Cultivating the Songlines of the Noosphere
From presentations by representatives to embodying presence in transformation
- / -
Report on the first Members Meeting of the Club of Budapest
Budapest, May 1996 (as recalled in 2006)
[see Contributions to the meeting]
B. Perspectives and soundings
Gastronomic and olfactory perspective
Spiritual exercise perspective
C. Meta-disciplining the disciplines
D. Songlines and interference harmonics
Challenge of human survival
Substituting aesthetic organization for economic organization
Songlines of the noosphere
Aesthetics of differences
E. Comprehending the language of pattern shifting
Limitation of vision-based metaphors
The gathering of people in Budapest was effectively the first attempt to give form and
relevance to the archetypal 'policy-making' encounter explored in Herman Hesse's
Magister Ludi and other less known works (cf Alan Dean Foster: Game Players of
Zan). The concern was to build an alliance of art, literature and spirituality in
response to the challenge of both human survival and evolution, whether individual or
The distinguishing feature of the gathering was the manner in which insights from the
process of artistic creativity were embodied in the organization and processes of the
event -- considered as the 'material' constraining and inspiring the artistic
possibilities of the moment. The intent was to use the gathering itself to engender an
'elixir of transformation' from which wider society could benefit. This could
only be done by acting with presence in the moment to give appropriate form to what could
be more widely shared.
The gathering acknowledged the trap of conventional meetings in which representatives
of various perspectives make presentations in an effort to design and colonize the
future of others who cannot be present. The failure to creatively manifest new
behaviour and organization in such meetings has been reflected in the subsequent failure
of their work in responding to the challenges of wider society. Recognizing that a 'A
trap is a function of the nature of the trapped' (Geoffrey Vickers), the
transformative challenge was seen to lie in co-creating in the present. Instead of seeking
to avoid this trap, the meeting sought to integrate the behaviours associated with the
trap into new understanding.
Explanations of such a catalytic event are themselves misleading traps. Any such
attempt -- as an ex-planation --effectively displaces the focus of attention out of the
grounded plane of the present moment from which it derived both its essential meaning and
its wider significance. How indeed does art both carry the insights of the spirit and
entrain more fruitfully transformative behaviour -- and the social and conceptual
organization to sustain it?
The diversity of perspectives present in the configuration of insights assembled at
Budapest was therefore a challenge to any understanding of what was occurring. Any
understanding depended upon the capacity of the attentive individual to integrate this
diversity into a meaningful pattern whose nature necessarily transcended those
perspectives. The transformative effect of the gathering lay in the manner in which a
participant's awareness was entrained by the interference effects, harmonies and
oppositions that gave structure to that configuration of perspectives.
The 'effect' of the gathering on wider society lay in the transformation it
engendered in those who subsequently endeavoured to understand what had occurred in the
light of the various 'products' that appeared to emanate from the gathering. In
several senses, it was the meeting itself that was both 'the message' and a
B. Perspectives and soundings
What follows is an attempt to entrain and entice the reader into this transformative
process through perspectives that were activated at the meeting at different times and in
different ways -- remembering that the challenge to real understanding lies in recognizing
how they played off against each other to set up higher harmonics and overtones.
There were many present who responded to the gathering in musical terms. It could be
seen as a musical composition in three movements -- preceded by an overture. The opening
address was by a musician, the introduction was provided by a scholar with musical skills.
And the gathering closed with music. Music was also used in presentations.
More important however was the way in which music, as a discipline, was used to
articulate and carry the insights of the participants. Religious music has long been
considered to have a vital role in sustaining the aspirations of the human spirit -- if
only as indicated by concern at use of less harmonious chords (cf the scandal of diabolus
Some participants at the gathering were able to see themselves as musical instruments
of various kinds contributing, in their characteristic ways, to the composition as a whole
through its several movements. Their verbal contributions, sounding different kinds of
note, could be interrelated through musical frameworks, notably the theory of harmony.
Issues of great complexity facing society could be presented and comprehended in the light
of musical relationships. In this light a major achievement was interweaving skilled
interpretation of views expressed elsewhere with creative improvisation in response to
views expressed at the gathering. A special concern was how to respond collectively to the
inability of a some participants to play 'in tune' or to 'keep the
This was the first occasion that the musical theory of harmony had been used to give
subtler form to seemingly discordant views. Such perspectives were embodied in a temporal
framework that gave legitimacy to each -- rather than tearing the gathering apart by
confronting them unfruitfully. Different qualities of harmony were explored. These ranged
from relatively simple melodies, that were picked up by many participants and woven into
the gathering, to more challenging juxtapositions of musical form that reflected more
fundamental challenges to society.
In contrast to conventional gatherings, replete with political clichés and popular
slogans, it was a relief to many to have such perspectives transposed into a musical key
which justified them by giving each new meaning in a more operationally fruitful context.
This approach created a conceptual bridge from the gathering's deliberations to the
concerns carried around the world by the lyrics of popular music.
For many the real outcome of the meeting lay in the way it enhanced the pattern of
insights carried by popular music. Previously it had been unheard of for the outcome of an
international gathering to be expressed in a complementary set of memorable melodies. Of
special interest to the gathering from this perspective, was how musical structure,
intuitively understood, engendered and sustained new approaches to social organization and
development (Attali, 1997). Music itself became a catalyst for change.
The musical perspective was complemented and further highlighted through that of song.
