21 May 2003
through polyhedral global configuration of local paradoxes
- / -
Bridging a paradox: opening a new space
Non-viability of a meta-stable space
Stability through configuration
Containment and authenticity
Nested sequence of polyhedra
Movement and focus of attention
Authenticity as "re-membering" the present moment
Cultivating the present moment
"Making a gateway"
Tragedy of "dis-membered gateways"
Modelling: construction of a dwelling or temple by configuring
Modelling: stakeholders and authenticity
Modelling: configuring paradoxes through the tensional integrity
of their relationships
Modelling: authentic dialogue and quarterstaff combat?
Modelling: encoding contrasting understandings of authenticity
Modelling: authentic dialogue as a game?
Illustrations from Taoism and Buddhism?
Fundamental paradox: Authentic vs. Unauthentic
Society is highly stressed by a range of amazing paradoxes, contradictions
or intractable inequalities. Most frequently cited, for example, is the fact
that the top 20 percent of society worldwide owns or controls 86 percent of
resources, and the bottom 20 percent owns or controls 1 percent of resources.
This situation is most forcefully exemplified by the income disparity between
employees of a corporation and the disproportionate financial rewards accorded
to their CEOs.
A second example might be the explicit constitutional
right of citizens to bear arms in the world's exemplar of democracy (a major
trader in such arms) -- which officially supports the "decommissioning"
of weapons of opposing factions in Northern Ireland, but fails to promote that
constitutional right amongst its coalition partners and as a key factor in its
efforts to export democracy to other countries. Is a heavily armed citizenry
to be considered essential to the checks and balances of such a democratic system
-- and to its comprehension and successful uptake by others?
Individuals have to deal with such "irrational" situations, whether
in their personal capacity or through the organizations in which they work.
They have to explain them to their children. The track record of national and
international institutions in responding to these situations is far from encouraging
In the example cited, the gap is known to be increasing between rich and poor.
Following the dramatic shift towards a monopolar world system as a result of
the new new strategic policy of the USA, this paper explores the fruitful implications
of the challenges highlighted in an earlier paper (America
as Eve-ill Empire: Evocation of Authenticity Elsewhere, 2003)
The exploration which follows focuses on the possibility that by both recognizing
the range of these paradoxes, as well as configuring them appropriately together,
a much healthier way forward will emerge. This approach is distinct from that
employed in global modelling (based on systems analysis), or in identifying
the elaborate networks of relationships between problems
or strategies. The concern
here is with how the configuration of paradoxes is comprehended as a whole,
especially by an individual who is in many ways torn apart by them -- for example:
longing to be richer (evoking envy) and feeling guilty compassion for the poorer
(associated with a degree of disdain).
The specific focus is on whether the range of paradoxes can be represented
and comprehended as a spherically symmetrical polyhedral structure. Of particular
interest is whether such a "global" structure could be endowed with
the mnemonic properties which, through their pattern of interference, could
evoke another way of being in the world. The question is whether, appropriately
configured, a pattern of paradoxical disparities could constitute a form of
"gateway" -- through which a more authentic and integrated mode of
being becomes viable, whether for society or for the individual.
Paradoxes and contradictions are here considered to be dissonant opposites
whose existence undermines the coherence of behaviour ordered by rational principles.
This can form the basis of an alternative approach to aesthetics, as in Paradoxism
initiated by Florentin
The concern of this paper, however, is that they force people to act in ways
with which they are not comfortable and that are troubling to their consciences.
This may be accompanied by complex exercises of rationalization and denial.
It may be difficult to reconcile such differences, especially in response to
the pointed questions of innocent children.
As discussed elsewhere (Antagonistic
Dualities: Polarization and Paradox, 1983), one approach to the logical
discontinuity between contradictory "answers" is through the study
of paradoxes. For Solomon Marcus (1982): "Paradoxes occur when two
different levels of knowledge, of language, of communication, of reality,
of human behaviour, etc. are seen as one level, are mixed, are superposed,
are combined, or are confused." He gives 18 pairs of levels which demonstrate
a variety of paradoxes of which some are well-known to specialists.
