"Either you think--or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

     Progressive awareness 1 is a new concept, perspective, and procedure which the author developed through his study of philosophy, religion, psychology, political-economic dynamics, artificial intelligence, and in his pursuit of discernment through assimilation of the Perennial Tradition. 2

     What progressive awareness involves is best understood by taking a close look at the meaning of the two words which make up this concept.

Progressive: of, relating to, or characterized by progress; making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities; educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual; moving forward or onward; advancing; advocating non-violent political change through social improvement; enlightened

Awareness: having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge; cognizance, discernment, sensibility; aliveness; being awake; having knowledge of elements not generally known or apparent

      Progressive awareness involves:

  • Increasing understanding: peeling away our personal illusions, at whatever level we happen to be

  • Critical thinking: forming one's personal beliefs by basing them on evidence

  • Self-awareness: developing an autonomous self which is able to think and act on its own initiative

  • Critical consciousness: going beyond merely personal development to a genuine concern for human welfare in general; learning to perceive social, political, and economic injustice and learning to take action against the oppressive elements of reality

  • Enlightened discernment: casting light on social challenges and philosophical themes and developing social infrastructures which allow for greater freedom and creativity.

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his own enemy from repression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

Thomas Paine, On the Propriety of Bringing Louis XVI to Trial, Paris 1792

The Renaissance and the Enlightenment

     In one aspect, progressive awareness is a continuation of the Renaissance and Enlightenment principles of thirteenth through eighteenth century Europe and America. The Renaissance masters and Enlightenment philosophes made this perspective a prominent feature of their personal and social efforts.

     In its emphasis on the development of independence and autonomy, progressive awareness includes the fields of rational thinking and scientific investigation. In chapter seven we'll explore the creative problem-solving aspects of progressive awareness.

"Enlightenment is the coming out of Man from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the lack of will to serve one's own understanding without direction from another. This is a self-imposed immaturity; if Reason languishes, it is not for lack of understanding, but only of resolve and courage to serve oneself without direction from another. Sapere aude! Dare to think! Think boldly! Wake up! Take courage, to serve your own understanding. This is the motto of the Enlightenment."

Immanuel Kant, an 18th Century Enlightenment thinker

      Progressive awareness goes beyond the merely personal emphasis to a genuine concern for human welfare in general. We'll explore this facet when we consider the concept of social intelligence in chapter ten.

The Perennial Tradition

     For over twenty-five hundred years humankind has been living on the legacy of the Perennial Tradition, the inner, secret teaching concealed within every authentic religion and philosophy. This is a heritage with which we are still basically unfamiliar. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment were embodiments of this Perennial Tradition,.      The Perennial Tradition has taken many names over the centuries: Hermeticism, Philosophy, Platonism, Renaissance and Enlightenment movements, Sufism, and others. This Perennial Tradition has been the single stream of initiatory teaching flowing through all the great schools of mysticism. The teaching has been perverted by bureaucratized, totalitarian institutions such as organized religions, but has persisted in every age, with teachers reinterpreting the esoteric knowledge according to the contemporary needs of apprentices.

Progressive Awareness Within a Wider Perspective

     In chapter two, we'll examine the major facets of progressive awareness, discovering just what this perspective is. Progressive awareness begins with the development of enlightened thought and behavior and eventuates in the higher quest for philosophical illumination. Most of this book will be concerned with the first phase, though we shall examine some of the other aspects as well. Progressive awareness involves not only progressive thinking but the assimilation of higher philosophical principles into our lives, resulting in progressive living.

     Once we've stabilized our ordinary consciousness to avoid being manipulated by our emotions and ideas and learned to think for ourselves, we can then look to the next phase of our evolutionary development: reawakening dormant organs of perception which open higher dimensions to our comprehension. Chapter three will examine how progressive awareness helps to advance human evolution.

Why Progressive Awareness Is Important

     In chapter one we'll examine the critical necessity of progressive awareness. At this stage of our evolution as a species, it's clear that humankind has reached a crisis point where we either develop genuine individual autonomy and move ahead in our evolution or cultural agencies will transform us into robotized creatures who follow the ideas and dictates of others.

     As Head of the Artificial Intelligence Department at the U.S. Army War College during 1993-1995, I explored personality simulation systems that:
  • Capture a person's mental components: beliefs, ideas, attitudes, etc.

  • Translate these into a computer system: hardware and software

  • Use the system to manipulate and control that person's ideas and behavior.
     This may sound like science fiction or Doctor Frankenstein's laboratory, but it is the actual state of the technology in personality simulation and control.