It is much easier to understand participants at a gathering as being singers of different
quality, skill and range. As in any gathering, participants tended to have their favourite
song, or favoured certain kinds of singing and certain kinds of song.
The challenge to which the gathering responded was to explore ways of combining
different kinds of singers, whether as soloists or in choruses, in the search for
particular patterns of harmony -- to see the gathering as a song, or perhaps an opera. To
reflect the mutual challenges of the principal political and other factions in wider
society, the complexities of multi-part singing proved especially appropriate. This helped
to build understanding of patterns of co-existing perspectives and initiatives, how and
when they needed to be distinguished, and when they could fruitfully harmonize. An
interesting concern was how to agree on what constituted singing 'out of tune',
and how to integrate participants who did so.
Again the importance of bridging to popular song was recognized. Again it is rare for a
gathering to be challenged by the need to embody its insights in song for them to be
meaningful to a wider audience. It was also accepted that innovation in popular song, as
in music, amounted to innovation in insight in response to the challenges of society. The
question was how to decode the significance to facilitate its embodiment in new forms of
social organization. The gathering responded significantly to this opportunity.
The harmony explored in music and song was felt by some to be quite inadequate to the
challenge of carrying many behavioral dimensions and complexities of lived social reality
and personal idiosyncrasy. For this reason many participants chose to see the gathering as
a drama in four acts. Key participants could then be reframed as forming the dramatis
personae, with a supporting cast. One question was the extent to which it constituted
a drama, a comedy, or a tragedy.
In this light the tensions associated with different personalities and styles at the
gathering could be explored and played out as a psychodrama. Where appropriate,
participants could be considered as masked to represent the interests they served. Of
necessity parts of the event, and certain contributions, were pre-scripted. In other cases
the players improvised heavily in response to dynamics unforeseen by the organizers.
The organizers had given careful attention to casting in the choice of key
participants. Those acting in-script could be seen as reflecting the historical legacy of
society, namely the sustaining patterns of the past. Improvisation by some in response to
such contributions could be seen as the struggle of the future to emerge through action in
the present. Dramatic 'transformative moments' were cultivated.
Whether deliberately (as 'plants'), or by chance, a few participants
challenged the conventional processes of such gatherings by skilful use of the disciplines
of the court jester. Already in the 1990s, 'subversive' participants of various
kinds were occasionally used, even by multinational corporations, in order to challenge
From this dramatic perspective, a task of the event was seen as engendering new
dramatic themes that could be usefully embodied in media soap operas -- seen as modern
morality plays. The challenge was to develop dramatic catalysts capable of enhancing the
themes that were the subject of popular attention.
For many, the gathering could be much more fruitfully understood as a dance of many
parts and rhythms. There was a dance of perspectives expressed by participants,
individually and in response to each other in patterns.
The dance could be understood as bearing some resemblance to ceremonial and masked
dances, of earlier times and cultures. Although formal patterns could be used, the dance
itself, through choices made by participants, could be understood as stabilizing
temporarily in one pattern, before switching into another through a cycle of patterns.
Seen as a dance, the gathering allowed participants to explore the boundary between
their personal preferences, those of others, and the organization of the whole. It offered
insights into patterns of organization in which sacrifices made to others under certain
conditions of movement in the dance, could be compensated by benefits under other
conditions. It illustrated the art of both 'winning' and 'losing' and
gave reality to larger and more complex patterns which could hold and interweave a variety
of polarizing tendencies.
For some participants, the dance took on a different light as a stylized exercise in
Eastern martial arts. For them, participants sought to out-manoeuvre each other's attempts
to gain some immobilizing hold.
From such perspectives, the challenge for the gathering was to give form to new kinds
of dance which could be given popular expression. As such it had to have qualities which
allowed expression of the felt realities of people and offered them insights into new ways
of articulating their relationships in collective response to their environment.
Essentially it was a question of giving form to a dance for human survival through which
people could thrive.
It was only too easy for participants to lapse into that turgid prose through which the
hopes and fears of humanity tend to be articulated. It is with such prose that
politicians, legislators and bureaucrats have so significantly failed to design a
desirable future for society at every level. For some participants at the gathering, a
poetic perspective therefore offered vital alternative insights on the way forward.
As stated by Gregory Bateson: 'One reason why poetry is important for finding
out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships gets mapped onto a level
of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We
can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person
and in the world that we are not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as
knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to
complexity.' (1972, pp. 288-9)
Remarkably, the agenda of the gathering in Budapest was given poetic form. This
established links between different parts of the programme, weaving contributions into an
aesthetic whole. But more important than the explicit relationships, highlighted between
the parts in this way, was the implicit pattern of subtle associations that called for
One way of seeing the written product of the gathering was as a complex poem in which
poetic criteria were given considerable importance in elaborating the policy implications
-- in contrast to the communiques, declarations and proceedings into which subtle insights
are usually packaged, often to be lost to any audience beyond the authors. Emphasis was
placed on memorability. The prime tool in achieving this was metaphor. The challenge for
the gathering was to embody emerging insights into cognitive toolkits of fresh metaphors
that offered people a new way of relating operationally to their environment -- metaphors
for survival. Specially valued were those metaphors which suggested ways of forming new
kinds of group and organizing collective action -- metaphors for sustainable action.
