21st century enlightenment - stalled?


I can’t say I wasn’t warned. When I announced ten days ago that I would use my blog to explore the idea of a 21st century enlightenment, some readers said I wasn’t being realistic. Since then I have only managed two further posts - making last week my least productive week in nearly three years.

The problem is that the way thinking develops around a particular intellectual challenge tends to be incremental. So, having done a bit more reading and thinking, I would now change some of what I wrote last week. But a blog post which slightly amends something written a few days earlier isn’t very interesting to readers. I will try to stick to my commitment to write regularly about the 21CE project but I will have to rely on the goodwill and patience of my readers.

Before moving on to a different topic entirely here are the ideas about the 21CE I am currently mulling over. Is it true to say that one of the differences between the original enlightenment and a modern equivalent concerns how we analyse the way the world works? Enlightenment thinkers tended to believe that if we could break down all systems - natural, social, psychological - to their constituent parts and understand these, we would be able to describe the whole system and predict change within it. We tend now to recognise, on the one hand, the importance of how systems as a whole work and, on the other, the irreducible complexity of those systems. I have to admit that, being a rather linear thinker, I have tended in the past to be suspicious of people who talk about systems and complexity, as it can sometimes sound like almost mystical mumbo jumbo. The question is not about abandoning mechanical models for system ones or the pursuit of cause and effect for the celebration of complexity, but about understanding how these two different models of change can be reconciled.

I need some help with this thought. Is it true and what I should read (preferably short) that will help me think about how I should include it in my narrative?

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

Related articles

  • Future of engineering: skills and safety for an evolving sector

    Fabian Wallace-Stephens Emma Morgante

    Safety in engineering is vital and introducing new technologies to protect workers is important in supporting the future of the profession. This blog outlines milestones in a related project and discusses upcoming engagement opportunities.

  • RSA Catalyst Awards 2022: Round two winners announced

    Beth D'Elia

    Announcing the eight innovation projects receiving RSA Catalyst funding in round two of 2022's awards.

  • Recognising reciprocity

    Al Mathers

    Al Mathers, former RSA Director of Research and Learning, explores the importance of introducing reciprocity into the work of social change organisations like the RSA.