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  • Small Molecules Count Too: Creativity and Change Post–Arab Spring
  • Amal Alayan

Over two millennia, and especially between the 8th and 16th centuries, camel caravans and sailboats were vehicles for a thriving decentralized network of trade and transport. This network facilitated massive multi-ethnic and multi-racial circulation of people and information in and out of the geographic area now known as the Arab World. Some have argued 1 that the interconnections within this region and with the world went into a gradual decline after 1498. It was in that year that the Portuguese empire discovered the seaway to India through the Cape of Good Hope.

During this earlier and illustrious time, travelers in and out of Arabian deserts slept through the scorching daylight and traversed the desert at night using the stars for guidance. Seafarers were well versed in navigating the vastness of the seas and the oceans without a compass. They travelled to distant lands by observing celestial bodies and other signs from the wind, sea currents, sea life and the color of the water 2. These early Arabs also regulated their activities by the lunar calendar, tested their eyesight by spotting AlSuha (Alcor), the elusive star in Ursa Major that ignited the imagination of Arab poets, and proclaimed those among them who could intuit water under bare sunbaked mountains “insightful and discerning.” Nature was the first frame of reference in their experiential living, learning and expression. Thought-by-analogy became reflected in the structure and style of Arabic speech, dialogue and poetry. Seeing patterns, forms and cycles in the basic dynamics of nature helped them grasp, by analogy, other patterns, forms and cycles in the world in which they were immersed.

In the glorious years of the Islamic civilization, especially during the 8th and 9th centuries, knowledge remained synthesized as it evolved through critical assimilation from older civilizations, systematic observation, experimentation and theory building. Indeed, Arab scholars did not recognize boundaries between disciplines of humanities and sciences. One such scholar was Alhazen or Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham, a devout Muslim polymath. While he is most famous for his seven-volume Book on Optics (9th century), which later became an inspiration to Leonardo Da Vinci, the genius of the Renaissance 3, AlHazen’s diversified pool of 200 treatises cut across many fields. His writings included titles such as Analysis and Synthesis, The Balance of Wisdom, On Seeing the Stars, Discourse on Place, and Treatise on the Influence of Melodies on the Souls of Animals4.

In the 20th century, and especially post--oil discovery, Arab society functioned quite differently than in the earlier period described above. Modernization in the Arab world both escalated material consumption that disconnected people from nature and resulted in importing a compartmentalized educational system from the West. Some critics see this educational system as reductionist—a byproduct of a mechanistic worldview that shaped modern Western society and significantly influenced the rest of the world since the Scientific and Industrial Revolution. Such a mechanistic worldview is said to be rooted in Cartesian analytic thinking (which can lose sight of the fact that the integrated whole is greater than the sum of its parts) and in Newtonian linear causality. This system evidently resulted in a suspect system for evaluating and measuring the standing of students. Even now, in 2013, Arab students who score the highest in high school can enroll in medical school. The second highest scoring students are eligible to study engineering and natural sciences. Low scoring students are placed in Islamic religious and legislative studies (“Shari’ah”) or in art school. [End Page 310]

As we move forward into the 21st century, however, a constellation of new concepts, new ways of seeing and interrelating, new practices and newly adopted tools are indicative of a paradigm shift in the works. This transformation is seemingly global and may be taking us from a mechanistic worldview to a systemic, holistic and ecological worldview. A central theme of this new worldview is that of organizing as a network. Also, a central insight to this new worldview is that social systems can emerge and evolve as an expression of a deep order and universal laws that have evolved over...


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pp. 310-315
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