mistake mystique

What Is Comprehensive Learning?

This resource attempts to recapitulate and situate comprehensive learning in the broad context of our learning and our lives. It compares comprehensive learning, an emerging tradition of inquiry and action, with other approaches to learning to further clarify its approach. It is a refinement of the notes I wrote two months ago to guide my remarks at the 13 April 2021 session of “Comprehensivist Wednesdays” at 52 Living Ideas (crossposted at The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society).

How does comprehensive learning compare to other ways of learning?

Buckminster Fuller wrote, “I am certain that none of the world’s problems … have any hope of solution except through all of world around society’s individuals becoming thoroughly and comprehensively self-educated.” The sentiment of this quote and related ones in Bucky’s 1969 book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” inspired me in 2019 to formulate the Collaborating for Comprehensivism initiative and led to the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller.

For me, the idea of comprehensive learning and its cognate comprehensive thinking begins with these ideas of Buckminster Fuller. I have been working to capture Bucky’s ideas of comprehensive learning and abstract them into a new tradition of inquiry and action that does not require us to become Synergists in the style of Buckminster Fuller. That is, I imagine comprehensive learning to be broader in scope than even Bucky.

When Bucky defines Universe as “the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously-apprehended and communicated experience” and then recommends starting all inquiry with Universe and subdividing, he is effectively starting with Humanity’s great inventory of all the traditions of inquiry and action in our cultural heritage. The source of all our learning can be seen as coming from the whole of Humanity’s cultural heritage. In contrast, we often think of our learning as coming from the three Rs, or from the classics, or the Great Books, or from standardized curricula. But that leaves out so much of Bucky’s Universe and of our cultural heritage including the wisdom of indigenous peoples, folk traditions, and so much more.

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Comprehensive Exploration, Comprehension, and Collaboration

To better understand the kind of inquiry and action that might foster our comprehensivity, our aspiration to better understand it all and each other, we can examine alternative approaches. Comparisons between alternative approaches to learning may help us better imagine what might facilitate our comprehensivity. This resource reviews Ten Epistemic Virtues for comprehensive andragogy identified in a previous resource and then compares them to the Three Sisters Garden Metaphor for Learning of Barbara Wall and the Four Sets of Competencies for Learning from “The Design Way”.

Since this resource references the indigenous wisdom included in the Three Sisters Garden Metaphor (discussed below), it is appropriate to include a land acknowledgment: I write from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania which is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape. I acknowledge the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. I acknowledge the injustice of the state-sponsored genocide and settler colonialism that gave me the “right” to occupy this land without a meaningful reconciliation with the Lenni-Lenape. The governments of Australia and Canada have both organized commissions that have acknowledged the genocides on their territories and have made some attempts at reconciling with indigenous peoples. I regret that the government of the United States has not yet begun a meaningful process of reconciliation. Follow this link for some materials I organized documenting these genocides.

Footnote: Barbara Wall’s eloquent four minute introduction and land acknowledgement exemplifies and contextualizes these comments:

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Dante’s Comedìa and Our Comprehensivity

Our comprehensivity is our facility for comprehensive thinking and action. One way to build our understanding of comprehensive practice is to look for precursors in historical works. This resource will examine the comprehensive ideas used by Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) in his great works La Vita Nuova and the Comedìa (more commonly known as The Divine Comedy even though Dante never used that title).

Since January 2021 The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society and 52 Living Ideas have organized group explorations of Dante’s greatest works to commemorate the septicentennial of his death seven centuries ago. The project has been organized through the web page Reading Dante in 2021 where many learning aides including two free on-line video courses were listed to support participants of the project. This resource surveys ideas for deepening our understanding of the practice, values, and history of comprehensive inquiry and action that might be highlighted by participating in a project exploring Dante’s great works.

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Comprehensivism in the Islamic Golden Age

Comprehensivism is the practice of integrating as many of Humanity’s sources of learning as possible to better comprehend the world and how it works. The Islamic Golden Age, roughly between the 8th and 14th centuries CE, forged a culture infused with comprehensivist epistemic virtues and these significantly shaped what historian Richard Bulliet calls Islamo-Christian Civilization and the development of Renaissance comprehensivists like Leonardo and modern science.

