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Bernard Phillips. Can Social Science Save Us?




Bernard Phillips


Prologue:My Journey from the East Bronx

to Longboat Key


Part I

Our Two Most Powerful Tools:Language and the Scientific Method


Ch 1It's the Emotions, Stupid!


Part II
Can a Nobody Change Self and World?


Ch 2"Hand":See-saw or Stairway?

Ch 3"Heart":Can We Exhume Buried Emotions?

Ch 4"Head":The Scientific Method and the Pendulum


Part III
Society:Enemy or Friend?


Ch 5Education and Science:A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Ch 6The World of Work:Economics as if People Mattered

Ch 7Political Life:Is the Cure for Democracy More Democracy?

Ch 8Religion:Destroyer or Savior?

Ch 9The Family:Is Love Possible?


Part IV
The Most Exciting Journey in the World


Ch 10The Meeting of East and West: From Stratification to Evolution


Prologue:My Journey from the East Bronx to Longboat Key


Jonathan Winters, the comedians' comedian whose standup has never been equaled, has said that he came into this world without knowing who he was and may go out of this world without knowing who he is.We can laugh at his reference to Alzheimer's, all the while smugly thinking that we know who we are.But do we?Are we really aware of our full potential as human beings, by contrast with all other organisms?Are we limited by a certain set of genes, a certain IQ, a certain education and a certain job?Or are we beings who presently fail to see our truly infinite possibilities?Do we humans indeed have the potential to continue our evolution--granting the many roadblocks placed in our path--intellectually, emotionally, and in the effectiveness of our actions with no limit whatsoever?If we have that potential, can we somehow learn to go around those roadblocks and learn to actually see who we are and what we might become?And might we then learn to put that new awareness to work in the service of confronting ever more effectively the deepening problems of the contemporary world?


I am able to ask these questions now, at the ripe old age of 77.And by being able to ask them, I am also able to come up with affirmative answers that apply not just to me but also to everyone else.But how could I possibly believe in such absurdity?Am I not aware of our history of wars without end?Don't I know about increasingly threatening problems like international terrorism with weapons of mass destruction, global warming that threatens life o­n the planet, or the failures of our leaders in all walks of life?Don't I read the daily papers full of stories about man's inhumanities against man?What experiences could I have had that have yielded in me such an incredibly naive outlook o­n human possibilities?In the few pages of this prologue I will do no more than provide a very brief sketch of those experiences, to be elaborated throughout this book.Then the reader will be able to understand how I came to develop my crazed view of the human being, of history, and of society.


I recall running around the basketball court in the schoolyard of Public School 61 in the East Bronx during recess when I was about eight years old.I was no good at all at dribbling or getting the ball in the hoop, and the others would never pass the ball to me.But that wasn't the worst of it, for I've repressed and can o­nly recall very vaguely the many incidents of bullying that I endured during recess periods.I was small and skinny at the time, most unimpressive, and I had very few positive social experiences.My reaction was to bury myself in schoolwork, and as a result I became teacher's pet in most of my classes, a position that did not help me socially. Later, as an adolescent, my experiences at dating generally were disastrous.It was most difficult for me to reach out emotionally to my dates and treat them as individualsrather than as sex objects.And they demonstrated their lack of enthusiasm for such treatment.


My two older brothers more or less ignored me, My parents were hard-working immigrants from Eastern Europe, working long hours in their butcher store o­n Jennings Street, and I was more or less left to myself.To make matters still worse, I was a "mama's boy," my mother's favorite, and that had been a basis for my seeking to become the favorite of my teachers.I was her youngest, her baby, and she continued to baby me long past my early years, preparing me not at all for my experiences in the outer world.One incident I recall from life at 1660 Crotona Park East--an address that the family finally kept after numerous moves to avoid paying back rent--happened at the dinner table.I accused my oldest brother of taking a lambchop off my plate.He was completely innocent, but my accusation reflected my feelings of having been ignored by him."You stole my lambchop!" I loudly proclaimed, having taken for reality a dream I had the night before.


Living right next to Manhattan with all of its cultural life did me little good, for I had developed little in the way of cultural interests and remained isolated in the East Bronx.I recall a friend in high school, Werner Ulrich, who had the very cultural background that I lacked.He took me to see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, where we paid for standing room, and I was enthralled by the experience.But I had little money to spend as well as no well-defined interests in music and no music in my home, so the experience was an isolated o­ne.And I largely missed the social and cultural experiences that I might have obtained from college, since I could o­nly afford to commute to classes from my home.Over my high school and college years I continued to use my studies as a way to gain some sense of personal success, granting my many other failures.


My parents wanted me to become a doctor--the standard occupation of choice for the children of Jewish parents--but after a few years in collegeI opted of all things for an academic career in sociology.I had received a research assistantship that enabled me to obtain an M.A. degree, and a teaching fellowship afterwards in another school gave me the opportunity to earn a Ph.D.My marriage was to someone who was quite the opposite of me in an ability to express emotions and to relate socially, and this worked to maintain my own passive emotional and social orientation.Over the years as a professor at several schools I recall collaring people at social occasions and pouring out my own ideas while giving them very little opportunity to put forward their own ideasAnd my repressed feelings of shame and guilt were sometimes revealed in dreams I had of giving lectures in my classes where students would walk out o­ne by o­ne until no o­ne remained. I recall o­ne dream where I was holding a book in class, and it gradually morphed into a large ball of feces.Needless to say, I was not effective as an instructor, and student ratings reflected that.


Yet for all of this there was also a very positive side to a life that took me from the East Bronx as a boy to Longboat Key, Florida, as a professor retired from teaching.That is the side that enables me to dredge up these negative experiences and use them to gain understanding of problems that I must learn to solve.It is also the side of me that enables me to write a book about nothing less than how to save the world.How could a skinny first-generation Jew from an East-Bronx ghetto, with all of the social advantages of residents of concentrations camps, manage to turn things around to such an extent?What was there in those positive experiences that made this possible?Did I learn anything from those positive experiences that can they be paralleled by others? Am I now some kind of superman, or have I simply come to understand a direction, a path, that can help me learn to express my emotions after all these years? Did it lead to my present grandiose ideas of the infinite "evolution" of every human being?Is that a path that can also be traveled by others? Is it a direction, an image of the future, that can indeed also enable each of us to "work in the service of confronting ever more effectively the deepening problems of the contemporary world"? o­nce again, I will proceed to take a very quick trip over my past, this time to locate examples of whatever helped me to cope with my problems and arrive at my present perspectives.Maybe I am not crazy after all.


It was at the age of nine that I wrote in a diary that I kept sporadically that I wanted "to do something of great scope and enduring size to benefit the world."That incredible aspiration for a boy of that age may have been much higher than that of most other children my age, but was it really so unusual for me to develop that aim in the year 1940?Whatever the limitations of my immigrant parents, they wanted a much better life for me than they had experienced, and they made whatever financial sacrifices were necessary to send me to the best college possible.And they were prepared to make further sacrifices to send me to medical school.Yet their efforts, and my own aspirations, were not so unusual at that time in history.For societies throughout the world were undergoing what came to be called a "revolution of rising expectations."The scientific revolution inaugurated in the 16th century by figures such as Kepler, Galileo and Newton had yielded the basis for a continuing technological revolution that has changed the face of the entire globe.Those revolutions were accompanied in the 18th century by the American and French revolutions.And in the 20th century powerful social movements developed--like the civil rights movement and the women's movement--that continued to raise people's aspirations for a better life for all human beings.When I wrote those words in my diary I was completely unaware of how they had been shaped in large measure by events that had taken place over five hundred years.


But there is more to the story of those words.It was in class 3B4 at P. S. 61, taught by Mrs. Israel, that I was appointed Editor-in-Chief of "The 3B4 News," which sold for three cents a copy, with proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.Here is o­ne of the stories I wrote in the June, 1940, issue:


On May 10, 1940 Hitler's armies invaded Holland and Belgium.Holland put up terrific resistance, but after 14 days of constant bombing, Holland surrendered.Belgium put up big resistance also, but after the Liege forts surrendered, most of the army fled.The Germans then pushed o­n through the Maginot Line into France.Though Holland and Belgium are at war, both have buildings in the World's Fair.The World's Fair is a symbol of peace in a world at war.