For many participants the gathering was most successful through its approach to colour,
shape and visual perspective. Works of artists were of course on display, but more
important was the way in which the gathering itself could be seen as an exercise in colour
Colour has always been one of the prime means of distinguishing between political
factions in society: reds, greens, blues, browns, etc. Each faction strives to use colour
in symbolism with which voters can identify. Image has become vital to politics via the
The gathering responded to the challenge of the visual imagery necessary to the
articulation of any credible way forward in an increasingly fragmented society. To do that
it had to give colour to the contrasting contributions of participants. These became the
colour palette. The colours then had to be meaningfully positioned over a space to suggest
a larger pattern open to the comprehension of wider society. But the gathering moved far
beyond traditional ceremonial gatherings in which colour and pageant were used to affirm
the nature of the establishment. The emphasis was on giving aesthetic form to complex
patterns of insights through colour, shape and opening new perspectives.
Dialogue on the wider social implications of particular policies could then be shifted
from hidden factional objectives of maximizing 'blue' or 'green' to
the challenge of how to combine many such colours on a complex surface. Also fundamental
was how to satisfy the need for periodic change from one configuration to another in order
to meet different needs. From such a perspective, conventional approaches to global
policy-making appeared extremely primitive, without any sense of form, diversity or
balance. The gathering raised the challenge of the aesthetics capable of sustaining
sustainable development itself.
Gastronomic and olfactory perspective
Just as there were participants who favoured visual or aural presentations, there were
those who found it most meaningful to experience the gathering in terms of taste. Although
Budapest is renowned for its food and wine, and these were highly appreciated, such
participants were also able to attribute qualities of taste to the various contributions
and to the programme of the gathering as a whole. The gathering was thus understood as a
feast with many courses -- and the organizers as the chefs. The goal was seen as
nourishment of the spirit, both at the gathering and elsewhere.
From a gastronomic perspective, the experience of taste is enhanced by setting and
presentation. The challenge was to configure the contributions which participants brought,
or themselves prepared during the event, into a coherent, balanced, tasteful experience.
The foodstuffs of the spirit have to be appropriately cooked and presented at appropriate
times. The experience can be totally undermined if the wrong foods are presented together,
in the wrong sequence, or in the wrong manner. Choices need to be offered to those with
Aside from taste alone, a healthy, balanced diet is also a vital consideration. For
some -- fighting a tendency to excessive conceptual calorie intake -- it may be the prime
concern. Participants can easily be overfed and in need of periods of respite.
Contributions may be experienced as indigestible by some, or subject to dietary taboos. In
preparing the event, the organizers consulted advisers who effectively functioned as
As master chefs, the organizers had to balance extremes of culinary style in presenting
contributions. These ranged from the 'French' style, in which mastery is
associated with recognition of the hand of the chef (and his skill with sauces) in the
preparation of every dish, to the 'Japanese' style in which mastery is
associated with inability to recognize any hand in the preparation of the dish.
The ultimate challenge for the gathering was identifying new recipes and foodstuffs
which wider society could explore for the nourishment of the human spirit.
Perhaps less earthy than the gastronomic perspective, there were those participants who
preferred to perceive the gathering solely through a sense of smell. For them the concern
was whether contributions 'smelt right' and combined appropriately in the
gathering as a whole. Cognitively, they experienced the gathering as a combination of herb
garden and perfume laboratory.
There is a long tradition of concern with smell in ritual gatherings -- above all in
the use of incense. Such products are selected and used for their capacity to predispose
the spirit to alternative modes of perception. The challenge for the gathering was to
combine participant contributions in such a way as to trigger higher modes of perception,
to facilitate recognition of new patterns, or to enable remembrance of older and more
For many in wider society 'life stinks'. For the participants sensitive to
this dimension, the challenge of the gathering as a whole was to prepare new perfumes that
would entrance society in new ways.
The most depressing human conditions have long been enlivened and reframed by humour.
For some participants at the gathering, it was humour which was the vehicle for the most
vital and creative insights of relevance to the future. It was humour which was seen as
the true leaven of the human spirit.
This perspective has a long tradition, notably in the form of the Sufi teaching stories
based on the character Nasruddin (Nastratin). It is also represented by the role of the
court jester. It is worth noting that there is even an International Association for the
Promotion of Humour in International Affairs. And of course the power of the political
cartoonist is well-recognized.
Dialogue has often been given form through exchanges of jokes between participants.
Carefully chosen, such humour can convey powerful insights. Some participants at the
gathering used this device quite deliberately to shift and reconfigure the pattern of
Of course, from this perspective, the most important achievement of the gathering could
only be the invention of jokes which, like Sufi tales, had multi-level reframing effects
when repeated in a wider context.
For participants who have attended many meetings in different contexts, the ultimate
expression of appreciation for a meeting is that 'it was magical'. This tends to
imply that somehow the right people said the right things at the right time, without any
apparent form of orchestration. Together these contributions are then perceived to create
what have been named 'transformative moments' -- when there was a genuine shift
in the configuration of forces and insights. In such terms, the secret ambition of any
consultant in group dynamics is to be perceived as a 'magician'.
