Frank Maguire
Consensus and the paradox of the "box"
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By Frank Maguire
May 15, 2010

"The special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it." G. K. Chesterton

I was watching an interesting documentary on Mayan history and I was provoked to interest by the study of Mayan glyphs and steles (type of inscribed ritual stones).

After the discovery of vestigial Mayan architecture, a Russian woman was hired to do architectural drawings in an attempt to display how the Mayan structures looked before they had deteriorated.

Not only did this woman do an incredible job, but she discovered that the glyphs on the steles provided a history of the dynasties of Mayan rulers. No one had ever considered that which she had ascertained.

At about the same time a young soldier in the Soviet army, who had been with the troops who had taken Berlin, was looking through the rubble at a library when he came across a scholarly text on Mayan culture and architecture. He was intrigued.

The young man studied the book. After the war he returned to school, and received a degree in linguistics. He then made a comprehensive study of the construction of the Mayan language. His discoveries contradicted all other studies that had been done by European scholars who were believed to be the world's leading experts on the Maya.

The narrator on the documentary made a point of curiosity that this soldier/student/scholar was allowed little access to outside scholarship because the Soviet government actively discouraged it. Therefore, this fellow was essentially unaware of and thus not influenced by extant studies, opinions, and conclusions arrived at by the scholars outside the Soviet Union.

I found this to be a great irony. It is axiomatic that those who "think outside of the box" contribute original thinking because they are not led or misled by peer influences — not induced to think like the group, in so-called consensus, for the sake of belonging and for the opportunities that belonging provides.

In addition, it struck me as paradoxical that in the so-called free world, where the cult of the individual is acceptable, scholars appeared to be in the consensual thrall of those among their peers who had gained notoriety and who had become a caste of authority.

While in the world wrapped in the Iron Curtain — a collectivist world where the cult of the individual was actual apostasy that could bring serious consequences to the apostate — a young scholar had, independent of sanctified theories, discovered the intricacies of the system of symbols that are the language of the Mayans.

Here is the seeming incongruity: the person actually "inside the box" was the resident of the iron-curtained Soviet Union. He had no communication with those "outside the box" — the scientists in the democratic countries.

Yet, it would appears that the person inside the box produced the creative ideas, and those "outside the (Soviet) box" merely accepted the ideas of the most prominent and authoritative scholar(s) — the thought-directors who accomplished consensus among their peers merely because they were officiously notorious.

What does all of this mean? It simply means that when you hear about "thinking outside of the box" don't just accept the phrase matter-of -factly. Give some thought to Consensus and The Paradox of the "Box."

© Frank Maguire

 

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Frank Maguire

Frank Maguire was born in Dorchester, MA, 1938, attended schools in Massachusetts, California, and Arizona, where he completed degrees in music and English writing/Journalism. Frank has been married to Helen Isabel Maguire née Estevez of Culver City, California, since 1957. They have six children, 14 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren.

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