With all of the accomplishments of the human race throughout the twentieth century, that century was also a nightmare scene, withits World War I, Great Depression, World War II, and also the Cold War, Vietnam War and Korean War that I experienced later as I grew up.My aspiration "to do something of great scope and enduring size to benefit the world" did not just grow out of a revolution of rising expectations based o­n the continuing scientific and technological revolutions.I was also deeply influenced by the problems of the twentieth century, just as everyone else was. Thornton Wilder's play, "The Skin of Our Teeth," traces the history of the series of narrow escapes that human beings have had throughout history.When our backs have been pressed against the wall, whether by war, famine or flood, those problems have in turn energized us to fight back, and we have managed to fight back successfully over the years.Necessity has indeed been the mother of invention.My own unbelievably high aspiration illustrated my own effort to fight back.


Skipping over a number of years, my journey through life took me to the Bronx High School of Science, o­ne of the nations pre-eminent secondary schools, where I dipped into the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, taught by committed instructors who held doctoral degrees.That scientific background prepared me for courses in the same subjects at Columbia College, where I learned much more about the nature of the scientific method.The tool of mathematics that scientists used was not an end in itself but rather a means to the end of integrating bits and pieces of knowledge.What was absolutely essential for that method were the very general or abstract concepts that constituted the language of science, concepts like "force," "mass" and "acceleration" in the field of mechanics within the discipline of physics,or "valence" and "atomic number" within chemistry.My education in physics, chemistry and biology turned out to be o­ne where I was exposed to new languages that were most general.Yet the concepts in those languages could reach down to explain a vast number of very specific events, such as the speed of a falling apple or the motion of the Earth.


Yet my most important educational experience at Columbia came by chance.I had worked my way o­nto the varsity tennis team, and o­ne day a teammate told me about a course in sociology that he was absolutely mad about.The course, given by Professor C. Wright Mills, was open to students who wished to audit it, and I decided to hear what Mills had to say.From that time until this very day I was captured not o­nly by Mills but also by the discipline of sociology.Mills was everything that I was not yet longed to be:a towering figure who roared his convictions about the social problems of modern American society, such as the plight of office workers caught up in huge bureaucratic organizations where they were treated like insignificant ants.I had felt like o­ne of those insignificant ants all my life, and here was a charismatic figure who helped me to understand the forces that had shaped me and, potentially, what I might do to change my situation.As a result, my journey took a sharp turn away from medicine and into the discipline of sociology, which had defined itself not as merely social studies--the course I had taken at the Bronx High School of Science--but rather as social science.And given my background in biophysical science, I felt that I was in a position to work toward helping this discipline of sociology--that had developed o­nly near the end of the 19th century--to become more scientific.I entered graduate schools, first at Washington State University where I earned an M.A. in sociology with a minor in the philosophy of science.Later, I came back eastto Cornell University, receiving a Ph.D. in sociology in 1956, having taken courses in social psychology and mathematics in addition to sociology.


My middle brother, Jack, wrote and published poetry, and he encouraged me to try my hand at it as well.Here is the first poem I wrote, which was also published in the summer of 1954 by Different, the small magazine that Jack recommended:




When I begin the ancient game of chess,

Commanding knights and pawns in bitter strife,

I wonder at the thought that I possess:

How is it with the greater game of life?

Am I a wooden piece which someone moves,

A means to satisfy another's ends?

Do I advance, retreat, in patterned grooves,

A creature of commands another sends?

Perhaps I am a player in the game,

And force the moves of countless other souls

To seek my own fulfillment, fortune, fame,

Ignoring in my quest their secret goals.


The castle falls, the knights remain en pris,

Besiegers there are none the eye can see.


Written while I was a doctoral candidate at Cornell University, the poemillustrates my personal quest for uncovering the secrets of human behavior.Am I simply "a creature of commands another sends," conforming to others who are invisible?Do others conform to my own commands, a process that remains invisible to their eyes?Is it possible to bring up to the surface these invisible forces and make them visible so that we can understand and work with them?Leaving Cornell, my academic career took me to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, and finally to Boston University where I stayed until retiring from teaching in 1999.At that point, freed from my residence within the Ivory Tower, my second career began as founder of the Sociological Imagination Group and as the author of a series of books where I was trying to penetrate the complexities of human behavior.Longboat Key, a barrier island in the Sarasota area of Florida, became my home.


The group that I founded in 2000 is named after Mills' most well-known book, The Sociological Imagination, publishedhalf a century ago in 1959.That book was ranked number 2 by the members of the International Sociological Association when asked "to identify the ten books published in the twentieth century that respondents considered to be the most influential for sociology."It was preceded o­nly by a book written at the beginning of the twentieth century by Max Weber, o­ne of the founders of the discipline.At the 1998 meetings of that association in Montreal, I was invited to speak o­n the significance of Mills' book.But at the time I had not yet escaped from being a pawn within the bureaucratic academic world, and I was not able to do justice to Mills' extraordinary achievement.

However, after my escape from the academic world--granting that it did allow me a fair measure of freedom to learn about human behavior--I was able to come into my own.And over the past nine years I have been able to build o­n ideas that I had been slowly developing over my decades as a professor, ideas about language and the scientific method.As for language, I had learned through my brief immersion at Columbia into the biophysical sciences that it is the language of science that is the basis for science's incredible power to yield understanding, and that mathematics was no more than a tool for integrating knowledge.I had also experienced the potential of the language of the humanities, having written some poetry and a book with alternating chapters of fiction and nonfiction,employed figurative language in my books, and introduced a course at Boston University with the title, Sociology through Film.Overall, I had dipped into the way that language is used within the social sciences, the physical sciences, and the humanities.


As for the scientific method, my education at the Bronx High School of Science and biophysical science background at Columbia had started me in a direction that continued throughout my career.Over the years I taught courses in methods and statistics (in addition to other courses), wrote textbooks o­n research methods, wrote articles using a variety of research techniques, and developed mathematical models and computer simulations of human behavior.I was much concerned in all of that work with the failure of sociology and the other social sciences to follow the ideal of the scientific method that calls for opening up to the full range of phenomena required to understand a given problem, given the enormous complexity of human behavior.Instead, the specialization with limited communication throughout the social sciences violates that scientific ideal.For example, there are no less than forty-four distinct Sections within the American Sociological Association and some three hundred subspecialties throughout the discipline of sociology, and communication across specialties and even subspecialties is sparse indeed.


Yet Mills' The Sociological Imagination called for a much different approach to the scientific method.For o­ne thing, he called for a breadth of perspective in efforts to understand human behavior that was absolutely extraordinary, o­ne that would enable social scientists to follow scientific ideals and penetrate the complexity of human behavior:


The sociological imagination. . .is the capacity to shift from o­ne perspective to another—from the political to the psychological; from examinationof a single family to comparative assessment of the national budgets ofthe world; from the theological school to the military establishment; fromconsiderations of an oil industry to studies of contemporary poetry. It isthe capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self—and to see therelations between the two (1959: 7).

For another thing, there was Mills' profound insight into how language actually works, insight that can be made a part of the scientific method:

One great lesson that we can learn from its systematic absence in thework of the grand theorists is that every self-conscious thinker mustat all times be aware of—and hence be able to control—the levels ofabstraction o­n which he is working. The capacity to shuttle betweenlevels of abstraction, with ease and with clarity, is a signal mark of theimaginative and systematic thinker (1959: 34).

For example, there are the relatively concrete concepts of"racism," "sexism," and "ageism," all referring to persisting patterns of hierarchy, all pointing toward basic problems in contemporary society, and each o­ne studied within its own distinct specialized area within sociology.And there is the relatively abstract or general concept of "social stratification," located within its own distinct specialized area.And never the twain meet, or almost never.By contrast, Mills proposed that sociologists move up from those concrete specialized areas to that general or abstract specialized area, and then down again, thus integrating knowledge from the four areas and moving toward understanding the complexities of each o­ne of them.


This approach is much the same as the way we all use language in general.We move up from our concrete understanding of "tulip," "rose" and "daffodil" to our general or abstract understanding of "flower," and then we move down again, illustrating our "capacity to shuttle between levels of abstraction." And by so doing we gain understanding of the nature of any particular flower as well as the nature of flowers in general.And when we make this approach part of the scientific method, then we move toward integrating the vast amount of knowledge of human behavior buried in our libraries, toward fulfilling the ideals of the scientific method,toward opening up to the enormous complexity of human behavior, and towardunderstanding basic problems that confront us humans at this time in history.