How did the Islamic world establish their comprehensivist foundation for knowledge? In this resource we will explore some of what has been learned of the cultural traditions that came together during the Islamic Golden Age to provide a historical background for today’s comprehensivism movement. We will offer a comprehensivist interpretation of three exquisite hour long BBC documentaries on “Science and Islam” with the award-winning physicist Jim Al-Khalili as host:

  1. “The Language of Science”: http://y2u.be/stJOl0PYHUE
  2. “The Empire of Reason”: http://y2u.be/z-xQKfMWK2Y
  3. “The Power of Doubt”: http://y2u.be/SwHvQiihXg4

We will also consider Patricia Fara’s epic 2009 book “Science: A Four Thousand Year History”, Dimitri Gutas’s 1998 book “Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early ʿAbbāsid Society”, and other resources.

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Redressing The Crises of Ignorance

Buckminster Fuller discussed problems of ignorance in multiple contexts. His most dramatic usage was as a crisis of ignorance referring to our failure to recognize our abundance of solar, tidal, and geothermal energy causing the illusion of an “energy crisis”. In this resource we abstract and interpret several crises of ignorance inspired, in part, by Bucky’s thinking. We start by revisiting Bucky’s idea of mistake mystique and Stuart Firestein’s thinking on ignorance and science. Then we explore Bucky’s essay “The Wellspring of Reality”. Finally, we expand on some visionary ideas from Bucky’s essay “Education Automation”.

This exploration is organized around four critically important crises of ignorance and how we might redress them. This should reveal new ways to see the importance of our comprehensivity, our “wanting to understand all and put everything together” as Bucky explained it in his book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”.

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March 2021 Update on Comprehensivist Wednesdays

Since the January 25th update, Comprehensivist Wednesdays has organized six events. This update documents two forthcoming events and collects resources including event descriptions, video, and essays from the ten most recent past events.

Two Forthcoming Events

In order to RSVP to attend these events, you must join either the 52 Living Ideas meetup or the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society meetup. Joining either group will require joining Meetup.com which is a free on-line service with strong privacy controls. Once you are a member, you can RSVP to join the event from the link to its Event Page.

The 10 Most Recent Past Events including video links and essays

About Comprehensivist Wednesdays

Comprehensivist Wednesdays is an on-going series of weekly events designed to foster the art of comprehensivity, the state or quality of considering with ever increasing depth and breadth more and more of Humanity’s great traditions of inquiry, more and more of Humanity’s communicated experiences that comprise Buckminster Fuller’s notion of Universe, and more and more of the Ethnosphere (Wade Davis’ cultural analogue of the biosphere). Buckminster Fuller described the approach as “macro-comprehensive and micro-incisive”.

The series is being organized by emcee Shrikant Rangnekar of 52 Living Ideas in collaboration with CJ Fearnley of Collaborating for Comprehensivism and the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society. Here are three playlists of past events:

Collaborating for Comprehensivism is an emerging initiative to energize humanity’s collective intelligence through group conversations that facilitate incrementally the formation of ever broader and deeper and more integrated understandings of our worlds and its peoples.

Mailing List

To receive a weekly update about forthcoming events, please submit a request to join the “Collaborating for Comprehensivism” announcements-only mailing list.

Other Comprehensivist Wednesday's Series News Releases

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Mistake Mystique in Learning and in Life

Comprehensivity is our inclination to integrate all our sources of learning so as to better comprehend the world and how it works. To effectively guide our newfound comprehensivity we require newfound epistemic virtues, new criteria for good knowledge. In previous resources, we have explored two such proposed epistemic virtues: the inductive attitude and the method of multiple working hypotheses.

This resource will investigate mistake mystique as a third proposed epistemic virtue for our comprehensivity. Our primary guide for this exploration is R. Buckminster Fuller’s essay Mistake Mystique. It was published in the now defunct periodical East/West Journal, you can find a copy in some anthologies including “Your Private Sky: Discourse: Buckminster Fuller” edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein (2001) and Education Automation: Comprehensive Learning for Emergent Humanity published by Lars Muller Publishers (2010). We will also consider some ideas of Stuart Firestein from the 2012 book “Ignorance: How It Drives Science”.

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