Beyond Crime and Punishment

In our present world, it is widely believed that mistakes are the result of badness. So when mistakes occur, we investigate, blame and punish. This belief has resulted in a world where violence, hate and judgment are common.

Synergic science reveals that mistakes are in fact the result of ignorance. If we understand this, then when a mistake occurs, we would analyze, determine responsibility, and educate. This could soon lead to a world where public safety, love and compassion are common.


The Uncertainty of Human Knowing

Timothy Wilken, MD

We can never know all there is to know about anything — this is a fundamental ‘law’ of Nature. This is in fact is the only cause of mistakes.

Ignorance is the word that best describes the human condition. Alfred Korzybski explained this condition scientifically as the  Principle of Non-Allness. By this he meant that we humans make all of our decisions with incomplete and imperfect knowing. We make every choice without all the information. All humans live and act in state of ignorance. Korzybski felt that developing an awareness of this ‘law’ of Nature was so fundamentally important to all humans, that he developed a lesson especially for children. Korzybski would explain:

“Children, today we want to learn all about the apple.”

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He would place an apple in view of the children, “Do you children know about the apple?”

“I do!”, “I do!”, “Yes, I know about apples!”

“Good” Korzybski moved to the blackboard. , “Come, tell me about the apple?”

“The Apple is a fruit.”, “The apple is red.”, “The apple grows on a tree.”

Korzybski would begin to list the characteristics described by the children on the blackboard.

The children continued, “An apple a day keeps the Doctor away.”

Korzybski continued listing the children’s answers until they run out of ideas, then he would ask, “Is that all we can say about the apple?

When the children answered in the affirmative, Korzybski would remove his pocket-knife and cut the apple in half, passing the parts among the children.

“Now, children can we say more about the apple?

“The apple smells good.” “The juices are sweet.” “The apple has seeds.” “Its pulp is white.” “Mother makes apple pie.

Finally when the children had again run out of answers, Korzybski would ask, “Now, is that all-we can say about the apple?” When the children agreed that it was all that could be said, he would again go into his pocket only this time he removed a ten power magnifying lens and passed it to the children. The children would examine the apple, and again respond:

“The apple pulp has a pattern and a structure.” “The skin of the apple has pores.” “The leaves have fuzz on them.” “The seeds have coats.”

Thus Korzybski would teach the children the lesson of Non-ALLness.

Now we could continue to examine the apple—with a light microscope, x-ray crystallography, and eventually the electron microscope. We would continue to discover more to say about the apple. However, we can never know ALL there is to know about anything in Nature. We humans have the power to know about Nature, but not to know ALL.

Knowing is without limit, but knowing is not total. Universe is our human model of Nature. Our ‘knowing’ can grow evermore complete. It can grow closer and closer to the ‘Truth’, but it cannot equal the ‘Truth’. It must always be incomplete. We are not ‘GOD’. We cannot see and know ALL.

Jacob Bronowski speaking in 1976 his famous public television series the Ascent of Man said:

“One aim of the physical sciences has been to give an exact picture of the material world. One achievement of physics in the Twentieth Century has been to prove that that aim is unattainable. There is no absolute knowledge and those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. This is the human condition; and that is what Quantum Physics says. I mean that literally.

“Let us examine an object with the best tool we have today, the electron microscope, where the rays are so concentrated that we no longer know whether to call them waves or particles. Electrons are fired at an object, and they trace its outline like a knife-thrower at a fair. The smallest object that has ever been seen is a single atom of thorium. It is spectacular.

And yet the soft image confirms that, like the knives that graze the girl at the fair, even the hardest electrons do not give a hard outline. The perfect image is still as remote as the distant stars.

“We are here face to face with the crucial paradox of knowledge. Year by year we devise more precise instruments with which to observe nature with more fineness and when we look at the observations, we are discomfited to see that they are still fuzzy, and we feel that we are as uncertain as ever. 

“We seem to be running after a goal which lurches away from us to infinity every time we come within sight of it. 