It was o­nly after leaving Boston University--where I had been denied Emeritus status by the President's office based o­n what I believed to be my union activities in support of the American Association of University Professors--that I felt free to act constructively o­n my long-term criticism of the failures of the social sciences.For they had done little to fulfill what Mills had called "the promise of sociology":developing an understanding of human behaviorthat is profound enough to give all of us the basis for confronting social and personal problems ever more effectively.Building in a highly systematic way o­n the spirit of Mills' work, I and my colleagues in the Sociological Imagination Group have published since 2001 three volumes collecting papers given at our annual meetings along with three other books, with each new book building o­n the preceding o­nes.Our efforts are nothing less than the beginning of a social movement of social scientists throughout the world to fulfill the promise of the social sciences by fulfilling ever more of the infinite potential of language, of the scientific method, and of every human being.Here, then, is the basis for my crazed or incredibly naive view of "the infinite human being":the view that all of us can learn to use this same approach to language and the scientific method in our own everyday lives.Yet we are all held back by the same bureaucratic and stratified way of life that stood in my own way as a professor at Boston University.

Bernard Phillips and Louis Johnston
            The sun was shining brightly as I walked down Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the very tip of Cape Cod.  It was here that the Pilgrims first made landfall after their long journey across the ocean almost four hundred years ago, finding no water and then moving o­n to Plymouth.  o­n my way to Town Hall, not far from the tall and narrow Pilgrim Monument and Macmillan Wharf, I took the time to gaze out at the blue and green harbor dotted by boats of all kinds and full of life that I could not see under that water. Beyond that harbor I glimpsed the ocean that has been around for many billions of years. It was indeed a peaceful scene o­n that morning of September 11th, 2001, at least until I entered a Town Hall office and saw o­n a TV monitor a plane heading directly for a skyscraper and then crashing into it.  Was it fact or fiction?  The town official I was scheduled to see hurriedly told me that it was a replay of what had just happened in New York City at the World Trade Center, and that he would have to cancel our meeting to attend a conference with the Town Manager.  Events later that day in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania suggested the significance of what I'd just seen.  This was my introduction to the accelerating problems of the 21st century.
            Just as Charles Dickens wrote in the first lines of A Tale of Two Cities where he captured the mood of the French Revolution, it is the best of times and the worst of times.  But now our situation is both far better and far worse than it was in Dickens' time back in the 19th century.  Never before have we humans understood so much about our world, become so aware of our situation or opened up so much to our potential for further evolution.  Yet never before have we humans encountered so many urgent, growing and fundamental problems which even threaten to cut short our future, and with no direction in sight for solving them.  o­n the positive side there is--at least for some of us--our health and longevity, our ability to understand the universe, procedures for communication and transportation that have shrunk the globe, leisure time to spend as we choose, and some awareness and optimism about human possibilities.  o­n the negative side there are ever more deadly nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, growing problems of environmental degradation, limited understanding and consciousness of our true nature  and that of society as a whole, an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, mass starvation and warfare in a number of parts of the world, and widespread pessimism about the future.  To illustrate the results of that increasing gap, the average income of people in rich nations is no less than 63 times that of those in poor nations.  This creates a situation of extreme inequality at a time when worldwide aspirations for equality are increasing.  The result in an increasing gap between what people throughout the world want and what they are in fact getting, creating an increasingly intolerable situation that is a basis for fundamental problems.  Are we doomed to simply await what appears to many of us to be inevitable?  Will all that has been achieved throughout our billions of years of evolution and the long march of human history come to be wasted?  Will the future of our grandchildren and our children--and perhaps even of ourselves--be eliminated?
            Many would argue that the future of the human race has been threatened numerous times in the past, whether by new weapons of warfare or environmental calamities, and that we have always managed to survive.  Thornton Wilder made this very point in his play, "The Skin of Our Teeth."  Time after time when we humans were threatened with extinction resulting from drought, flood, fire, hunger or war, we somehow managed to escape destruction.  Should we pay any attention whatsoever to present-day "prophets of gloom and doom"?  Yet our continued survival up to this point gives us no guarantees for the future.  A scientific understanding of our future possibilities depends o­n a scientific understanding of our present situation, by contrast with mindlessly extending that situation into the future.  For example, given the continuing development of the physical and biological sciences with no end in sight, we can o­nly look forward to the invention of ever more powerful weapons of mass destruction along with ever more effective means to deliver them.  The title of a book published in 2003 by Martin Rees, England's Astronomer Royal and a professor at Cambridge University, suggests what might well occur:  Our Final Hour: Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century--on Earth and Beyond.
            We are not putting forward a doom-and-gloom scenario here, but it is essential that we face up to the true nature of our situation if indeed we aim to change it.  Another argument used against the view that present fundamental problems remain unsolved and increasingly dangerous is that our leaders along with their many experts in all fields of knowledge understand the dangers we face and are succeeding in their efforts to protect society against them.    Surely, so goes this belief, we can count o­n them to learn from our recent experiences with terrorism and other problems and, as a result, succeed in eliminating them.  But does it make sense to o­nce again place our faith in the organizations that have made so many serious blunders in relation to the 9/ll attack as well as to the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq?  This is not a question of Democrats versus Republicans, for organizations like the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency failed to cooperate in efforts to deter the 9/11 attacks under both Democrats and Republicans.  And world problems have been growing with no solutions in sight regardless of which Party has been in power.  The question of how to achieve effective cooperation and communication among our many governmental agencies is o­nly o­ne of a great many questions about how to understand and solve modern problems that remains largely unanswered.  More generally, it appears that despite all of the well-intentioned efforts of governmental agencies throughout the world to solve major problems like the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, they continue to fail in their efforts.  Can we, then, continue to place faith in those efforts?
            The title of this book, Can Social Science Save Us?, implies that there is in fact a path that we can take to confront effectively our growing problems.  The eleven chapters in this book chart that path, which can be followed by any individual regardless of his or her educational or professional background.  Here in this Introduction we can do no more than drop a few hints as to the nature of the journey that we can take to address the fundamental problems of modern society.  Our basic hint requires us to preview the science fiction story to be presented in Chapter 1, Edwin Abbott's Flatland (1884/1952).  Abbott gave us a vision of a two-dimensional world, Flatland, inhabited by triangles, squares, circles and many-sided polygons living in houses that were as flat as this piece of paper.  A three-dimensional sphere suddenly swoops down from space and snatches the narrator, a square, taking him up out of the plane of Flatland where he can look down and see his countrymen, their houses and Flatland as a whole.  The square soon discovers the limitations of his previous knowledge.  He can now see that his house is completely open to penetration from a third dimension, and he can understand the origin of shadows.  Overall, the square experiences a complete change in his understanding of the nature of reality, altering not o­nly his basic beliefs but also the way he perceives phenomena. 
            This story will be continued in Chapter 1, but here we might make use of it to suggest the nature of the problems that we face at this time in history.  Just as the square from Flatland altered his fundamental assumptions and perceptions of reality when he experienced Spaceland or a three-dimensional world, so can we creatures of Spaceland change our own fundamental assumptions and perceptions of reality o­nce we understand that we experience Timeland or a four-dimensional world.  It is a four-dimensional world that Albert Einstein envisioned in his theories of relativity linking space and time. This book is a journey that will take us from Spaceland to Timeland, and we authors aim to carry each reader into that country chapter by chapter.  To the extent that you follow the arguments presented here and learn to apply them to your own life, you will be able to make that journey, to see the world with different eyes, and to alter your understanding of the nature of reality. Just as the Flatland square could see into his house from Spaceland, so can we Spaceland creatures learn to see into our modern situation from Timeland and thus confront contemporary problems.  A Timeland perspective can teach us to add to our present awareness of modern problems a direction for confronting them that takes into account their complexity by employing the understandings developed by the social sciences.
            But aren't we denizens of modern society already employing a Timeland perspective?  Don't we all learn about human history?  Can't we all look back at our own personal history?  And can't we all envision our personal future and the world's future?  For example, can't we all conceive of our own personal death and even the death of our planet many millions of years in the future?  And can't we all look back billions of years to the very origin of our universe?  Yet it is o­ne thing to look into the dim past or the far future occasionally, but it is quite another thing to be able to see o­ne present moment after another from a very long-term perspective.  Biophysical and social scientists have a word that contrasts phenomena occurring from o­ne moment to the next with transitory phenomena:  "structure."  The key question in considering whether we are indeed using a Timeland perspective is:  What is the "structure" of the way we see and understand the world? 
For example, as I move through life am I guided primarily by perceptions of the objects around me and thoughts that fail to encompass phenomena in the far past or the distant future?  Do I see myself at this moment in a relatively fixed or static way rather than as an entity that has changed dramatically since birth and that may continue to change with each passing moment?  Do I stereotype others into fixed categories--like "beautiful," "fat," "old," "homeless," "man,"  "well-dressed," "handicapped" and "stupid" --rather than see them all as unique individuals with incredible capacity to develop themselves as human beings over time?   What indeed is the "structure" of the way I see myself, others and the physical phenomena around me?  Is it a short-term Spaceland structure or a long-term Timeland structure?  Henry Ford has expressed our Spaceland perspective:  "History is more or less bunk.  It's tradition. We don't want tradition.  We want to live in the present and the o­nly history that's worth a damn is the history we make today." By contrast, the philosopher George Santayana claimed:  "Those who cannot learn from history or doomed to repeat it." 
            Our major tools for structuring our behavior so as to point toward Timeland are language and the scientific method, tools that are unavailable to all other forms of life except for the most primitive kinds of language.  Perhaps the greatest discovery of social scientists throughout the twentieth century is the enormity of language's role in shaping both society and the individual.  We can divide the billions of years of the evolution of life o­n earth into two periods: almost all of some four billions of years where life may be characterized as almost completely non-linguistic, and the extremely recent hundreds of thousands of years when language finally took hold among human creatures.   And it is language which has been the basis for the most powerful tool that human beings have invented for solving problems: the scientific method.  Those hundreds of thousands of years can also be divided into two periods:  almost that entire period prior to the development of the scientific method, and the last four centuries which saw the development of the scientific and industrial revolutions.  It is those centuries which have also seen what we have described as the best of times, with our advances in medicine, communication and transportation and our understanding of the universe.  And the have also the worst of times, with our growing problems of warfare and terrorism with weapons of mass destruction, of environmental degradation and of a gap between the rich and the poor coupled with an emphasis o­n the value of equality.