To clarify the semiotic difficulties involved, Marcus groups them into four
- Semiparadox: A against B, but not necessarily B against
A (e.g. "Mary gave birth to a child and got married")
- Paradox: A against B, and B against A. If
"against" is a logical negation, for example, this results in a
logical paradox (e.g. when something is simultaneously good and bad)
- Semiantinomy: A against B, and A for B, where
"for" is a binary relation which is inverse with respect to the
relation "against" (e.g. the well-known claim of Epimenides the
Cretan that "All Cretans are always liars")
- Antinomy: where (A, B) and (B, A) are both semiantinomies,
such that the first term of a dichotomy both opposes and needs the second
term, with the terms attracting and rejecting each other.
Solomon Marcus and Monica Tataram have applied these distinctions in the
analysis of 60 interacting global trends noted by the Goals, Processes and
Indicators of Development Project (Paradoxical and and antinomic aspects
of the global trends in the world today, 1982). They argue:
"When dealing with the contemporary world, a basic step is to learn
how to progress from a descriptive to an evaluative analysis, from what is
directly perceived to what is scientifically understood, although such an
understanding may sometimes surprise the intuitive perception....Many such
trends are organized in opposite pairs, but their contradictory nature is
much more richer and perfidious than what these binary oppositions reflect."
The difficulty with any such approach is that the very logic of the method
employed disguises the full force of the paradox and of the hiatus it engenders
in any univocal communication. It effectively prevents the insertion of
the engendering elements into the same framework, unless they are denatured
and converted into symbolic entities, as in the case of the Marcus initiative.
A particular concern here is with the way in which such unresolved differences
get internalized as tensions that undermine individual and collective health
and any feeling of well-being. In a sense exposure to a paradox is to place
oneself "in the line of fire". This may be used to advantage or may,
through stress, be a direct cause of ill-health.
Colin Talbot (How
the Public Sector Got its Contradictions, 2003) makes a useful comment
on choice of terminology:
I use the word 'paradox' to denote apparently mutually exclusive and contradictory
elements of a situation or system that nevertheless do co-exist. As I will
explain later, I prefer the term 'paradox' to that of 'contradiction' because
in the Marxist and Hegelian traditions, which have largely appropriated the
term contradiction, it has become inextricably linked to the idea of synthesis
- that is resolution of contradictions. My emphasis is on irresolvable, permanent,
contradictions and the notion of 'paradox' captures this more accurately and
Talbot distinguishes three types of contradictions:
Dilemmas are contradictions that can be resolved by simply making a choice
between two incompatible alternatives. This is the most often adopted approach
when examining contradictory aspects of public institutions.
The second approach - and type of contradiction -- comes from the Marxist/Hegelian
tradition and involves the dialectical synthesis of the (contradictory)
aspects of two phenomena to produce a third -- new -- 'thing'. In the Marxist/Hegelian
tradition synthesis is always positive, that is it moves in a 'progressive'
There is however a third approach to contradictions which sees them (or
at least some of them) as permanent -- that is they will not go away. They
cannot be resolved either through choice (as with dilemmas) or by synthesis.
If choice is exercised in favour of one 'pole' of the contradiction the
other pole will not be suppressed, it will simply resurface later, or in
a slightly different guise. [more]
It is the latter which is the prime focus of what follows. Talbot introduces
the valuable question: Why is it that paradoxical political, organisational
or managerial behaviour seems to be not merely possible but actually beneficial,
in certain circumstances?
Such paradoxes may be particular to an individual and may be fundamentally
disruptive of the harmonious flow of daily life (as notably identified in Chinese
as *** or in Japanese as ***). The disturbing paradoxes for some may be of little
significance to others.
A suggestive preliminary checklist for consideration in this process might
- starvation/obesity (eating disorders, bulimia, anorexia)
- security/insecurity -- violence
- degraded/undegraded (ecosystems)
- comprehensible / incomprehensible
- fast / slow (pace, food, stress)
- dense / sparse
- noise / silence
- intellect/emotion (head / heart)
- abundance / austerity (waste, profligacy)
- ugliness / beauty
- belief / unbelief
- caring indifference
- complexity / simplicity
- value-laden / value-free
- light / dark -- skin pigmentation (tanning)
- fragrant / putrid
- able / handicapped
- solitary / gregarious
- individual / community
- substance abuse / temperance
- armed / disarmed
- longing / contentment ("distant fields")
- transparent / secretive
- rudeness / courtesy
Such a random selection may be seen intellectually as simply a list of antonyms.
