A Guide for the Perplexed
E.F. Schumacher

A Guide for the Perplexed100Schumacher begins by describing his difficulties travelling through Leningrad, attempting to reconcile his map with the major landmarks he could see.

His confusion was resolved only when a guide explained, that the map featured only inactive church buildings, whilst active churches were simply omitted.

This story introduces the idea of ‘Adaequatio’; that we can only see that which we have the means to see, an ancient and powerful idea.

For example, whilst all able bodied can hear sound, not everyone can appreciate music, some simply hearing a progression of notes. For them, music simply does not exist.

Schumacher explores what it is to be human. Building a simple 4-level scale of lifeless minerals, plants, conscious animals and self-aware humanity He describes how each level has no awareness of their being levels above.

At the heart of the book, is the Western desire to see the world as problems to be solved. Science has developed with a belief that it’s role is to solve problems and its ‘adaequatio’ has honed its skills at seeing the solvable and rendered it blind to everything else.

In Schumacher’s words science is able to see problems with convergent solutions, but fails even to recognise as valid, those with divergent solutions.

As an example, consider the divergent problem of whether discipline or freedom is the best way to teach? There’s no one correct answer.

Real life is the navigation of divergent problems, not the solving of convergent ones.

In a balanced world, this science bias would pose no problem, sitting alongside tools better suited to divergent problems.

The fundamental issue for the West is this loss of balance.

Science’s pernicious influence has turned us all into seekers of answers and divergent problem tools such as faith and religion are dismissed as failing the scientific test.

The catch-22 is that for balance, we need tools that fail the scientific test!

Since Schumacher wrote his book, things have grown worse. Science is at the heart of healthcare and education in the UK for example, not only in its rightful place solving convergent problems of practice, but quite inappropriately to address the divergent problems of the purpose of care.

The book is a lesson in communicating challenging ideas in ways that engage and illuminate

I can’t do justice to the book here but I urge you to read it.

Steve Unwin
August 2010