Monthly Archives: January 2019

“information everywhere but not a drop to contemplate”

Nicholas Carr’s book

“What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows” has had a deep impact on my thinking about disturbing trends in our society that I had already noticed. Carr demonstrates, with reference to scientific research and philosophical insights, how the computer and the resulting internet (and related market-driven stimulations) are remapping our brains and creating a social and intellectual wasteland in the midst of an unprecedented wealth of information. I have selected a few critical quotes from Carr’s book and will refer to him in an upcoming article.

It is truly “information everywhere but not a drop to contemplate.”

Nicholas Carr

But the news is not all good. Although neuroplasticity provides an escape from genetic determinism, a loophole for free thought and free will, it also imposes its own form of determinism on our behavior. As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit. The paradox of neuroplasticity, observes Norman Doidge, is that, for all the mental flexibility that it grants up, it can end up locking us into “rigid behaviors.” The chemically triggered synapses that link our neurons program us, in effect, to want to keep exercising the circuits they’ve formed. Once we’ve wired the new circuitry in our brain, Doidge writes, “we long to keep it activated.” That is the way the brain fine-tunes its operations. Routine activities are carried out even more quickly and efficiently, while unused circuits are pruned away. (page 34)

The potential for unwelcome neuroplastic adaptations also exists in the everyday, normal functioning of our minds. Experiments show that just as the brain can build new or stronger circuits through physical or mental practice, those circuits can weaken or dissolve with neglect. “If we stop exercising our mental skills,” writes Norman Doidge, “we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead.” Jeffrey Schwartz, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s medical school, terms this process “survival of the busiest.” The mental skills we sacrifice may be as valuable, or more valuable, than the ones we gain. When it comes to the quality of our thought, our neurons and synapses are entirely indifferent. The possibility of intellectual decay is inherent in the malleability of our brains. (page 35)

“A new medium is never an addition to an old one,” wrote McLuhan in Understanding Media, “nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.” His observation rings particularly true today. Traditional media, even electronic ones, are being refashioned and repositioned as they go through the shift to online distribution. When the Net absorbs a medium, it re-creates that medium in its own image. It not only dissolves the medium’s physical form; it injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, breaks up the content into searchable chunks, and surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. All these changes in the form of the content also change the way we use, experience, and even understand the content.

(page 89)

What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing that I had expected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it is possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. (page 115)

One thing is very clear: if, knowing what we know today about the brain’s plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet. It’s not just that we tend to use the Net regularly, even obsessively. It’s that the Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli—repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive—that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions. With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use. At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book. (page 116)

As we go through these motions, the Net delivers a steady stream of inputs to our visual, somatosensory, and auditory cortices. There are sensations that come through our hands and fingers as we click and scroll, type and touch. There are the many audio signals delivered through our ears, such as the chime that announces the arrival of a new e-mail or instant message and the various ringtones that our mobile phones use to alter us to different events.

The net also provides a high-speed system for delivering responses and rewards—“positive reinforcements,” in psychological terms—which encourage the repetition of both physical and mental actions.


The Net commands our attention with a far greater insistency than our television or radio or morning newspaper ever did.

(page 117)

This is particularly true for the young who tend to be compulsive in using their phones and computers for texting and instant messaging. Today’s teenagers typically send or receive a message every few minutes throughout their waking hours. As the psychotherapist Michael Hausauer notes, teens and other young adults have a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” If they stop sending messages, they risk becoming invisible. (page 118)

The constant distractedness that the Net encourages—the state of being, to borrow another phrase from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “distracted from distraction by distraction” –is very different from the kind of temporary, purposeful diversion of our mind that refreshes our thinking when we’re weighing a decision. The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again. (page 119)

What we’re not doing when we’re online also has neurological consequences. Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quite reflection and contemplation, the circuits the support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses for other, more pressing work. We gain new skills and perspectives but lose old ones. (page 120)

But brain scientists have come to realize that long-term memory is actually the seat of understanding. It stores not just facts but complex concepts, or “schemas.” By organizing scattered bits of information into patterns of knowledge, schemas give depth and richness to our thinking. “Our intellectual prowess is derived largely from the schemas we have acquired over long periods of time,” says John Sweller. “We are able to understand concepts in our areas of expertise because we have schemas associated with those concepts.”

