Friday, 15 February 2008

A twist of the Tower of Babel

This entry has been on the drawing board for at least a week but thesis writing has had priority. I am grabbing some time tonight away from the thesis in order to relax so thought I would try and pen my thoughts.

The Tower of Babel story is in Genesis 11:1-9. Basically, humankind was at a point where they thought they were better than God and decided to build a tower. God confused their language so that they had difficulty communicating. This led to humanity being scattered and the tower not being completed.

I often wonder what could be achieved if we were more united in our approach to things. Confusion of language is only one of the difficulties. We also have confusion in understanding.

Ference Martin (2000) when talking about the philosophical basis for phenomenographic research said “From a non-dualistic ontological perspective there are not two worlds: a real, objective world on the one hand, and a subjective world of mental representations on the other. There is only one world, a really existing world, which is expressed and understood in different ways by human beings. It is simultaneously objective and subjective. An experience is a relationship between object and subject, encompassing both. The experience is as much an aspect of the object as it is of the subject.”

The basic principle is that our understanding of the real world is always through our observations of that world. We never have any way of knowing whether our description is accurate or inaccurate. There are always a number of different ways in which people experience any given part of our world. As a result, there are different understandings and expectations. It doesn’t take much looking around to realise that this is happening both on the local scene and international scene. How often have you seen people discussing a subject and they are really talking not talking to each other? Neither really understands what the other person is saying because they are working from different assumptions about the subject.

What would happen if instead of forcing the other person to accept our point of view, we took the time to try and understand what the other person’s perspective of the situation is. Would the international terrorism be present if the Western world leaders took the time to try and understand the grievances of those who they call terrorists? Would people be recruited for terrorist organisations if attempts were made to address the issues that made these people feel outcasts from western society?

Let’s face it capitalism is a man created system. It isn’t some objective system forced on us by the way this world operates. Most of the problem is because of our personal ambitions to have more and in particular to have more than others. Why not examine your own assumptions about the financial systems and the way that you make purchasing decisions. Maybe you will realise that you don’t need some of those things that you thought you did.

Maybe even the desire for promotion has little to do with ability and more to do with having more status than someone else.

I am very conscious that my views on promotion systems were quite different to the way that the university operated. I simply wanted to do a better job of teaching and research. If the university wanted to recognise my efforts with a promotion then that would be nice but I wasn’t looking for it. In contrast the university runs promotion rounds each year. In these promotion rounds, you put forward a portfolio of your work including the numbers of papers published and if you can the number of times that your work has been cited. In theory, this all shows that you are doing quality work. This to me is simply a game of self promotion that can be manipulated by those who want to play the game.

For me, in the university context, I found that my head of department never really understood me because he assumed that if I was in the university system then I believed in and wanted to play this university game. I simply saw it as slowly destroying the quality of research and the quality of teaching leading to the current decline and redundancies.

When it comes down to it the “Tower of Babel” is alive and well each day as people fail to see the different perceptions that can exist around any given phenomenon or activity. Instead of coming together to encourage and support one another, we are being blown apart by misunderstandings simply caused by the different assumption and conceptions we have of what is happening.

The question is do we want to continue the plight of the “Tower of Babel” or do we want to work toward building harmony?


Marton, F. (2000). The structure of awareness. In J. A. Bowden & E. Walsh (Eds.), Phenomenography (pp. 102-116). Melbourne, Australia: RMIT University Press.

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