31 December 1998
Being Other Wise
Clues to the dynamics of a meaningfully sustainable lifestyle
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Category domination: conceptual dungeons
It is surprising the extent to which our thinking, at every level of society,
is dominated by particular categories and sets of categories. These may
include objects (table, chair), animal or plant species (dog, rose), proprietary
products (Windows, Coca Cola), ethnic groups, countries, weather conditions,
social roles (wife, father, daughter), values (peace, justice, sustainability,
family), problems (hunger, poverty, injustice), and states of consciousness
or meditation (depression, samadhi), etc.
The identification of arrays of fundamental categories has always been a preoccupation
of philosophers. Advances in philosophy might even be said to be associated
with the identification of more fundamental or comprehensive sets of categories.
Religions, through their theologians, are concerned that people should understand
their place in the world through particular categories. Political movements,
through their ideologues, have similar concerns. All might be said to engage
in intense category competition in seeking to occupy the conceptual high grounds
from which other experiences may be surveyed and ordered? Sets of categories
are imposed as desirable through education and programmes of indoctrination
or propaganda. People may be severely sanctioned, excommunicated or executed,
through failure to accept their organizing role. How the categories are to be
understood as interrelated to form a larger whole is another matter.
But aside from these processes, individuals are entrained by use of
categories in their environment. Adults impose categories on children.
Young people make use of fashionable categories, notably as they are articulated
by slang and jargon through peer groups. Civilization is navigated through
categories and the signs which reinforce them. Whether it all "makes sense"
is again another matter.
These tendencies, although increasingly widespread as a consequence of the
universalist aspirations of western "cultural imperialism", are neither universal
nor necessary. This has been well-argued by a number of authors (see Judge,
1993), but especially by Magoroh Maruyama (1980) who distinguishes five patterns.
Maria Colavito (1995) has also identified 5 epistemologically invariant
styles (maia, mythos, right brain mimesis, left brain mimesis, and logos) associated
with 5 features of the brain (reptilian, limbic, right and left hemisphere,
and the interpreter module) and explored their developmental history. But are
these patterns also to be considered as categories?
This paper raises the question as to whether the trap that societies face globally
or locally is in some way intimately related to the way in which categories
are defined, imposed or accepted. But of potentially greater interest is the
question whether this may not also be true of the traps that many individuals
experience in their lifestyle. Have people been effectively trapped in conceptual
dungeons and slave pits -- for the duration of an experiential Kali Yuga?
But "trap" is also a category.
As Francisco Varela has argued: "In contrast to what is commonly assumed, a
description, when carefully inspected, reveals the properties of the observer.
We observers, distinguish ourselves precisely by distinguishing what we apparently
are not, the world." How we have distinguished the problems we experience may
say more about our ability to understand ourselves than we are comfortable in
recognizing. Categorizing may effectively be a process of denial.
Category politics: intellectual property
The names associated with particular categories or sets of categories are: the
philosophers of every epoch (cf. Aristotle, Kant, Sartre, etc.), the initiators
of religions (Buddha, etc.), plus every aspiring modern scholar. For the latter
the matter is closely associated with issues of intellectual copyright. No categories,
no kudos! The question is to what degree all those fixing categories in this way
perform an inhibiting role as what amounts to "conceptual bureaucrats". Have they
been engaged in frantic pigeonholing of the most uncreative kind or in a necessary
exercise in draining conceptual swamps? In the case of philosophers, this effort
at fixation and solidification is an ironic reframing of the classical quest for
the Philosopher's Stone. How is the necessary complementarity with flow and other
modes of experience to be established -- the aspiration of alchemists?
Historically, who resisted such fixation in an effort to allow for flow? Who
campaigned for non-fixity (cf. Whitehead, Korzybski, Csikszentmihalyi)
and how were they resisted?
The neatness of categories allows them to be projected onto the land,
segmenting it unambiguously, permitting the parts so defined to become
owned property -- as with objects. The obviousness of this is not so apparent
in many indigenous cultures -- notably the Aborigines of Australia.
Such categories may then be used to define and distinguish institutions and
their programmes. Legislation is another means of defining and applying categories
-- also eliminating the ambiguities of flow experience in the process. Is it
any wonder that programmes defined by legislation are experienced as essentially
arid and non-transformative -- even meaningless? The many efforts to formulate
and sign universal declarations suffer from the limitations of this approach
in articulating other modes of experience. Categories thus lend themselves readily
to institutionalization -- as the non-whites found to their cost with the emergence
of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Scientists, despite their claims to objectivity, have a possessive "Kilroy
was here" approach to the phenomena they explore. An advance in fundamental
physics becomes Blogg's Theory, a new galaxy is named Dupont, a new flower species
is called after Smith. Is the intellectual goal of aspiring Nobel Prize winners
to have the Theory of Everything bear their name -- a form of conceptual skywriting?
The night sky is transformed into a memorial to dead astronomers and the biosphere
into a memorial to dead biologists -- an environment to be experienced as plastered
with labels (Economist, 12 Dec 1998, pp. 135-7). Such names may be misleading
and offensive as with much renaming of topography by Europeans in former colonies.
What a contrast to the bricks of a cathedral which were never signed.
It is characteristic of any school of thought that schisms eventually
develop. Heretics who fail to toe the line develop alternative, unauthorized
categories or interpretations. Typically they are condemned, demonized,
and even violently "sanctioned". It is worth reflecting on the possibility
that any fixed category must eventually evoke complementary categories
to hold insights otherwise poorly held. The pattern of emergent, or potential,
schisms may even be similar whatever the field, whether religion, gardening,
physics, sex, or cooking -- as implicit in the arguments of Feyerabend
There are necessary "incommensurable" differences, whether amongst concepts,
species, individuals or their preferences. There is a necessity to the range
of incompatible mindscapes distinguished by Maruyama (1992, 1994). The learnings
which Varela et al. (1991) rightly argue are to be found from Buddhism should
not obscure the need to learn from the existence of 18 classical schools of
Buddhist thought, the reason for their emergence as schisms, and the challenge
to integration they represent. The coherence of the pattern may only be comprehensible
beyond the fixity of individual categories -- in the experience of some form
of flow. Perhaps Rene Thom's work (1989, 1990) on catastrophe theory
and bifurcation could provide insights into the types and dynamics of such schism
formation. The collision and decay relationships between fundamental particles
offer another model.
Category politics: societal issues
Much physical violence in society is about the interpretation or domination of
fixed categories -- starting with peace. Religion has been at the origin of many
such conflicts. Johan Galtung makes a vital distinction between physical violence
and structural violence. Physical violence is for the amateur, using weapons in
order to dominate. For Galtung, structural violence is the tool of the professional
employing exploitation and social injustice to achieve domination. But beyond
the latter, acting behind the scenes (and adjusting the scenery) is surely the
conceptual violence of the super-professional, using disinformation and psychological
operations (military psy-ops) -- and the associated processes of brainwashing.
It is in this light that the entrapment of people in networks of fixed categories
could be usefully explored, as undertaken by Noam Chomsky (1992, 1994). Examples
of conceptual violence include use of category euphemism to inhibit or numb recognition
of other dimensions of an experience. This is typical of business and military
jargon (bodycount, collateral damage, etc.) but even of reference to body processes
(washroom, etc.) -- reinforcing an insidious form of experiential denial.
A number of modern debates within the international community provide good
illustrations of subtle games with categories. This might be termed definitional
game-playing. Examples include: peace, development (economic, social, cultural,
human, sustainable, that is basic to UN programs, cf more),
civil society, sect, etc. Categories tend to be defined by those who derive
political or ideological advantage from the ways that they are subsequently
used -- as exemplified by cynical definition of "environment" in a "ministry
of the environment" (cf Judge, 1982). Classification, and the definition of
categories, has long been a political act as demonstrated by the UN's
exercises in defining "aggression" and "racism". The case of sects indicates
how a wide range of non-conventional initiatives can be conveniently grouped
together and demonized -- whilst carefully avoiding attention to those that
have establishment support (e.g. Freemasons, Opus Dei, etc.). This effectively
inhibits any social experiment (Judge, 1997).
