Ramblings and thoughts from August 23, 1994

Ramblings from August 23, 1994

More thoughts on gestalt. As a term, it means, or at least my understanding of it is, that one has to consider the issue at hand as a whole rather than focussing on any one part. This idea is being more and more reinforced by the books I'm currently reading. In particular, the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers examines how many factors contribute to which countries have risen and fallen over the last 500 years. It's not just a questions of military might, or economic might, or geopolitics. It's a combination of all of the above and more. You have to look at the whole picture to explain why the transitions in power took place. This idea of examining events as a whole also is strongly supported by the entire idea of complexity as in the Quark and the Jaguar. I believe it was John Gribbin in Chaos, who coined the term the butterfly effect or at least that is where I first read it, but that seems like the best symbol to me. The fact that a butterfly could flap its wings in one place, and cause a thunderstorm instead of nice weather 2 weeks later in another place, just reinforces the idea that you have to look at systems as a whole, a gestalt, and not focus exclusively on the minor details. This may be one reason why I am somewhat dissatisfied with physics at the moment, in that physicists are so wrapped up in the tiny, tiny details of their work, that they have no conception of the larger picture. And that is a fatal shortcoming I think.

Another aspect of the gestalt thing is that there are no absolutes as once again emphasized by Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Even if a country was increasing its military/economic strength greatly during a certain time, it meant nothing if another country were growing FASTER. The relative position of each country was what mattered, not the absolute numbers. I think this holds over to most everything in that there are no absolutes - only relatives. But I haven't really thought this through yet, so no guarantees.

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