Consensus is just a coffee break

milk in coffee‘Consensus is just a coffee break’ to quote Caputo. He argued that if consensus was the ultimate aim then eventually we would all stop talking. The goal of conversation would be silence and as he wrote that would be a strange outcome for a species defined by its ability to speak. It is differences that drive everything: innovation, progress and the processes of life.

In thermodynamics, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) observed that heat flows into the random motion of molecules and is never recovered, so that eventually a universe of uniform temperature will be created. When heat flows between matter at different temperatures we can extract work, for instance, using a heat engine. No work could be extracted from a universe of uniform temperature and so nothing would happen. Life would cease and there would be cosmic death [see my posts entitled ‘Will it all be over soon‘ on November 2nd, 2016 and ‘Cosmic Heat Death‘ on February 18th, 2015].

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the crew of the Heart of Gold contemplated whether relationships between people were susceptible to the same laws that governed the relationships between atoms and molecules. The answer would appear to be affirmative in terms of dissonance being necessary for action.

So, we should celebrate and respect the differences in our communities. They are essential for a functioning, vibrant and successful society – without them life would not just consist of silent conversations but would cease completely.


Caputo JD, Truth: Philosophy in Transit, London: Penguin 2013

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, London: Picador, 2002.

1 thought on “Consensus is just a coffee break

  1. Beverly Johnson

    This post leads to all sorts of thoughts if laws of thermodynamics are used to examine relationships between humans. Much human strife, especially wars of civilizations, is created by human groups who push for homogeneity, for example conquests driven by various religious perspectives or other forms of ideology seeking to impose global uniformity. Contrarily though, the world conquerors described as being willing to assimilate and let diverse peoples live within their empires often receive praise, while those who slaughter are condemned. On the other hand, steps towards homogeneity are often positive, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that in itself arose out of a conqueror rabidly intent on human homogeneity. Rome, with diverse nationalities, nevertheless had a universal Pax Romana, and Alexander the Great Hellenized much of the world. Did the UK rebel against the EU because of an unwillingness to accept homogeneity and uniformity, i.e. the British are distinct? Along those lines, striving to preserve distinctiveness, uniqueness, or separateness can drive as much human endeavor as quests for homogeneity. Think of the struggles of the Basques or the Kurds, or the struggles of all native peoples. At a personal level, one often reads or observes that long married couples become increasingly like each other in thought, word, and deed, sort of homogeneous, but on the other hand couples often break up when one wants the other to be too much like him or herself, whether it is what gets served at dinner or where one vacations. Also, psychological differences may genetically exist among individuals relating to the degree which they can tolerate ambiguity, differences, and diversity, or heterogeneity. Just last night I heard the claim repeated once again that the reason U.S. students score so badly on the PISA evaluations is because we’re being judged against homogeneous populations.


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