For some the event could therefore be understood as a gathering of magicians. As such
the concern of participants was then understood to be one of creating new images of the
realities in which people move and have their being. But, like competing advertising
agencies, they each vied with each other to project more powerful images to attract
attention and mould opinion in favour of particular transformative outcomes for wider
Magic, like advertising and poetry, does not 'work' because its propositions
are essentially real or true; it works because practitioners become imaginatively involved
in these propositions. Those affected can grow through the patterns, emerging beyond them
into a clarity of awareness that was not possible before the experience of transition and
Participants endeavoured to entrance each other in their respective spells. Each could
then be understood as engaged in 'spell-casting' in an attempt to capture the
imagination of others at the gathering. Such a role is commonly attributed to charismatic
leaders when they are labelled as 'spell-binding'. Image builders and 'spin
doctors' endeavour to use similar techniques to orient opinion. New realities are
'talked up' or collectively dreamt into existence.
The challenge of the gathering as a whole was to interweave such spells to provide a
coherent imaginative whole, through transformative moments which -- depending on how they
were experienced -- gave birth to new worldviews. It is through these that people in wider
society were themselves able to live more fruitfully and to relate more appropriately to
their environments. Essentially the challenge of the gathering could then be understood as
an exercise in reenchanting the world -- to counteract widespread disenchantment.
For some the gathering could better be understood as a collective weaving exercise with
the objective of producing a large tapestry or carpet. As weavers, the participants could
be understood as contributing particular threads of different colour and texture --
efforts at 'making a point' were seen in terms of knotting. By combining these
threads into an aesthetic whole, balancing opposing tendencies, and appropriately
juxtaposing complementaries, the resulting pattern effectively integrated fragmented
aspects of world society. It was the aesthetic equivalent of the science of map- making.
It is in Islamic countries that there is the greatest respect for the insights that can
be woven into tapestries and carpets. Many of these are exceedingly complex -- more
complex than many systems diagrams through which vain attempts have been made to design
the future of society. And, in striking contrast with systems diagrams, they are designed
to be lived with -- even prayed upon.
Of course, it cannot be denied that the secret ambition of some of those favouring this
perspective was to design the ultimate magical carpet as a new vehicle through which
humanity could navigate its future. In many respects they succeeded -- if the insights
associated with a magic carpet are appropriately understood. Getting the carpet to
'move' appropriately proved to be the final challenge.
Somewhat similar to the weaving perspective was the geometric perspective favoured by
some participants. For them the challenge of the gathering was effectively an exercise in
Spiritual principles are represented through geometric patterns in many cultures. There
is even a tendency to associate particular religions, or spiritual orientations, with
particular forms: triangle (Christianity), square (Freemasonry), pentagram (Islam),
hexagram (Taoism), heptagram (esotericism), octagram (Buddhism), enneagram (Sufism), etc.
In Hinduism, there are considered to be a set of eight aesthetic emotions (Rasas), also
recognized as the ecstasy of being united with the divine; whereas in Greek mythology the
arts are governed by nine Muses.
Many authors have explored the significance associated with geometrical configurations.
These may even be given dynamic operational significance, as in the case of the enneagram,
or heuristic significance, as in the case of the hexagram (I Ching) or the zodiac. Most
such configurations are fundamental to certain spiritual and meditative disciplines, as in
the case of mandalas (Buddhism). To the despair of scientists, in popular cultures the
zodiac is more widely appreciated than science for the guidance apparently offered through
horoscopes to different personality types -- and for the symbolic significance of the 12
Apostles or the 12 Knights of the Roundtable.
In this light the challenge was to configure the distinct tendencies and insights
represented at the gathering into appropriate geometric forms. In the rapidly shifting
dynamics of a meeting, recognizing and holding any underlying invariant pattern is in
itself a discipline. By succeeding in this, the gathering was then able to benefit from
the spiritual insights associated with the implicit central reference constituted by the
empty centres of all such forms -- although many would argue that it is only through
awareness of such a centre that any invariant pattern can be held. Such forms are thus
able to hold and give stability to understanding of larger patterns of significance.
Some participants even chose to see the challenge in three dimensions, rather than two.
Represented in this way, the polarizing forces which tend to fragment any larger frame of
awareness are then integrated into a design in a way that is essential to the
sustainability of new spaces -- even in material terms (Judge, 1978). Since such
structural principles are also meaningful in architectural terms, they anchor subtle
insights in new ways and offer new approaches to collaborative group design (Beer, 1994).
From this perspective the wider challenge for the gathering was to explore frameworks
through which universality could be meaningfully articulated. This was in contrast to the
bland holistic approaches associated with popular understandings of 'planetary',
'global' and 'holistic'.
For those participants attentive to other worlds and other ways of seeing, any such
gathering could best be understood in terms of the presence of angelic forces -- including
muses and other spiritual beings responsive to music and the arts. Such a view would be
natural in many traditional cultures and belief systems.
The distinctive and contrasting energies conveyed through the contributions of
participants were then understood as the manifestation of particular spiritual forces. The
charm and delight of the gathering was understood to be sustained by the action of
spiritual beings. Any difficulties and clashes then signalled the presence of their
negative counter-parts -- as a battle between 'peaceful' and
'wrathful' deities according to the Buddhist tradition.
The degree of integration of the gathering was then understood in terms of the
configuration of these angelic forces -- possibly to be associated with the angles of any
sacred geometry configuration or mandala. The transformative significance of the event
then became largely a matter of mystery.
For some participants the gathering could best be understood as an alchemical operation
through which an appropriate vessel was constructed as a means of combining and converting
material hindrances into spiritual opportunities.