One consequence is that categories such as "citizen" and "state" effectively
imprison what should otherwise be characterized by a dynamic, flowing condition
(Judge, 1998). It is much easier to manipulate definitions when they have
this static, simplistic quality. Unfortunately it is questionable whether
any real transformation, as proclaimed in the manifestos of many political
bodies, can be achieved by this means -- perhaps to the satisfaction of
Any body that considers that current use of categories (in whatever
mechanical combination) is adequate for dealing with such issues as:
population (and sexual desire)
substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, etc.)
interpersonal relations, notably in the family
social injustice, discrimination, etc.
is essentially trapped in a conceptual time warp in which the lessons of history
(and the past decades) will be continually repeated. Interrelating complex arrays
of categories in support of a transformative process cannot be successfully achieved
by juggling categories -- meaningful lifestyles cannot be sustained using crossword
puzzle approaches to conceptual integration. The future may equate these efforts
with cargo cult psychology (see http://www.ie.ncsu.edu/jwilson/colloq.html
. They do not evoke the magic of meaningful life.
Butterfly collections and Bicycle riding
Biologists and taxonomists have long focussed their attentions on collecting
species from around the world. Necessarily it is both difficult and inconvenient
to acquire, transport, store and study such species if they are alive. The collection
of 'butterflies' in a museum is therefore an impressive grid pattern
of dead specimens pinned into drawers in appropriate cupboards. Each 'butterfly'
is thus accessible for the anatomical study basic to taxonomy. More controbversially,
a similar procedure has been adopted for the bones of indigenous peoples. In
the case of larger animals, use may be made of photographs and videos. It is
however difficult to maintain video collections of all the different butterflies.
A species of butterfly is therefore reduced to its static form and its dynamics
go almost completely unrepresented. When has a butterfly specimen been displayed
in relation to the species which feed on it -- and on which it feeds (at some
time in its lifecycle)? What learning is lost by this failure? What is the process
of reductionism through which the magnificent experience of a unique old tree
is reduced to the category "tree" -- thereby facilitating its removal?
This procedure reinforces the assumption that the species is somehow
well-represented in such a collection by its remains -- despite the fact
that the behavioural dynamics through which it expressed itself are lost,
even if they were at any time known. The assumption is also evident in
efforts to photograph an animal -- a camel is not what can be photographed.
An elephant is poorly represented by a still photograph that fails to indicate
its lifestyle, migratory and other behavior. Even films that capture only
dramatic moments must necessarily fail to capture the larger rhythm of
the life of the elephant. How can the shifting pattern of biological and
behavioural experiences of an elephant best be understood? It is useful
to ask whether such survey methods adequately represent human beings, notably
in a democratic society. Understanding of the environment is thus largely
in the hands of conceptual bureaucrats.
The fundamental nature of this point could be made in an interesting
way to students through a "bicycle experiment". Make eight separate groups
of students, one for each of the following functions:
a group of bicycle riders that engages actively in bicycle riding
a group of observers that documents that bicycle riding process
(by noting down movements and interviewing the riders)
- a group of researchers that endeavours to build a model of bicycle
riding (from the data collected by the observers)
- a group of educators that writes a bicycle riding manual (on the
basis of the model) and instructs a group of learners
- a group of learners (preferably unable to ride) that must strictly
follow the instructions of the educators
a group of evaluators to ensure that the educators only teach what
is in the research model (articulated by the manual) and that the learners
only do what they are told (without taking initiatives that are not clearly
reflected in the manual)
- a group of adjudicators that arbitrates disputes, notably between
the last three groups
- a group of enforcers that ensures that the above groups only communicate
as indicated, that the decisions of the adjudicators are respected (or who
may replace any group not performing according to the experimental requirement)
The question is whether the learners are able to learn to ride from this procedure.
The point to be made is that the process of riding is of quite a different nature
from the articulation of the movements required. If the instructions based on
the model are strictly obeyed, the learners should not be able to ride because
the learners could not switch into flow awareness unrecognized by static categories.
Society has bodies (notably government ministries) with each such function and
it becomes readily apparent why governing society through static categories is
Categories of the present and past may be perceived by the future like butterfly
collections or the contents of a bicycle riding manual. They "work" when they
can be combined mechancially as from a recipe book. They usually fail when the
secret lies in the dynamics of how they are combined -- as in the kinetic intelligence
required in bicycle riding and the martial arts.
Distinguishing notes as categories does not mean that a tune can be played.
Can categories be "played" as notes are played on a musical instrument? The
challenge of governance is then clearly not the particular category but the
way in which these are combined as chords that flow after one another in a larger
melodic pattern of meaning. Should a meaningful government development programme
be experienced like a piece of music -- whose 'articles' people can
This is the "secret" of quality of life, sustainable community and taoist
understanding. Social and community life -- how things work together --
eludes social engineers, just as biological life eludes biochemists. Use
of fixity is like working a sculpture that serves as a mnemonic whose symbolism
one can seek to comprehend. But only "magic" can make it "live" -- as Pinocchio
explores. Hence the danger in basing social transformation strategies on
the rigid categories of political economists.
What sort of cognitive environment is being created through the vast accumulation
of facts and the containers for them? How is this to be meaningfully integrated,
whether as information, knowledge or wisdom? Is this weight of unintegrated
knowledge to be dumped onto the psyche of each new child in the spirit of education
-- and as a gift of civilization? What is anyone to make of each new "advance
of knowledge" that effectively renders more ignorant those who do not have the
attention time to be aware of it? These concerns are explored elsewhere (see
Opening the metaphorical box
It is interesting that a category, as normally used by the international
community, can be thought of as a kind of sealed box or container. Ideally
everything labeled by the category can be considered inside the box, and
everything else is outside. Thinking, and much of the activity of scholars
and policy-makers, can then be seen as the artful shuffling of boxes into
particular configurations and arrays -- possibly not seen before -- better
to capture and contain reality. Of course some of it may have to do with
making new boxes, possibly inside other boxes, or to contain other boxes.
In this sense use of categories is governed by what Lakoff and Johnson
(1980) analyzed as the "container" metaphor.
As a container, the box is then to be understood as containing "meaning".
The label for that meaning is the box. For some it is the box that is meaning
and asking what the box contains is meaningless. But suppose we imagine
the box to be open at the top. This implies that new meaning could get
into the box -- if there was space. Also that some meaning might spill
out if the box was roughly handled -- or there was a change in gravitational
pull. Or the meaning might evaporate from the open surface. Suppose the
box had a hole in the bottom and meaning leaked out -- as seems to happens
to some old categories that are essentially left as empty boxes. Nobody
finds meaning in them anymore -- except those explorers intrigued by old
conceptual castles and the ghosts that continue to haunt them!
Now if one open box was appropriately positioned under another, the
meaning from one might flow to the other. A series of boxes might then
constitute a cascade of meaning through a series of categories -- possibly
capturing educational (or historical) developments of insight, or psychic
energy cascading down the chakras of the East. Of course this raises
questions about where the meaning is coming from or going to -- unless
the containers at each end are immense. But the lifecycle of a "caterpillar"
might be experienced as a circular cascade, through a sequence of forms,
by the entity employing them.
If the volume of the cascade was significantly greater than the containers
through which it moved a different situation would become apparent. The
individual boxes are then only a temporary constraint on the meaning, a
kind of fleeting label for a flow of meaning that eludes particular
labels -- as in some rapid moving, creative dialogue. This is best seen
in the case of a river flowing through a rocky bed. The rocks may of course
constrain the water into pools, some of which may appear still. The water
could in such cases be said to be contained -- at least for certain purposes.
The pool may even have a name and people may come back to it year after
year as a predictable experience. Some might experience a familiar party
evening in that way -- especially after imbibing a suitable amount of liquid!