            As for the structure of language, its emphasis is o­n an either-or or dichotomous structure.  Every word we use, such as "word," divides the world into two categories, such as all words, o­n the o­ne hand, and everything else, o­n the other hand.  Thus, we have nuclear weapons and everything else; we have the scientific method and all other phenomena,  And just as this division into two categories is the basic structure of our language, so is it the fundamental structure of our thought, since thought derives from language.  As a result, from o­ne moment to the next we learn to think in a very oversimplified way, going along with opposites like good and evil, beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, and so o­n.  By contrast with Timeland's emphasis o­n change and history, this is a very static or Spaceland orientation or structure of thought.  We can of course use language to talk about shades of gray or matters of degree, such as referring to different levels of wealth or income, but the structure of our usage of language shoves us into emphasizing the dichotomy of rich and poor, and the same for smart and dumb along with the rest of our words.  And beyond the static or fixed nature of this orientation is its oversimplified nature.  Intellectually, we realize that there are indeed matters of degree, which make for a far more complicated view of the world than an either-or approach.  Such a complex perspective was more characteristic of Spaceland than Flatland, and it is also more characteristic of Timeland than Spaceland.  o­nce again, it is structure that matters far more than what happens o­nce upon a time, and we are pushed into a simplistic mode of thought all the while we remain convinced that we are far more sophisticated than that.
            If this static and simplistic mode of thought were all that we could ever learn to emphasize, then our future would indeed be a hopeless o­ne, just as the Flatland square would be helpless in a three-dimensional world.  But the ideals of the scientific method, developed over centuries can point our thought and behavior toward the complexity of our Timeland world.  Those ideals are illustrated by the gradational orientation of the numbers and the mathematics employed by the physical sciences and--to an extent--the biological sciences.  The incredible power of that mode of thinking has been amply demonstrated over the past four centuries, in every corner of the globe and in almost every aspect of our lives.  Numbers along with their gradational perspective have become the basis for our ability to produce almost anything, whether it be houses, cars, streets, planes, medical and dental equipment, food, entertainment, telephones, the internet, education or instruments of warfare and terrorism.  We have relied o­n engineers of all kinds--civil, mechanical, industrial, aeronautical, chemical, medical, and so o­n--to take the understandings developed by physical scientists and employ them to build our world.  Thus, biophysical science has opened us up to the incredible potential of a capacity of language that points in the direction of Timeland, emphasizing change and complexity.  Yet we have failed up to this point to learn to make much use of that capacity of language in our everyday thought, and that goes for biophysical scientists and engineers no less than the rest of us.
            If we pay serious attention to scientific ideals, they point up yet another capacity of language which we fail to make much use of in our everyday lives:  its capacity to convey images or, more generally, sensory experiences like sight, sound, touch, taste and odor.  Those ideals point toward procedures for understanding the nature of the world as well as communicating that understanding to others.  Yet understanding and communication are limited without images that help to convey such knowledge.  We see this illustrated by graphs within biophysical science, for they provide such images.  But generally biophysical science has failed to emphasize this image-oriented capacity of language, and we must turn to the humanities for this development, looking to fields like literature, film, television, the theater, art and music.  An example here is the use of "metaphor" within language, as exemplified by "Flatland," "Spaceland" and "Timeland."  Metaphors are words with concrete or sensory meaning--like "flat," "space" and "time"--that are also taken to mean far more than their concrete meaning.  Thus, Flatland, Spaceland and Timeland refer to entire worlds and not merely to flat or spacial or temporal experiences.  For example, Shakespeare's hero "Hamlet" can be extended to the metaphor, "We are all Hamlets in the modern world," implying that we are all more or less indecisive, not knowing how to act in the face of problems that confront us.  As another illustration, within the phrase "Can social science save us?" "social science " is used metaphorically.  It is taken to be far more than simply a body of knowledge but rather to be an individual or group that can take some action to save us from present-day problems that threaten us.  If, then, we are to follow the scientific ideal of achieving understanding and communicating that understanding, then we must also learn to use language's capacity for conveying images or sensory experiences, an emphasis to be found within the humanities rather than biophysical science.
            Where does social science stand with respect to making use of these three capacities of language, namely, dichotomy, gradation and images or sensory experiences?  Unfortunately, social science goes along with the same emphasis that we all have in everyday life--dichotomy--and thus generally fails to help us to move from the static and simplistic orientation of Spaceland.  There are some attempts at employing numbers, and there are also some efforts to employ metaphor, but these are very far from illustrating the structure of social science.  That structure is illustrated by the 43 distinct Sections of the American Sociological Association with each o­ne focusing o­n a different aspect of human behavior, such as education, the family, politics, economics, religion, war and peace, crime, sexism, and racial prejudice and discrimination.  Each of these Sections dichotomizes its own knowledge from the knowledge contained in all of the other Sections along with the knowledge in other social sciences, and that dichotomy reflects the lack of communication across that dichotomy.  As a result, we have an oversimplified approach to understanding human behavior within each Section, and we also have a very limited degree of change or development of those simplistic perspectives o­n human behavior.  Such an emphasis o­n dichotomy pays little attention to the scientific ideal emphasizing the linguistic capacity for gradational thought, where our focus would be o­n the development of a more complex view of human behavior that would take into account whatever we've learned within all of those Sections and not simply o­ne of them.  Further, such an approach would necessarily point away from a static perspective and toward a dynamic o­ne, given such a broad orientation to knowledge and given the scientific ideal of the continuing development of understanding.  In other words, those Sections keep us within Spaceland and limit our movement toward Timeland.  Our basic structure of thinking resembles that of lower forms of life with their focus o­n the momentary scene rather than any long-term perspective that takes into account the complexity of phenomena.  And that structure of thinking largely neglects the power of images.
Yet social scientists along with the rest of us can learn to use all three of language's fundamental capacities and thus move from our Spaceland orientation to a Timeland o­ne.  By far the most effective example of a Timeland perspective ever used by the senior author was a story of the grocer and the chief of Balgat, a village just outside of Turkey's capital city of Ankara. It is a story that has to do with the impact of our scientific and industrial revolutions, which has taken place over some four centuries. The story, based o­n events in 1950, was published as part of a book based o­n a cross-national study.  The title of the book, The Passing of Traditional Society (Lerner, 1958. especially 23-25), suggests the problem addressed by the study:  How are we to understand the nature and impact of the modernization process?  Granting that this process was beginning to take place in the 17th century with the o­nset of the scientific revolution, the grocer and the chief of Balgat have a good deal to tell us about it.  If imagery is indeed important in achieving effective communication, then the contrast between the modern grocer and the traditional chief provides us with images of the modernization process.
            An interviewer named Tosun B. journeyed from his home in Ankara to Balgat, with nothing but a dirt path to guide his car, in the early spring of 1950, a trip that took some two hours even though the distance was no more than several miles.  Tosun was welcomed by the village chief, and after a while proceeded with a question:  How satisfied was the chief with his life?  The chief replied:
What could be asked more?  God has brought me to this mature age without much pain, has given me sons and daughters, has put me at the head of my village, and has given me strength of brain and body at this age.  Thanks be to Him.
The chief, 63 years old, was described by Tosun as "the absolute dictator of this little village."  What would he do, Tosun asked, if he somehow found himself as President of Turkey?  He would seek "help of money and seed for some of our farmers."  And if he were unable to live in Turkey, where would he want to live?  "Nowhere.  I was born here, grew old here, and hope God will permit me to die here."
            In this agricultural village of Balgat a grocer was the o­nly shopkeeper. Unlike the other villagers, he made frequent trips to Ankara, going to shops and seeing movies.  The villagers saw him as having rejected the worth of his own community and even the authority of Allah.  How satisfied was he with life?
            I have told you I want better things.  I would have liked to have a bigger grocery shop in the city, have a nice house there, dress nice civilian clothes.
In a movie he had seen the kind of shop that he longed for, with "round boxes, clean and all the same dressed, like soldiers in a great parade."  But the grocer realized his own inadequacies:  "I am born a grocer and probably die that way.  I have not the possibility in myself to get the things I want.  They o­nly bother me."  What would he do as President of Turkey?  "I would make roads for the villagers to come to towns to see the world and would not let them stay in their holes all their life."  If he was unable to live in Turkey, where would he want to live?  "America, because I have heard that it is a nice country and with possibilities to be rich even for the simplest persons."
            Language's dichotomous capacity is illustrated by the sharp contrast between the chief, representing pre-scientific or pre-industrial man, and the grocer, representing modern man.  We can also see each of them as a metaphor for a different stage in the history of society, for they are described concretely yet they can represent something very general.  But we have yet to illustrate language's gradational capacity, and this might be accomplished with a graph of the transition from preindustrial to modern society.  Figure 1 centers o­n a particular problem, just as the scientific method itself begins by defining a problem which it then yields a direction for solving.  The problem here is how to
Figure 1 about here.
See: Phillips, Bernard.  Beyond Sociology's Tower of Babel:  Reconstructing the Scientific Method.  New York:  Aldine de Gruyter, 2001, Figure 1-1, p. 20
understand the change from preindustrial to modern society. The upper curve portrays the rapidly increasing expectations associated with the scientific and industrial revolutions.  The lower curve depicts the relatively slow increase in the fulfillment of those expectations.  And the gap between the two curves shows the gap between what people want and are actually are able to get.  These curves are "schematic" in that they are not graphed using specific observations but are suggested by many different studies.
Whereas the chief, located o­n the left-hand side of Figure 1, illustrates a rather small gap between expectations and their fulfillment ("What could be asked more?"), the grocer o­n the right-hand side of that figure illustrates a large gap ("I have told you I want better things").  Even if the chief were president of Turkey, his expectations are limited to helping some of the village farmers.  The grocer, by contrast, has a vision of building roads throughout the country so as to bring the farmers into the cities.  The chief has no desire ever to leave his village.  The grocer, however, would want to live in America if he couldn't live in Turkey.  The curves in Figure 1 with the gaps that result give us a gradational perspective o­n the problem of what causes the change from preindustrial to modern society, thus illustrating language's capacity for teaching us to think gradationally.  They suggest that we must look to the relationship between people's expectations and the fulfillment of those expectations.
This story of the grocer and the chief of Balgat together with Figure 1 illustrates a Timeland perspective with its use of language's three capacities.  There is an emphasis o­n the time dimension, which includes not o­nly the long-term perspective of the scientific and industrial revolution but also the concrete situation of the chief and the grocer in the early spring of 1950.  There is also a broad perspective getting at complexity that includes expectations, the fulfillment of expectations, and the gap between the two.  That breadth and complexity is also illustrated by our reference in the second paragraph of this Introduction to the income of people in rich nations as averaging no less than 63 times that of the income of those in poor nations.  This corresponds to the lower curve of Figure 1, but the contemporary emphasis o­n the value of equality points toward the upper curve.  The result is the same kind of large gap illustrated by the grocer and depicted o­n the right-hand side of Figure 1, yielding increasing dissatisfaction throughout the world.  However, prior to the scientific and industrial revolution, as illustrated by the chief and depicted o­n the left-hand side, there was no such emphasis o­n equality, as illustrated by the chief and depicted o­n the left-hand side of Figure 1.  Thus, Timeland's historical orientation and openness to complexity can help us to understand not o­nly the nature of the scientific and industrial revolutions but also a fundamental and increasing problem throughout modern society:  an increasing gap between expectations and their fulfillment.  We should note that we required knowledge from biophysical science, social science and the humanities to arrive at this conclusion:  biophysical science's gradational orientation, social science's dichotomous orientation, and the humanities' orientation to images.  This breadth is very far from our Spaceland approach, illustrated by the narrow orientation to knowledge within the Sections of the American Sociological Association.
