peace American University, Washington, D.C. We thank him for his work.

Anyone who prints out or quotes the article must give full credit to the author and institution he is affiliated with, and no reprint of the article can occur without written permission of the author.

Abdul Aziz Said
University of Georgia
1995 - 1996 Humanities Center Lecture Series
April 8, 1996

Logical and analytical thinking is common, useful, and well valued, but it's not the only way of knowing.  It's only the most outward way of knowing.  Other, more inner ways of knowing are just as important.  There are realities we can't know through analysis.  Yet inner and outer knowing don't contradict each other.  Knowledge doesn't contradict knowledge.

Section I of this essay describes six ways of knowing, five of them neglected because they are inner-oriented, dominant education methods being outward oriented.  These inner ways are the key to resolving conflicts on a small and world scale.  Inwardness is the basis of the peace process.  Section II of this essay explains why this is so.  The discussion indicates how spirituality-based conflict resolution works.  Section III deals with the deepest ways of knowing- inspiration and transformation.  Section IV applies the themes of inner knowing to positivism and post-positivism and finds these methodologies lacking.  Post-positivism attempts to discredit the rational mind and shift knowledge still further outward into the political currents of gender, race and class.  Positivism, over emphasizes the rational mind.  It depends on quantitative methods of research to the exclusion of qualitative ones.  Qualitative research, discovery intention, is the key to understanding history, economics and international relations.  

  I.  Six Different Ways of Knowing

Logic and analysis involve conceptualizations of sense perception.  This is outer knowledge, but conceptualizing sense data is already moving inward.  Success in logic depends on inner reflection, the noticing of thoughts, in order to discriminate fallacious thought movements from valid inferences.  Intellectual discrimination moves still further inward, taking positions, often practical ones, on the basis of information after deductive and inductive logic have reached their limits.  The rightness of logic is thus a subset of intellectual rightness and wholeness, including intuitive rightness.  Intuition of underlying spiritual reality brings wholeness to disparate fields.  Freedom is such a reality, unifying market economics, democratic politics, pluralistic cultures, and much more. These ways of knowing need to find a place in education.

A.  A Healthy Rational Mind Includes Logic and Analysis

We can achieve a lot with logic.  When we don't immediately see the truth of a situation, we may be able to start from another situation we do see the truth of, and reason by logical steps from there to the first one.  Or if we have some confusion, we can use analysis to get rid of it.  Here's an example:

The idea that justice is whatever you think is just, or whatever any culture regards as just, involves a confusion we can eliminate through analysis.  This confusion is about disagreement as much as it's about justice.  To get rid of the confusion we analyze what disagreement involves.  People not only disagree about justice but also about how many subatomic particles there are, and what the rate of inflation is.  That doesn't mean there's no rate of inflation, or no definite number of different subatomic particles--however hard these things are to determine.  Disagreement can't prove that.  It doesn't mean there's no correct or real object being disagreed about.  Prolonged investigation often reveals that object.

The analytical mind is a great help if it's trained to distinguish fallacies from valid inferences.  We can then clear fallacies from our mind as soon as we see what they are.  And we can direct our thoughts so they don't move from true to false positions.  But of course both these things--dismissing fallacies and making valid inferences--depend on being able to see thought sequences in the first place--and seeing thoughts is an ability beyond analysis.  That's reflection--consciousness that notices thoughts occurring in our own mind.

So critical thinking doesn't mean just criticizing our favorite opponents.  It means noticing and then evaluating our own thoughts.  Noticing them comes first.  We have to see what's really there, in our own mind.  Then analysis is the mental act of breaking this inner thought process down into complete propositions, down even further into the component concepts of propositions, and then seeing whether the movement from one proposition to the next is justified. 

This seeing of the connection between one step and the next step is intuition.  Intuition is the basis of logic.  If a is greater than b, and b is greater than c, it's intuition that seesthat then a is greater than c.

So analysis depends on reflection and intuition.  It's not the most basic, let alone the only, way of knowing.  It's not even the most interesting way of knowing.  It's far from being the best way of knowing.  And there are situations where we're forced to use another way.