Suppose now that the container walls are flexible and invisible. This
might be said to be the case with swirls of water in the river. The swirl
may be quite stable as a pattern, or may periodically recur in the same
place, apparently unrelated to any neighbouring rocks. The same may be
said of cloud formations. Forming and reforming as they do, are they to
be judged as permanent or impermanent and to whom? To what extent do we
endeavour conceptually to grasp at swirls that only briefly hold pattern
and meaning? Froth on a wave?
As with the river for Heraclitus, meaning is then constantly on the move! This
relates to David Bohm's (**) notion of the holomovement -- the outfolding and
infolding of explicate and implicate order. Those who seek to label a swirl
in the river are condemned to be identified with it and to be imprisoned by
their attachment to it -- a frozen moment in the dance with reality.
Exploring the metaphorical trap
The argument above has set the design for a metaphorical trap that will
be explored in various ways in what follows. A distinction has been made
above between the solidity of a container for meaning which has then been
associated with fluidity. Like it or not, in the material world we have
to live with states of matter -- even if they are only metaphors. This
poses a challenge of self-reflexiveness to be explored below.
If this is the case then it is useful to consider the other states of matter
in the light of the metaphor that we cannot for the moment escape. Corresponding
to the solidity of the container and the fluid nature of the meaning it contains,
we might experience "airy" and "fiery" conditions. Their roles will be explored
in various ways below. At this stage the four can be allowed to suggest different
ways in which meaning is experienced:
- Fixity: the solid form or container through which meaning is held
in a permanent way -- the stones and rocks of our experiential world (being
- Fluidity: meaning as it adapts fluidly to many forms and containers
, although with a tendency to cohere (surface tension -- fashion, peer
- Association: meaning in a diffusely rarefied, insubstantial mode
('airy-fairy', vapourware, tenuous)
- Intensity: intrinsic meaning, immediately engaging and transformative
(impassioned), commitment, intentionality
Physics of materials has explored how these different conditions relate to one
another under different conditions of temperature and pressure in what is called
a phase diagram (see http://www.chem.uncc.edu/faculty/murphy/1252/Chapter11B/index.htm
In such a diagram there are boundary conditions over which one phase may transform
directly into another. There are even points at which several such boundaries
meet. Does this suggest how meaningful experience can transform from one condition
to another -- a solid label dissolving into a fluid experience, or vice versa?
Is there a navigational art to learning to establish one's mode and position in
the phase diagram?
There is a certain irony in the attitude that has been cultivated to the apparently
simplistic manner in which classical philosophers categorized natural phenomena
in terms of earth, air, fire and water. However, this categorization takes on
a different and more disturbing flavour if it is assumed that "earth" was effectively
a metaphorical representation of the categorization process itself -- and that
all four "categories" were more meaningfully understood as necessarily complementary
ways of experiencing (experience). The equivalent classical Chinese preference
for 5 categories, including wood and metal, is traditionally understood as metaphorical
-- although equally quaint to western eyes.
From the perspective of this paper, the contemporary understanding of the classical
perspective is then to be understood as being itself trapped in the conceptual
rigidity of solidity as denoted by "earth". The classical metaphor then amounts
to an experiential, or existential, secret -- which leaves the unaware free
to laugh at the literal interpretation. The larger significance is then an open
secret elegantly hidden immediately behind the objectivists own mockery -- where
It is almost certainly to this secret that Antonio de Nicolas (1978) alludes
in his identification of the four "languages" of the Rg Veda. These are
distinguished by their degree of intentionality: images and sacrifice, existence,
embodied vision, and non-existence. The unique feature of that approach is that
it is grounded in sound and the shifting relationships between tone -- rather
than in terms of vision, as is implicit in most categorization (cf summary of
argument in Judge, 1981). 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)
How can conceptual "stones" be experienced as "singing"? What insights
for the present are offered by the songlines along which Australian Aborigines
"sing the land" to ensure its continuous recreation (Judge, 1996, 1997)?
Working with meaningful experience: fixity and fluidity
The concern of this paper is to highlight the role of meaningful experience
outside rigidly accepted categories. This means exploring the non-solid modes
of experience that may be basic to transformation processes. But this in no
way suggests that there is not a place for conceptual solidity -- and solid
arguments! The argument is rather that excessive solidity (and lack of poesis)
establishes or reinforces a world that is then necessarily arid -- where growth
and transformation, dependent on fluidity, are very difficult. Edward de Bono
has explored this distinction in a book subtitled From Rock Logic to Water
But this does not mean that a "water world" should be created, free from all
solidity. Rather it means that the need for both, and the interface between
them, should be more thoroughly explored -- together with the other two phases,
such that all are experienced as both complementary and necessary. The Jungian
psychology of types has explored the relationship between four functions (sensation,
feeling, thinking, intuition) which the traditional categories are considered
to symbolize (cf ***).
The approach here makes extensive use of metaphor. In Kenneth Boulding's words:
"Our consciousness of the unity of the self in the middle of a vast complexity
of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity
of a group, organization, department, discipline, or science. If personification
is only a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors - we might be one ourselves."
(1978, p.345). Or, as the poet John Keats puts it: "A man's life is a continual
allegory - and very few eyes can see the mystery of his life - a life like the
scriptures, figurative." The charm of it, as Gregory Bateson stated in concluding
a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, is that:
"We are our own metaphor." (1972, p.304). Unfortunately we have over-identified
with the metaphor -- reifying it into a category -- and have consequently been
unable to experience ourselves in intrinsically richer, and more dynamic, ways.
The lack of such self-reflexiveness could well prove to be an important contributory
factor to the current uncontrolled attitude to procreation which is at the root
of so many current problems.
In a thought experiment, theologian Sallie McFague (1982) has explored the
relationship between the theological language of models and concepts and the
religious language of images and metaphors. She develops insights from science
and philosophy showing how models are derived from metaphors. But: 'Models
can never be taken literally, since they are not descriptions but indirect attempts
to express the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar (McFague, p. 193). As such,
'many models are necessary, since all are partial' (p. 193). Of God,
she concludes: 'there is nothing which resembles what we can conceive
when we say that word'. Her colleague David Tracy (1981) has explored the
role of analogical imagination.
It is indeed useful to contain a certain experience as "dog" and it is convenient
to develop predictable patterns of response to that experience. But when is
a dog not a dog? Perhaps when it is a dingo, a poodle, rabid, a cartoon character,
or mounted in a display case -- depending on one's prejudices. The fixity of
categories can be used to provide tokens in one kind of exchange. Fixed definitions
are basic to one kind of conversation. This would tend to be of an essentially
bureaucratic, "non-transformative" nature. It is difficult to transform one
kind of solid into another kind -- lead into gold? Defining something, defines
one's relationship to it -- freezing it. Water flowing against a rock does not
have a definition of the rock. It is in action and has to respond to inaction.
Conventional category-oriented thinking leads to:
- construction of boxy houses / ghettoes / gated suburbs / urban grid planning
(whose challenges merely echo the conceptual ones from which they derive)
- indoor environments which endeavour to mimic the flows in nature (even
to the extent of cheating with plastic plants and stuffed animals) -- containing
fish in an aquarium
- zoological gardens that purport to offer a natural environment to animals
whose diurnal, migratory and mating behavioural patterns are almost completely
Why are most categories nouns -- at least in languages favoured by the
international community to articulate plans to transform the world -- and
very rarely verbs? Why is category itself a noun? "Objects" identified
by categories may also have ways of "flowing" that escape formal recognition,
except by poets:
a field of grass moving in the wind is beyond anything that biologists
find meaningful (other than for seed dissemination)
- animal courtship rituals, ignored by any taxonomy of species, as with collective
behaviour (eg. bird migration or silverfish manoeuvers)
wind patterns on waves, or the surface of a lake, are essentially meaningless
rock formations that evoke awe that is irrelevant to geological considerations
active volcanoes -- can they usefully be defined in static terms?