(page 124)

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas.

With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source. (page 124)

Still, [Google’s] easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by artificial intelligence is as unsettling as it is revealing. It underscores the firmness and the certainty with which Google holds to its Taylorist belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. “Human beings are ashamed to have been born instead of made,” the twentieth-century philosopher Gunther Anders once observed, and in the pronouncement of Google’s founders, we can sense that shame as well as the ambition it engenders.


Harpers Weekly
The Chinese Question
“Hands off, Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.”

Cartoon by Thomas Nast from
February 18, 1871,

The Chinese Question
“Hands off, Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.”

New York Times source:

The Harper’s Weekly article dismissed the purported “Chinese invasion” as “altogether mythical,” and argued that most Americans “still adhere to the old Revolutionary doctrine that all men are free and equal before the law, and possess certain inalienable rights …” That sentiment is reflected in Nast’s cartoon, where Columbia, the feminine symbol of the United States, shields the dejected Chinese man against a gang of thugs, whom she emphatically reminds that “America means fair play for all men.”

The armed mob includes stereotypes of an Irish American (second from right), perhaps a German American (on the far right), and a “shoulder-hitter” (far left), who enforced the will of urban politicians (like Tweed) with threats or acts of violence. The imagery in the back alludes to the Civil War draft riots of 1863, during which angry, largely Irish American, mobs in New York City protested the Union draft and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by burning the Colored Orphan Asylum and lynching blacks. For years after, Nast incorporated those images into his cartoons as symbols of the alleged Irish-American and Democratic penchant for violence and mob rule.

Seminar: “Wildfire: Two Roads Diverging in a Woods on Fire: The spread of climate chaos and trends in global response today”


“Wildfire: Two Roads Diverging in a Woods on Fire: The spread of climate chaos and trends in global response today”

Daniel Garrett

Senior Associate

The Asia Institute

Response by

Emanuel Pastreich


The Asia Institute


Moderated by

Rachel Stine


The Asia Institute

7-8 PM

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Earth System is transitioning to a new phrase – that of Hothouse earth. We see climate refugees everywhere at the same time that right-wing governments that derive their power from racism, nativism, and other forms of the “fear of the other” purposely ignore the threat. The wildfire of climate chaos already been lit and will burn even brighter. In this seminar, former State Department official Daniel Garrett and refugees’ rights advocate Rachel Stine will explore the following topics: 1.) How can we preserve a livable environment? 2.) What new forms of governance – and approaches to living will be demanded in such difficult times? What can we do now and during the climate chaos to improve the chances that eco-civilizational and climate justice models emerge victorious rather than the “vultures” of disaster capitalism? Join The Asia Institute for this exciting first event of 2019.   

@ Commons Foundation

Daniel Garrett is a retired U.S. Department of State diplomat.  His areas of expertise include human rights, trafficking in persons, Himalayan regional issues, climate change and international trans-boundary water issues.  He is currently working to facilitate the accelerated emergence of innovative ideas and technologies that make it possible for human civilizations and their infrastructures to be seamlessly interwoven in a productive manner into the earth systems which sustain and support them.

Sponsored by

The Commons Foundation

The Asia Institute

The Earth Management Institute

World Beyond War

“汉学家贝逸溟:东方传统文化契合可持续发展之道” 《环境与生活》




2019年 1月28日


















网编:黄皖婷 崔悦

“再考虑中国的科举传统: 智慧与中国治国理念” 多维新闻


“再考虑中国的科举传统: 智慧与中国治国理念“

2019年 12月 8日



我常常见到人们拿令学生深感困扰的现代考试系统和古代科举制度作类比:前者是现代人借之以获得社会地位的手段, 而后者则在近2000年的大部分时间内成为国家治理体系的支柱,对文化的各个方面产生了巨大的影响。






最近人们对中国能人体制的优点大感兴趣,清华大学贝淡宁Daniel Bell 教授的文章便十分有代表性。他在《中国模式:能人政治和民主制 的局限性》(The China  Model: Political Meritocracy  and the  Limits of  Democracy)一书中提出,中国的能人政治可以成为“西方民主”的替代制度。





那么, 科举考试设立之初为何以儒家经典和道德哲学为主要内容?难道是因为当时的学者都已与国家的需要脱节,因手握特权而迷失了自己?