            This problem of an increasing gap between expectations and fulfillment is not minor, for it involves the full range of people's material and nonmaterial expectations or values.  We have expectations having to do with meaningful activity and work, with our income and general standard of living, with developing close relationships with others, with our sense of equality, with our feelings of being free, with our sense of individual worth, and much more,  To the extent that we remain unaware of increasing gaps in all of these areas, we become subject to what might be called "the invisible crisis of modern society."  The invisibility stems from our failure to become aware of such gaps from within our narrow and static Spaceland orientation.  That same orientation is, we are convinced, also responsible for our failure to understand the full range of our visible problems, such as increasing threats from terrorists as well as states using weapons of mass destruction.  How, then, is it possible for us to learn how to change from a Spaceland to a Timeland perspective so that we can move into a position to understand the complex invisible and visible problems of modern society and be able to confront them effectively?  The story of the square from Flatland suggests the difficulties involved, for he had to alter his entire way of thinking after his trip with the sphere high above Flatland.  Can we Spaceland creature hope to do the same with respect to Timeland?  Given the invisible and visible crises of modern society, can we afford to do anything less?
            We believe that three steps are required for the individual to embark o­n the journey from Spaceland to Timeland: (1) Understanding the nature of the scientific method, (2) Using that method to learn the detailed nature of a Spaceland and a Timeland worldview, and (3) Applying that understanding to make more and more choices that take o­ne from Spaceland to Timeland.  The senior author and others have published books o­n (1), and the authors have just published a book o­n (2).  The present book focuses o­n (3), building o­n an understanding of (1) and (2).  More specifically, the senior author together with another sociologist (Thomas J. Scheff) and a philosopher of social science (Harold Kincaid) have developed what has come to be called the "Web or Part/Whole approach" to the scientific method (see for example Scheff, 1990, 1994, 1997; Kincaid, 1996; Phillips, 2001; and Phillips, Kincaid and Scheff, eds., 2002).  It is an approach based o­n earlier work in sociology and philosophy that has been critical of the limitations of contemporary social science research because of its general failure to confront the complexity of human behavior.  The broad approach that has been developed includes attention to the biophysical sciences and to humanistic fields like literature along with the social sciences.  It is nothing more than an application of the scientific method to human behavior, following the ideals of that method.   Perhaps the most systematic description of the Web or Part/Whole approach is the senior author's Beyond Sociology's Tower of Babel:  Reconstructing the Scientific Method (2001).
            To take the second step in the journey from  Spaceland to Timeland by learning the nature of these worldviews, our guide can be that same approach to the scientific method. That is a journey that his been described by the authors in The Invisible Crisis of Modern Society:  Reconstructing the Shattered Social Sciences (2006).  Far beyond the general metaphors of "Spaceland" and "Timeland," this journey requires eleven pairs of concepts that are systematically related, with each pair contrasting o­ne worldview with the other.   We see these worldviews as sufficiently general so as to include the full range of existing structures--physical, biological, social and personality--and also to include situations.  Those structures along with situations are viewed not as fixed entities but rather as changing phenomena.  Neither are they seen as having fixed characteristics, for our situational orientation brings in momentary events which alter those structures.  As a result of this analysis we have come up with a sketch of our worldview, which we have labeled as a "stratified worldview" because of its emphasis o­n persisting patterns of hierarchy.  It is a Spaceland worldview in its failure to pay much attention to the dimension of time and complexity.  By contrast, we have also developed a sketch of a Timeland worldview, labeled as an "interactive worldview," which does emphasize the time dimension along with complexity.
            As for the third step in the journey from a Spaceland to a Timeland worldview, that is what this book is all about. It is about learning to shift from our stratified or Spaceland worldview to an interactive or Timeland worldview.  We believe that the individual can experience what the square from Flatland experienced during his trip into Spaceland:  an ability to see the world with different eyes, yielding an understanding of phenomena far beyond that of his countrymen.  The result, in our view, would be an ability to penetrate the complexity of contemporary invisible and visible problems and to confront those problems ever more effectively. A Timeland or interactive worldview gives the individual a different understanding of the evolution of life and his or her own role in the universe.  Presently with our Spaceland orientation we see ourselves in a relatively static way, granting that we like to think that we are continuing to develop as we go through life.  The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche--whom we shall  take up in Chapter 8--had a phrase for our present way of life:  "eternal recurrence."  Although we fight against accepting this analysis of our behavior, in fact we endlessly repeat behavior which--granting that it appears to vary from o­ne scene to another--actually has almost no impact o­n our potential for continuing to develop as human beings.  In other words, we are playing the game of trivial pursuit all the while that the problems facing humanity continue to accelerate. 
However, by moving toward a Timeland worldview we abandon that game and come to see ourselves as embodying a process of development or evolution.  Our situation at this moment is much different from our situation previously, and it will be much different in the future.  Our self-image becomes that of a changing individual rather than someone with fixed beliefs, emotions and patterns of action.  What does remain fixed is our process of development, just as we can see the scientific method as a "fixed" process of learning.  This does not mean that we would all become identical, since we all would learn to develop from situations and characteristics which differ widely, and we would come to develop in different ways as a result.  From this perspective, we would come to see ourselves as having a lease o­n life rather than a guarantee to continue living indefinitely just as we presently are.  We would come to see life as giving us an opportunity to develop or evolve so long as we continue to live, an opportunity to escape from "eternal recurrence" and games of trivial pursuit, and an opportunity to address the mammoth world and personal problems that confront us at this time in history.  At present, we humans have little understanding of just how far we might be able to evolve.
            Realistically, however, can the authors of this book claim to be opening up to a new way of perceiving and thinking after all that has already been learned about human behavior after many centuries?  What about the contributions of figures like Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Mohandas Gandhi?  What about the contributions of modern social scientists?  What about what has been learned by non-Western figures like Confucius, Gautama Sakyamuni (Buddhism) and Laotzu (Taoism)?  Of course, our own credentials would appear to be as nothing compared to such eminent Western and Eastern figures.  Yet we claim that we are in fact building o­n their knowledge rather than competing with them.  Such a building operation is indeed the nature of the scientific method itself, the method which has been the basis for our scientific and technological revolutions over these past four centuries.  We claim, however, that social scientists--despite good intentions, deep commitments and much hard work--have failed us in learning how to employ that method effectively in their exploration of human behavior, given their Spaceland perspectives that yield a relatively static and oversimplified view. With that perspective, the result of modern social science becomes nothing more than bits and pieces of unconnected knowledge rather than a platform of integrated knowledge which provides the basis for an ability to understand and confront our complex contemporary problems.
            Each chapter to follow presents a dichotomy between two ideas--based o­n the books cited above--with the former pointing toward our stratified or Spaceland worldview and the latter suggesting an interactive or Timeland worldview.  Yet each chapter makes use of a gradational orientation as well, for it addresses the problem of how we are to move, step by step, from our Spaceland stance to a Timeland stance.  Further, each chapter involves as well language's capacity for presenting powerful images, as illustrated by the contrast between Spaceland and Timeland.  As a result, the reader will be presented with a framework for understanding the complexity of human behavior which can be found nowhere else, given the universality of our Spaceland worldview.  Like the square who learns to see Spaceland for the very first time, the reader will move into a position to see Timeland for the very first time.  Each chapter will give the reader an opportunity to see a different portion of our complex four-dimensional world. Yet this book presents a framework that is no more than an initial view of Timeland, just as the square's journey with the sphere was no more than a beginning in learning the nature of a three-dimensional world.  Given that framework, every work in the library and every personal experience will come to have a different meaning, just as the square's house appeared much different to him when viewed from above.
            Can a mere book help the reader move in this direction?  Let us recall the pervasiveness of our stratified or Spaceland worldview along with its invisible nature.  What is required here is far more than understanding ideas.  Not o­nly must the reader become motivated to act in everyday life, but such actions must come to extend to all aspects of life, given the breadth of a worldview.  And those actions must in turn become sufficiently fruitful so that they encourage the individual to continue this process indefinitely.  In our own view the difficulties in changing from a Spaceland or stratified worldview to a Timeland or interactive worldview cannot easily be overestimated.  For the reader must learn over time to challenge every fundamental aspect of life.  Yet the tools that we have for accomplishing this--language and the scientific method--are by far the most powerful o­nes that we humans have constructed.  Equally important, the times appear to require that we undergo this transition, for we are faced by invisible and visible crises of incredible proportions. Still further, what is also involved that can motivate the reader is nothing less than his or her own evolution.   Our initial immersion into Timeland will give us some awareness of the problems we are facing along with a direction for addressing them.  And it will also suggest our possibilities for escaping personally from eternal recurrence, or an endless round of games of trivial pursuit.  Can we humans learn o­nce again to escape disaster by "the skin of our teeth"?
Bernard Phillips, Retired Professor of Sociology, Boston University, Founder and Coordinator, Sociological Imagination Group, USA
Louis Johnston, M.D, Retired Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois, Retired Director of Medical Education at Grant Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Abbott, Edwin A.  Flatland.  New York: 1884/1952, Dover.
Kincaid, Harold.  Philosophical Foundations of the Social Sciences.  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Lerner, Daniel.  The Passing of Traditional Society.  New York: Free Press, 1958.
Phillips, Bernard.  Beyond Sociology's Tower of Babel:  Reconstructing the Scientific Method.  New York:  Aldine de Gruyter, 2001.
Phillips, Bernard, Harold Kincaid and Thomas J. Scheff (Eds.).  Toward A Sociological Imagination:  Bridging Specialized Fields.  Lanham, MD:  Univ. Press of America, 2002.
Phillips, Bernard, and Louis Johnston.  The Invisible Crisis of Modern Society:  Reconstructing the Shattered Social Sciences.  Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2006.
Rees, Martin.  Our Final Hour:  A Scientist's Warning:  How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century--on Earth and Beyond.  New York:  Basic Books, 2003.
Scheff, Thomas J.  Microsociology:  Discourse, Emotion, and Social Structure.    Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Scheff, Thomas J.  Bloody Revenge:  Emotions, Nationalism, and War.  Boulder, Colorado:  Westview, 1994.
Scheff, Thomas J.  Emotions, the Social Bond, and Human Reality:  Part/Whole Analysis.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press,1997.
Semashko, Leo. Tetrasociology: Responses to Challenges. St.-Petersburg State Polytechnical University, 2002
Semashko, Leo with 14 co-authors.  Tetrasociology: from Sociological Imagination through Dialogue to Universal Values and Harmony. St.-Petersburg State Polytechnic University, 2003.


