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”:
  2. “The Empire of Reason”:
  3. “The Power of Doubt”:

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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The Inductive Attitude: A Moral Basis for Science and Comprehensivism

Comprehensivism is an emerging practice that takes seriously Buckminster Fuller’s observation that we want “to understand all and put everything together”. In this practice, we value learning from other traditions of inquiry and action, all our communicated experiences, and the Ethnosphere, our all-encompassing cultural zone. To assess this learning, we value accumulating and comparing many working hypotheses, conjectures, guesses, theories, and explanations so we can evaluate our vast inventory of knowledge comprehensively.

With these aspirations and values in mind, this resource will consider inductive reasoning as a moral basis for science as examined by George Pólya (1887–1985) in his 1954 public domain book “Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning: Volume I: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics”. We will also explore the implications of Pólya’s ideas for our comprehensivity, our efforts at learning that are broad in scope and deeply incisive or cutting. For diligent readers who want to assess the relevant parts of Pólya’s book on their own, at the end there is a section with links to its most important and most accessible sections on inductive reasoning.

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