The emphasis here however is on the experiential response to such antonyms as
they are used to categorize and order phenomena of daily life. An extensive
study of these antonyms has been made in the context of a project on Human
Values [more]. A comprehensive
list of some 3,000 value concepts was ordered and clustered in terms of 230
value polarities, like those
above. The study pointed to the possibility of globally configuring all such
value polarities together [more].
Some steps were taken in this direction in the online
version of this database, but were handicapped by constraints of mathematical
algorithms and computer graphics technology [more].
At this stage, without denying the possibility and desirability of more complex
and comprehensive configuration, the focus here is on any individual's personal
choice of the more limited (say 4-12) active paradoxes that "torture"
their own daily life.
Bridging a paradox: opening a new space
Faced with a paradox, an individual has effectively to deal with the coexistence
of two incommensurable world views that manifest as a form of dissonance. This
dissonance may be stated in dry factual terms, as in the opening paragraph of
this paper. Doing so ensures a distance from their experiential reality. In
the case of the first example above, however, coming face to face with an impoverished
child in the gutters of Calcutta, whilst carrying a wallet of money that could
feed the child for a lifetime, is another matter. The paradox is rendered more
acute when the gutter is outside the house of a person richer than most could
every hope to be in the West. Variants of this situation exist in every country.
The individual in such situations is faced with a dynamic that can be handled
in various ways -- none of which take away the nature of the paradox. Dysfunctionally
this is best seen in the dynamics associated with substance abuse in a family
setting (as notably explored by Transactional
Analysis). But, potentially, it is the individual that can simultaneously
attach meaningful value separately to both of the incompatible world views.
It is the individual that may see both situations in a form of "value stereoscopy"
through which a curious form of integrative aesthetic "perspective"
is obtained. Failure to acquire such a "stereoscopic" view renders
the individual vulnerable to being sucked uncontrollably into the chaotic dynamics
to which he is then exposed.
The linear polar relation is bridged by the individual who introduces a third
pole -- the awareness from which the polarity is experienced. The individual
becomes the "bridge" through which the dissonance is reconciled --
but only by participating in that dissonance as in a piece of avant garde music.
It is in this bridging that we are shifted out of linearity and binary thinking.
We construct or constitute the bridge across the paradoxes (polarities) that
Such issues have notably been explored from a theological perspective by John
Robinson's analysis (Truth is Two-eyed, 1979). In arguing for a heterogeneity
of epistemologies, Magoroh Maruyama (Paradigmatology and its Applications,
1974, p. 84) offers a beautiful metaphor in response to the (homogenistic) question
"but which one is correct?" Maruyma's argument for "poly-ocular vision" calls
for the use of different mind-sets together in order to transcend the limitations
of each -- as in binocular vision. It is irrelevant to ask which eye has the
"correct" picture and which the "wrong" one. For him: "Binocular vision works,
not because two eyes see different sides of the same object, but because the
differential between the two images enables the brain to compute the invisible
dimension". The brain computes a third dimension which cannot be directly perceived.
And if we live in a multidimensional space even more epistemological "eyes"
are required. Reducing such vision to the parts in common provides much less
than monocular vision. The co-presence of distinct perspectives ensures that
from their differential an individual can envisage a more fundamental insight.
The difficulty with Maruyama's presentation however, is that he often appears
to associate such "poly-ocular" vision with the heterogeneity characteristic
of Japanese culture, although this may not be his intention. This would then
preclude the use of a homogenistic epistemological "eye" in any such poly-ocular
configuration. Each "eye" has its inherent limitations and strengths, and the
homogenistic "eye" presumably has its own vital contribution to make to the
process of encompassing (or responding to) the complexity of our collective
condition. In terms of his metaphor, this paper is about the design of such
poly-ocular configurations and how they may be comprehended through any given
"eye". His work, with J O Harvey's (Experience, Structure and Adaptability,
1966), demonstrates that a minimum of four such "eyes" are required to describe
the variety of perceptions of our collective reality (see also Four
Complementary Languages Required for Global Governance, 1998).
