Original Thinking

History that comes to us as a chronology of events is really a collective existence that is evolving through several stages to develop Individuality in all members of the society. The human community, nation states, linguistic groups, local castes and classes, and families are the intermediate stages in development of the Individual. The social process moves through phases of survival, growth, development and evolution. In the process it organizes the consciousness of its members at successive levels from social external manners, formed behavior, value-based character and personality to culminate in the development of Individuality. Through this process, society evolves from physicality to mentality. The power of accomplishment in society and its members develops progressively through stages of skill, capacity, talent, and ability. Original thinking is made possible by the prior development of thinking that organizes facts into information. The immediate result of the last world war was a shift in reliance from physical force and action to mental conception and mental activity on a global scale. At such times no problem need defy solution, if only humanity recognizes the occasion for thinking and Original Thinking. The apparently insoluble problems we confront are an opportunity to formulate a comprehensive theory of social evolution. The immediate possibility is to devise complete solutions to all existing problems, if only we use the right method of thought development.

Although thinking is a general attribute of humanity, only a chosen few exhibit the capacity for original thinking. Many of these thinkers have lived their entire lives unnoticed by the people around them. Even when personal notice and appreciation eluded them, their ideas have had a profound and lasting impact on the rest of the world.
Valéry Giscard dʹEstaing, former President of France, once complained about the paucity of original thinkers in the world. In the foreword to a book by Harlan Cleveland, former World Bank President Robert McNamara recommended the author to the French President as an original thinker whose writings were worth reading. Cleveland had served as the chief of the USAID program in Taiwan after the 2nd World War. During his tenure there, he noticed the power of people’s rising aspirations and expectations speeding up the recovery and development of Taiwanese society. This prompted him to coin the phrase, “Revolution of Rising Expectations” to describe the phenomenon he observed of mental aspirations quickening the pace of physical development. What he perceived was the process of social evolution whereby a physical man transforms into a mental man through the mechanism of mental aspiration. This transformation has the power to cure all the ills that are currently afflicting society.

