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The Tuesday Topic: Universal versus Relative Knowledge.

September 10, 2019

Universal versus Relative Knowledge.  Right and wrong versus abstract thought is like comparing mathematics to music.  One is constant, unchanging and undeniable while the other expresses emotion, triggers memories and sensations.  However, it is important to recognize that elements of music, rhythm | pitch | notes | tempo, are all associated to measurements of time and frequency, which is also seen in geometry.  It is mentioned in Branko Mitrovic’s Philosophy for Architects that, “The idea that certain proportional relationships of a building are beautiful because they correspond to certain musical relationships...” [1] He brings this up as an example of how the numerical ratios in buildings reflect those in musical intervals, noted in both Renaissance architectural writings through post-World War II Europe as a concept of rules to follow to create beauty and perfection. 

 

As the human mind began to contemplate life and theory in the eighteenth century, the rejection of divine order (“social privileges based on birth and the status of the family”) led the French government to rationalize systems of measurement, equalizing its society and breaking down social barriers that restrained much of the public from local privileges.  This move was seen as universally good from the perspective of a modernizing Europe but it also began to deny human nature.  Johan Goldberg has written a book called Suicide of the West [2], which acknowledges that man’s natural condition for 250,000 years was based in poverty and often lead to a quick death from disease or attack.  In the book, he explains that the enlightenment occurred unnaturally fast in the human evolutionary timeline.  That the introduction of free speech and rights are from God not government and that the fruits of our labor belongs to us, all formed the unnatural state of man, prosperity and longevity.  And, while great from a standard of living, we as a collective society have become spoiled, entitled and dependent on our predecessors achievements to move forward.  Much like Mitrovic states in the Philosophy for Architects, “…the availability of science and technology does not only mean that we can make better things than our predecessors; it also means that we can make greater errors and often make things much worse than one could have in the past.”  While this universal thought seems extreme, it showcases the importance of relativism.  It’s human nature to utilize the abstraction of opinion and free thought.  We develop from trial and error.

 

 

In Rem Koolhaas’ article “Junkspace”, our modern society faces repetition instead of innovation.  “Regurgitation is the new creativity; instead of creation, we honor, cherish and embrace manipulation.” [3] I take this form of thought as a homage to how well our ancestors prepared our society.  They uniquely crafted our generations to live better, healthier, longer lives, but what they could not predict was our need to stabilize and latch on to this universally safe idea of western civilization, fearing change and progress.  We need the flexibility of relativism in order to appreciate and evolve.  Universalism is built from this archaic form of critical thinking, learning what works and what does not.  But it forces our society to understand its needs to function and advance.  Much like music, there is a rhythm to follow, pitch and tempo to maintain, but it is flexible and subjective in execution.  These rules of universal reasoning become more like guidelines to progress independently from our predecessors.

 

Sources:

  1. Mitrovic, B. (2011) “Philosophy for Architects”.  Princeton Architectural Press

  2. Goldberg, J. (2018) “Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy” Crown Forum

  3. Koolhaas, R. (2006) “Junkspace”. Quodlibet

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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