For Vladimir Dimitrov and David Russell (The Fuzziness of Communication:
a catalyst for seeking consensus, 1994):
Paradoxically, it is the ubiquitous fuzziness of language through which we
clarify what is meaningful for us in every day communication. We communicate
not to exchange accurate information, nor to look for a single comprehension
of meaning, but to interact using the largest possible variety of fuzzy linguistic
facets co-existing in parallel and complementing one another. The fuzziness
of our 'languaging' (Maturana and Varela 1988) imposes complementarity and
serves to foster our interactions. It makes categorical oppositions in human
communication lose their strength and even dissolve in favour of a never completely
finished process of production of meaning. [more]
A cautionary note in relation to this issue is provided by George Orwell's
classic identification of "doublethink" in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four
(1949; Plume, 2003). In Thomas Pynchon's introduction to a new edition of that
novel (extracted in The road to 1984, Guardian 3 May 2003), describing
...there has arisen a sort of schizophrenic manner of thinking in which words
like 'democracy' can bear two irreconcilable meanings, and such things as
concentration camps and mass deportation can be right and wrong simultaneously.
We recognise this 'sort of schizophrenic manner of thinking' as a source for
one of the great achievements of this novel, one which has entered the everyday
language of political discourse -- the identification and analysis of doublethink....
doublethink is a form of mental discipline whose goal, desirable and necessary
to all party members, is to be able to believe two contradictory truths at
the same time. This is nothing new, of course. We all do it. In social psychology
it has long been known as "cognitive dissonance". others like to
call it "compartmentalisation". Some...have considered it evidence
of genius...for American aphorist Yogi Berra it was coming to a fork in the
road and taking it, for Schrödinger's cat, it was the quantum paradox
of being alive and dead at the same time....We believe and doubt at the same
time -- it seems a condition of political thought in a modern superstate to
be permanently of at least two minds on most issues.
Non-viability of a meta-stable space
The bridging place that the individual then occupies in this triangulation
is an unstable, uncomfortable place. The experience is fundamentally jarring.
It is this that augments the person's own level of stress. Such stress can of
course be reduced by rationalization and denial, or simple indifference. The
impoverished can be labelled disparagingly as "losers" or "trash".
The focus can be placed on aspiring to the wealth of the rich seen as exemplars.
This might be seen as a healthy pragmatic response for the individual -- and
as realpolitik for a nation.
More intriguing is the context of questioning opened up by a paradox when facile
rationalization is felt to be inadequate. It is a cognitive space in which the
simpler realities no longer hold so well -- if at all. The departure of the
young Buddha from his father's carefully constructed protective palace -- after
encountering the suffering of others -- makes this point. The extensive use
of koans in Zen makes it in another way.
The questioning space opened by a paradox, whilst exciting as a philosophical
challenge full of promise, is not a stable one. There is no satisfactory rconciliation
or resolution within the framework troubled by the paradox -- except through
rationalization and denial. This may appear extremely viable in the short term
-- as with the US use of binary thinking ("you are either with us or against
us") -- but such paradoxes do not disappear. They might be seem to be eternally
Stability through configuration
As indicated above, there are many such paradoxes, whether or not many are
actively problematic for a given individual. Rather than offering attention
to paradoxes separately and in arbitrary succession, there is a case for exploring
the consequences of considering them together -- at least those experienced
as significant in a given period.
The question is what might then be understood experientially by "together"?
How can two or more paradoxes be held within a common framework? What exactly
is a "common framework"? The question is especially relevant given
the frequent appeals to "common values" and the search for a comprehensible,
viable, universal framework for them -- with no concern regarding the paradoxical
relationship in practice between many values and their polar opposites. Whether
obvious or not, "positive" values (such as peace and freedom) have
their "negative" aspects, just as "negative" values may
have their "positive" aspects. Clarifying the nature of such "value
polarities" was a particular concern of the above-mentioned Human
What might be the characteristics of such a framework, given that its paradoxical
components are significant primarily because they "break out of" rational
cognitive frameworks? In the bridging situation described above, the individual
provides the framework holding the single paradoxical relationship together.
