Trees Versus the Forest

Back in the fifties, as I vaguely recall, the U.S. Army sponsored a TV series called “The Big Picture.” The show has long since disappeared from the media and is doubtless collecting dust in some anonymous gov­ernment archive. And though today we may snicker at the hopeless naiveté which its producers displayed in attempting to present some kind of ultimate perspective, a few of us have come to suspect that today’s information intensive environment may have yielded a worse result—a culture in which we know more and more about less and less—with faint hope for recovering anything like the larger coherent vision which once held society together. So, if you will forgive us for a moment, we would like to indulge in a bit of ‘big picture’ generalizing of our own.

The world, it seems, is divided into two camps, those who serve the ruling secular/scientific order— keeping their horizons appropriately confined by its restrictions no matter how schizophrenic—and those who see the world in larger and more orderly terms where principles like freedom, truth, and justice still mean something, who see not only trees, but forests.

The compartmentalizing of knowledge in a time of increasing specialization has produced armies of ex­perts on every imaginable topic, all of them taught to avoid subjects in which they are not trained. Conse­quently almost no one, it seems, stands tall enought to make judgments about the overall scheme of things. To do so is to jeopardize one’s career and livelihood. Yet, we suspect, almost everyone worries about these matters. This may explain why many of the best ideas often come from, so-called, untrained minds free of the constraints which bind the experts.

Remember the child who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes. Perhaps the real reason why or­ganized “skeptics” militate against unauthorized research like that found in these pages is fear of exposure. Once a problem has been reported—even if by an outsider—one doesn’t have to be an expert to behold the naked truth.

The emphasis on detailed specialized knowledge, apparent in most of today’s scientific discourse seems to lead only deeper and deeper into the labyrinth while offering little hope of finding the exit. We recall, for example, John Anthony West’s comment about the focus by Egyptologists on such trivia as “Tutankha­mun’s underwear” at the expense of more significant concerns; i.e., the true meaning of our ancient heri­tage. Are we straining at gnats only to swallow the proverbial camel?

It is worth remembering that knowledge without understanding is worthless or worse.


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