有些人之所以产生这种困惑,是因为他们对科举制度的初心存在根本上的误解,在与之相关的“贤能体制”和英语中的“meritocracy”(英才治国体制)之间划等号。这种想法是错误的,因为从词根词源来分析,“meritocracy”一词由“merit”(价值)和“ cracy”(统治)组成。当然,科举与个人的价值息息相关,但衡量个体价值绝非科举考试的宗旨所在。




民主很可能会沦落成为令人民被虚假信息牵着走的荒谬制度,魅力非凡的领袖也会堕落为因荒唐决定而生的 最严酷暴政的始作俑者。






关键在于,我们应当挖掘中国传统治国理念的深刻内涵,而不该只停留于表面 形式。




“Merit, wisdom and the Korean tradition of governance” Korea Times

Korea Times

“Merit, wisdom and the Korean tradition of governance”

January 27, 2019

Emanuel Pastreich

The ruthless competition between young Korean to get into good high schools and then be admitted to leading universities as the necessary step to finding superior jobs takes a terrible toll on the lives of many and has distorted the nature of learning.

Education has become a concealed combat that drives us into isolation, rather than the grounds for cooperation among all people for the purpose of discovering the truth or creating a better society.

I have heard frequent comparisons between this obsession with exams in contemporary Korea as a means to achieve social status and the civil service examination system that dominated traditional Korean society. The civil service exam was central to Korean governance in the Joseon Dynasty and it affected all aspects of culture before then.

The analogy between contemporary test-taking and the Confucian civil service exams of the Joseon Dynasty is not entirely wrong. The examination system, especially after the complete saturation of government jobs in the late 18th century due to a rapid rise in population, became the battlefield in a ruthless competition for jobs that were tied to wealth and power.

A few powerful families monopolized the exam systems through access to excellent instruction for their sons, or through corruption, or through both means.

The content of the exams was reduced to the memorization of set phrases, the employment of set flowery language that conformed with the demands of the examiners, and the endless practice of unimaginative model essays.

But the degenerate form of the civil service examination system of the late Joseon does not represent the original intentions of that exam.

Rather, we need to ask ourselves what it meant to have a society in which government service was considered the highest goal and in which being educated in moral philosophy, as opposed to business administration, or finance, or advertising, was presented as the goal for all educated people.

The first question we must ask is about the value of meritocracy that is the part of the examination system most frequently cited. The civil service exam system in Korea, Vietnam and China ― which would become a model also for France, Britain and other countries in the 18th and 19th centuries ― is often held up as the model of meritocracy; rule by the capable and the educated. It has tremendous appeal.

Meritocracy forms a strong alternative to aristocracy (granted that meritocracy often degenerates into aristocracy over time) or tyranny.

There is recent interest in the virtues of meritocracy (especially in the Chinese case), most notably the writings of Daniel Bell of Tsinghua University. He proposes that the current Chinese political meritocracy can serve as an alternative to Western democracy in his book “The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy.”

It is certainly true that meritocracy, a system that seeks to promote those with the skills and the ability to govern, may offer an alternative to “democratic” systems wherein citizens vote for leaders who are preselected by special interests. After all, if people vote based only on information supplied by biased media sources, it is hard to consider such a system to be an effective way to select leaders.

The civil service system was subject to withering critiques by reformers in the late Joseon Dynasty who argued that Confucian scholars who were well versed in the classics were unprepared to deal with the challenges of modernization and that the need was for practical experts who could negotiate trade treaties, establish postal systems and run railroads and steel mills.

That legacy lives on, and most tests used today to determine careers and focus on math and the English language, on administration and management, or on specific skills in accounting or in finance.