2.1. Toward a new Age of Enlightenment. Tetrasociology and Web Approach

Bernard Phillips, USA, 2003

Leo Semashko's theory (2002) opens up for contemporary sociologists a window that looks out o­nto ideals of the Enlightenment that not o­nly persist, but are carried much further by this contemporary Russian sociologist.  It is hard to imagine how these ideals can be extended as far as Semashko takes them, given his experiences of trying to keep them alive in a dictatorship for decades, and given the economic problems faced by academics in contemporary Russia.  Yet there are parallels to this outside of Russia, for we might also wonder how Western sociologists like C. Wright Mills and Alvin Gouldner managed to stay with these same Enlightenment ideals, despite the horrors of the 20th century and the resulting pessimism and cynicism inside and outside the academic world.

Imagine, with Semashko, a world that is moving toward a new Age of Enlightenment where globalization, multiculturalism, and the internet are working to yield ever more harmony among all the peoples of the world.  This is not a postmodern world, with a pessimistic view of the potential of the scientific method.  Rather, it is a "postpluralistic" world, which follows postmodernism in its openness to complexity and change.  It is optimistic about the possibilities of the scientific method to understand complexity and change by integrating elements of many theories, versus maintaining the isolation of diverse theories that fail to communicate with each other.  Just as people in that world are learning to interact so as to pay full attention to others' ideas and ultimate worth-and even to create a "dialogue among civilizations"-so are social scientists learning to integrate the work of those who have preceded them so as to follow scientific ideals for a social science that cumulates rapidly (Phillips, 2001; Phillips, et al., 2002).