C.  Discrimination--Judging the Best Thing to Do

We're constantly faced with situations where analysis can't indicate good conclusions, or determine good choices.  In getting married, when we've considered all our own assets and liabilities, the age, habits, personality, income, and health of our possible partner or partners, analysis is not going to tell us which relationship, if any, will bring the most happiness and growth.  Where analysis falls short, it's a moment of decision.  That doesn't mean it's irrational or arbitrary what conclusion we draw.  There's still a right and wrong decision or conclusion.  And we may still be able to know what it is.  But that takes a different kind of knowledge than logic and analysis.  It takes intellectual discrimination.  That's the heart cooperating with the mind.

When analysis is working, it's like walking on the solid ground of information--the "grounds" of our thought.  Logic moves in secure, steady, little "steps" along this ground--"steps of reasoning."  But these steps may stop short of a conclusion.  Then we've run out of land--and arrived at a river.  The land of the past may be walked by reason.  Before us now is the river of the future, and walking is no use--we have to be able to swim.  We can do that.  Swimming is discrimination, the mind cooperating with the heart. 

Discrimination is old, but it's neglected.  It's not taught in schools, but it's important; it's as important as logic.  The mind cooperating with the heart has several forms.  There's aesthetic judgment, when we discriminate the beautiful from the ugly.  There's intuitive knowing, when we discriminate the real from the unreal, the subtle truth from the dominant falseness.  There's creative imagination, and there's the sense of wholeness and "rightness".  Hunches, gut feelings, and insights may also be counted as discrimination--if they spring up from an opened unconscious, rather than from conditioned habits.

D.  Creative Imagination

Let's look first at creative imagination.  This means intentional construction of mental images.  Intentional imagination can be either masculine and directed--in which case you know exactly what you're going to visualize beforehand; or it can be feminine and inviting--in which case you turn your attention in a general direction, wait, welcome, and allow whatever images form on their own.

Creative imagination is stimulated by contemplating the beautiful and thinking about the good--love and kindness.  Beauty, love, and kindness open up the mind.  Beauty and love bear cognitive and social fruit.  It's not just that gazing at a beautiful picture or flower or mandala before doing these exercises makes them easier.  Contemplating beauty touches the unconscious.  Contemplating love opens the heart.  Thinking about kindness calms and deepens the mind.  We help our mental functioning--and our deeper ways of knowing--as much when we contemplate beauty and love as when we collect and process information.  

E.  Wholeness and Rightness

The sense of wholeness or rightness is another form of real knowledge.  It comes into play when we intuit a spiritual reality running through a variety of physical or psychological or social manifestations.  Then a single idea will explain all these varied data.  That's wholeness and rightness.  The vision of the underlying spiritual reality--the power of the unifying idea, the elegance of weaving diversity into unity--makes everything whole, resolves everything, creates a harmony of logic and reason--a recognition of the rightness of that idea.

Logic links the idea theoretically to the diverse areas the idea explains, but this linkage doesn't happen without a prior insight into reality that goes beyond logic--because reality is already a universe, a harmony of interrelationship.  Somebody has to be in touch with that unified reality first--then come the idea and the logic.  Once the idea is set out intellectually, however, it can lead others toward insights.  Logical analysis can't discover or create anything, beyond its tissue of harmonious theory, but if a unifying idea is developed logically, that can nudge us toward insight, and it can communicate at least a few clues and pieces to our fellow humans.

F.  Inner Knowledge of the Outer

 

1.  Inner and Outer.   Solving problems by referring them to freedom comes from an internal sense of things, rather than depending on what we've been taught.  Discrimination involves an internal presence, a presence that also connects us to "outer" people and things, because it runs through everything.  Life runs through the entire population, but as long as our attention is monopolized by the external, we may think our own life is the only one we can feel.  It isn't.  But to feel others' life or reality, we have to open up inwardly.

Inwardness or introspection is potential in every human being.  It's already there.  Yet it has to be acknowledged; it has to be cultivated.  We have to open to it.  Our tendency is to ignore it.  Attention rides outward on our desires.  It flows away from our center.  Then inwardness doesn't get a chance to reveal underlying reality.  We have to practice reversing the outward flow intentionally.  Introspection deserves a program in our lives.  It's easy.  It's relaxing.  It's very pleasant.  And that's just the beginning.

There's a lot of literature available on meditation, and there are more and more meditation groups and sects.  But the basic instruction for inwardness is so simple you don't necessarily have to depend on a group or an instructor.  You sit still, close your eyes, you can put in earplugs--turn your attention away from the outside--turn toward the inside, toward your breathing, your heartbeat, your bodily sensations, posture, the ringing in your ears, the scintillating visual field in front of your closed eyes, your thoughts; and even more inward than that, the consciousness that's present when there are no thoughts.  Well, would you believe me if I told you there's still more there?  There is!  And the intrinsic nature of this inwardness is knowingness.

