There is an activity that we all engage in throughout our waking hours—and likely some sleeping hours as well—yet we mostly pay little or no attention to it: the effort to understand what is happening in our lives and in the world at large and what action, if any, to take in response. That this activity is so broad and deep, with an enormous number of aspects, probably explains why it is overlooked. But we ignore it at our peril, especially now when our shared knowledge has eroded, and with it our beliefs and values, and our ability to take joint action has seriously diminished.
Paying attention, however, has its challenges, not the least of which is what I call fundamental context: the general situation that every person in the world faces, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, economic level, nationality, and intelligence. The fact is, the universe is immensely large and complex, and our ability as humans to comprehend it is very limited, and therefore requires constant and innovative effort.
In addition, understanding has both an individual and a social dimension. Each person must do it with help from society, and society must do it with input from every person. Both dimensions are rooted in culture—which has been defined in many ways but which I view as the means by which we collect and maintain our shared knowledge, and then use this knowledge to construct the conceptual schema that we employ to understand experience and take action.
Finally, it is not clear what we can do to change things, given the shortcomings in our current understanding of the world and our attempts to act in response, both personally and as a society. I am sure, though, that publishing can play a critical role in the effort to understand and take action, contributing to both its individual and social dimensions.
© Martin Wilcox