The myth of the individual, AKA completely missing the point of Palomar 5

I just read another press article, and whilst it expresses coherently some of the great things explored and achieved at Palomar 5, it completely misses the point. It perpetuates the myth of the individual above collective output.

What is it about our society that looks for the individual? That looks to place achievement on one head? That looks to highlight one person as responsible, for a project, it’s incubation, or creation. History tells us that it is individuals that had influence even when they are attached to movements. Could Hitler have achieved such horrors alone? is Dada merely Dali? even the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” is normally incorrectly attributed to Newton. Individuals generate a focus and a human story, something we can identify with, because our social body is something that we struggle to acknowledge. We see where our body ceases, and we think that this is where the mind stops as well. That we are an island, creating alone. That one man or woman is responsible for great leaps. Individuals merely have the fortune or the nouse to occupy a space that requires filling, if they didn’t exist someone else would occupy that space (for example even without Darwin we would still have the theory of evolution).

The truth is hard to accept – that we are an expression of others, the thoughts and ideas of those around us. An interpretation of the ideas that permeate society, a translation, an articulation of possibility. Ego guides us to think of these as the expression of one being, and we respect this because we can then possess the same illusion.

At P5 we went beyond this. It was one of the greatest aspects – to recognise that such things came from US not ME. Yet still when it is reported, journalists seek the INDIVIDUAL, not the COLLECTIVE.

There is no such thing as “my idea”. We must learn to recognise an idea as an observation of what is possible, an expression of what can be. Spotting what exists already as potential in the chaos around us, highlighted by discussion and evolving social awareness within the infinite possibilities of the universe. The individual is merely an advocate of a meme, not the originator.

About society2point0

Serial Entrepreneur and Dragons Den Survivor now concerning himself with using web and mobile technologies to empower society and encourage real world interactions.

11 comments

  1. While I agree with—what I understand to be—your general sentiment, I disagree with several of your observations and arguments. In short, I am not convinced that these questions are quite as simple as you make them out to be.

    History tells us that it is individuals that had influence even when they are attached to movements.

    Upon closer look, history would likely reveal that individuals had most influence when embedded in movements, yes. But most often the great—or terrible—minds of their times created these movements.

    Individuals merely have the fortune or the nouse to occupy a space that requires filling, if they didn’t exist someone else would occupy that space.

    This argument is easily made from the arrogance of retrospective consideration, but it completely ignores time and relevance. Would someone like Obama exist if he weren’t there himself? Maybe in ten or twenty years from now, yes. Today? Most definitely not. What this would mean for the people, I leave to everbody’s vivid imagination. The distancing lense of historical thinking completely ignores that.

    The truth is hard to accept – that we are an expression of others, the thoughts and ideas of those around us.

    I find this anything but hard to accept, it’s not like the concepts of socialisation or situated learning are particularly new. Yet, there is of course the other side – that we are an influence for the ideas and expressions of those around us.

    There is no such thing as “my idea”.

    Of course there is! Just because media and history generally fail to recognise context of ideas “as an observation of what is possible, an expression of what can be,” is no reason or argument to conclude that each and every one makes unique observations and draws unique conclusions, even if embedded in similar—though never identical—contexts.

    The individual is merely an advocate of a meme, not the originator.

    Even if this was true, why is it “merely”? But I would much rather argue that an individual is never the meme just by him- or herself, but can very well be the originator, and in any case more than the advocate. It does take a brilliant—if sometimes cruel—mind to understand and cease the opportunity of the moment.

    (And there is plenty of good media and history writing out there recognising that.)

  2. Not debating your main point here – but for journalists telling stories is much easier and effective if there’s a name and a face to put to the facts. Just a matter of process. Although that shouldn’t lead to getting the story wrong, of course ;)

  3. Pingback: The myth of the individual, AKA completely missing the point of Palomar 5 « Mindflip « Mindflip

  4. love your way of philosophizing all issues including the cutting edge stuff you work on.

    Im a journalist and I feel journalism is a model that needs tons of renewal obviously, much as traditional history, i.e. pinning too much on individuals, “facts” rather than reflecting the flow, but also in the products it offers

    journalism also neuters itself with formulas, established patterns and between the lines managerial editors, especially television (more often than not bubble gum for the eyes), and it has difficulty reporting many issues that dont follow conventions …

    but it’s part of the conversation and one way of looking at things, luckily there are many many more ways now than before that are accessible

    • society2point0

      Hi Nico, thanks for your comment.

      Certainly it’s encouraging to see the conversation evolving, wikipedia for one is contributing to the exchange in the way it adds new connections and links to the established myths. Also the internet in general, in causing us to question the source and motivations of the source, is slowly starting to permeate our cultural mindsets.

      Things that don’t follow convention create great difficulty in explanation. I feel at the moment we are requiring an expansion of our vocabulary in line with consciousness, this advance however is happening so quickly that it is hard to keep up and transfer to the culture of the past. I think we will begin to see an internet equivalent of “regional accents” and linguistic fragmentation in the future. Journalists are going to have some real challenges ahead :)

  5. I absolutely love the idea of “regional accents” for the web. It would make a great starting point for a novel :)

  6. Pingback: Chaordination, and the emergence of the collective will « Mindflip

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