The different types of discrimination--wholeness and rightness, creative imagination, and so on--all draw on this internal well-spring of knowledge.  Conceptual and logical knowledge is pretty good, but really it's only one expression, one form knowingness takes.  If you're really interested in knowledge, why don't you go the source of it all, and take it all?  Well, there's a little problem here, that you might as well hear about now if you haven't already.  It's that you can't take all knowingness.  The more knowingness is there, the less you are there.

That may seem like a problem now.  But see how it feels when you dissolve in it!

Inwardness reaches toward the source of creativity.  We need creativity if we're to transform our own experience, or understand human history.

2.  Creativity and Education.  Inwardness reaches to the source of creativity.  We need creativity if we're to transform our own experience, or understand human history.  One way to move there is to direct attention to the beautiful.  If we're mindful of beauty we can find things to make our actions and surroundings more beautiful.  We can keep our buildings and rooms clean and beautiful.  Another way is to think about love, kindness, and goodness--to think about the desirable.  These thoughts soothe and open the mind.  They soften and open the unconscious.  Spontaneous insights and solutions are more likely in a milieu of beauty, compassion, quiet, and peace.  How cruel it is, in order to pass an examination, that a student's mind should be forced to hold an idea it is not ready to understand (rote memorization), because it is alien to their experience or culture.  This is the epitome of alienation in education.

The fact that discrimination is internal doesn't mean it's irrational, arbitrary, or random.  It's an expression of knowledge, as reason and analysis are an expression of knowledge.  The two are not opposed; they're related.  When we express internal knowledge in logical terms, we can then confirm it on that level.  We can test it at the level of sense perception.  We can develop discrimination through practice, and confirm it through sense experience, and through comparison with the conclusions of other discriminating observers.  We can confirm it through logic and analysis.  In mathematics, J. H. Hardy has written that great mathematical proofs are discovered through "imaginative leaps" (A Mathematician's Apology).  Having seen what is true, one then goes back and develops the logical proofs which communicate the validity of that which one has already realized.

Inner experience is the basis and context of education.  This is a truism, but how many schools use centering exercises and exploration of feelings?  Even in classically objective subjects like physics and history, centering exercises help.  In the humanities dream-journals, story-telling, and imaging open up inner understanding.  Creativity is a mark of inner opening, so it is not neglected but nourished by encouraging guessing and divergent thinking.  In cooperative education mistakes are remarked but not punished--like a mother teaching her two-year-old to speak.  Fear of mistakes defeats learning.  Fear to guess blocks creativity.

In cooperative education left-brain rationality is combined with holistic, nonlinear, and intuitive strategies.  This is cooperation between yin and yang consciousness.  Theoretical and abstract knowledge is complemented by experiment and experience inside and outside the classroom--field trips, apprenticeships, demonstrations, visiting experts.  Approaching consciousness from all these modalities deepens understanding.  Creative imagination--flowing from the depths of inwardness--is stimulated by contemplating the beautiful and thinking about the good.

Inwardness enables us to harmonize our different ways of knowing, to make them cooperative, to set up inner cooperation in our own mind.  This inner cooperation and harmony makes our mind more peaceful even when it is active.  The place of reflection, the place of pure knowingness of inner and outer, is always at peace.

  II.  Peace

Peace through domination and submission destroys consensus, relationship, and environment.  Conflicts are now about group identity, not ideology.  These are hard to resolve by deals between government officials whose own populations have ceased to be homogeneous.  Values and beliefs have to be taken into account.  This is possible by realizing the universal forms of human suffering.  Spiritual respect is always at hand.  Peace is inside.  World peace implies freedom, justice, and the elimination of structural violence.  Peace is a process, embracing all opposites, and achievable through one outer and three inner stages.  Pacifying the mind--emptying it of thoughts--allows inspiration to create new insights.  Real knowledge is so inner that even the outer is inner.  Knower, knowledge, and known become one whole.

A.  Secular and Religious Models of Peace Are Both Limited

Throughout much of human history peace has been seen in many ways that reduced its pursuit and achievement to the purpose of domination.  Dominant cultures imposed their visions of peace to limit both processes and social outcomes so as to insure their continued domination.

