Expertocracy: The rule of individuals and societies by experts who define for those individuals and societies what they will believe, how they will evaluate their own experience, and what they will most want.
Source: I just made this up.
In the introduction to the book “The Conscious universe”, Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau comment that their book is “designed to be read by non-physicist” (pg 10) and that consequently it will probably be subject to a significant amount of criticism from professional physicists. One of the criticisms that some scientists will level at their effort at popularization is that “many of the complexities and nuances of our present understanding of the character of physical reality cannot be communicated in a discussion written for the general reader.” The authors comment that this criticism will to some extent be correct. On page nine the authors observed that Stephen W. Hawking concluded in “A Brief History of Time” that the “scientific worldview is such that a belief in the active presence of God or of Being in the cosmos is rather effectively disallowed.” The authors suggest that this is in fact not the case. Their conclusion is that the nature of the Being of beings is not one that can be resolved by science. I believe they are correct in their conclusion here. However this part of their discussion left me with a peculiar sense of unease. The question is whether the universe is living and purposeful, and therefore in some sense continuous with and akin (or a kin) to my own conscious self, or whether conscious beings are only rather astonishing accidents on the face of a universe that is mindless, purposeless, unconscious, and totally mechanistic. The issue is of vital concern to me. The authors conclude that, although it is not scientifically demonstrable, it is intellectually permissable to think the universe might be conscious. I suppose I should be re-assured because that is the conclusion I have come to. However, this essay is not about whether the universe (or Being itself) is conscious or not. It's about what happens to our souls when we become un-centered with regard to the fundamental questions that shape our manner of being in the world.
Let me try to explain.
My belief, or working hypothesis with regard to the issue of the consciousness of the universe will have a profound impact on how I relate to the rest of reality – affectively, cognitively, behaviorally, and (if you will) spiritually. I could conclude from reading this introduction that whether it is permissible to believe one thing or another depend on the outcome of a debate that is conducted in a mathematical language that is beyond my ability to grasp. So I must sit on the side-lines, like a spectator at a foot-ball game, and hope that my side wins. Will Kaftos and Nadeau beat Stephan Hawkins. Of course, not being qualified to understand the nuances of the “complexities and nuances” of modern physical theory, I'll really never know. I can't even read the score board. It's written in abstruse mathematical formulas. Do I have permission or do I not have permission to believe in a conscious universe? Well, of course in one sense I can believe whatever I want. But can I have any confidence in my belief if the math that makes it plausible is both beyond my skill level, and the experts themselves cannot agree on how to interpret their equations. That I what I mean by being “uncentered.” A issue that is of vital importance to me is beyond my competence to decide. The knowledge I most need to live my life fully and authentically is outside of me – in the hands of experts.
My essay is predicated on two hypotheses. My first hypothesis is three parts. One, that we live in a society that is increasingly ruled by “experts,” two, that we have not learned to deal with this well, and three, that because of this we have become a society of highly un-centered people. Un-centered people tend to lack the ability to know what they most want and tee courage to affirm it when they do. They see the answers to the fundamental questions that they ask to be outside of themselves, in the hands of experts. They tend to be inattentive to their own experience. They are gullible and easily manipulated by people in authority. They spend, as a rule, a good deal of time and energy struggling against a pervasive depression they do not well understand. My second hypothesis is that fully energized life is possible only when people know what they most want, are attentive to their own experience, and have the courage to affirm what experience has taught them to value.
My question is this: is it possible to live as a centered person in a technological society that is increasingly dominated by experts.
Who are these experts that I'm talking about? Many of them are technicians of one sort or another but not all are. They are people who've carved out a narrow niche, educated themselves more or less thoroughly to the current understanding and literature in that niche, and to then set themselves up as advisors, teachers, and technicians. There are economists, sales persons, physicists, biologists, parents sociologists, computer repair people, mental health workers, school teachers, priests, and car mechanics. The list is not intended to be comprehensive.
Let's begin with car mechanics. I genuinely hope that my car mechanic knows a considerable amount more than I do about what makes engines run, what puts them at risk, and what to do when they are not working. If not I am in serious difficulty. I am indeed quite grateful that he does have this expertise, and am quite happy to pay a reasonable price for his doing the things that his expertise enables him to do. However when I go in with a car that is not working properly, I don't ask him, “what should I do?” I ask him if he can tell me what is wrong, and what my options are. Typically he examines the car in my absence and then gives me a call. He gives me his assessment of what the difficulty is and what my options are. A couple of things are worth noting at this point. One I must have a certain degree of trust in my mechanic. I think the one I have is basically honest. So I trust his assessment. There have been other times when I felt that my mechanic was simply dishonest, or that he had a vested interest in the outcome that distorted his assessment. For example I stopped going to a place that sold tires for getting my yearly inspection done. They always found that my tires were not adequate. Also note that my mechanic doesn't tell me what I must do with my car. He gives me information for my making my own decision. It may or may not be worth my while to have a major overhaul on the car. I have to decide that on the basis of how I feel about the car, what my financial situation is, how my significant other thinks about the car, and how the car fits into my total life pattern. I might ask him to haul the car off to a junkyard, I might ask that he do a major repair on it, or I may just ask him to fix the most urgent thing so that I can get through a few more months with that. Finally it might be worth noting that a general idea of what a car engine is helps me to discuss my options with my mechanic, so that my chances of a good decision are increased.