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“The paradox of knowledge is not confined to the small, atomic scale; on the contrary, it is as cogent on the scale of man, and even of the stars.

“Let me put it in the context of an astronomical observatory. Karl Freidrich Gauss’ observatory at Gˆttingen was built about 1807. Throughout his life and ever since (the best part of 200 years) astronomical instruments have been improved.

“We look at the position of a star as it was determined then and now, and it seems to us that we are closer and closer to finding it precisely. But when we actually compare our individual observations today, we are astonished and chagrined to find them as scattered within themselves as ever.

“We had hoped that the human errors would disappear, and that we would ourselves have God’s view. But it turns out that the errors cannot be taken out of the observations. And that is true of stars, or atoms, or just looking at somebody’s picture, or hearing the report of somebody’s speech.”

Incomplete and imperfect knowing means that every human belief is an assumption. We can never know for sure. We can never know ALL.

As you sit in your chair reading these words, you assumed the chair would hold you. You did not check under the chair to see if it had broken since its last use. When you ate lunch at your favorite restaurant last week, you assumed the waitress had washed her hands. You assumed the cook did not have hepatitis. If you had assumed otherwise, you would not have walked into that restaurant. You would not have eaten your lunch. We humans assume. Herein lies our uncertainty — that’s all we humans can do. There is nothing wrong in our assuming, we are simply obeying a fundamental ‘law’ of Nature.

We humans have always believed that mistakes are bad. We have always believed that those who make mistakes are bad. They are stupid or careless — lazy or incompetent — just no damn good. If they were good, they wouldn’t make mistakes. Everyone knows that. Decent people don’t make mistakes. This is nearly a universal belief.
 

Mistakes = Badness

Korzybski coined the word space-binding to describe the world of the animal. In the world of the animal, cause and effect can not be distinguished from each other. They are the same — they equal each other — they are identical. If the effect of a mistake is bad, then the cause of a mistake is also bad. Human intelligence is build on animal intelligence. All humans have a space-mind. It is a powerful and often dominant part of our human intelligence. As children the space-mind is primary. The uniquely human mind creates what Korzybski called the world of Time-binding. The time-mind doesn’t even begin to become operational in children until they reach the age of four.

So our human belief that mistakes are ‘bad’ is legitimate. Most of us learn about mistakes as small children. If I stumble while running, I get hurt and that is bad. If an animal is running for its life and stumbles, it dies and that is bad. For space-binders, mistakes are a part of bad space.

In the world of space-binding, a mistake can cost not only the life of the individual space-binder, but also the lives of others in the group — pack, pride, herd, or troop. Therefore the result of a mistake was often bad, and not just for the individual, but for others in the group as well. Since 99.9% of all human history has been adversary — 99.9% of our history dominated by space-binding, it is no wonder that we humans have believed for countless centuries that mistakes are bad.

The belief in the badness of mistakes was further reinforced and given Divine sanction by our human religions. God is good. God is omniscience — ALL knowing. God makes no mistakes. He is perfect. We humans are admonished to be as God-like as possible. If making no mistakes is ‘good’, then obviously making mistakes is ‘bad’. Our religions institutionalized the adversary processing of mistakes — Sin, Hellfire, and Damnation.

Science has also added credence to the ‘badness’ of mistakes. The world view created by the ‘objective science’ of Galileo, Kepler, Hooke, and Newton was a ‘perfect’ Universe. Newton’s System of the Worlds described a precision clockwork perfection that controlled all in Universe. If the Universe is perfect, then humans too must evolve towards perfection.

Dealing with badness

Since mistakes are bad, when one occurs, we investigate to determine who is at fault. Who made the mistake? Once that is determined, we blame those responsible. Following blame, we are ready to punish. More pain and suffering has been inflicted on humankind for making mistakes than for any other cause. This should not surprise us.