The world of economics is about objects. Quality-of-life, as desired by individuals
(rather than commercialized), is about flow. "Services" are the vain effort
by economics to capture transactions and commercialize flow relationships. Economists
seek to exploit flow -- endeavouring to channel it and turn it into property:
"goodwill", "clientele", "ongoing concern" -- but their efforts are "eroded" by
Working with meaningful experience: a four-dimensional
When are fluidity and flow appropriate? Much intellectual endeavour has effectively
been a heroic process of draining "swamps" and "bogs". But recent years have discovered
that these have a vital role as "wetlands". When is "drying out" appropriate and
when does it contribute directly to the reduction of diversity of thinking and
being? Has the advance of categorization been equivalent to "clearing the land",
even covering it with concrete -- destroying experiential and cultural rainforests
and hedgerows in the process? Is this why some resist "being concrete"?
When is fixity just plain boring -- especially for the young? When is
flow too chaotic? Nature has myriad ways of combining fixity and flow.
Changing seasons allow for growing, evolving and decaying. People emulate
this freedom in gardening, cultivation and the fashions of culture. How
do people intervene in this four-fold world of experience?
Making gardening "plots" in the soil
Building irrigation channels to ensure access and drainage of water
Building windbreaks to control airflow
Providing greenhouses to ensure necessary warmth or shade
Sensitive teachers are obliged to act in an analogous manner in providing an educational
environment in which students can explore ways to work meaningfully with experience.
But whether taught or not, everyone learns to live in several worlds -- even simultaneoulsy
-- and to move between them to some degree. Ironically those skilled in a particular
world claim its superiority and disparage the other worlds -- even to the point
of denying their existence or characterizing them as 'evil' in some
way (cf. the repressed functions of Jungian psychoanalysis). This is notably the
case with those of the container world -- increasingly rejected by the young living
primarily in the flow world.
There is however an immediacy to cultivation in these world that indicates
the limitations of category fixity:
- People work in fixed gardening "plots". Ironically specialists perceive
themselves as working in well-defined "fields". The answer to "what is your
field" is important to social and professional relations, as is trespassing
on the fields of others. Specialists are very attentive to the quality and
fertility of the soil they work, and its fertilization and irrigation. People
do groundwork and fieldwork in particular areas -- even commercial reps. When
does such soil become arid? In both cases people complain of stony soils that
limit productivity. Of course a lot of good work can be done in building stone
walls around fields -- but does that necessarily make it possible to grow
anything there? Information specialists organize information into fields,
just as librarians organize books onto shelves. This does not ensure creativity
or paradigm shifts.
Flow problems are a major challenge to science, as illustrated by fluid
dynamics and meteorology. Science gives priority to soluble problems. Putting
a space craft into orbit, acclaimed as a major success for science, is like
choosing the most predictable environment in which to show off simplistic
conceptual tools -- totally inadequate for handling most of the major social
problems. A western hotel in a third world megalopolis provides a predictable
boxy environment in which westerners can survive -- as in a diving bell
-- sheltered from the unpredictable flow environment outside. Presentations
of new strategic plans are increasingly made with software products like
PowerPoint in which each slide is often made up of "bullets" that are "targeted"
at the audience or, through them, at potential customers and markets (see
Judge, 1998). Attacking Iraq with high tech weaponry demonstrates the inadequacy
of such know-how in repsonse to a socio-political challenge.
- People work with water, whether as fishermen, in water conservation,
or for hydroelectric power. Water gets channeled to reduce flood risk, to
protect against tidal effects, to drain swamps, or to irrigate fields. People
are also concerned by the tide (and power) of public opinion and being flooded
with information. Fluidity and flexibility allow things to happen. Money and
traffic flow. People enjoy water, through sailing, rafting or surfing. They
also surf on the Web, for business or pleasure -- there is a very fluid approach
to categories there. Brains can be washed.
The worlds of politics, market trading, or organized crime (cf Russia),
are flow environments in which concepts and predictables are merely constraints
on the flow and often irrelevant to it. Bonding and obligation are of prime
significance. It is in such environments that "sharks" are to be found.
Younger people (and especially youth gangs) live in the flow world, as do
those who live for fashion and the media stars. A busy restaurant is also
primarily a flow environment -- rationalizing and organizing it may destroy
the very quality that makes it alive and attractive, as many restaurateurs
have found in seeking to expand. Why are some cafes on a street full and
others almost empty -- even though better appointed and offering the same
products at the same prices? What is an "in" place where the "action" is?
Is hanging-out a prime characteristic of this world?
- People work with air, especially using windmills. Traditionally
ships depended on the trade winds. Now people are more attentive to the winds
of change, rumours in the air, and new ideas that are "in the wind". There
is also the wind of public opinion. At times this can be compared to a storm
or a hurricane. But people also enjoy flying, in fact or metaphorically. Some
people spend their days or social lives soaring like hang-gliders. Is this
how people experience the world of ideas in research labs, literary salons,
design studios, cafe talk?
The world of image formation, advertising, media, design, psy-ops, propaganda
and spin-doctoring are flyer worlds in which "concepts" (and categories)
are developed, bought, sold and abandoned according to the fashion that
makes them exciting. People live in a world of associations, connections
and networks. For many, networking is the way to survive. Flying skills
are valued and lead to the appellation "high flyer" and justify eccentricities
reminiscent of legendary ace pilots. Do the chattering classes live in a
blow world? Neal Gabler (1998) argues that information is increasingly transformed
into entertainment to capture and hold public attention -- as exemplified
by the Gulf Wars, the Simpson trial, and the case against Clinton.
- People work with fire -- with creativity and intentionality. Heat
is needed to mold solid forms or to convert liquids into gas. Lightning conductors
are required. People have heated arguments and experience the heat of passion
-- some act as lightning rods in group processes. It is intense experience
that changes minds -- or ensures conversions. Creativity, and moments of inspiration,
can be experienced like heat, a hot flow -- which runs the risk of going cold,
as with relationships. Intentionality is one of the most direct experiences
in the moment.
It is in the intense world of intentionality that charged one-on-one
encounters take place -- love, antipathy, compassion, creativity, violence,
revenge -- experienced as encompassing realities independent of any category
framework. Charismatics, extremists and ideologues live essentially in the
fiery world -- as do those falling in love.
Invasion between worlds: experiencing intrusion
Each of the above is a kind of "world" or way of being. Much of life functions
at the interface between these worlds:
- Flow-ers need to breathe
- Fliers need to drink
- Ground-ers provide a base for breeding
- Creativity may need breathing space
All are mutually essential for life. Each mode has its seeming limitations as
indicated by metaphors:
- Boxy categories: clunky, robotic
- Flowers: dampeners, dousers
- Fliers: flitting, chattering, airy-fairy
- Incensers: flare-ups, flaming (on e-mail), damp squib, "impotence", arsonists
The future is liable to see achingly obvious limitations in our approach to, reality
-- as will I with respect to mine. It may even ber discovered that our problems
are unconsciously evoked to prevent our civilization dying of boredom.
World-making at any moment produces ranges of viable life forms relating differently
to the four worlds
When one is centered within a particular world, its integrity and coherence
may be experienced as invaded by other "logics" -- infuriating inconsistencies
and adherences to other parameters, rules and paradigms -- "alien thinking".
