I recently returned from a cruise on the Danube river in the heart of Europe. Although I was born in Europe, I had never traveled and done sight-seeing there. In fact, since I was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, I harbor a good deal of ambivalence about Europe. Still, traveling along the Danube one cannot help experiencing natural beauty beyond compare and, also, seeing one magnificent building after another, one awe-inspiring church-cathedral after another, and passing the birth place, Vienna, of life-ennobling music by a Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. In short, one encounters TRANSCENDENCE by the human spirit, which is transformed into creative human activity. It took place over the course of centuries — alongside periodic wars, gruesome living conditions for most people, and lack of what we would now judge to be most basic human rights and dignity.
In my work in sociology I have suggested that we humans are often located in social zones where one can have autonomy to exercise a great deal of creativity, while having virtually none in other zones. Translated into some of what I saw on my Danube trip, I saw the fruit of emperors employing flunkies to do their bidding — where the emperor can order a musically gifted flunky to “compose me a piece of music for next month’s celebration” and the flunky produces a magnificent piece, which the world will celebrate for centuries. (My book about autonomy, AUTONOMY AND ORGANIZATION: THE LIMITS OF SOCIAL CONTROL was published by Random House in 1968.)
In my more recent book, OUR QUEST FOR EFFECTIVE LIVING: HOW WE COPE IN SOCIAL SPACE / A WINDOW TO A NEW SCIENCE I suggested that “TRANSCENDENCE” is one of the four components of the Social Space in which we humans live.