Punishment is the proper way to deal with ‘badness’. And,if we are anything, we are fair. So when we are the one who made the mistake, we self-punish. Self-punishment is called “guilt”. Humans are the only class of living systems that feels guilty. The only class of living systems that teaches their pets to feel guilty. 

MISTAKES = Badness
INVESTIGATE
BLAME
PUNISH —> self punish
                         “Guilt”
 

Korzybski’s Error of Identity

When humans rely only on their spacial intelligence, they see cause as being identical to effect. They are in essence time-blind, and so they confuse cause with effect.

Korzybski explained that when humans see things as being identical that are not identical, they are making an identification that is false to facts. Korzybski called this the Error of Identity.

When we confuse cause with effect, we are making the error of identity. Today most humans make this error. We assume without analysis that cause and effect are the same — that they are equal — that they are identical. If the effect of a mistake is bad then the cause of that mistake must also be bad.

We don’t analyze the event for sequence. We don’t use our time-binding power to understand. And so,we act without hesitation, without doubt on our belief. We act in certainty. And, certainty as explained earlier by Korzybski, Heisenberg, Eddington and Bronowski is not possible, because knowing is uncertain.

Certainty

We humans always act without all the information. We humans are always assuming. If we are unaware that we are assuming, then we are ignorant of our ignorance. Certainty means that we don’t know that we don’t know. We cannot seek knowing when we believe our ignorance is knowing. Ignorance of ignorance is leveraged ignorance — ignorance masquerading as knowledge. Ignorance of ignorance is certainty.

When we are certain, we are surprised and disheartened by our mistakes. This attitude toward human error is the most damaging of human ignorances. We humans make mistakes because, we make all our decisions without ALL the information. This is a major point that all humans must understand. The only cause of mistakes is ignorance.

We humans must become aware of our ignorance. When we humans have knowledge of our ignorance, we can learn from our mistakes and protect ourselves in the future. When an individual knows he doesn’t know, he is wise. Wisdom is the opposite of certainty. The knowledge of our ignorance is wisdom.

To error is the human condition

This truth, whether we call it the Principle of Non-Allness, the Principle of Uncertainty, the Principle of Indeterminacy, or the Principle of Tolerance, leads us to the conclusion that to error is human, and there is no need too ask forgiveness. All mistakes are innocent.

Universe is not certain — it is not structured as we humans have believed for countless centuries. Religion and the objective scientists were wrong. The physics of relativity and quantum mechanics describe a Universe in which things are not and cannot be perfect. A Universe in which, we humans are constrained to make all our choices without ALL the information. Mistakes are simply holes or gaps in our knowing — lapses in our understanding.

I am often asked, “But, what if I knew better?” If I knew better and then make a mistake. Isn’t that the result of stupidity. If I knew better, but still made an error, then surely that is my fault and not the result of ignorance.

What if I knew better?

I recall a young women I once treated. She had opened her hotel room door to a man claiming to be a maintenance worker, who then attacked and raped her. The attacker has stolen a hotel uniform from a laundry hamper and so seemed legitimate. However, something about his appearance disturbed her, but on second thought, she assumed she was just being silly and so unlocked her door. When I saw her several months later she was still struggling with guilt.

“Doctor, it was my own fault. I was so stupid. I shouldn’t have opened the door. I knew something was wrong. I was so stupid. I knew better, but I opened the door anyway.”

I responded, “You weren’t stupid. You were only ignorant.”

She replied, “No, Dr. Wilken, I knew better, I should never have opened the door, I was just so stupid.”

“NO!”, I told her, “You weren’t stupid, you were only ignorant and I can prove it with one simple question. She looked deep into my eyes desperate to know what I meant.

I asked: “If you had known that the man behind the door intended to rape you, would you have opened it?”

“No, of course not.”

No of course not. None of us would make a mistake if we knew we were about to make a mistake. Even when we humans repeat our mistakes, it is because we assume the mistake will not happen this time. We are ignorant of what will happen this time. As I have stated, the only cause of human error — the only cause of human mistakes is ignorance.