From this perspective, the major practice lay in the use of the imagination to
cultivate the transformative moments which occasionally illuminated the processes of the
gathering. Through such imagination the continuing creation of the world was reproduced
within participants -- individually and collectively. Participants strove to recognize how
material appearances of the gathering were dissolved in pure life through bringing into
awareness the natural sympathy which holds things together --- the pattern that connects.
Traditionally these processes have been described in terms of eliciting from leaden
appearances the gold of the philosophers stone -- namely a Rosetta stone of the spirit
through which incommensurable differences could be interrelated through transformations in
understanding. But to reach this stage, laborious preliminary operations had to be
collectively performed within the gathering.
The three operations, the focus of three Roundtables at the gathering, included the
'blackening' process (nigredo), or death to illusion, associated with the
birth of discernment -- the gathering thereby embodied the process through which its
tendency to fragmentation was engendered. The world could then be understood as a womb
through which forms are engendered in the present rather than as a grave of dead forms
from the past. Through the 'whitening' process (albedo) which followed, the
gathering experienced the synthesis of all forms, notably as a marriage of opposites. In
the final 'reddening' phase (rubedo), the insights of the previous stage
were embodied through a transformation and sanctification of the world of appearances --
transmuting the processes of the world into a cosmic liturgy. The gathering thus took on
an essentially invisible guardianship role -- holding an appropriate relationship between
the mundane world and the world of the spirit.
Spiritual exercise perspective
The gathering was understood by some participants as essentially a spiritual exercise.
In this light all the processes of the event, whether harmonious or discordant, were
viewed as veiling the presence of God. It was to this core understanding in the moment
that such participants held and then strove to cultivate throughout.
C. Meta-discipline: disciplining the disciplines
The Budapest gathering succeeded, where others have failed, because there was a
discipline to the way in which each perspective was brought into play. A vital constraint
was used for the first time to discipline the disciplines themselves.
Within each aesthetic discipline there is a natural understanding of the extent to
which a particular colour, sound or form can be fruitfully used. Normally this
understanding is not extended to the way in which the discipline itself is applied in any
wider context. What space or time should a musical presentation occupy? How long should
the attention of an audience be held by a poet? How is the programme as a whole to be
designed to encourage appropriate interplay between different expressions of insight? What
are the constraints?
In Budapest limits were honoured as explored in a famed book by a Hungarian author
(Gyorgy Doczi, The Power of Limits: proportional harmonies in nature, art and
architecture, 1981), and as reflected in a study by the President of the Club of
Budapest (Ervin Laszlo, The Inner Limits of Mankind: heretical reflections on today's
values, culture and politics, 1989). The natural tendency of particular disciplines to
endeavour to dominate or monopolize was itself subjected to aesthetic constraint.
In this light, the real challenge for practitioners of each discipline, and for the
reader endeavouring to explore the event in retrospective, is to distinguish the
'meta- disciplines' governing the contributions at the event:
- When the perspectives of that discipline were best held in abeyance, namely when they
were best not used;
- When the contribution of that discipline was being evoked or called for by the context,
namely when it is being 'cued';
- When the insights of that discipline could be fully and explicitly interpreted, namely
for the measured duration of any performance;
- When the context calls for the termination of the explicit contribution of that
discipline -- through pressure from potential alternative perspectives that it had evoked;
- When that discipline could be fruitfully used implicitly to frame and configure the
context itself -- whatever other disciplines were being explicitly used at the time.
The challenge for the reader is to approach the above metaphorical use of aesthetic
perspectives with these constraints in mind. Each metaphor is indeed relevant to
understanding the Budapest gathering and its wider implications. However, each has major
limitations. It must be challenged and constrained in an aesthetic frame which the reader
has a special responsibility for designing using that same set of metaphors -- whether as
palette, keyboard, or otherwise.
There is a special danger in the use of metaphor in response to the challenges of human
survival. This danger is common to the practice of any of the arts. It lies in their very
power to evoke enthusiasm, to entrance, and to transform. Individuals and groups can
indeed be transported by such experience. The danger is associated with the tendency to
offer no more, and specifically to offer no new insights into dealing with the challenges
of daily life on the planet. Both metaphor and the arts then have to face the accusation
of escapism, however well it may be justified in terms of recreation.
To meet the current challenges faced by humanity, both metaphor, and the arts as
metaphor, have to empower people to act collectively in new ways. They have to enable
people to 'get their act together' collectively -- beyond the insensitive
efforts at 'mobilization' vainly attempted through politically-motivated
development programmes. The gathering in Budapest focused this concern. It avoided the
trap of once more presenting the delightful, insightful works that have long inspired
humanity. Unfortunately their subtleties have not had sufficient impact on the
transformation of social organization -- brought to its current vulnerable state under the
guidance of politicians, commerce, economists, lawyers, accountants, and security
D. Songlines and interference harmonics
According to Yi-Fu Tuan: 'The power of the human senses to organize the world
takes diverse forms, shaped by the larger cultures in which they operate....Yet all
possess an aesthetic-moral aspect -- as revealed by their drive toward significance and
form -- and all demonstrate the power of the imagination to transcend group values held at
a certain time by incorporating values from another group and thereby grow.' (p.