I would suggest that the very same principles that apply to a rational use of car mechanics should be applied to our use of any expert that we deal with in life. An expert, at least any technical expert, is simply a person who has carved out a narrow truth in domain within which s/he has developed a technical expertise with regard to how to describe and to manipulate mechanistic causal patterns within that domain. We have to rely on experts all the time. Life is simply too short for each of us to become experts in every domain. Therefore we must become expert at dealing with experts. It seems to me that my attitude when I go to see a doctor should be almost exactly the same as when I go to see a car mechanic. I want an assessment as to his or her best understanding of what might be happening within my body, I want to understand as well as possible what my options are, and I then want to make my own decisions on the basis of my own values, life goals, and understanding of my place in the rest of reality. As soon as I have allowed my physician to make these decisions for me I have become un-centered. Although the matter is too complex to go into in detail here, I would suggest that especially when dealing with psychiatrists, or other mental health professionals, the need to be an expert in dealing with experts is of special importance.
We also run into the problem of dealing with experts when it comes to the economy. Most of us will not become highly proficient at calculating the marginal productivity of labor or the marginal productivity of capital in real-life economic situations. It's doubtful that most businesspeople and are able to do this. Economists are able to make such calculations and do many other arcane things. While economics is clearly not a value free, or exact science, I would not deny that there is an area of expertise associated with it. Does this suggest that we as a people should simply turn our economic system over to our economic experts, as seen on TV, and trust them to do what is best? At this point in our history I'm hoping that most people will understand this to be a rhetorical question. Economists, like any other experts, should be questioned about their understanding of how systems within their realm of expertise are operating, and what our options as citizens living within an economy are. Those decisions should be made in accordance with those things that we have learned individually and collectively to value – things like a sustaining a livable environment, encouraging incentive, and providing an equitable distribution of goods and services to everybody that needs them. If we trust our economists to do what is best without any oversight from us, it's like going to the tire dealer for car inspections. They're always going to find that you need a new set of tires. A very real degree of mistrust is quite appropriate, especially when it is obvious that a person's personal advantage is connected with the recommendations that he or she is making.
Let's return for a moment to our physicists. Essentially, at some point, a decision was made to carve out a truth domain about “physical” reality. By “physical” what is meant is that which is available intersubjectively to sense impression. It was decided to limit the description of the “physical universe” to temporal spatial relationships which could be mathematically quantified and described. It was also decided to consider only the mechanistic forms of causality. Finally it was decided that methodologically small bits or limited aspects of reality would be studied in isolated from the rest. Work within this “truth domain” has yielded astonishing and fascinating results. Modern physics is clearly one of the great accomplishments of our culture. Nevertheless it remains one truth domain among many. If for example you ask for a description of a man who has jumped off a tall building, physics can tell you, 32 ft. per second/per second. With amazing accuracy that will tell you the exact moment at which the person will reach the ground. However it will not tell you why that person jumped off the building, what the person was feeling before he jumped, what else was happening in the person's life that was relevant to his jumping off the building, or how he felt as he fell. All of these questions – which after all are the most important ones -- would have to be would have to be approached in the context of other truth domains. Perhaps the most important description of his jumping off the building could be provided by his best friend rather than a by a physicist, a physician, an economist, or his car mechanic. Expertise in any one truth domain does not qualify the individual to pontificate with authority with regard to areas outside his domain of expertise. We return then to our initial question. Is the universe in its totality – that is to say is Being itself – conscious. It seems to me that you or I, as conscious entities ourselves, are in as good a position as anybody to answer such a question. If anybody has special expertise with regard to this question that might be the philosopher, the seer, or the poet.
This is my answer:
To Be a Bat
It is not like nothing to be a bat.
We can debate:
Debate whether the essence of batness can be discerned
by the tools of science,
Whether it is an accidental squiggle in a time/space field,
Whether it is driven by an urgency,
Whether it is designed,
Whether it is knowable at all,
Whether its fluttering is a thing of joy,
Whether it matters...