Scientists as well as non-scientists who seek to know must therefore embrace humility when we stand before the totality of Nature.

The Principle of Non-Allness is a fundamental law of Nature. And the first corollary to the Principle of Non-Allness is what I call the Principle of Innocence.

Principle of Innocence

All actions occur in ignorance. All human actions and all human choices are made without all the information. We are always acting and choosing without ALL the information. What we don’t know we must ignore and what we ignore may hurt us. Therefore all errors and and all mistakes are made in innocence.

Good news

I don’t mean that mistakes are good things or that getting hurt is a good thing. I mean that since the cause of mistakes is ignorance and the proper response to ignorance is education, then we can learn from our mistakes.

We can acknowledge the mistakes of history and those that are occurring in our present world and work to correct them. This is good news. It will make it infinitely easier to build a better world.

When we understand the truth of “to error is human”, we can then begin to process our mistakes in a synergic manner. The human who understands that mistakes are a natural part of life does not investigate the mistakes like a detective, he analyzes the mistake as a scientist. He does not blame when a mistake occurs, he seeks to learn from the mistake and to learn he must accept responsibility and seek responsibility in others for their mistakes. Once he knows who is responsible for the mistake he educates.

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Education is the proper response to ignorance. Education and learning is the synergic alternative to adversary punishment and guilt. However there is something in guilt worth keeping. It is certainly not the badness, it is certainly not the blame, and of course it is not the punishment.

Guilt also contains regret and this is worth keeping. When a mistake happens there is always regret. In the adversary world where there is blame and punishment of course I might regret being blamed and punished. I also might regret being considered bad by those who are blaming and punishing me. But there is almost always another component of regret. When I make a mistake that hurts someone else, I regret that as well. This is the regret worth keeping.

And, this is often why we humans tend to hang onto our guilt feelings when we make a mistake. We regret injuring others. We can solve this dilemma by moving regret over into the synergic processing of mistakes, where it is called restitution. Restitution means to restore, to repair the damage caused by the ignorance of our behavior.

The synergist does not feel guilty when he makes a mistake, but he is sorry if his ignorance injured other. As a synergist, he will freely try to repair things. He will freely offer restitution.  

Adversary

Synergic

MISTAKES = Badness MISTAKES = Ignorance
INVESTIGATE ANALYZE
ACCUSE & BLAME DETERMINE RESPONSIBILITY

PUNISH

—> self-punish

EDUCATE

—> self-educate

“Guilt”   

  “Learn”   

regret->

RESTITUTION

We humans have a choice as to how to deal with mistakes. If we process our mistakes adversarily we get pain and no learning. If we process our mistakes synergically, we get learning and no pain.
In fact, you cannot learn when you adversarily process mistakes. We humans cannot tolerate the pain of blame, punishment, and guilt. We will deny that we make a mistake. We will project the blame for the mistake onto others. “I didn’t do it.” — “It wasn’t my fault.” — “And, if it isn’t my fault, why should I have to learn anything.”

In fact, if I am to learn from a mistake, I must first admit it was my fault. This is the real force behind what I call the “anti-learning barrier”. If I am to learn from my mistake I am trapped into accepting responsibility for my error. If I am adversarily processing the mistake, I cannot accept responsibility without feeling guilty. To avoid guilt I must deny responsibility. And if I wasn’t responsible then I have nothing to learn.

The “anti-learning barrier”

This barrier became evident to me by another one of my patients. I once had the occasion to treat a young woman in the early stages of her fifth pregnancy. She informed me she had had four abortions previously and was pregnant and planning to abort this pregnancy as well. I thought to myself, why can’t she learn to use birth control?

If we examine her situation in light of our new understanding, we see that for her to use birth control, she would have to admit that it is her responsibility to prevent unwanted pregnancies. That admission would lead her to the further conclusion that she was then also responsible for her previous unwanted pregnancies and their abortions.

