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Understanding

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Schulze

HENN Akademie, November 22, 2007

The modern age initially developed as the culture of mathematics. It is now in the process of becoming a culture of understanding.  Characteristic of the entire course of the modern age to date, including the present day, is of course, a clear distinction of rank between the world of mathematics and the world of understanding. Mathematics is held in higher regard than understanding. Why?

In the world of mathematics there is a relatively high degree of certainty. There are profits and losses, sales figures, measurements in the wind tunnel, braking distance and exhaust standards. There is right and wrong, much and little, high and low.

In the world of understanding, on the other hand, there is great uncertainty. For example, we disagree about matters of taste, but there are no winners. Understanding means dealing with nothing but unclear, vague oscillating phenomena, which cannot be precisely measured but without dispute, actually exist. We are dealing with emotions, ideals of beauty, philosophies of life and patterns of everyday living.

In our era, mathematics as the dominant strategy of progress in the modern age, is now hitting a limit. In no way has mathematics been superseded but it is no longer sufficient. In order to perpetuate the modern age, its intelligence has to be broadened. It has reached a stage where thought can no longer remain restricted to matters, natural phenomena and things that can be counted and measured. The progress of the appropriation of nature makes cultural appropriation unavoidable – and cultural appropriation takes place in understanding.

The transition from mathematics to understanding is similar to the transition from construction of the home to occupancy. Engineering is deployed during the construction phase and culture during the living phase.

The history of the modern age can be understood as a collective learning process, during the course of which human beings appropriate nature more and more. This learning process is now entering a new stage. Understanding is the next challenge of the modern age. However, we have not yet made any particular progress here.

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Schulze is professor for empirical social research at the University of Bamberg. His published works predominantly relate to issues of social and cultural change. His books “Die Erlebnisgesellschaft. Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart” "Experience-driven society. Cultural sociology of the present day" and “Die beste aller Welten. Wohin bewegt sich die Gesellschaft im 21. Jahrhundert?” "The best of all worlds. Which way is society moving in the 21st century?" have been widely acclaimed. In February 2006 Hanser Verlag published “Die Sünde. Das schöne Leben und seine Feinde - The sweet life and its enemies".

Gerhard Schulze
Prof. Dr.