The Success Shunner
Adrien Turel and the roots of creativity
‘Abandon all success, ye who enter here.’
In recent decades, it has become widely accepted that we are living in an anthropocene age, in other words, that we humans are responsible for the course of life on earth, that we have only ourselves to blame for such disasters as climate change and the mass extinction of species. In The Success Shunner, Arjen Mulder reconstructs the philosophical and academic basis for this fundamental new concept, following the largely-forgotten Swiss thinker Adrien Turel (1890-1957).
Turel, like Mulder himself, moved with ease between different disciplines in order to understand mankind’s relationship with the natural world, and Mulder follows Turel in Turel’s many written attempts to describe the development of life from the coming into existence of the Milky Way to our world today.
Turel’s central notion was that the existence and development of life has a genetic aspect alongside its dynamic progress and destruction. The dynamic process can succeed or fail, but in the genetic process, life can only become what it is by growing, dying, and re-living in ever new forms - as in the development of egg to caterpillar to Atalanta butterfly. The genetic process is infallible. To understand that, we need to stop aiming at success, as such ‘success shunners’ as Turel have stated. Others came to the same conclusion: the painter Paul Klee, for instance, Roland Barthes the philosopher, Multatuli the writer. By merely observing, they saw from their ‘world observatory’ how people interfered with the conditions of their own genetics.
In analysing this, Mulder goes into the history of the creation of the earth, placing Turel in the context of such thinkers as Hegel, Nietzsche and Freud, and scientists such as Darwin and Planck, while also acknowledging the role of middlemen such as Doug Engelbart, the engineer who laid the foundations of ‘intelligence augmentation’ (IA) – a computer system for ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) which goes beyond simulating human intelligence.
The Success Shunner contains stimulating insights into questions of ecology, the role of science and technology in modern society, and philosophical reflections on the relationships between man and nature. It is also a concise history of the computer, a cultural-historical sketch of the past five centuries, and it provides information on the latest insights into biology and geology. Above all, the book is a personal, in-depth reflection in the widest sense on how we participate in life itself.