31 December 1998
Being Other Wise
Clues to the dynamics of a meaningfully sustainable lifestyle
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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.
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 (1993).
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.
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 some.
Any body that considers that current use of categories (in whatever mechanical combination) is adequate for dealing with such issues as:
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:
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 sing?
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 https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/musings/infqual.php)
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.
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:
, although with a tendency to cohere (surface tension -- fashion, peer group)
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 else?!
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)?
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 Logic (1992).
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:
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?
There is however an immediacy to cultivation in these world that indicates the limitations of category fixity:
Each of the above is a kind of "world" or way of being. Much of life functions at the interface between these worlds:
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 the diagram):
In the container world, typical intrusions experienced include: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).
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 stage. Why?
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 (http://www.cau.edu/tsmith/ichgene6.html), 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 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/learnstr.php).
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). For example:
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 businessmen (see). 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'.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.
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 MIT):
"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 level.
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 collective attention.
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 follows:
"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.
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?
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)
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:
"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?
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 web!
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?
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:
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 lead?
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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