A second commonly held view of peace equates it with passivity and the isolated tolerance of intolerable conditions.  The harmony of the individual is preserved by a direct identification with the supreme being and what is sacred.  This conceptualization derives its inspiration from some of the teachings in various religious traditions.

Both perspectives of peace, the secular and the ecclesiastical, have validity but carried to their extremes reveal excesses that undermine security.  We need to transcend our conceptual categories to move peace beyond the absolutism of politics and religion.  The traditional political and religious conceptual regimes have undermined the consensus of ideas, and underscored the isolation of people.  The same regimes have also neglected to establish a proper relationship with our physical environment.  The whole planet must be a context for human security.

B.  A Global Society

The first truly global political community has begun to emerge around us.  What we in the international relations community call the inter-penetration of states has in recent decades not only occurred in the Western world, it has probably evolved so far as to be irreversible short of global catastrophe.  We have moved from a humanity which lived its collective life as fragments of the whole, into a new context of humanity as a whole.

It is now no longer correct to speak of the West as sharply distinct from the East, or even to speak of the North as opposed to the South.  These distinctions are more appropriate as generalizations for popular mythology than as descriptions for actual international relations.  Manufactured goods presently exported by the global South (Third World) equal the value of the manufactured goods exported by the United States.  Other examples abound:  Japan is losing market share in steel and electronic home appliances to South Korea.  Truly global industries are emerging and, along with them, the foundations for a global economic system.

C.  Spirituality-Based Conflict Resolution

The global system of the 90s is a pluralistic one with a crude but vital form of egalitarianism, as contrasted with the essentially European-rooted aristocratic state system it is replacing.  Actors will approach each other differently than they used to.  Whereas heretofore they pursued their destinies, and resolved their conflicts, within a rigid and hierarchical social system, they will increasingly function within a pluralistic and egalitarian one.  Few conflicts will have ideological roots.  Most conflicts will involve communal identity--race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion.  These conflicts are proving to be intractable to the best efforts of dominant methods of conflict resolution.

Traditional techniques of conflict resolution using mechanistic, problem-solving methods, including the often manipulative signaling of positions, are suitable for dealing with conflicts about tangible material interests, for which it is usually possible to forge some sort of compromise.  In contrast, nonmaterial identity-based conflicts are often not well understood by diplomats accustomed to operating in a Western, state-centered, culturally homogeneous system.  In the new international environment, viable conflict resolution requires an understanding of the beliefs, values, and behavior of the conflicting parties.

Plato said that while we might not be able to agree with each other, if we have opened an honest conversation, we will be able to empathize with the human predicament each of us finds ourself in, because human life is so similar in its deeper significance and issues, whatever our society and culture.

There is increasing concern about fundamentalism in the Islamic world.  We need to see also that the engineering, mechanistic, isolated approach to problem-solving is part of a type of fundamentalism of the dominant Western culture.  Fundamentalism is a kind of pathology of culture that arises by taking part of the basic tenets of a tradition and, under the pressure of either economic or social insecurity, desires to secure oneself by sealing off others or seeking revenge on them.  In all conflict situations, people under stress react by reducing their own beliefs to a small workable sub-set in order to fight and protect.  But this closes off the ability to hear and to communicate.  A return to the larger frame of the culture and its humane values, always present if sought for, can open up the space for understanding, cooperation, or, at the very least, deeper respect.  This is the essence of spirituality.

D.  Inwardness Is a Peace Process

Inner knowledge is a peace-making and healing process.  Peace refers to the inner freedom and spiritual elevation of the individual.  The place of peace lies within our spiritual domain.  It is there to be discovered and developed.  World politics is a struggle for world peace in  the broadest peace, that peace is more than the absence of war, but also is the presence of justice and freedom.

Peace is not seen as an abstract goal to be pursued.  Peace is a direct process of doing and being.  Peace is a process.  Peace includes both the absence of direct physical violence and war, and the elimination of structural violence.  The latter refers to the consequences of social, political, cultural, economic, and civil structures--institutions and processes that lower the material and spiritual quality of human life and degrade the environment.  Success in this struggle for world peace is dependent upon transcending in the critical areas the provincialism of the nation-states and making more real a world community.