Semashko does not assume that such a world emerges by itself, for, like Auguste Comte (1875-1877), he sees a vision of sociologists working to bring it about by addressing modern problems in a highly effective manner.  He coins the term "tetrasociology" to refer to the kind of sociology that can accomplish this, with a breadth similar to that which Mills called for inThe Sociological Imagination(1959),along with the reflexivity that Gouldner called for inThe Coming Crisis of Western Sociology(1970).  That breadth is based o­n Semashko's own background as a philosopher no less than a sociologist, including a metaphysical and epistemological stance along with his theoretical and applied orientations.  And just as modern sociologists have emphasized the nature and extraordinary impact of language o­n shaping the individual and society, so does Semashko attempt to use that impact by introducing many new concepts such as "tetrasociology."

To illustrate Semashko's approach, his metaphysics is oriented to three dimensions of social space and o­ne dimension of social time, corresponding to the three dimensions of physical space and o­ne dimension of physical time.  Further, just as Einstein related space and time, so Semashko sees the linkage between social space and social time as crucial.  Before taking o­ne step further into his ideas, we have gained fundamental insights from this metaphysical orientation, without calling it a kind of number magic following the mysticism of Pythagoras.  Semashko alerts us to the importance of probing into our own metaphysical assumptions, whether or not they differ from his.  What is our own worldview, orWeltanschauung? a concept that may appear to be outdated to modern sociological eyes.  What impact does that worldview have o­n every stage of the research process?  Why has almost every social science publication over the past century failed to assess that impact?  Why don't we social scientists devote the attention to this topic that it deserves, instead of continuing to rule out metaphysics and philosophy from the realm of sociology?

As for the relationship between social space and social time, Semashko is telling us of the centrality of the latter if we hope to understand the former, and he is indirectly criticizing the relatively static nature of the social sciences.  This is arguably a frontier of our discipline.  At the macro level this is illustrated by efforts of comparative-historical sociologists to face up to the complexity of history, carrying further the more simplistic orientations of figures such as Toynbee, Spencer and Sorokin.  At the micro level it is illustrated by the work of symbolic interactionsts, ethnomethodologists and rational-choice theorists who attempt to probe deeply into the scene, capturing changes in emotions and speech from o­ne moment to the next with audio-visual technology.  Metaphorically, I'm reminded here of Edwin Abbott'sFlatland, a science-fiction story written in the 1880s, where a three-dimensional sphere is able to see into all of Flatland's two-dimensional houses and inhabitants by hovering over them.  Analogously, we require a four-dimensional perspective that includes social time to see into our own nature, probing into the history of the individual and society in order to understand present-day behavior.  Here we have Semashko carrying further the long-term historical orientation illustrated by Marx, extending it to the momentary scene.

If we turn to Semashko's epistemology, we find - implicitly - a profound critique of our modern approach to the scientific method.  His postpluralism calls for the ability of the social scientist to make good use of all of the relevant theoretical ideas from the past in investigating any given problem.  Yet sociologists are divided into numerous specialized areas, and literally hundreds of subspecialties, and we generally fail to communicate across specialized and subspecialized boundaries.  This is illustrated by the division of the American Sociological Association into no less than forty-two distinct Sections, each with their own organizations and immunity to outside ideas.  By contrast, Semashko's ideas bridge many specialities, as called for inBeyond Sociology's Tower of Babel(Phillips, 2001) andToward a Sociological Imagination(Phillips, et al., (2002).

In this way, Semashko challenges all of us, and puts forward his own response, as indicated in his book's subtitle, "Responses to Challenges."  Granting the enormous difficulties of confronting our own epistemological assumptions and coming up with alternatives that follow our ideals for the scientific method, he calls for us to respond to that challenge.  He is indirectly criticizing postmodernist critiques of the scientific method, critiques that are o­ne-sided in their failure to construct alternative procedures.  How should we take into account the impact of the researcher o­n the research process?  How should we specialists reach out to the knowledge within other specialized areas?  How should we proceed to pay attention to our metaphysical assumptions?  What is the nature of a scientific method that follows scientific ideals?  What kind of methodology would take into account the incredible dynamism and complexity of human behavior?  He gives us hints with his own breadth of perspective, his understanding of the existence of the complexity and dynamism of human behavior, and his ideals for the possibilities of sociology and of every human being.

Semashko is no less concerned with theory than with metaphysics and epistemology. He departs from a Marxist emphasis o­n an inevitable conflict between social classes, emphasizing instead the potential harmony among peoples throughout the world based o­n shared values, along with the process of globalization and the potential of the internet.  Yet he takes key elements from Marxist theory, just as his methodological orientation is to be selective from the full range of available social science theory.  For example, the cultural value of equality, coupled with other humanistic values, are central to his thought, just as they are to the Enlightenment tradition.  His historical perspective, central to Marxist theory, is carried into every single instance of human behavior.  He divides all of society into four "spheres," and those within the spheres constitute four "sphere classes."  He sees all people within society as productive, in contrast to Marx's focus o­n work and property, since everyone is essential to society's existence. 

Thus, there is the "socioclass" within the "sociosphere," concerned with education (including students), health, social work, retired people, the unemployed and the nonworking population. The "infoclass" within the "infosphere" includes those involved with science, the arts, communication, and information services.  The "orgclass" within the "orgsphere" includes those in management, government, law, law enforcement, finance, and the armed forces.  And there is also the "technoclass" within the "technosphere," which includes industrial workers along with those involved in agriculture.  Semashko invokes a "law of harmony" in describing relationships among the sphere classes, by contrast with a "law of disharmony" characterizing relationships among social classes based o­n property.  o­ne is reminded here of Durkheim'sThe Division of Labor(1893), where he contrasts a "normal division of labor" with an "abnormal division of labor." In the former case, specialists are aware of their contribution to the economy as a whole, whereas in the latter case there is no such awareness, along with problems that this creates.  In Semashko's view, everyone - not just workers -will become aware of their contribution, not just to the economy but to the "reproduction" of society.  With this broad approach to "reproductive employment," he encompasses more than Marx's emphasis o­n the ownership of property, and more than the emphasis o­n multiple criteria of stratification within Western sociology.

Turning from theory to application, Semashko recognizes the existence and urgency of fundamental problems within modern society, although he does not subject them to systematic analysis in his book.  To illustrate, he specifies an egalitarian orientation in discussing the roles of women and children in society.  If, indeed, society requires the continuing existence of individuals in every sphere who view themselves as worthwhile, and if those spheres are equally important for the "reproduction" of society, then this calls for social changes which follow that egalitarian perspective.  For example, he suggests the importance of recognizing domestic labor by women as just as productive as work by men, recognition that should be supported by pay for such work. And he also suggests the importance of equal participation by women in all of the spheres of society.  As for children, he sees their lack of suffrage as a "black hole" within modern society, since children under 18 comprise a fifth to a third of any given society's population.  More generally, a great many children are deprived of high-quality education and care within society.  Semashko goes o­n to propose o­ne partial remedy:  granting every child a vote that is exercised by the child's parents or guardians.  He sees this as potentially strengthening the family's and the individual's political involvement, and also working to fight crime, drug addiction, homelessness and alienation.

A key aspect of Semashko's applied orientation has to do with the role of social scientists, just as a great many contemporary sociologists see applied work as crucial, not o­nly to give their discipline legitimacy but also to test the adequacy of their ideas.  Given the complexity and dynamism of society, statistical measurements that take into account the full extent of that complexity and dynamism are required.  An approach must be developed that is general enough to be applied to the entire world population, and also specific enough so that it can be relevant to addressing difficult problems.  At present, the relatively sparse information that exists, and is being developed, is neither general enough nor specific enough, and it fails to take into account much that has been learned within the social sciences.  Semashko sees computer analyses, with the aid of mathematical models, yielding powerful tools for social scientists.  And he specifies the importance of developing statistics for macro as well as micro analysis of social structures:  world, nations, regions, communities, families, and individuals.  Overall, we need data no less than theory if that theory is to become useful in solving problems.

Semashko succeeds in reminding Western sociologists of ideals that most of us gave up years ago, although they probably still remain somewhere inside of us. This is particularly noteworthy for someone who has suffered for so many years under a totalitarian regime.  His intellectual breadth reminds us of the breadth of the classical founders of our discipline, such as Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Simmel.  His recognition of human complexity and dynamism is quite modern.  His methodological direction, to develop a "postpluralist" theory, is a way to address that complexity and dynamism.  Such theories build o­n a limited number of elements from many theories, in contrast to simply tolerating the existence of relatively isolated theories. Yet, at the same time, he leaves unanswered many questions that require answers, if we are to follow his ideals.  He leaves, for future research, explanations of the complex forces that stand in the way of solving fundamental social problems.  Granted that he points toward important ideals, we sociologists have largely repressed those ideals because we have not learned how to move toward them. To what extent does Semashko give us the deep understanding of human behavior required for such movement?  Of course, this is asking too much, yet his book tends to gloss over the need for such explanations, jumping too quickly to purported solutions to problems, without giving us  sufficient understanding of the nature of those problems, or of the forces standing in our way.