     From its inception, artificial intelligence has been primarily concerned with developing systems which simulate human behavior for the purpose of learning to control such behavior.

     In 1950, a British computer scientist, Alan Turing, devised a test to prove whether or not a computer system displayed intelligence. It is now called the Turing Indistinguishability Test:

  • Place a computerized personality simulation system in one room and a person in another

  • If a person communicates with each room and the input and output from each room is indistinguishable as being from a computer system or a real person, then the computer system is intelligent.
     Unfortunately, such theorizing in artificial intelligence has misled some people to conjecture that a computer system could be developed which actually carried out the human function of thinking. If you examine the definitions of "think," it's clear that only a human with a mind (more than a physical brain) can think.

     One of the researchers the U.S. Department of Defense funded over many years was a Freudian psychiatrist at Stanford University, Kenneth J. Colby. He developed computer systems to simulate the mind for the express purpose of influencing and controlling the behavior of his psychiatric patients.

     Colby developed three models of the human personality over many years of research:
  • Model of a neurotic woman suffering from anxiety in relation to men

  • Artificial belief system - a "child brain"

  • Model of paranoid processes - which later was nicknamed Parry

Kenneth J. Colby       Colby's models of the human mind were based on these principles:
  • The credibility of a belief is based on the credibility of its source

  • Human personalities are based on belief systems concerning significant persons, including the self

  • Every psychological concept has specific significance to the person: e.g. father, love

  • Input from others is evaluated and "colored" by mental patterns such as fear or anger

  • A human's mind changes with inner conflict, transforming beliefs to fit into an overall pattern

     These are a few of the startling implications of Colby's models:
  1. By capturing a person's belief structures we can control him or her

  2. Unenlightened human minds are combinations of infantile beliefs and emotional patterns

  3. Unenlightened human minds can be simulated by a computerized system

  4. Through such systems, unenlightened people can be programmed and controlled
      It's necessary for us to realize that the components of most personalities can be captured and developed into a complete simulation of our thinking and feeling processes. That simulation can then be used to manipulate us in any way the artificial intelligence technician, political operative, or communicator chooses. Not only is this possible, but it's already taking place.

      When people first encounter this idea of mind control through computer simulation, they usually try to dodge the issue with unthinking denial. They protest:
  • Don't humans change too much to be controllable?

    Answer: A sophisticated computerized personality simulation system would include modifications of its profile of the person relative to the ways the individual changes.

  • How could someone control my behavior, I don't even know what my beliefs are myself?
    Answer: An AI knowledge engineer can capture the major elements of your personality, including the fact that you may not know what you believe.

  • Isn't this a bit too much in the science-fiction realm?
    Answer: In 1971 an AI system developed by Kenneth Colby passed the Turing Test. Members of the American Psychiatric Association could not distinguish between dialogue with actual mildly paranoid patients and dialogue with Colby's computer system.

         Few people today, including AI researchers, realize that Colby's system passed the Turing Indistinguishability Test, proving that his system contained demonstrable intelligence. And even more significant, few today realize that Colby's system--and current systems based on the same principles--are predicting and CONTROLLING human behavior.

  • But that was in the past. Surely this kind of thing isn't going on now is it?
    Answer: Personality simulation systems are being used--as you read this--to create political campaigns which use voter profiles to control their voting behavior. Television commercials and programs use personality simulation to profile viewers to control their purchasing and viewing behaviors.

  • Are there recent studies of this mind-control technology?
    Answer: Yes, Roland Perry's 1984 book, The Programming of the President: the Hidden Power of the Computer in World Politics Today, reveals how all the recent presidential election campaigns have used this technology to control voter behavior.

Progressive Awareness

     The adoption of progressive awareness, as introduced in this book, is essential if we are to avoid the mechanization of people into humanoid automatons. A good deal of our attention will concentrate on the development of an autonomous self in its cognitive aspects--learning how to think for oneself. Progressive awareness assists you to develop a homogeneous, close-knit, invulnerable core of yourself as a self-actualizing person. Chapter four deals with the self-knowledge and self-transformation aspects of progressive awareness.

     Of course, progressive awareness can only be developed if we apply its principles and practice to develop the mental and behavioral skills associated with it. So progressive awareness is not just theorizing or thinking--it also involves acting on and assimilating its principles. Progressive awareness, that is, must lead to progressive living: the application of individual understanding and wisdom to the development of a larger unity--a primary aim of human evolution.

"Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true."

Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha

Fear of Thinking Autonomously

     The Greyhound Bus TV jingle tells you: "It's such a pleasure to take the bus . . . and leave the driving to us." Similarly, today's cultural slogan is: "It's so easy to avoid the fuss . . . and leave the thinking to us."