Peace is a state of consciousness that implies and incorporates all experiences.  This state of consciousness does not oppose any state of consciousness but rather is, in itself, a totality, a whole.  And in being a whole, it includes what we usually conceive of as peace and war.

  III.  The Two Deepest Ways of Knowing

Inspiration and transformation--union of knower, known, and knowing--are the deepest ways of knowing.

A.  Inspiration

Now another level down, another level inward.  Now we move to deeper knowledge than discrimination.  Discrimination has to do with choosing alternatives that are already there.  Discrimination allows us to discern the best conclusion from a menu of alternatives.  We evaluate an idea or program presented by somebody else and sometimes simply feel "it doesn't make sense" (this seems to be the increasing feeling about many political programs).  Or we discriminate the ugly from the beautiful when we encounter paintings, buildings, or gardens.

But how do we gain access to new ideas, new insights, new wisdom to which discrimination and analysis may subsequently be applied? One way is inspiration.

Inspiration is the reverse of discrimination.   Discrimination focuses our internal consciousness on the concept, the painting, the problem, or the decision at hand.  Or it takes all the choices and data that are there, and then goes inward with them for an underlying insight.  Beauty is an underlying insight, an underlying reality.  It's not the grams of paint, the cm width, the degree of curvature of the capstone, and so on.  Discrimination collects and marshals all these inputs together, and holds them in inwardness, until the insight occurs.

Inspiration is the reverse of this.  There's still inwardness, but the contents of the mind are eliminated.  If we want new ideas, creativity, if we want inspiration, we must empty ourselves internally.  New ideas can't arise if the mind is constantly occupied by the usual crowd of habits, desires, and fixations--constant internal dialogue.  We have to evacuate our minds!  We create a mental vacuum into which the new can come.  This is a vacuum of ideas, not of consciousness.  Ideas are gone, but consciousness is there.  Since ideas use up some consciousness, we actually find a little more consciousness there when we've got rid of the ideas.

I'm sure by this time I don't need to tell you that emptying the mind doesn't mean we become stupid.  It doesn't mean despising or rejecting analysis or discrimination. What it means is we learn when to use logic, when to use discrimination--when to fill the mind and make it active working on its contents--and on the other hand when to suspend judgment, empty the mind, stop analyzing and evaluating, and make ourselves open to the unexpected.  We learn to surrender to the grace of the moment.

Through a balance of analysis, discrimination, and inspiration, we can become wise, truly "knowing" human  beings.  Knowledge can be gained in different but complementary ways--by rational and logical analysis, by reflection, intuitive insight, creative imagination, and also as a gift without any precondition--inspiration.

But there's an even deeper knowledge.  We really can't be satisfied without it.  All the ways of knowing so far are knowing about something, and it's ultimately unsatisfying to merely know about something.  The only really satisfying and 100% real knowledge is to become the reality.

B.  Knowledge as Being and Transformation

Real knowledge is always knowledge of the unity of existence.  It's relational. It realizes the relationship among all of existence.  At the level of separate individuals, we respect their freedom and we don't initiate violence against them.  At the level of the whole, individuals are all activities of the one being.  Alan Watts used to say that the universe earths and peoples.  That brings out the more basic reality--the creative whole.  That's more real than its passing forms; it's still there when the individual disappears.

We think we're the individual, but our deeper reality is the whole reality. And the question to investigate is, How is the whole creating this limited body and limited consciousness right now?  How can we connect with this creative whole, producing not only our own individual self but every other one?  Knowledge of this takes becoming the whole.

At the same time, we have our individual identity.  The whole is reflected and replicated in the parts.  And from the parts we gain the knowledge to construct the whole.  Ibn Arabi, a Twelfth Century Muslim mystic and philosopher, defines knowledge as perceiving and being that which is.  The purpose of knowing, therefore, is transformation.  In fact, to know is to be transformed.  It is to be transformed into the whole.  The division of knower, knowledge, and known is gone.

This knowledge blends the heart and the head.  The heart directs the head to its proper purpose--to know the unity of existence--and the head focuses the heart's energies so the transformation process can occur.

Since knowledge itself is being, and being is awareness, the search for knowledge starts with the question, "How can I find this unity of existence and knowledge?"  Because knowledge leads to the unity of existence, knowledge frees us from the illusion that we are a separate individual.  This body must come to an end.  This mind lasts a good deal longer, it lasts a number of lifetimes, but even the separate mind must eventually expire.  But neither the separate mind nor the separate body is who we are.  Who we really are does not come to an end, but to know this, we have to become it, and that means going inward.