The coherence of the Australian Aboriginal world derives from the centrality of belief
in a dreamtime during which powerful beings walk the earth, establishing topographic
features, calling the natural species into life, and instituting the rules of group and
individual behaviour. They 'wrapped the whole world in a web of song'
(Bruce Chatwin, 1988, p. 82). Creation occurs by means of song. It is therefore as though
the landscape is a musical score, and the traditional tracks are what have been termed
These are themselves a powerful memory aid to navigation over the earth and to the
location of essential resources, as well as providing a continuing rehearsal of cultural
history. A songline is therefore 'a succession of sites' along a track,
'vibrant with incident, power and meaning' allowing for a dramatic and aesthetic
participation in the environment. (Yi-Fu Tuan, 1993, pp. 125-7). 'Music is a memory
bank for finding one's way about the world' (Chatwin, p. 120).
Challenge of human survival
How can such perspectives have any relevance in a world faced with dramatic economic,
environmental, political and social problems -- and an increasingly alienated population?
Clues to new possibilities can be found by taking each of these domains in turn:
- Economics: What is traded that nourishes the spirit, especially in conditions of
poverty? In slum areas and conditions of repression, life is reframed and made enjoyable
through exchanging music, song, jokes, recipes and tales. What is valued, and the medium
of exchange, are beyond the ability of economists to record. And yet it is such trading
that binds communities together, even in the richest neighbourhoods. Neighbourliness and
friendship are more sustainable when based on aesthetic rather than material exchange.
People cannot live by bread alone -- and this also applies to communities. Dramatic
examples are rap and carnivals (notably in Latin America).
- Politics: In conditions of political disempowerment, people empower themselves
through aesthetic expression and are given power by an appreciative community. They
attribute power to themselves by creatively reframing their relationship to those by whom
they are disempowered -- often through jokes and metaphor, possibly even expressed in
- Social and community life: Whether interpreted as exchange, or as celebration,
social and community life is articulated largely through aesthetic expression. Gift giving
is used to affirm social bonds, or to maintain relationships with the world of the spirit.
The true fabric of community life can largely be described in aesthetic terms.
- Environment: Whether through the harmony of the natural world, or through human
efforts at decoration, the aesthetics of the environment are a prime concern.
From this perspective it is therefore intriguing that dissociating well-being from
levels of material consumption features as a strategy in the framework of Agenda 21 as
formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), coordinated by the United Nations Commission
on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. The
concern is to 'dematerialize the economy', decoupling quality of life from
materialism and material resource dependency.
Such a strategy, expected to take at least half a century, focuses on shifting from
primary to secondary raw materials. The far more radical question is whether society could
be articulated around non-material, aesthetic relationships. And, rather than relying on
change over half a century, the key issue is whether appropriate change cannot already be
achieved -- and is in fact already in process of being achieved.
Substituting aesthetic organization for economic organization
As indicated by the examples given above, people disadvantaged by current economic and
social systems are obliged to find their individual and collective fulfilment in other
ways. Those privileged by such systems discover that their fulfilment does not necessarily
lie within them and is in no way guaranteed by them. There is also the suspicion that,
just as such systems are currently dependent upon the exploitation of non-renewable
resources like petroleum, they are at the same time dependent upon exploitation of
non-renewable cultural resources. This is best seen in the exploitation by advertising of
any values to which people continue to subscribe in order to market goods and services.
This is especially true of aesthetic values which are subject to erosion.
Business has discovered ways to substitute marketable products for aesthetic
experience. The substitution of soft drinks for home-made cool drinks is the classical
example in developing countries. In industrialized countries, it could be the substitution
of bottled water for tap water. The question is to what extent the reverse process is
possible, namely whether aesthetic experience can substitute for the need for many
marketable products. The success of business has been to create the appearance of offering
a greater aesthetic experience with the manufactured product. The reality is often a
disappointment -- as in the diminishing tastiness of ever more rosy apples. At the same
time, the privileged pay ever higher prices for genuine aesthetic quality.
Business already acknowledges that future growth lies in non-material products. If this
is as true for the individual and the community, is it necessary that such growth should
be based on a monetarized economy? What might an aesthetic economy look like?
Anthropologists have documented examples amongst traditional societies. But how might it
work in contemporary society?
There are many indicative examples beyond those given above. Vital needs of those with
scholarly orientations can be fulfilled by the excitement of exchanging of ideas -- to the
point of forgetting to eat. Artists and musicians have similar experiences, as do young
people at a disco. New products are usually acquired when aesthetic experiences are not
available by other means. The more boring daily life becomes from an aesthetic point of
view, the greater the dependence on consumerism as a remedy. Countering this trend means
addressing the question of what makes daily life boring -- what inhibits aesthetic
experience for the non- consumer? It is important to recognize that boredom is as much a
factor in refugee camps and prisons as it is in a luxury city apartment. Recourse to drugs
of some kind is one common remedy.
The perceived problems of modern society increasingly reflect the failure of aesthetic
exchange of any kind. In the case of family breakdown, there are no meaningful aesthetic
vehicles to carry any exchange of 'family values'. In wider society, the token
of exchange is primarily financial or perverted (as criticized by those favouring
political correctness). Efforts to create a common aesthetic, as in planned cities or
shopping malls, fail to recognize the level of aesthetic reductionism that this
constitutes. Planning tends to create environments that are ultimately experienced as
boring -- only to be tolerated through consumerism (as is often intended), or being able
to escape from them (as only the privileged can do). The tragedy of many developing
countries and communities may be seen as the breakdown of any sustaining aesthetic that
makes survival meaningful. The same may be said of many environmental disasters -- they
result from loss of an aesthetic rapport with nature.