This might be termed a 1-dimensional configuration.
If such a single paradox is represented by a line (or rod), consider the possibility
of being able to dispose several such rods on a flat surface (2 dimensions).
If the individual is to respond to them collectively, then the individual can
be understood as placed at the centre of the configuration. So 3 paradoxes might
be laid out to form a triangle with the individual at the centre. Similarly
4 might be laid out as a square, 5 as a pentagon, or 6 as a hexagon, etc.
Setting aside for the moment whether (or how) the ends of the rods are linked
in such a configuration, the question is how it impacts on a person's awareness
-- "handling" 3 paradoxes simultaneously, for example. Whereas with
the single paradox, the person could "evade" the destabilizing dynamic
by "moving away" from the polarity in many directions, now the ability
to do so is constrained. Such movement is effectively "barred".
The individual can indeed step out of the configuration -- effectively denying
its existential challenge and "moving out of the line of fire". Or
the individual can move "up" and "away" from the configuration
-- perhaps diminishing its existential weight. Or the individual can "move
into" the plane of the configuration -- embodying the set of paradoxes
in some way. In this case the configuration provides a kind of stable place
for instability. To some degree the individual's awareness is dynamically held
in that space more firmly than in the case of a single paradox. Any shift "towards"
or "away" from a particular paradox in the plane is corrected by the
pull of the others.
In such a situation the individual's awareness is effectively "stressed"
-- or inductively "heated" -- at the common focus of the dynamic set
up by each paradox. In this sense the configuration functions as a kind of door
or gateway that is opened by the transformation processes associated with the
"heating". Rather than "heating", the process might be understood
as a form of "transportation" -- perhaps somewhat modelled by the
operation of a linear magnet. The "co-operation" of the paradoxes
serves then to shift awareness "through" the configuration in a somewhat
controlled manner. However if "through" is simply considered like
going through a door into a new space -- this implies that in this new space
the paradoxes will somehow magically no longer apply. Whilst such "irrational"
spaces may well exist, as in fantasy and fiction, they are not the focus of
Again a failure to configure in some way results in the individual being sucked
uncontrollably into the chaotic dynamics to which he or she is exposed -- the
dynamics around a strange attractor.
Containment and authenticity
Rather than disposing the paradoxes as rods on a flat surface, suppose now
that they are arranged in 3 dimensions -- again with the individual at
the centre. In this case 6 such paradoxes could form a tetrahedron, 8 an octahedron,
12 a cube, etc. Again the individual's awareness is dynamically held by the
pull-push relations between the various paradoxes. However the hold is now even
firmer, and the individual can no longer be "transported" in the same
way. In a sense, any "transportation" is now into the fourth dimension,
whatever that might be considered to mean.
A cooking metaphor is helpful at this point, namely the suggestion that the
individual's awareness is "transformed" rather than "transported"
-- through the inductive "heat" associated with simultaneous exposure
to the set of paradoxes. The individual is then forced to shift the dimensionality
of awareness to discover a "space within" in which the paradoxes are
reconciled according to unforeseen criteria. In this sense the configuration
of paradoxes may be understood as evoking authenticity -- as with the use of
a koan in Zen. The "fire without" is then somehow embodied as a "fire
warmth ("heat") << "material" resistance
>> light ("enlightenment")
Of course, the configuration of paradoxes can also be experienced like the
bars of a cage that prevent movement in any direction. This may well be a fruitful
way of describing the situation of many individuals, of many groups, and of
society as a whole. In this sense lack of freedom is a prime characteristic
of society -- and many experience it in those terms. They may indeed engage
in patterns of activities that appear to amount to freedom. But to what extent
are such freedoms equivalent to those of a beast endlessly pacing the perimeter
of its cage in a zoo -- or a fish in a fish tank? Aspects of this challenge
have been explored with respect to "think tanks" and the "tank
thoughts" to which such a container metaphor gives rise (see "Tank-thoughts"
from "Think-tanks": constraining metaphors in developing global governance,
What makes a container a livable environment -- in which one can thrive? And
what kind of life can inhabit it? A Sufi tale alludes to the process of creating
a door-less golden cage, that may at some time prove attractive to the spirit
or muse that then takes up residence there - but which may also leave at any
time. In this sense the container is not a constraint but a frame of reference
through which higher dimensionality may be brought into focus and experienced.