There are many questions that Semashko's ideas raise, and perhaps this is o­ne of his major contributions.  Viewing tetrasociology from a theoretical and applied perspective, why does social stratification persist, in contrast to the cultural ideal of equality?  For example, what are the forces that are presently yielding sexism, ageism, classism and ethnocentrism?  Why is Durkheim's "normal division of labor," with the worker's awareness of her contribution and importance to society as a whole, in fact an "abnormal division of labor" or state of affairs?  Is his discussion of spheres and sphere classes no more than an empty categorization?  How would it be possible to promote a "sphere consciousness," emphasizing the importance of every individual in society, paralleling the difficulty Marx experienced in understanding what mechanisms would yield class consciousness throughout the world?  If, as Semashko claims, stratification would still exist within each sphere, what would cause the experience of the individual to be much different from what it is now?  How are we to understand what causes "the law of harmony" and "the law of disharmony" to operate?  Given what we have experienced in the 20th and early 21st centuries, is a "new Age of Enlightenment" a realistic possibility?  How will Semashko analyze particular social and theoretical problems in detail, and come up with insights beyond what we have learned from contemporary sociological literature? Given the censorship of Western sociological literature in the Soviet Union until 1990, it will take time for him to catch up with that literature.

If we view tetrasociology from a metaphysical and epistemological or methodological perspective, just what is the nature of its metaphysical assumptions about human behavior and society?  What is the nature of Semashko's overall image of the future?  How should present-day sociologists proceed with their approach to the scientific method?  What is wrong with present-day methodological procedures?  What is wrong with present-day sociological theory?  If Semashko's approach to releasing the potential of language is inadequate, how might we open up that potential?  o­ne problem within Semashko's approach is symptomatic of American sociology in the 1950s, with its newfound emphasis o­n what was believed to be the great potential of quantitative procedures.  Many of us have learned, through long experience, of the limitations of such tools, along with the importance of qualitative procedures.  Many of us have also learned the importance of centring o­n a particular problem, in contrast to developing a theory for all problems. But it is the latter, and not the former, that appears to be Semashko's approach.  We can applaud his emphasis o­n the importance of general theory and metaphysical assumptions, but we can wonder about the lack of more specific theory, which comes down from general theory to a particular problem.

Semashko comes out of modern Russia with ideas that are in some ways more revolutionary than those of Karl Marx.  Just as Toynbee saw human history in terms of challenge and response, Semashko attempts to respond to the acceleration of modern problems by pointing toward the possibility of a new Age of Enlightenment.  He suggests nothing less than changes in the metaphysical stance of modern society, based o­n the potential weight of language.  And he goes back to what may well prove to be the future of social science.  He returns us to the ideals of the scientific method and the enormous breadth of the classical sociologists.  Yet, like Moses, he may have brought us to the Promised Land unable to enter it himself, with tetrasociology.  For he fails to demonstrate how his broad metaphysical, epistemological, theoretical and applied approach to social science yields deeper insights into any major social or theoretical problem.  Perhaps if we, as contemporary sociologists, can learn from Semashko to rekindle the fire of ideals that gave rise to the Enlightenment, and to the origins of sociology, a fire that we desperately require in these times of troubles, then we may find a way to enter that Promised Land.

Before adding my own views, of how sociologists might take further steps toward what Mills called "the promise of sociology," I have begun by emphasizing Semashko's contributions.  We need his optimism about human possibilities, especially in these times of accelerating world problems.  If he is able to carry forward Comte's conviction of sociologists' capacity to confront such problems, despite the difficulties he experienced in the Soviet Union and in post-USSR Russia, then surely the rest of us can learn to recapture that conviction.  Along with this belief should go a responsibility for moving our discipline toward the ideals sketched by Comte, Mills, Gouldner, Semashko, and many others: to bring about a sociology that pulls together the islands of ideas from the social sciences and elsewhere, as to the nature of human behavior, and to build a science that develops our understanding far more rapidly than ever before.  If sociologists are not in the best position to do this, who is? If we do not take responsibility for this, who will?  However, we need not follow Comte's belief that we  should become Queen of the Sciences. Such stratification would sabotage our efforts.  Rather, we can build a path toward understanding that works for us, demonstrating the possibility for others to build their paths, and we can all learn from o­ne another's efforts.

I also have emphasized Semashko's breadth of perspective, including metaphysics, epistemology, theory and applications, paralleling Mills' vision of the "sociological imagination." It is an approach that raises questions about the adequacy of our beliefs within these four areas of knowledge.  For example, if our metaphysical stance has yielded a sociology that fails to address the complexity and dynamism of human behavior, then we must change it.  If our epistemological stance rests easy with our failures to communicate across specialties and subspecialties, then that too must change.  And the same goes for our theoretical and applied achievements. Contemporary philosophers of social science have taught us that these four areas are connected within a web of belief (Kincaid, 1996).  Sociologists can no longer afford to avoid paying attention to our metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, for they affect all of our efforts to develop and apply theories of human behavior.  To illustrate, Semashko's orientation, of paying attention to social time within all of our studies, contradicts our present metaphysical stance.  Yet this appears to be essential if we are adequately to address human complexity and dynamism.

Further, I have suggested that sociologists come up with alternatives to our present metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, alternatives that will help us to achieve the rapid cumulative development of our knowledge that we desire, and that is desperately needed in these times. My own recent work here, and that of several others, is spelled out inBeyond Sociology's Tower of Babel(2001) and inToward a Sociological Imagination(2002).  Such efforts are not isolated from theory and applications, for it is the theoretical and applied fruitfulness of a given metaphysical or epistemological stance that sheds light o­n the usefulness of that stance.  In these books I have contrasted a "bureaucratic" epistemology with an "interactive" o­ne, with the former corresponding to present-day research, and the latter to research that opens up to human complexity and dynamism.  Yet the problem of shifting from o­ne scientific paradigm to another is a most difficult o­ne, as Thomas Kuhn has suggested inThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions(1966).  That problem is particularly difficult, following the argument in my books, since our epistemological paradigm is nested within our metaphysical paradigm.

Yet the incredible potential of the scientific method for sociologists, emphasized by Semashko, can succeed in confronting even a problem as great as changing our metaphysical paradigm.  If we approach such change from a bureaucratic perspective, we are doomed to failure, for it lacks a deep sense of the problem as well as the intellectual breadth that is required.  An interactive perspective - consistent with that suggested by Semashko - sees the scientific method metaphorically as a pendulum that swings in ever-widening arcs.  To the extent that we open up to the depth of our metaphysical problem by swinging the pendulum in that direction, we can gain momentum for swinging it in the opposite direction, where we can make progress in changing that paradigm.  And to the extent that we achieve such change, we gain momentum for understanding and defining more fully the problems of changing our paradigm.  Such metaphysical efforts should in turn open us up to the epistemological, theoretical and applied efforts that Semashko outlines.  This interactive orientation follows the o­ne-step-at-a-time philosophy of pragmatism developed by Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead and others (see, for example,Philosophical Writings of Peirce). It also follows Semashko's emphasis o­n the importance of a "dialogue among civilizations." Thus, Semashko's optimism about sociology's possibilities at this time in history may well turn out to be the most realistic approach we can take to understanding human behavior and confronting human problems.


Durkheim, Emile. (1893/1951)The Division of Labor. Glencoe, IL: Free Press

Gouldner, Alvin. (1970)The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. New York: Basic Book

Kincaid, Harold. (1996).Philosophical Foundations of the Social Sciences. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press

Kuhn, Thomas. (1962).The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Mills, C. Wright. (1959)The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford Univ. Press

Phillips, Bernard. (2001).Beyond Sociology's Tower of Babel: Reconstructing the Scientific Method. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter

Phillips, et al., (2002).Toward a Sociological Imagination: Bridging Specialized Fields. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America

Peirce, Charles. (1955).Philosophical Writings of Peirce. New York: Dover

Semashko, Leo. (2002)Tetrasociology: Responses to Challenges. Technical University, Russia, St. Petersburg

Bernard Phillips, Retired Professor of Sociology, Boston University,bernieflps@aol.com

Founder and Coordinator, Sociological Imagination Group

Founder and Co-Editor, "Sociological Imagination and Structural Change" book series, Aldine de Gruyter

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