Songlines of the noosphere
The domain in which the transition to the primacy of aesthetic organization is most
evident is that of information and the multi-media environment of the World Wide Web. The
key to surviving, and thriving, on the Web is through exchange of information. Economic
considerations, to the despair of many commercial initiatives, tend to be quite secondary.
Large quantities of information are given -- or taken -- and perused freely. It is on the
Web, with its hypertext pathways, that the pattern of songlines of the noosphere is taking
'Pathway' is already used as a basic metaphor in the exploration of
hypertext. To what extent could a sequence of pathways be usefully understood as having
some of the qualities of a songline? In Chinese culture, very great importance continues
to be given to 'dragon lines' from the perspective of feng shui and
geomancy. Western traditional cultures attach importance to leylines linking 'sacred
sites' -- which are increasingly a focus of tourism. Again 'site' is part
of the basic Web terminology -- and with the arrival of the Vatican on the Web, maybe some
of them might even be considered 'sacred'.
Leylines are understood as covering the globe in a triangulated gridwork whose form is
of considerable interest to those concerned with sacred geometry. Traditional pilgrimage
pathways to sacred sites are commonly associated with leylines. Internet magazines
typically offer monthly recommendations that users visit selected sites labelled
'hot' or 'cool' -- perhaps a modern equivalent of what is sacred for
some. But 'hitting' sites is far from the aesthetic associated with the
laborious learning journeys of a pilgrimage or the sensitivity to landscape implied by
leylines or songlines.
Songlines have suggestive features. A song, for the Aborigine, is both a map and a
direction finder. Knowing the song, enables a person to move across country, from sacred
site to sacred site, on seemingly unmapped territory, through language-barriers,
regardless of tribe or frontier. Those encountered on the songline nevertheless share the
traveller's worldview (Dreaming). The traveller also has the responsibility to maintain
the landscape by singing it into existence -- a fundamental act of creative aesthetics.
Essentially the land first exists as a concept in the mind and is given form through the
singing (Chatwin, pp. 15- 17).
Given the network orientation of the Web, it is also intriguing that individuals only
inherit a limited number of contiguous stretches on a songline. Their limit is marked by a
'stop' -- at which responsibility for stewardship of the songline passes to
someone else, and where other songlines might intersect. As with any network, however,
stops cannot be meaningfully linked 'horizontally' to denote a conventional
political frontier. Each songline is sustained by a different melody. In effect, as with
birds, territorial boundaries are defined by song (Chatwin, pp. 66).
Given the major concerns about intellectual property on the Internet, the Aboriginal
view is intriguing. For them, trade routes are songlines because songs are the principal
medium of exchange, rather than 'things'. Individuals inherit stretches of the
songline, with their 'verses' constituting title deeds to the territory. These
could be lent or borrowed (enabling extension of the individual's song map), but not given
or sold away (Chatwin, pp. 64-65). Users on the Web are already at the point of trading
site information as a valued commodity. What is missing is any sense of the
'melody' which defines a succession of pathways, namely a line of sites through
many different domains -- although the notion of 'thread' employed in Internet
jargon is an aspect of this. It is the melody which is the heuristic. For the Aborigines,
and despite their many languages: 'Regardless of the words, it seems the melodic
contour of the song described the nature of the land over which the song passes'
(Chatwin, p. 120).
In learning terms, this is the defining quality of a particular cultural Grand Tour --
or in global terms, a great circle route around the body of knowledge. In this light, the
key to thriving on the Web may eventually prove to be sensitivity to a melody or metaphor
which guides passage across incommensurable domains. Without it, a user governed by the
'hitting' metaphor, like a traveller lost in the desert, may be effectively
trapped in a search domain -- condemned to walk in relatively small circles within it.
Consider the possibility that global configuration of hypertext pathways could be the
result of interlocking great circle routes of learning journeys. The pattern of
intersections would effectively position, and significantly separate, different domains of
knowledge. But although apparently a spherical grid, it would above all be characterized
by the challenges to comprehension along the different journeys and the responsibility for
the stewardship of parts of those journeys -- maintaining the melody. For, given that any
hyperlink is to another location offering multiple links onward, the choice of link at any
location to continue the journey needs to be governed by a subtle rule (more sophisticated
than any left-brain indication to 'always take the third' hyperlink or menu
choice). What is the heuristic 'melody' governing consistency of choice that
ensures movement along the learning pathway around any of the great circle routes? How are
encounters to be handled with information offering subtle enticements onto some
alternative route -- onto a different melody? As at a hub airport, or a station at the
intersection of a variety of transport lines, 'changing lines' may involve a
major reorientation. Effectively it involves a change of metaphoric framework or vehicle.
Aesthetics of differences
Humanity, and policy-making in response to the crises of planetary society, are riven
by differences. Efforts to transcend such differences have proven vain or tokenistic. The
Club of Budapest sought to bring aesthetic insights to bear on the challenges of human
Differences can themselves be usefully seen as aesthetic differences -- taste and
style, sense of balance and proportion, and notions of complementarity and diversity.