Like the hand-game of rock / scissors / paper -- each endeavours to subsume
the others. In effect these intrusions are boundary disputes in the phase diagram
(with each world a phase and the intrusions being from neighbouring parts of
In the container world, typical intrusions experienced include:
In the flow world, typical intrusions experienced include:
- emotional and aesthetic appeals, including reference to "practical experience",
intruding from the flow world
- distracting associations, humour and speculative thought (Eastern, New
Age, pagan modes, etc.) from the association world
- encounters with other principles, love-at-first-sight, spiritual insight,
sexual attraction, sense of danger, peak experience, or hatred, intruding
from the intentional world
- objectification, reification, rationalization and explanation of an ongoing
process or feeling, intruding from the container world (Dance is
flow caricatured from the boxy world by the Laban notation and the instructions
in how-to-dance manuals)
- humourous observations or reframing of the flow experience (e.g. while
making love) as a play of perceptions, intruding from the association
- efforts to make an ongoing experience more profoundly significant ("more-than-it-is"
such as implying eternal love or enmity), intruding from the intentional
In the associative world, typical intrusions experienced include:
- objectification, reification, rationalization and explanation of an ongoing
associative process, intruding from the container world
- emotional and aesthetic appeals, including reference to "practical experience",
intruding from the flow world
- efforts to make an ongoing associative process more profoundly significant
and intentional such as implying eternal love or enmity), intruding from
the intentional world
In the intentional world, typical intrusions experienced include:
- reduction of the immediacy of the experience to static categories typical
of the container world
- transformation of profound experience in the moment into the diffuse
uncenteredness of the flow world (limiting the timeless, all-encompassing
experience of love to a sequential flow of emotion)
- reframing intentionality into discourse as an intrusion from an association
world that thrives on divergence
It is intriguing that experience may only be possible at interfaces between worlds
-- as the contrast between alternative modes of experience. In this sense all
experience is of "invasion" -- whether as perpetrator or victim. The invasions
above can then be understood as a basic set of 12 modes -- resonant with the 4
x 3 typology of astrological symbolism, notably as explored by Arthur Young (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/learnstr.php
Operational challenge: shapeshifting
Given the way the design of containers has been studied to offer insights into
the process of civilization, it might usefully be asked how conceptual containers
have evolved. How were the first primitive containers made -- and where are
they still made and used? A major gardening centre can offer insights into a
splendid range of open containers. Chemical plants interlink a wide variety
of closed containers.
But what containers do we have that can have their shape modified? And to what
extent do the most sophisticated modern containers (such as a plasma bottle,
discussed below) have their conceptual equivalent? What
kinds of insight might need to be contained by the equivalent of a plasma bottle?
Maybe our conceptual civilization is still only at a very primitive container
What is the epistemological equivalent to the computer technique of morphing
with which so many young computer users are now familiar (see demo:
http://www2.ncktc.tec.ks.us/juliec/HowTo/Morphing/Morphing.htm )? Patterns
of concepts are increasingly associated with portions of clickable images on
the Web ('image mapping') -- but how will people comprehend the morphing
of such mapped images into other images?
Major biological transformation is now on its way through genetic engineering,
with some striking examples already achieved. The World Academy of Art and Science
recently noted that this process "cannot be wished away", despite the considerable
concerns expressed by many groups. Biological categories are to be "unfrozen".
How do memes get added or removed from the psychological 'genetic structure'?
How is its mega-structure then affected -- the patterns which otherwise give
rise to characteristic spiral patterns in flower petals or leafs of plants?
Is their an equivalent psychic mega-structure? Little is said of "psycho-genetic
engineering" as such, although there is a remarkable parallel between modifying
genes in biological makeup and modifying memes in psychological makeup. But
in fact analogous concerns are to be noted in the response to the activities
of certain sects and the need to deprogram their adherents. More acceptable
are the activities of advertising campaigns in modifying belief systems -- following
a long tradition of religious proselytizing. Psycho-genetic engineering also
"cannot be wished away". The increasing literature on memes, mimetics and mind
viruses makes this clear (cf the current alt.mimetics.bibiliography at http://www.lucifer.com/virus/alt.memetics/faq.html).
As author of the Meme Manual: A Cybernaut's User's Guide to Mind Viruses,
Brett Thomas (1995) argues that 'Memes, mind viruses and media viruses
are important and useful concepts. Memetics (the field of the study of memes)
provides a foundation for understanding the evolution of society up to now,
and provides real tools for change, a technology through which we can engineer
the future that we want.' (http://thomasvirtual.com/articles/memes.art.html.)
The irony is that the much sought paradigm shifts and new thinking for social
transformation, and the re-enchantment of society, are all implicit in social
experiments of groups of unconventional political persuasion -- perceived as
risky by others. When have innovative experiments been unrisky in the world
of technology? For the moment however genetic experiments are actively
explored whilst psycho-genetic engineering and social experiments are actively
deplored. This has little effect on the activity of spin doctors, the advertising
industry, missionary religions, or the drug trade (effectively providing a personal
exploration of psycho-genetic engineering).
To what extent can the above quadri-modal approach be accepted? The Jungians
have provided one lead. Maruyama and others have explored 4 and more modes (see
Judge, 1993; also **). Many authors and consultants like to analyze strategic
situations into four quadrants -- often to privilege the upper right quadrant.
However, as pointed out above, there is a major transition to be achieved from
analysis to sustainable implementation.
It is interesting that DNA is based on combinations of the 4 nucleotides UGAC.
It is intriguing that it has been shown how the binary coding of the Book
of Changes (I Ching), as a representation of the DNA genetic code
can be transformed in a natural way to an I Ching representation of the
RNA genetic code (Katya Walter, 1996). Is there in fact a way of combining the
four modes to make the 21 vitamins -- that might prove essential to psychic
life and the life of a community? The I Ching has traditionally offered
a variety of ways to understand the processes of personal and collective change
(see demo at: https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/chingndx.php)
As developer of the Bell helicopter, Arthur Young's insights into the 12 modes
through which movement needs to be controlled is helpful in this respect. These
can be adapted into a typology of 12 strategies essential to sustainable development
Techniques of navigation: virtues and vices
Clues to understanding how people move in the flow world are surely available
from those who engage in dancing, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing,
hang-gliding and other sports requiring balance and coordination. Have
they ever been consulted about issues of governance -- as has been the
case with jazz musicians (Kao, 1996)? What is intriguing is that many of
these clues can perhaps only be alluded to in aesthetic terms. But whilst
somewhat meaningful in relation to the material world -- despite the "bicycle
experiment" -- it is necessary to look elsewhere for their equivalents
in the flow and other worlds.
One interesting possibility is offered by the patterns of vices and virtues
traditionally articulated by different religions from West and East. Understood
slightly differently -- primarily as experiential, rather than behavioural,
guidelines -- these might well suggest fruitful and less fruitful ways of navigating
experientially in the other worlds. The question is how to decode them. One
approach is to use them as templates through which to identify the virtues and
vices of movement in sports like those named above. This approach is in fact
prefigured by various sports psychology books on acquiring the appropriate attitude
essential to better performance (cf the many books on the "Inner Game" of tennis,
golf, bowling, soccer, skiing, etc.).
The articulation of generic virtues and vices of movement should then offer
insights into those of the flow and other worlds -- providing a key to how the
classic virtues and vices can be understood experientially as necessary disciplines
for navigational purposes (see also).
Hope: appropriate to the successful achievement of any innovative manoeuver
Will: appropriate to engaging in a challenging manoeuver
Purpose: appropriate focus for the execution of a manoeuver
Competence: appropriate discipline for structuring a manoeuver
Loyalty: appropriate attitude to peers, predecessors, successors and "tradition"
Love: appropriate attitude to execution of the process itself, but
also in relation to others
Care: appropriate concern for the consequences of any manoeuver
- Wisdom: appropriate contextual insight interrelating the above
The navigational skills associated with such virtues would be undermined
by corresponding vices in the sport:
Despair: undermining hope and the ability to undertake a manoeuver
Anger: undermining concentration and focus on execution of the manoeuver
Greed: overambitious incautiousness, distorting relationship to others,
Envy: excessive focus on others, distorting own initiatives
Pride: excessive self-focus and insensitivity to context (literally "before
Lust: disrespect for the process, but also for its significance for others
Apathy: inability to "get one's act together"
As briefly expressed above, there is a lack of operational specificity to these
"guidelines". But as those participating in such sports would probably argue,
it takes experience to learn what subtle experiential meaning is associated with
attitudes appropriate to any "code words" about improved performance. Much may
be achieved with inappropriate attitudes, but they do not raise the level of performance
beyond a certain degree -- ultimately the person is judged as lacking something
subtly associated with "style" and 'élan'. Basically the performance
is not sustainable. In this respect the relationship between the "hindrances"
and "fetters" encountered in Buddhist mediation practice and its articulation
of the above values is somewhat more explicit -- namely with more containers!
