January 23, 2018

The New Humanism

Here’s David Brooks talking about a ‘new humanism’. He sees it as the result primarily of insights from neuroscience. I agree that neuroscience will change everything we know about management, leadership, and whole lot else in the coming years (though I think he underestimates what other sources of wisdom can tell us here).

Why neuroscience? Because what it reveals is human nature, things that are true for every human being. The structures of the brain, the circuitry of the emotions, the electro-chemical processes that regulate and control everything that goes on inside of us, can now be observed to a greater or lesser extent through MRI scans and other means.

Objective about the subjective

In the past it was difficult to say anything objective about our utterly subjective inner experience. But now, we can see the circuitry of things like the emotions, for example – where they originate, as well as the various chemical and physical processes that then follow.

The human mind is becoming accessible to study in a way that was never before possible and there is a level of objectivity that we can bring, even to things like the emotions. For 2 years I’ve read up everything I could find on neuroscience and the more I learn the deeper this belief becomes.

Management will respond

Modern management has been predicated on a very shallow understanding of human nature. Management 2.0 will have to be constructed around the realities of who we are, rather than as it was in the past, when we had to conform to the dicates of what managemers needed - compliance in an old industrial setting, basically. We're just at the beginning of what neuroscience will reveal, but already we have a lot more to go on -- perhaps even  enough to proclaim a new humanism.

This is just the tip of a great iceberg but it is central to my own arguments concerning self-direction. More on this later.

Ken Carroll

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  1. Donald Clark says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Educators and trainers have, at times, a bizarrely old-fashioned view of human nature. It is either a primitive, lazy and ill-informed behaviourist, tabla rasa view of the brain or some hokey Maslow theory of needs.

    Even the most basic understanding of memory is usually absent. Teachers, lecturers, trainers, instructors wilfully ignore basic distinctions like semantic and episodic memory and continue to deliver inappropriate learning using the wrong media.

    Unfortunately, this will continue, as ‘teacher training’ and ‘train the trainer’ programmes simply perpetuate the myth that contemporary science is reductionist nonsense.

  2. Ken Carroll says:


    Great to hear from you.

    It’s definitely the case that too many educators suffer from the same limited view of human nature. In each context, it always plays out in the same top-down, command-and-control, ‘we know what’s good for you’ ways that deny the individual the responsibility for herself. I guess it just naturally manifests itself in such hierarchies.

    But the fundamental relationships we have always had with institutions are being challenged now by different ways to organize people (that is, we can organize ourselves) and the network is the obvious example. Who knows where this will take us, as educational institutions are the most resistant ti change of all institutions, but at least we’re questioning the shallow view and the way that the institutions function.


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