Moral philosophy has disappeared from exams in the process of modernization.

So why did the civil service examinations focus on the Confucian classics and on moral philosophy? Was it because the scholars had lost touch with the needs of the nation and had lost themselves in their own privilege?

Understanding the nature of the Confucian civil service is difficult because there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the original spirit of the civil service exams.

The term “meritocracy” is a misnomer. Of course the Chinese civil service exams were about merit, but that was not their primary function.

The exams were originally, from their roots in the Han Dynasty, meant to serve as the basis to establish rule by the wise and the ethical, rather than rule by the capable and the erudite. The two goals are related, but grasping the fundamental difference is critical for future reform.

The philosophers who systematized Confucian thought, Confucius and Mencius, were advocating not so much for a meritocracy, as for a noocracy, or “rule by the wise.” Noocracy has become an unfamiliar term, but that goal of creating a nation ruled by the wise and the ethical was also held up by the Greek philosopher Plato as the best form of government.

Most people today would consider the idea that government should be administered by the wise, rather than by the capable, to be either hopelessly naive, or perhaps dangerously elitist, but let us think carefully about this issue before we dismiss this critical assumption in traditional Korean culture.

Democracy can easily degenerate into the people being misled by false information or charismatic leaders into terrible decisions that lead to the worst form of tyranny.

Meritocracy can lead to rule by those who have clear skills and a high level of education, but who have no moral compass and who pursue their personal interests, or their family interests.

Confucius and Plato had a point in advocating for rule by the wise.
How people are promoted in government and business is critical for a healthy society.

The problem is: how do you achieve governance by the wise?

Humans are flawed creatures and there will be corruption and abuse of power in any system. Periodic reform is essential to assure transparency.

The demand that those involved in politics and governance be steeped in moral philosophy from childhood, being familiar with the humanities and capable of writing thoughtfully about how to find ethical solutions to problems in governance and in society is logical and compelling. We need exactly such an approach today.

But we should pursue the spirit of traditional Confucian governance, and not its forms ― especially in later ages.

We should not force everyone to read only the Confucian classics, or to take the exams used in the Joseon Dynasties. The world today is different.

Rather, we can experiment with new approaches to making philosophy and literature part of the training for all those who wish to work in government, or in business, so that they will be aware of their own actions and their impact on society, so that they will see ethical behavior as the highest goal.

The readings for such an education should extend down to the current day, and should not be limited to the Chinese tradition. Moreover, such an education should involve learning from a teacher, a moral and philosophical teacher, and talking with that teacher. We must move beyond the inhuman system of computer-graded anonymous tests. Exams must be more human and more organic. They can refer to abstract principles, but they must be grounded in the moral tests we face in contemporary society.

Such an innovation in the sense of recapturing the original spirit of the Confucian tradition can bring tremendous new vitality to government and to education, giving new hope to youth in Korea, China, Vietnam and around the world.

서울이야기: 임마누엘

2018년 12월

서울사람들은 서울에 대해 무슨 생각을 어떻게 할까요? 서울브랜드 아이서울유가 세 번째 생일을 맞아 서울시 홍보대사, 아티스트, 글로벌 기업의 CEO 등 서울에 살고 있는 사람, 서울에서 일하고 있는 사람, 서울을 사랑하는 사람에게 물었습니다. 여덟 번째 인터뷰는 아시아인스티튜트, 임마누엘 페스트라이쉬(이만열) 소장 입니다. 임마누엘 페스트라이쉬 생각은 [서울은 공존이다]

맞아요! 제가 했어요

“礼的传统与生态意识的新展望” 多维新闻


2019 1 18









































近日联合国政府间气候变化专门委员会发布了一篇具有标志性的报告:“全球变暖1.5℃”(“Global Warming of 1.5 C”。比起众媒体轻描淡写的叙述,该报告就不久之后气候变化趋势的预测要骇人听闻得多。报告指出人类正在面临高碳经济的灾难性后果,同时对人们之前的“碳交易计划足以解决气候变化问题”这一想法予以明确否定。