Another way of considering the navigational art is by exploring it as a game,
as is the case with a number of board games from religious traditions (cf Leela,
see Johari, 1993) of which "snakes and ladders" is a caricature. A Transformation
Game (see http://www.transformationgame.com/game.html)
is extensively used by adherents of the Findhorn New Age community. The Web
has provided a new environment for those inspired by Hermann Hesse's Glass
Bead Game (http://idt.net/~davehuge/Hesse.html).
The virtues and vices can be imagined as presented as an array such as with
hopscotch or as a mandala. Then, as in hopscotch, or a Scottish sword dance,
the art is to shift appropriately around the array in response to particular
challenges. As with a horoscope, or a Myers-Briggs psychological profile, the
dancer starts from a particular "poise" in the pattern of potential moves --
or maybe remains frozen into one! To move, the dancer must activate and deactivate
specific attitudinal controls associated with a succession of virtues -- compensating
for destabilizing tendencies associated with any emergent "temptations".
In this sense the vices may be considered like the seven characteristic catastrophes
of Thom's catastrophe theory (cf Postle, 1980). Management strategists have
endeavoured to derive related insights from the game of go (cf more).
The classical thirty-sex strategems of China continue to be explored by Eastern
The many Buddhist mandalas have sectors associated with the virtues (vices)
-- a version designed by Escher might show how one follows another in a paradoxical,
perpetual, cyclical cascade of meaning (echoed by the breathing cycle, especially
as a meditation practice).
But, as noted by Octavio Paz: 'Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change,
but in the dialectic between the two.' The challenge of this piece of wisdom
is to give experiential meaning to 'dialectic'.
Implications: containing the intentionality of the
will to change
(This section is adapted from https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/classif3/classfg2.php
The above arguments suggest that it is extremely unlikely that transformative
processes can be designed and implemented through container thinking alone --
although some new kind of container may be required. It even suggests that exploring
this challenge cannot be achieved by straightforward means. As one might expect,
it is at least as much art as science. These two seemingly blocked avenues of
approach clarify the basic dilemma. It would seem that both have vital strengths
and dangerous weaknesses. The only way to move further forward is to be highly
suspicious of both and to alternate between them, counterbalancing one by the
other, since one or the other must necessarily be used. The following paragraphs,
therefore, endeavour to alternate between a "flow approach" (right-hemisphere)
and a "fixity approach" (left-hemisphere) -- although, as in the sword dance,
a four-fold alternation might be more appripriate lo living a meaningful lifestyle.
Of great interest in the right-hemisphere approach are the guarded attempts
to define the essentially paradoxical nature of the outwardly incomprehensible
possibility of creatively transcending the limitations of the two basic modes.
This is typified by Zen literature and the associated practices. These claim
the merit of deliberately avoiding the traps of proliferating sets of symbols
characteristic of the container thinking of other cultures. Such sets of symbols
tend to create the impression that transcendence is possible through them rather
than through identifying with the awareness from which they emanate as a set.
The disadvantage of the Zen approach is that it is so individualistic and paradoxical
as to be virtually inapplicable to social transformation.
Of great interest for the left-hemisphere approach is the cognitive implication
of the current challenge of plasma physics in relation to fusion reactors for
power generation. A plasma is an electrical conducting medium consisting of
positive and negative charges forming a neutrally charged distribution of matter.
A plasma is unique in the way it interacts with itself, with electric and magnetic
fields, and with its environment (If the states of matter are defined in terms
of relationship to the environment, plasma is the fifth state. The others are:
solid, liquid, gas, and reacting elements (e.g. in fire). 99% of the matter
in the universe is in the plasma state.**). Its properties depend on the collective
behaviour of the constituent particles, as distinct from the individual.
If plasmas could be confined under certain conditions for a long enough period
of time in a fusion reactor, mankind's energy problems would be resolved.
The difficulty is that plasmas are unique in their instability and in their
tendency to revert to ordinary combinations of matter and energy.
The problems that have to be solved to achieve successful magnetic confinement
are both scientific and technological in nature. The scientific problem is
to find those particular configurations of magnetic fields, and values of
plasma parameters which, when scaled up to fusion reactor size, would ensure
a viable net power yield from the reactor. Technologically, the problems are
how to create the required high-intensity magnetic fields, how to heat the
plasma towards fusion temperatures, at the same time protecting it from contamination
by heavier atomic impurities (which would quench the reaction).
If individual attention/consciousness or world opinion is considered as a
"plasma", the problem of human and social development and integration are
well-modelled by the fusion challenge.
In the right-hemisphere approach, an interesting parallel to the fluid
behaviour of plasma is to be found in the important taoist concept of ch'i
(or ki), which as an essentially intangible form of "energy" defies
all exercises in definition. It is by identification with ch'i that
an individual develops a way of alternating appropriately between the two
modes without the normal discontinuity of awareness. With a background
in biochemistry and management, R G H Siu notes (in a book published by
"Energy is the essential stuff for structural integrity and mechanical
and chemical processes, while ch'i is the essential stuff for pattern
perpetuity and thinking and feeling. While energy-metabolism accounts for the
vigour of health in the physical sense, ch'i-metabolism accounts for
the well-being of the person in the psychic sense. A smoothly operating cross-feed
exists between energy and ch'i in the normal and serene human being."
(1974, pp. 261-262)
In the East, many of the martial arts are explicitly concerned with practices
for controlling the movement of ki
, as in aikido for example. This
is also the case with the pattern of widely practiced exercise movements
called t'ai chi'i
. Siu continues
"If one wishes he may carry the analogy further. He may postulate
such laws as the conservation of ch'i, which would read: the totality
of ch'i is a constant; it is neither created nor destroyed, it is
only transformed. Comparable psychological formulations come readily to
mind, such as: ch'i gradients, as a basis for explaining dominance,
power, and influence, which would be analogous to thermodynamic gradients;
matching ch'i impedance, as a basis for explaining harmonious social operations,
which would be analogous to electrical requirements in circuit design..."
(1974, pp. 270-277).
But although Siu has written a subsequent book on management, there is apparently
little attention in the East to the significance of ch'i
at the societal
Returning to the left-hemisphere approach and the point of departure, the problem
is how to design a suitable "container" for development using the pattern of
experiential modes. Using the plasma model as a guide, the problem can then
be defined as using the configuration of functions to contain individual or
From the plasma case it is clear that the functions should serve a variety
of purposes in enhancing attention (and the will-to-change), in focusing it,
but especially in counteracting ever-present instabilities. These lead to
"degeneration" of the attention if it is not effectively insulated from the
surfaces of the "container". The model suggest that these surfaces are intimately
related to these experiential functions themselves. This confirms the difficulty
of the problem.
It is already well-recognized that no one function provides the desirable
solution and each of them is dangerous to society or the individual if unchecked.
But the current work on plasma confinement suggests that advances can be made
by "bouncing" the plasma around within the configuration of a magnetic cavity.
This would indicate that the challenge is really one of allowing the attention
to be constrained by all the functions simultaneously but without allowing
attachment to any one of them. It is thus not just a simple problem of oscillation
between two functional modes but between enough modes to constitute a subtle
container (at least in a three-dimensional configuration).
Switching to the right-hemisphere approach, in discussing ch'i Siu notes
that: "The conventional theories of physics and chemistry have not been successful
in clarifying the intrinsicalness of life and the specificity of biological
responses." (1974, p 259) The same may be said of sociology and psychology and
in relation to the specificity of response to significance. Architect Christopher
Alexander attempts to clarify the nature of this here-and-now livingness as
"There is a central quality which is the root criterion of
life and spirit in a man, a town, a building or a wilderness. This quality
is objective and precise, but it cannot be named. The search which we make
for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person,
and the crux of any individual person's story. It is the search for those
moments and situations when we are most alive... The more living patterns
there are in a place - a room, a building, or a town - the more it comes
to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining
fire which is this quality without a name... This quality in buildings
and in towns cannot be made, but only generated, indirectly by the ordinary
actions of the people, just as a flower cannot be made, but only generated
from the seed." (1979, pp. IX-X).
