The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] French philosopher urges attention to decline of rational thinking

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : July 18, 2023 - 19:40

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Francois Jullien (Bayard Presse/Greenbee Publishing) Francois Jullien (Bayard Presse/Greenbee Publishing)

Much like how global warming gradually alters the climate over time, and war and terrorism stem from a series of political incidents in the competition for power, the prominent social challenges we encounter today are results of "silent transformations."

So says French philosopher Francois Jullien, who used the concept as the title of his book.

In "The Silent Transformations," originally published in French in 2009 and recently translated into Korean, the French scholar explores the concept by comparing traditional Western and Eastern ways of thinking about time and processes of change.

Jullien argues that Western thought, rooted in classical Greek philosophies, fails to recognize the cumulative effects of gradual changes over time, as it encourages thinking in terms of determined forms, neglecting the nature of the transition taking place.

In contrast, Eastern thought has a greater sense of fluidity, offering a more flexible way of understanding everyday transformations.

“The book is about a very simple concept -- a change,” explained Jullien. “These transformations are invisible to us, hence quiet; and because people don't talk about them, they remain silent. These silent transformations eventually lead to significant 'events,' for instance, global warming."

The ongoing transformative process remains unnoticed and unobservable until one day we are taken aback by the consequences of these changes.

The Korean edition (left) and English edition of The Korean edition (left) and English edition of "The Silent Transformations" (Greenbee Publishing, Seagull Books)

Among such transformations that are "silent," and therefore hard to grasp in reality, Jullien asserts the most significant to be the gradual decline of "rational thinking and reasoning."

“This is because of our absorption in a digitized world and our immersion in a click culture, where we simply ‘react’ and ‘click’ instead of engaging in reasoning, introspection, or self-reflection,” said Jullien in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, on June 20.

"Nowadays, everyone is constantly engrossed in their phones," Jullien said. "I have noticed that many Korean people on subways and trains are absorbed in their phones, and this is similar in France.”

The scholar pointed out that as people consume news through phones, they prefer lightweight essays as opposed to the more challenging books that require deep thought and concentration. "We no longer make efforts to think for the sake of 'thinking.'"

While artificial intelligence may lead us to believe that human intelligence is advancing, the reality is that our minds, in general, are declining, Jullien pointed out. Artificial intelligence provides us with a database of words, presenting “choices," other than self-thought words. People tend to accept and follow these options without engaging in further reasoning, the scholar says.

“Consequently, our choices are narrowing, and our language habits are weakening as we simplify our communication,” said Jullien adding that “blindly embracing” such transformations are detrimental. “I’m not saying that digitalization is hazardous, but we must point out the ‘silent transformations’ that go unnoticed.”

Likewise, the scholar warns how the absence of rational thinking and reasoning today though quietly pervasive, may inevitably lead to unforeseen and unwelcome social consequences.