  IV.  Applications

Neglect of inner knowing is the basis of the shortcomings of both positivism and post-positivism.  Positivism deals only with quantities, but human events involve intentions, which are formed in freedom, and known in inwardness.  Post-positivism's neglect of inner knowing keeps it from seeing spiritual realities, deeper than group perceptions.  Historical, economic, and international relations models do not work, because models exclude intentions.  The case of President Sadat's peace initiatives enables us to see how qualitative research--research into intentions--restores meaning to subjects like history.  International relations and global understanding also take non-linear approaches.  These are organic systems, each of whose elements affects all the other elements.  The whole system changes, when a single element changes.

A.  Limitations of Post-Positivism and the Rational Mind

When we limit ourselves to the external knowledge the rational mind can process, we make it hard to experience expanded consciousness, knowingness, and reality.  If we stay at the level of sense perception and the rational mind, we're not going to experience the unity of existence.  Being stuck in words, logic, and sense-perception makes it easy to forget the purpose of knowing and begin worshipping the mind itself.  That's the tendency in this world.  Universities are temples for worship of the rational mind.  This fixation blocks real knowingness.  I'm not saying, Ignore the mind.  We should develop its powers fully.  But if we confine ourselves to the rational mind, we limit our knowledge.

Over-reliance on logical and quantitative methodology is associated with the dominant positivist view of research.  Positivism deeply distrusts intellectual analysis.  Intellectual analysis includes logic, as we've seen, but also imagination, intuition into axioms like intentional action (the basis of Austrian economics), and discovery of new possibilities.  It includes discrimination and creative imagination.  Statistical data and sense perception are important.  They are welcomed in intellectual analysis.  But data are meaningless unless they are understood in terms of intellectual principles.

The essence of positivistic science is that if an hypothesis predicts empirical results, and these results occur, then the hypothesis is confirmed with some degree of probability.  This is correct.  But we've seen that not every sound conclusion can be inferred from empirical data.  The data may run out too soon.  And several different hypotheses may predict the same limited data.  Then other principles have to come into play--intellectual principles.  What kinds of principles are these?  Wholeness and rightness, complementarity and integration of opposites, reduction of tension, reciprocity, simplicity, unification of diversity, and harmonization.

Post-positivism is a contemporary movement, represented by deconstructionism, that criticizes the rational mind for political, gender, race, and class reasons.  We have criticized the rational mind too.  But the thrusts of the two criticisms are different, and the lessons drawn are different.  The thrust of post-positivism is that the rational mind lacks capacities which it plainly possesses.  Our thrust is that the rational mind's capacities of knowledge are valid but limited, and other forms of knowing are at hand.  Post-positivism doesn't acknowledge these new old ways of knowing any more than it acknowledges reason.  It merely relocates the source of reality from the individual to society or culture, to the favored race, gender, class, or political group.  However, there's a reality beyond individuals and cultures, race, gender, and politics.  There's a pre-existing reality, and it is profoundly knowing.

B.  Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Every new way of knowing we experience opens up a new way of research. The dominant research method is to assemble facts, put them in some kind of order, and look for an underlying pattern.  Linear regression in statistics is a big quantitative weapon in this line of research.  This is excellent and productive.  But it doesn't go far enough either. There's research that picks up where quantitative research stops.  There's research to uncover meaning.  Human events are not `explained as long as they are meaningless--even after all the quantities are determined.

To find the meaning in human events we start by researching the context of the events.  We look for relationships.  Suppose we're interested in Anwar Sadat's peace initiatives with the Israelis in the Seventies.  The decisive and cardinal question for determining meaning is always, What were the actors' intentions?  What did Anwar Sadat want to achieve, and why did he want to achieve it?  Why did he think he could achieve it?  How could he have set out against monumental opposition in Egypt and from both Israel and the Arab world, and in the face of world-wide skepticism and cynicism?  What was the internal process that made Sadat willing to make his first overture, and keep pursuing his goal?

To research these questions, we look at the context of Sadat's life, especially the influences on his mind and heart--his ethical training, his religious beliefs, his military experience, his contacts with diplomats, presidents, and premiers, his sense of what is possible with negotiators and feasible with populations, his understanding of the culture and populations of Israel and Egypt, and his conception of leadership.  From all this we may be able to achieve some empathy.  We might piece together the course of experience that led Sadat to form his intention to seek peace and make that decision.  Everything depends on whether we can understand the man and his intentions.

