Linear v. Cyclical

A good friend of mine lent me his Teaching Company DVD on the Conquest of the Americas. The professor, Dr. Marshall C. Eakin, is talking about the key factors that led to European expansion and eventual colonization of the Americas – political centralization, economic dynamism (capitalism, trading), technology (ship features, astronomy, math), and culture/mentality.

This last factor was the most complex and the most interesting to me. It encompasses the development of modern science (the world should be manipulated and dominated) and the role of religion (aggressive evangelism). It became clear that it wasn’t only science promoting the premise that the natural world was ours to understand, when Dr. Eakin quoted Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.”

Both science and religion also follow a linear and progressive worldview. There is a beginning and an end, a strong belief in cause-and-effect. It’s the notion of being on a path and that one will finally get “there.” In fact, I can see how this kind of uni-directional point of view permeates many (all?) different fields and ways of knowing. It’s at least one way of understanding what’s behind these ideas: that I achieve by setting excellent goals, success = completion, the drive for “conquering” or “finishing”, or that it’s possible to have the “answer(s)”.

Dr. Eakin contrasted this with the cyclical and seasonal worldview of Asians, Africans, and Native Americans, at least at the time. Their focus was on recurring patterns, balance between different factors, and fluidity. It was less time-oriented and they valued intuition.

It’s why the idea of living and learning in another country is so appealing to me. Of course, I learn the language as best as I can and I learn about the customs and traditions, but beyond that I absorb an entirely new way of being that affects how people express themselves, how decisions are made, how relationships function, and so much more.

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