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Summary of Points about the Development of Western Thought

by Mordecai Plaut

The following is a summary of a longer paper I have written, which is available upon request. (mplaut (at) 013net (dot) net)

1] The orientation of the spotlight of human attention has played a major role in key events of human history.

2] Human attention is like a spotlight in that it is focused on a relatively small area. Its focus is illuminated but the rest remains in darkness. In order for humanity to understand – and thereby to predict and control – something, it must therefore be illuminated by the spotlight of human attention. Anything and everything that is never illuminated by the spotlight of human attention is ignored. (This is a tautology but it is not obvious.)

3] The act constituting the sin of Adam was nothing more and nothing less than a voluntary and deliberate shift of attention.

4] The direction of the focus of human attention was an important factor in the development of Western literature (as discussed at length in Mimesis) and it was the major component of the revolutions of the Nineteenth century.

5] The sin of Adam is echoed by the revolutions of the Nineteenth century. In both cases the spotlight of human attention shifted from the abstract universal to the mundane.

6] The critical prerequisite for economic growth in a society is that its attention be focused in the mundane. Early societies had a prejudice against focusing in the mundane. “The mundane” is much too large a target for individual attention, and individuals will focus on some specific aspect of it. In order to have economic growth it is essential that the focus in the mundane be widely distributed.

Related essay: The Rise of the Science of Economics and the Idea of Gain

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