This young woman was a Catholic and to admit responsibility for unwanted pregnancies and abortions were far too painful for her. She opted to deny any responsibility. “My boy friend got me drunk, and made me pregnant. It wasn’t my fault, so I don’t need to take birth control. Besides using birth control is a sin, I would never do that.”

The human brain is the most powerfully precise computer in the Universe. If we program it to believe mistakes are bad, it will function to prove it does not make mistakes. The human brain rebels at the idea that mistakes are bad. It will defend itself in any way possible, it will defend itself by lying. When I am accused of badness, I must lie to protect myself — to protect myself from blame and punishment — to protect myself from guilt. Confronted with an adversary reality that we live with today, it is rational to lie. Lying leads to distrust — “I assume you are my enemy”. Thus, the processing of mistakes as bad always leads to conflict and adversary behavior.

If on the other hand, I process my mistakes in a more scientific manner — as simply ignorant — choices made without all the information, then I must tell the truth to protect myself — to protect myself from repeating the mistake — to protect myself and others from further injury — to protect myself from paying unnecessary restitution.

Telling the truth leads to trust — “I assume you are my friend”. Processing mistakes as ignorance leads to co-Operation and synergic behavior.

Adversary

Synergic

MISTAKES = Badness MISTAKES = Ignorance
INVESTIGATE ANALYZE
ACCUSE & BLAME DETERMINE RESPONSIBILITY

PUNISH

—> self-punish

EDUCATE

—> self-educate

“Guilt”   

  “Learn”   

regret->

RESTITUTION

I must lie to protect myself.

I must tell the truth to protect myself.

I assume you are my enemy.

I assume you are my friend.

Distrust

Trust

Conflict

Co-Operation

Scientists and all humans who seek to know must embrace humility when they stand before the totality of Nature. The principle of Non-Allness is a fundamental law of nature.

The fact that all actions occur in ignorance is a fundamental ‘knowing’ derived from the Principle of Non-Allness.

And the first corollary of that principle — the Principle of Innocence is an even more important extension of our human ‘knowing’. If we understand that all errors are committed in innocence, then how we treat those who err will change forever.

What about Bin Laden ?

How could the attack on the World Trade Towers have resulted from ignorance. How could those behind the murder of 5000+ thousand innocents themselves be innocent?

What don’t they know?

They don’t know that As you sow, so shall you reap. They don’t know that:

Adversary action usually provokes adversary reaction ending in an adversary resultant or loss.

They don’t know how powerful the United States really is. They have forgotten the lessons learned by Japan and Germany by the end of World War II. They to have wakened the sleeping Giant. Their acts will not make the world better and safer for themselves or for those they claim to represent. They don’t know that the end never justifies the means. In fact, the means always end up becoming the ends.

They don’t know that there is no heaven for murderers. They don’t know that an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, ends up with no winners only losers in a modern world with high technology and knowledge.

They don’t know that:

Progress + Warfare = Human Extinction 

We humans are Time-binders, we have the power to create knowledge without limit. When knowledge is incorporated into matter-energy, it becomes a tool. As Andrew J. Galambos explained:

“Humans develop evermore powerful knowledge and therefore evermore powerful tools. When tools are used to harm other humans they are called weapons. Since human knowledge can grow without limit then tools themselves can be made without limit. And limitless tools can will produce limitless weapons.”

And, limitless weapons (progress) combined with leveraged adversity (warfare) must by all definitions and understanding of science produce human extinction.

All of today’s law enforcement agencies use adversary processing in an attempt to protect the public safety. Unfortunately, adversary processing results only in pain and no learning. The war on crime has been lost and always will be lost. Adversary behavior cannot be stopped with adversary behavior. The means always become the ends. The abolition of crime will require the abolition of punishment.

Only then can we move towards a world where, love, wisdom and compassion will replace hate, ignorance and judgment. Only then can we move beyond crime and punishment.


Read Timothy Wilken’s A Limit to Knowing.

Read Timothy Wilken’s Protecting Humanity.