The question he confronts most admirably is how to enable individuals and groups
to work with a "pattern language" (1977) to build an effective container for the
"quality without a name". (The patterns would seem to reflect life in the same
way as magnetic mirrors reflect plasma.) It is regrettable that he is primarily
concerned with social patterns related to buildings and not also with the less
tangible psycho-social patterns in their own right. Is it through such explorations
that conceptual stones 'sing'?
In both the plasma example and Alexander's "quality without a name",
it is significant that the configuration of definable patterns engenders
a central space with special characteristics. Siu cites Lao Tzu with regard
to this "empty" space: "Thirty spokes unite in one nave and on that which
is nonexistent (the hole in the nave) depends the wheel's utility... Therefore,
existence renders actual but nonexistence renders useful." (1974, p 266)
But the wheel only works effectively when the compression in a particular
spoke is appropriately distributed around the pattern of spokes as a whole.
This is also true in both the plasma case and in Alexander's living environment.
It is relating this empty central space to human and social development
which is the current challenge. It is for this reason that the wider implications
of Aitkin's work on "q-holes" in organizations is of special interest (1977,
1981) as summarized at more
The essential weakness of attempting to describe the needed container
is that it places an illusory emphasis on a static configuration, when
in fact any static characteristics it may have are probably only as significant
as in the case of "standing wave" phenomena. It is the dynamics of how
the container works that needs to be better understood. This is also the
problem in the plasma case, Alexander's concern, and in Aitkin's q-holes.
Immediate implications in the present moment
With respect to "self":
Through what characteristics am I experiencing
myself now? What categories am I currently attached to, or defined by? Are they
frozen, written in stone (by whom?), or do they shift and change over a period,
possibly periodically? How do I shift between fixed, fluid, associational and
intentional forms in various combinations -- embodying the phase diagram to navigate
reality? Can I engage in cultivating this field of self-experience -- treating
it like a living garden of attributes from which I can nourish myself? What is
the garden and who is the gardener? What are the boundaries of the garden -- is
it fenced? Challenges include equivalents of: aridity, flooding, bugs, soil depletion,
invasion by wild animals.
What is the category "I" and how did I get stuck with it? "One" can be attached
to "I" for certain purposes but tends to flow around and through it for others
-- escaping the label or the cage! Is there a oneness with which I could identify
that changes and transforms through every moment? How would any invariance
then be experienced? By whom? What would be the pattern that connects (sub-personalities,
roles, etc.) as a basis for the quality of experiential life?
How does one remember that one is part of the Great Song [Symphony / Story
/ Drama / Opera / Game]? Do my stony categories 'sing' -- evoking
resonances from other worlds?
With respect to "relationship": "What" is relating to "what"? Is this
a juxtaposition or a mechanical connection of fixities? Is it dynamic, as in
a dance or with insects calling or releasing pheromones on the wind? A fiery
challenge of i-ons? Maybe a mixing of waters? What "defines" the relationship?
And what "refines" it?
How can experienced reality carry me through its manifold forms without my
need to act the controller? Is this the fundamental challenge of governance?
How do I change with the other, modifying the forms of experience through
which the encounter takes place? How does my categorization of the other prevent
"its" development and transformation -- and my own?
What is a particular role: father, sister, wife, husband, employer, friend?
When is it fixed and when does it flow -- if at all (**)? Can a relationship
be like a play in which I can take other parts in the dynamic that expresses
an elusive whole? What confines me to a particular part that I play repeatedly?
How is the "I-robot" controlled -- in relation to its tightly defined dualistic
category boundaries.? Up/Down? Friend/Enemy? The challenge and failure of
artificial intelligence are then metaphors of the existential challenge.
With respect to "environment": What is "not me"? "Reality"? How am I
"bounded"? Can the boundaries be pushed? What are "external pressures"? What
do I seek to grasp? (on 'grasping' reality as analogous to sexual
harassment, see https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/musings/reality.php)
How can I mine the conceptual solids generated by others in my environment
-- refining such ores to provide new experiential modalities? Categories that
have solidified in this way constitute an immense wealth of patterns whose
relevance to the other worlds is potentially far greater than to that within
which they were derived. Such categories, appropriately refined and tuned,
can serve like bells that can be rung to produce metaphoric resonances to
echo through other worlds.
What part of me engenders the diseases of "my" international community --
what are my "payment arrears at the UN", "double-dipping by consultants",
"governmental arrogance", etc.
- my UN and its Security council with veto powers
- my regional organizations
- my NGOs
- my MNCs
- my organized crime
- my international treaties
With respect to community: How can patterns form together with different
commitments: wet with dry, hot with cold? Wind over dusty plots. And what might
an intentional community really be?
With respect to "others" in general: Can I successfully cultivate attitudes
so as to:
- Allow those attached to their category territories (and efforts to defend
and extend them) to continue in their "fixation" with "their property".
- Allow the flowers to flow where they will (surfing, cruising, drugs). Wet?
- Allow the blowers and puffers (notably at meetings, in pubs and in dialogue)
to enjoy their proliferating associations. Fresh cool breeze? Mistral?
- Allow the intense and impassioned to bend my cognitive space for the while?
Any "disagreement" is then about my failure to work with resistance, using the
conceptual equivalent of martial arts (aikido) -- when to block and in the light
of what? Channeling and redirecting the energy of the other. How can I become
a black belt?
"Locomotion" and "Navigation": There is the challenge of navigating
a phase diagram, seeking sustenance where one may. Avoiding bonds that are inappriopriate
and cultivating others -- whatever appropriate means! Would systemic maps like
the I Ching or astrology offer any guidance?
- Some choices and distinctions I can seemingly make. The environment
can be treated as a solid and I can walk over it. As a fluid, I can swim through
it. As a gas, I can fly through it. Or else I can respond in some way
to the intensity of the moment. Categorizing the environment into solids is
not necessarily to colonize and freeze the future, but rather to make temporary
stepping stones across the flow of experience -- or maybe (hierarchical) branches
to permit brachiation through such conceptual trees, monkey style. In each
such case I condition the context into which I move. I make my path -- but
how do I coordinate my movement along it?
- But often I am not that free to make choices. As with a partner
in a dance, reality often constrains me -- through my preconceptions, it got
there first, and why not! By which modes am I then governed, perhaps unwittingly?
Which fixed boxes? Which pattern flows? Which winds of opinion? Which fiery
encounters -- photons, thermals? Do these condition me into a form -- perhaps
like a centipede or an amoeba -- better to move and navigate? Clearly in some
situations I cannot rely on the clarity of "vision", but must use "sound",
"taste", "touch" and "smell" -- equipped with the appropriate conceptual adaptations
-- or some combination of them all. I may engender, or find myself equipped
with, appropriate organs of locomotion -- and forced to scurry to survive.
In each case it is a question of what solid to be attached to, or what frictional
resistance to use (soil, liquid, air). How many cognitive limbs do I need to navigate
my current environment? I need to create or use resistance in order to move --
unless I can get into "orbit". But I have to be vigilant about remaining attached.
For how long is a particular configuration appropriate? To which places should
I seek to return -- like a perch, hole or lair? Do I need to acquire and defend
territory? In these senses I am forced conceptually back to the survival concerns
Reinventing a metaphoric habitat: a manifesto?
Most people do not question the obligation to live in a world whose nature
and structure have been articulated by the experts of today and of the past.
From this comfortable perspective realities are imposed upon us and our universe
is designed for us -- a warm thistledown comforter? Like the fish in the depths
of the ocean, we live under a weight of explanations and received opinions which
tends to crush the slightest gleam of imagination and alternative understanding.
As with the Borg species of Star Trek, have we been 'assimilated'
as cognitive cyborgs? Are there other ways of being?
The young are confronted and surrounded by immense skyscrapers of fixity --
that condemns and constrains their exploration of fluidity, motion and highs
(in effect increasingly restricting it to drugs). Category formation and modification
have been professionalized. This implies that the equivalent of postgraduates
degrees are usually required before a person is able to work meaningfully with
the categories to which they are subject -- a situation reminiscent of that
of the Indian 'untouchables' who are excluded from instruction in
their religion -- that defines them as untouchable. Is my understanding of myself
'untouchable' -- especially as I relate to others?