Little effort has been made to reflect the planetary challenge as a whole from an
aesthetic perspective, although many efforts have been made to articulate particular
But there is a special challenge for the arts. Whilst they may legitimately claim to
have much to offer. They also have their own shadow in Jungian terms. Creative people in
the arts are renowned for the personality differences, quarrels, mutual criticism and
backstabbing. There is therefore a need for the arts to use aesthetic skills to address
the challenge of configuring differences between practitioners and between aesthetic
schools -- whether these can be creatively reframed as drama, opera or otherwise. To the
extent that they have failed to do so to date, they can be seen as in more or less the
same trap as the conventional cluster of policy approaches to human survival.
One approach is to deliberately accept the capacity of differences to usefully
structure a new kind of framework for the noosphere -- if only as an approximation that
does not inhibit more innovative responses in the future.
For example, the set of 14 quite different aesthetic perspectives reviewed earlier
could be viewed as zones of the noosphere -- different windows of the collective awareness
of humanity. As such, the aesthetic challenge is how they might be configured together to
give form to a higher order of organization -- to provide a pattern for some equivalent
social organization. This is in contrast to hopes for forms of organization, and planetary
consciousness, based on a single aesthetic frame. Such a frame is commonly inspired by a
single view of the planet, or notions of holism and globality -- and leads to advocacy of
forms of world government which fail to honour intractable differences.
The 14 views can be mapped onto what Buckminster Fuller (1975-79) termed a vector
equilibrium structure -- in three dimensions. This has the interesting property of being
transformable into many other structures, including the icosahedron, the octahedron, the
tetrahedron and the triangle -- all of which are important to sacred geometry. It
therefore carries diversity, although this may be understood more simply or through
greater complexity. It can be understood as a kind of structural Rosetta stone (cf Arthur
Young, 1976). With its 7 axes, and 24 structural elements, it combines an important range
of ordering principles (cf McClain, 1976)
Another approach, would be to add a sixth contextual discipline to the five
meta-disciplines noted earlier. The reader could then explore how use of any particular
pattern of disciplines (represented by one of 64 hexagrams) contributes to the overall
pattern of transformations described by the I Ching (see Encyclopedia of world
Problems and Human Potential).
E. Comprehending the language of pattern shifting
The suggestion in the previous section can be viewed as a crude approximation to a
highly sophisticated approach based on the 4,000 year-old chanted hymns of the Rg Veda of
the Indian tradition. A very powerful exploration of this work by a philosopher, Antonio
de Nicolas (1972), using the non-Boolean logic of quantum mechanics (Heelan, 1974), opens
up valuable approaches to integration.
The unique feature of the approach is that it is grounded in tone and the shifting
relationships between tone; It is through the pattern of musical tones that the
significance of the Rg Veda is to be found.
'Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, we have to be aware
that we are dealing with a language where tonal and arithmetical relations establish the
epistemological invariances... Language grounded in music is grounded thereby on context
dependency; any tone can have any possible relation to other tones, and the shift from
one tone to another, which alone makes melody possible, is a shift in perspective which
the singer himself embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be 'sacrificed' for a
new one to come into being; the song is a radical activity which requires innovation
while maintaining continuity, and the 'world' is the creation of the
singer, who shares its dimensions with the song.' (p. 57)
Limitation of vision-based metaphors
De Nicolas contrasts this perspective with that of languages governed by vision:
'Thus, in a language ruled by the criteria of sight, vision may mean the sum of
perspectives from which a fixed object can be seen, plus the theoretical perspective of
the relationships holding amongst different perspectives of the object, plus the mental
acts by which those perspectives, relationships and visions are performed. In any event,
the invariant object is the condition for the variations in the meaning of vision. The
object is the condition for the variations in the meaning of vision. The invariant object
is, therefore, not a reality, but a theoretical precondition (phenomenal or noumenal) for
a whole system or method for establishing facts. Therefore, it is no wonder that when
people speak of transcendence, within this framework, they are mostly forced to speak in
mystical terms of things unseen or unseeable, either in terms of religious experiences, or
in terms of modern physics. In a literal sense, in the latter two cases, speech is about
no things by the same criteria of the speech used to designate things.
Whereas in a language governed by sound:
In a language ruled by the criteria of sound, perspectives, the change
of perspectives and vision, stand for what musicologists call 'modulation'.
Modulation in music is the ability to change keys within a composition. To focus within
this language, and by its criteria, is primarily the activity of being able to run the
scale backwards and forwards, up and down, with these sudden shifts in perspectives.
Through this ability, the singer, the body, the song and the perspective become an
inseparable whole. In this language, transcendence is precisely the ability to perform the
song without any theoretical construct impeding its movement a priori, or determining the
result of following such movement a priori. Nor can any theoretical compromise substitute
for the discovery of the movement of 'modulation' itself in history.
The human body would then be asked to lose the memory of its origins; a task
the human body refuses to do by its constant return to crisis.
It is up to the philosophers to discover the language
ruled by the criteria of sound, rather than presuppose a priori that the
only language universally human is the one ruled by the criteria of sight. (p. 192)
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Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor: a personal account of a conference
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Stafford Beer. Beyond Dispute; the invention of team syntegrity. New York,
Bruce Chatwin. The Songlines. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1988
Antonio de Nicolas. Meditations through the Rg Veda. Shambhala,
Gyorgy Doczi. The Power of Limits: proportional harmonies in nature, art
and architecture, 1981
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values, culture and politics, 1989
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