Long before the advent of the World Wide Web, Cleveland noticed a unique phenomenon which he termed “uncentralised organisation”. It is a form of organization where power is neither centralized nor widely distributed, but spread pervasively to give the impression that ‘nobody is in charge’. Visa International, which coordinates the largest proportion of international credit card transactions by connecting thousands of banks and hundreds of thousands of merchants across the world, is an example of an uncentralised organization that demonstrates the unrivalled power of this conception. The concept of Organisation has not received so far the full attention it deserves. In fact, the power of organization itself is not fully appreciated. Organisation can achieve on an infinite scale compared to unorganized functioning. There is as much difference between organized and unorganized functioning as there is between air travel and walking. Advances in air travel have been achieved by scientific technology. Advancement in Organisation is accomplished by the growth of consciousness in the collective. The remarkable power of Organisation is only dimly understood. That is why its capital role in the success of India’s Green Revolution has never been fully recognized. Global food scarcity can be totally eliminated if the power of Organisation is fully applied to global food distribution. The Brandt Commission was alerted to the power of Organisation 30 years ago and showed some interest in applying its power to solve food shortages, but the idea was too radical for that time and did not get the full attention it deserved.
The first half of the 20th century saw many idealistic predictions about the future life awaiting humanity. None of these, however, survived the touch of reality. The second half of the 20th century has been called the Information Age, due to the increasing flood of information it generated. Information is the basis upon which thinking develops. Yet, in spite of this flood of information, not much original thinking has resulted. Many global problems such as poverty, unemployment, terrorism, economic depression and environmental degradation persist to this day and still defy solution. Even after two decades after the end of the Cold War, elimination of nuclear weapons is nowhere in sight. Problems are usually known to be a very good fertile breeding ground for fresh and original ideas, yet none have emerged capable of abolishing this pernicious threat.
Problems refusing to go away should compel us to rationally look at the same issues from a wider perspective. If economic crises continue to repeat, it should motivate economists to reexamine the fundamental axioms of economics upon which the subject rests. Persistence of problems does not mean that they are insoluble. It only means that the theoretical premises upon which the foundations of economics have been built are not sound and sufficient.
When the practical man is confronted with problems, he looks for practical solutions, while the thinker looks for ideas to solve them. But when the Original thinker is confronted with problems, he takes that as an opportunity to know himself in the wider measure. The Original thinker seeks not just ideas but original ideas which are called in Philosophy Real-Ideas. Cadmus Journal refers to them as Seed-Ideas. Ideas, sooner or later, lead to action. Because conceivable by mind in some way, they declare it can be done. Pregnant ideas have the dynamism to lead to action. Real-Ideas are capable of self-effectuation, as knowledge and will are integrated in them. When Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth in 1972, it awakened the awareness of the world to the need for change in thinking and in action, and the world now is a better place for that.
Mental understanding, which can generate clarity, is not the only type of understanding that we have. Apart from it there is also emotional comprehension. When the emotions understand, they inspire the person to act. At the next deeper level, our very body possesses an understanding of its own. When that understanding is reached, the body acts at once. That is why uneducated people respond better to a demonstration than to an explanation. When they see with their senses that something is achievable, they cannot wait to act to achieve it. Hence, when the body understands, it does not wait to act. Intellectual explanations carry clarity. Clarity of thought is a contribution to accomplishment. If one with that clarity chooses, he can commission actions to achieve it. Seed-Ideas lend themselves to action, as they release emotional energy which compels action in time. Real-Ideas inspire the physical consciousness, which moves into action at once.
In Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, the train in which the hero travels is stopped by a warning signal a little before a weak bridge. The passengers, guard, driver, and engineer all get down and explore the alternatives. The only idea suggested to them by the watchman on the spot is to cross the river on foot, reach the other side and board another train. That meant walking five miles up the river to cross it at a ford. The engineer comes up with an original idea. He says that if the train moves across the bridge at a very high speed, it might be possible to cross the bridge without the wheels actually touching the rails, thereby safely reaching the other side. Although the idea appears quite radical to the hero’s French attendant, the American passengers, driver and guard all enthusiastically agree to the attempt. So the train backs up for some distance, gathers a speed of 100 miles per hour, and seems to almost fly across the bridge. As soon as it reaches the other side, the bridge comes down with a deafening sound. Perhaps this was the spirit of innovation that tamed the new continent and made America the most prosperous nation on earth. The combination of idea and determination generates the power of Real-Idea in action.
During World War II, India grew restive with clamor for independence. Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, voiced his demand for a separate Muslim nation called Pakistan. President Roosevelt began pressing Churchill to disband the British Colonies in return for American support during the war. Churchill could not implement that idea. To oblige the American pressure, he sent Sir Stafford Cripps, a friend of India, to India with a mission. Gandhi flatly refused the British offer, though he announced no boycott. The mission failed. Later the Indian army showed signs of patriotic intransigence. By that time, Churchill had been replaced with Attlee. The very next day Atlee sent A. V. Alexander to India as the head of the Cabinet Mission, but the talks dragged on and no solution was arrived at for the vexing problem of Pakistan. In an atmosphere of rising violence, Attlee then looked around in desperation for the right man for the job. He found the man in Lord Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia during the war, who took charge as the last Viceroy of India in March 1947 with the proclaimed intention of declaring India’s independence by June 1948. Once he arrived in Delhi, he found the situation far more explosive than it had been described and realized it would be impossible to postpone independence for another 14 months. He set to work immediately and by the end of June, he was able to announce that freedom would be granted by August 15, 1947. He succeeded in completing the task a year in advance. Reading the fascinating narrative in Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, one gets the impression that a Real-Idea was fulfilling itself almost instantaneously. Whether it is a Real-Idea that fetches instant results or a Seed-idea that produces results over some years, surely humanity can rid itself of all its problems with the power of such ideas.
It is desirable to find a solution, at least in thought, to the problems of the world. Arriving at the right solutions needs the support of correct information pertaining to that problem.
Surely in this age of information there is no dearth of information and data. Any amount of information can be gathered through the Internet. Computers are only mechanical devices but have shown an amazing capacity for seeing connections between what appear to be unconnected matters. Walmart used computers to note the connection between sales of baby diapers and beer, which occurred when young fathers were sent by their wives to the store to purchase diapers. Rightly used, computers can expose the relationship between the recurring financial crises, the growth of speculative investment, rising levels of unemployment and income inequality. Such an approach may even give rise to original thinking in economics.
Newton and Socrates fully qualify as Original Thinkers. Original ideas have the power to completely free humanity from long-standing problems. Epidemic diseases like plague and cholera were once commonplace even in Europe.
Now the world has almost forgotten them. Increasing population, once regarded as a curse, is now viewed from a fresh perspective as the power of human capital.
While India was for long oppressed by the ancient idea of karma and Europe resigned to fixed limits on what can be accomplished, Americans expanded the horizons of human enquiry and affirmed the conviction, ‘If there is a problem, there must be a solution.’ It is a perception of Infinity in practical life.
Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has been fascinated by the power of Ideas and ruled by them, Original Ideas, whose origin remains unknown. When the Englishman arrived in South India in the 17th century, apart from his trading and colonizing activities he also took some interest in the cultural and literary aspects of the Indian civilization. He came upon the Tirukkural which is an ancient Tamil literary work made up of 1330 short couplets. It was translated into English, acquired international fame and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Studying the Tirukkural, one can see that it is essentially made up of 13 original and major ideas. Perhaps even now the entire world is governed by some 15 or 20 original ideas. It would be a fascinating task to find out if we can add some more original ideas to the existing list. The flood of information that is available now tempts us to undertake such a task. It may not be a very difficult task to come up with solutions for problems that have been bothering humanity for the last 2000 years, if we freely exercise our minds in an original manner on these problems unconfined by conventional wisdom and established practices.

Ashok Natarajan, Fellow, World Academy of Art & Science;
Secretary, The Mother’s Service Society, India
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