     Leave your thinking to others, and your family members, religious leaders, politicians, economists, teachers, and your friends will do it for you. But you'll wind up with second-hand beliefs and values. And you won't be able to think for yourself.

     Many of us readily accept the second-hand belief that we already know how to think for ourselves. There's no better way to keep people from learning to think for themselves than to condition them to believe they already know how to think for themselves.

     In this book we'll distinguish between genuine personal freedom and its counterfeits:

Genuine Element Counterfeit Element
Self-managed individuality Rebelliousness
Self-directed intention Stubbornness
Freedom through self-management Irresponsibility

     This book focuses on skills and issues of primary significance to American citizens. Since the United States still retains some aspects of a democratic society, this book provides, among other things, a training system to reinvigorate the democratic tradition of an informed, reasoning electorate. Readers from other nations can apply the principles of the book by transposing the ideas to their own cultural context.

     Learning to think for ourselves is, in part, a heritage from the Renaissance and Enlightenment movements. After centuries of allowing themselves to be controlled by religious and political totalitarian systems, large numbers of humans began to think and act on their own initiative.

     Because of the embodiment of Enlightenment principles in such documents as the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, America still enjoys important freedoms. But even with those advances, we must be realistic, as was Rousseau, in recognizing that people still "are everywhere in chains"--chains of ignorance and delusion created by communication monopolies, and chains forged by class divisions in which the upper-class amasses obscene wealth, the middle-class suffers under wage and tax slavery, and the lower class toils under the ugly repressions of welfarism, poverty, and homelessness. In chapter five we'll review communication and language in the process of progressive awareness.

     Chapter six discusses progressive learning, learning to think for yourself in an enlightened manner. This aspect of progressive awareness constitutes part of a New Enlightenment movement to help people wake up to what is really going on in the world and begin to think and act for ourselves.

     The chart below provides an explanation of some of the differences between this book and the usual approach to the study of cognitive skills.

Learning to Think For Yourself
How this book differs from the ordinary approach
Ordinary Concepts about Thinking For Yourself
Progressive AwarenessIdeas and Procedures
Cognitive skill development concepts are read and memorized Progressive awareness concepts are assimilated through study and practice
Thinking for yourself is seen as something that everyone already knows how to do Progressive awareness is seen as skills and attitudes which very few people understand or practice
It is assumed that everyone has the capability to learn to think for themselves It is demonstrated that few persons develop the capability to learn to think for themselves
There are no prerequisites for learning how to think for yourself There is a series of prerequisites for learning how to think for yourself
Thinking for yourself has no necessary connection to social consciousness (awareness and concern for human well-being) Progressive awareness involves social consciousness
Thinking for yourself is seen as something that's good to develop, but not essential Progressive awareness is seen as essential to the survival of liberty and justice

     As the chart indicates, this book presents a specific point of view. In chapter nine we explore the alternatives to progressive awareness which some people select. Some of the ideas of the opposing points of view--irrationalism, emotionalism, egoism, among others-- are not formally presented in the book, because these perspectives actually do not engage in argumentation for their point of view. I encourage the reader to reflect on opposing points of view, however, as you find them in events, art, and communications. In chapter eight we survey the principles of intelligent argumentation as it applies to progressive awareness.

     In chapter eleven, we'll explore critical consciousness as an aspect of progressive awareness, examining social and personal issues of importance to us all.

     You've doubtless experienced other people forming opinions about you because they merely believed someone else's ideas, because they were prejudiced against you, or because they misconstrued something you said or did.

     We've all been the victims of non-progressive awareness on the part of others. We can see how important it is to think critically if we're to develop our own ideas and discover what is true--about people and the world around us.

"Thinking critically - reflecting on the assumptions underlying our and others' ideas and actions, and contemplating alternative ways of thinking and living - is one of the important ways in which we become adults. When we think critically, we come to our judgments, choices and decisions for ourselves, instead of letting others do this on our behalf. We refuse to relinquish the responsibility for making the choices that determine our individual and collective futures to those who presume to know what is in our best interests. We become actively engaged in creating our personal and social worlds."

S.D. Brookfield. (1978). Developing Critical Thinkers

     It's exciting and empowering to develop progressive awareness capabilities--especially in an age when "thinking for yourself" is fast becoming a lost art. This book should be rewarding for you--as we explore what progressive awareness is and how you can develop the essential skills involved.

     I hope you enjoy the book as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Here's to your achieving great advances in progressive awareness!


1 The printed version of this book is available here

2 See the author's recent book, The Perennial Tradition, published by Dandelion Press


  • 8/17/2011: College Students Not Learning to Think Critically