C.  Transcending Aristotelian Thought-Forms in International Relations

International relations are another area where human intentions are of the essence.  Here too quantitative and Aristotelian thought-forms are of limited use.  We need thought-forms structured the same way our world is structured.  We have this in biology.  A chart of the body's metabolic pathways shows an immensely complex network of loops representing interconnected, interdependent chemical reactions whose products all feed back upon each other--what's called a homeostatic circuit.  There are no straight lines in such a chart, and to think in terms of causes and effects makes sense only if we cut out a portion of a circuit and treat it as though it were a whole entity.

Friedrich Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974 for expounding economic markets as an ecological, homeostatic system, where human intentions get translated into realistic prices which then feed back into people's intentions.  State interventions in the economy abstract from this organic, looping, feed-back system.  Central planners, Fed bankers, and budget offices think in linear, disconnected, fragmented, Aristotelian models--and disrupt their economies.  Affirmative action programs bring black talent into government and as employees of large corporations, wiping out small and medium-sized black companies.  S&L deposit guarantees brought on a wave of bad debts and bankruptcies wiping out hundreds of billions of tax dollars.

The same is true in international relations.  We aggravate all the problems of international relations because of our inability to perceive context and long-range consequences.  Our information is always incomplete. Natural, biological systems are always more complex and circuitous than our ideas about them--and international relations are even more so, since they include biological beings--humans--who also bring free will to the table.  Using linear, cause-and-effect thinking to map a world that is a complex, interdependent network of feedback circuits involving choices and changes of mind leads to inappropriate actions that return to haunt us.  Such thinking leads us to falsely regard the world as an object that can be manipulated, rather than a home within which we reside.

For instance, it's still conventional to think that ecological values are somehow in conflict with economic values; that we are always faced with either/or choices. This is linear thinking.  The words "ecology" and "economy" share a common root meaning.  They refer to housekeeping and mean study of the house (Greek).  The physiology of the human body, the complexities of family life and community, the realms of domestic and international politics, the network of global trade, and the infinitely varied and delicate interdependencies of the totality of life on Earth, share many structural similarities.  Yet Aristotelian logic treats these concepts as distinct, even to the point that they are studied in compartmentalized and separate departments of the university.

As a university discipline, international relations has failed to achieve the status of a fundamental field of study.  It abstracts international relations from its "house" of rapid global transformation.  This abstraction reduces the global order to formal labels and organizational operations, and emphasizes derivative issues of structure and function.  This has tragic consequences.  The dominant structural-functional categories of explaining the global political system actually hamper the empirical description of them.  By ignoring global transformation, the discipline not only falls short as a theoretical account of international relations;  it also fails practically--it doesn't come to grips with fundamental issues of life and death on a large scale occurring right now.  Loss of contact with reality is tragic here.

D.  How to Achieve Global Understanding

There is also a need for new thinking across the full continuum of violent and peaceful activity, with emphasis on the group and global levels, not only on relations between specific states.  It should encompass a wider span of both space and time than do the more traditional approaches, which generally cover the period since the creation of the nation-state system in 1648.  New thinking should provide greater historical depth while moving forward through a systematic normative study of the future and examining a wider variety of potential alternative world order systems.  To do so, new thinking should incorporate greater diversity not only within the social sciences and humanities, but the natural and physical sciences as well.  Then, we would suggest, the sort of macro-understanding of world affairs sought by scholars of international relations for decades may become possible.

In the process of new thinking, we shift from the truth of reason to the truth of images, from the truth of images to the truth of intuition, from the truth of intuition to the truth of feeling and from the truth of feeling to the truth of pattern.  We shift from truth to truth.  Each one of us possesses a little piece of truth.  Total knowing requires an in-gathering of pieces of truth.
The previous appeared on our web site with permission and by the courtesy of the Center for Global Peace American University, Washington, D.C.
It was given as lecture by Dr. Abdul Aziz Said Mohammed Said Farsi Professor of Islamic Peace Director, International Peace and Conflict Resolution Division Director, Center for Global Peace American University, Washington, D.C. We thank him for his work.
Anyone who prints out or quotes the article must give full credit to the author and institution he is affiliated with, and no reprint of the article can occur without written permission of the author.



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