But it is like something to be a bat.
There is no outside without an inside.
It is not like nothing to be a frog.
Again we can debate at the periphery,
But again there is an inside...
A vividness that is more urgent
Than the knowledge gleaned by our senses
Of its greenness in the day
And its singing at night.
It sings for a mate.
It sings, “Here I am beloved green thing.
Come to me.”
Only the frog can say whether there is joy in its singing.
Does the frog understand that when it sings it
also attracts fluttering things in the night
sky that might swoop down like dragons to
impale it on sharp and final teeth?
Is it's singing a thing of courage?
Does the bat know that the singing has an inside
as palpable as the inside of its own swooping?
We know only this:
The frog sings.
The bat swoops.
I the believe that the Being of beings is conscious. It is possible there are outsides without insides.
It doesn't seem likely. But, perhaps...
In any case, you are free – on the basis of your experience – to conclude that the whole shebang is all just inert insensible things bouncing around randomly. I am not your expert.
But let's return to our central question: what can we do individually and collectively to become centered people in a world of experts?
First we must try to keep the discourse open to all experts in every truth domain. In human affairs there seems to be a inescapable tendency toward establishing orthodoxies that cannot be questioned. In this regard science was a huge improvement over the inquisitions and witch trials of the Middle Ages, but even in science the tendency exists. Unquestionable orthodoxies can be sources of great suffering. Two recent examples come to mind. The first has to do with economics, where the “neoliberal” consensus was the unquestionable orthodoxy within professional circles for decades. Hearing minority opinions and alternative views might have prevented both the huge inequalities that have emerged and the current collapse of the entire system. But such views never were aired in the popular press. People were led to believe that there was only one opinion. The other area has to do with sexx. (I spell it with two x's because where I live it is considered to be a four letter word, and I want to get along with people.) Societies inability to discuss minority opinions in this area has, over the ages, led from one witchhunt to another. More recently, we no sooner overcame at least in some degree our moral panics about homosexuality, and about boys masturbating, when we replaced that with bizarre fantasies about satanic pedophiles sexually abusing our children. Although the recovered memories that initially seemed to substantiate such unusual and bizarre claims have now been thoroughly debunked by science, the moral panic about child sex abuse continues unabated. How hard it is to hear opinions with which we disagree – especially if they are presented with better data and more rational arguments then we can muster! It's better that the unorthodox be silenced.
Second we must learn to treat experts as service providers, not as rulers. As it is with car mechanics so it should be with physicians, physicists, economists, store clerks, and all other experts. They can provide us their knowledge about their area of expertise, and suggest to us what our options might be. But the choice of our options is our own, and it must be based on those things we have learned to value in our own life experience, those things we most want, those goals we have chosen to pursue.
Third, we must develop educational systems to teach children to weigh data, think for themselves, respect their own wishes, and question authority. It is quite irrational to think we can raise children in total institutions that expect them to parrot back correct answers to authoritarian teachers, and then have these same children turn out to be competent participants in a democratic and free society.
Fourth we should always be alert to the issue of biases both in ourselves and in others. If we want to seek expert opinion as to how long it is good for mothers to breast-feed their children, we probably should carefully scrutinize the opinions and the data provided to us by people who are wanting to sell us baby food.
Finally I think it is wise for us to have a deep respect for popularizations that make the fundamental findings and primary understandings of various truth domains accessible to non-experts. This brings me back to the book with which I started. “The Conscious Universe” is a very fine book that provides the reader with a good understanding of many of the most fundamental insights of the “new physics”. Books of this sort, in whatever field, are of great use to all of us. We cannot, even if we are perpetual students, become experts in every field. But we can access a reasonably good understanding of the basic findings in most of the truth domains that are relevant to our lives. In so far as we do so we increase our capacity to make decisions that are in our interests, collectively and individually.
We must, in short, increase our expertise in dealing with experts.
I read recently that we have become a kleptocracy. I like that. It is expressive and accurate. So what am I doing suggesting we should call ourselves a expertocracy instead? Perhaps there is not so much of a contradiction as might first meet the eye. Kleptocracy always functions through the authority of “experts.” Expertocracy, on the other hand, always entails a theft of your center of gravity. It displaces you from your proper center – which is composed of what your experience has taught you to most want and value – and from the personal and shared dreams that emerge from this experience.
We must resist this displacement. Our knowledge of what we have found to be good in life is irreducible and non-transferable. You cannot know it for me, nor can I know it for you. It is not scientific. It may not be politically correct. But it is the most important truth I have. I am the the final expert of my soul. It is unwise to allow physicists, store clerks, physicians, priests, biologists, politicians, economists, parents, mental health workers, or car mechanics to usurp this role.