But maybe the world we think we live in can more fruitfully be understood as
a metaphor in which we have got trapped (cf http://www.un-intelligible.org/projects/humdev/55insmet.htm).
Maybe it is spiritual poverty (unemployment, ill-health, etc.) from which you
really suffer -- or on the contrary, you are really rich, healthy and employed
in ways you have never considered. Metaphorically have we bought into poverty,
unemployment, ill-health, ignorance, injustice, etc., in such a way as to inhibit
any effective response ? (cf more)
In this light we are indeed each free (within constraints to be explored) to
design our own metaphoric habitats (cf more).
We are free to extend the pattern of military, sporting and physiological metaphors
into which many corporations are locked. For those labouring in a bureaucracy,
it can be reconfigured imaginatively as the Court of Louis XIV - replete with
courtiers, courtesans and people pissing in the corners! Who convinced you that
you did not have access to your own personal super-computer (with 22nd century
multimedia software), or your own particle accelerator? What insights into the
structure of your universe are you deriving from your experiments with them?
And who obliged you to think of yourself as 'human' -- and according to their
definition? Feel free therefore to consider yourself a visitor from a distant
galaxy and enjoy the amazing behaviour of the range of species you encounter
during your visit here. Some of them may also be visitors from distant spaces!
They could even be "stargates" (for example https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/musings/stargate.php)
Are you despairing over your degree of spiritual enlightenment? Explore the
fact that you have already achieved full enlightenment and are simply indulging
in the illusion of searching for it - rather like a cat chasing its tail! Or
learn from the assumption that you are in fact totally ignorant -- or evil!
If the 'insane' can be Napoleons and God, what is to stop you in your maturity
from enjoying a change of status, provided it does not trap you? Try being an
unrecognized genius or a billionaire from Sirius. Cultivate those who belong
to the same species as yourself and develop your own unique language and cognitive
garb -- but worry about your ability to change it. What kind of metaphoric wardrobe
do you have? But, note a paraplegic wheeled along the street -- and consider
also from what perspective you appear like that?
How does casting metaphors differ from casting spells? Or maybe you
can be a shapeshifter, modifying your form to respond to different environments.
How about re-imagining the vehicle in which you are travelling as a spaceship?
Do you have any contract requiring you to buy into realities which you
find alienating - and to whose design you have not consciously contributed?
Join the metaphoric diaspora (Slogan: Have metaphor, will travel). The
product of the future will be intriguing metaphors that rearticulate your lifestyle.
Start today before someone traps you in their metaphor! The conceptually violent
are all geared up to do just that! Be your own spin-doctor and weave your own
Reflexive paradox of this text
The above text is a typical example of what it sets out to criticize, namely excessive
reliance on the container mode -- the contents index at the beginning of the paper
even uses a boxy structure! It relies on four categories. It can easily be seen
as yet another category shuffling exercise for purposes of entrapment. 'Category'
is also a category. Worse, the preceding section can itself be seen as yet another
"program" that people are encouraged to run -- on their own "personal computer".
To what extent is it a twisted "plot" to give dramatic form to my own situation?
As an overly long, linear text the only effort to shift into the other phases
is through use of metaphor to evoke experiencing associated with them. However
the general structure of the text does not reinforce this, as might be the case
with poetic associations between verses or with melodic associations in a piece
of music -- to ensure memorability. What would make it 'sing'?
It could be argued that such a piece of writing, with its twists and turns,
is like an abandoned shell -- the pattern of where I have been -- a launching
pad, or gateway, to other spaces and modes -- a "stargate". Or maybe as the
fewmets found periodically by the half-crazed knight as the only trace of the
Questing Beast he continues vainly to pursue (cf T H White's Once and Future
King). Another exercise in 'Kilroy was here'?
The way we embed ourselves in the structure of a trap, with which we then identity,
would seem to be the clue to any transformation -- as explored at length by
Varela et al (1991). After all as a coiled, coiled coil, DNA exemplifies the
complexity at the core of life. As policy scientist Geoffrey Vickers noted:
"A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped". In this sense the initiative
of the Microsoft team in using each day's 'build' of the NT software
to provide a realistic, challenging environment, through which to develop NT
itself, exemplifies the nature of the bootstrapping strategy that is appropriate
-- despite the marked imperfections of the 'build' on any day, and
especially at the beginning of the development process.
A more radical approach can be articulated in terms of the strategic metaphors
for thriving, notably in a post-crisis situation (see for example
that stresses a de-linking from authoritative explanations. This is a quest for
radical coherence ( see
This quest suggests the following.
What might radical coherence be understood to be? Something to do with an unforeseen
balance between unity and diversity, free from premature conceptual closure?
A form of emergent order?
- Diversity may be understood as a range or set of functions vital to the
viability of the pattern of coherence. But it is quite possible to have certain
kinds of music omitting many octaves, chords or notes. Viable ecosystems can
function without many species.
- How much diversity is therefore a question in endeavouring to understand
the kind of unity or coherence that is individually or collectively sought.
This may be a personal challenge to growing understanding.
- But in any pattern of diversity there needs to be some kind of coherence
to the functions present. What those functions are and how they are distinguished
is a challenge for the individual pattern maker playing with the group environment.
Insights from many disciplines and traditions can be used to order individual
understanding as well as personal learnings.
The energy of the collective enterprise will increase as each distinguishes
more essential functions and develops a richer patterning for them. The
music of the group, composed and heard by the individual, then becomes
richer and more powerful. It is this coherence which is in some way heard
by the rest of the group, affecting and guiding it in mysterious ways.
For any such coherence to be radical, it must be challenged by paradox
or else be trapped in dualities:
- Stressing coherence must necessarily evoke incoherence. Any such quest
must live with a counterbalancing incoherence from which new degrees of coherence
may be born.
Stressing radical new depths of understanding must necessarily evoke the
trivial and mundane. Any such quest must work with the ordinariness of
daily life as a framework for the extraordinary. Lead is essential to the
formation of gold.
Stressing a new form of collective quest must necessarily call for a new
degree of individuality. Any such quest requires radical individuality
to free and form group relationships in new ways.
Stressing the essential privacy of the quest must necessarily call for
a new relationship to the wider world. Any such quest must be challenged
and nourished by the dramatic problems of others in the wider world.
Stressing a transcendent intensity to interpersonal relationships must
necessarily be challenged by the undynamic, flatness of many daily encounters.
How is the topography of mountains and valleys to be completed?
Stressing a quest for the unknown is presumptuous in the extreme and necessarily
evokes lessons of humility. It is the humility that ensures the originality
and appropriateness of the quest.
Stressing the novelty of any quest must necessarily evoke a sense of its
banality. Paradoxically the quest maybe for insight considered self-evident
to others, or even to the person discovering it for the first time.
Radical engagement beyond the metaphor
How can such a radical quest take form? What did the exponent of process logic,
Alfred North Whitehead, mean by the phrase: 'The business of the future
is to be dangerous?'
Can it be "talked up" by a creative design process each feeding onto interpretations
of the other's insights, as a form of "psyching up"? Playing on each others
sensibilities? Or each endeavouring to "entrance" others by capturing them in
a story that defines them -- offering them entrance to a new vision of the world?
Endeavouring to lay a "spell" upon them?
How should a proposal like the above itself be challenged?
What is the most challenging way in which the following question may
be framed and understood: To what form of action does such an enterprise
In what engaging ways can a radical encounter be understood -- whether with
oneself, another, a community, the environment or reality? What is an engagement
that does not imply 'grasping'? In what ways should it be sustainable?
An encounter with someone different -- of different gender -- shows the need
to move beyond grasping. Reality may call for a similar attitude (see https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/musings/reality.php).
But at the same time there is a kind of existential struggle reminiscent of
the martial arts (katas, aikido, etc) -- the marital arts of making love!
Identifying oneself with the other, and the encounter, then offers a means
of transforming both oneself and the other -- whilst continuing to value the
reality and function of the untransformed condition. Everything is held without
holding. There are no remainders.
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