Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Context is Everything!

Helene Shulman, Ph.D and author of the thought-provoking book "Living on the Edge of Chaos - Complex Systems in Culture and Psyche" discusses the relationship between our perceptions of reality and our environment. As I have suggested before our comprehension of al-Fatiha depends on where we are standing (desert sand dune or cosmopolitan city) and our perspective is defined by that contextual location but we have to remember that Islam is a faith for all humankind and that an ethnocentric, whether Arab-centric or Asian-centric, perspective has its own limitations:

"We seem to be left with multiple ways of "constructing reality." The purpose of our models may be less to create homologies or exact replicas of "the real" than to allow testing and feedback about the environment. Each culture, each symbol system, each paradigm is a way to come to grips with the world. Perhaps the important question about each model is not, "Is it true?", since we can never know the answer, but rather, "What does it allow us to do, imagine, predict, work on, change, or cure?" As long as a paradigm works to bring coherence to experience, it is constantly reinforced. Perhaps we are born with some kind of "fail-safe" program to deal with the rare eventuality in which we have to throw an entire worldview overboard.

All paradigms, however, are myopic. They are based on near-sightedness to a greater or lesser degree, because we can only work with the limited portion of the world that is recognized by our culture of birth. When we as humans correct for our perceptual myopia with tools or scientific instruments, we construct our theories within the same cultural limitations, introducing another level of myopia. We can never get rid of the problem of myopia, because it is built into the human perceptual and cognitive apparatus. But we can know it is there and allow it to relativize our certainties. Then we have to become aware that our schemata are context-dependent and that science, religion, culture, and even our personalities are cobbled together out of context-dependent building blocks." (1997, pp. 98-99).

~ Excerpted from "Living at the Edge of Chaos - Complex Systems in Culture and Psyche" by Helene Schulman, Ph.D, philosopher and Jungian analyst in Upstate New York.

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