By contrast, in seeking to evoke authenticity, the challenge of designing and
operating such a configuration in practice is superbly modelled by the challenges
fusion technology. In this case the much sought energy benefits of nuclear
fusion can only be achieved if the generated nuclear plasma (a fourth
state of matter) can be held within a container. Given that the plasma degrades
if it comes in contact with its container, the design problem becomes how to
hold it away from the walls of its container. This may be achieved by designing
the container as a "magnetic
bottle" in the light of the insights of magnetohydrodynamics [more;
The walls of the container, like the paradoxes in the configuration above, exert
push-pull forces on the plasma. In this way the extremely high temperatures
of the plasma (necessary for fusion) can be sustained without it being "quenched"
by contact with the container wall. Authenticity requires analogous detachment.
As might be expected, there is an intriguing isomorphism between the construction
and operation of a magnetic bottle and of the traditional alchemical
crucible and the associated notions of Ovum Philosophicum (which
can be translated as the Philosophical or Hermetic Egg) [more].
This suggests that magnetohydrodynamics, and the associated fusion technology,
might offer vital clues on how to operate a configuration of paradoxes. Given
Isaac Newton's non-mathematical preoccupation with alchemy (only recently acknowledged),
it is interesting that physicist David Peat has specifically related alchemical
preoccupations to those of nuclear plasma (where "tensions" in the
following quote might be understood in relation to the polarities of this paper):
In this talk I want to maintain a creative tension between a number of different
ideas, not giving in too quickly to the natural impulse to discover new solutions
and seek exhaustive definitions. Carl Jung gave the image of the alchemical
vessel in which processes of sublimation and purification take place. Psychotherapy
provides this same kind of containment whereby tensions and paradoxes are
charged with energy until they give way to active transformation. Even nuclear
fusion requires the hot plasma to be contained long enough for fusion reactions
to take place. (Alchemical
Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information, 1995)
The configuration serves as a kind of control framework -- except that the
framework is essentially dynamic and the control is one of holding in place
so that a transformation can take place which is of a higher dimensionality
than the container. Virtue-Vice pairs, understood as paradoxes of daily life,
can be usefully configured as such a control framework through which life is
navigated (see Navigating
Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms
through movement, 2002).
This perspective raises the issue of how being (and feeling) alive is related
to the experience of existential paradoxes. Are such configurations associated
with a sense of identity -- with what we have to live with, and through which
we have to express ourselves? Are they the energizing dynamics of life? To what
extent might the many forms of life be understood as different ways of resolving
the "metaphysical" challenge posed by a particular configuration of
paradoxes? To what extent is a coherent worldview sustained by an appropriately
configured set of paradoxes -- by the "burning" bars of a cage?
Nested sequence of polyhedra
The geometry of the set of spherically symmetrical polyhedra is such that there
are pathways of transformation from one to another [more].
The simplest are embedded implicitly in the more complex in which features of
the simple are elaborated in more and more complex ways.
If polyhedra can be used to hold "paradoxes" (as suggested above),
can these be used to distinguish patterns of dynamic constraints on different
systems, as follows:
- simplest polyhedra: plants and animals are constrained and guided
in their behaviour by a set of "tropisms": heat/cold, food/satiety,
security/vulnerability, etc. In the case of humans, these -- or their analogues
-- may also apply (as explored by Maslow's need hierarchy) [more];
- more complex polyhedra: the features of simpler polyhedra (encoding
the simpler tropisms) become implicit or virtual, with the emergence of more
complex sets of paradoxes that exemplify or frame the virtual tropisms;
- maturation: a final stage might be distinguished in which all paradoxes
become explicit to awareness, although the more fundamental are now implicit
as patterns of symmetry in the geometry rather than explicit on the surface
of the polyhedra.
The "maturation" process, through the sequence of polyhedra, then
provides progressively greater sensitivity to the contextual challenge of embodying
complexity. In a sense any given polyhedron in the sequence could be understood
as functioning like an antenna -- a polyhedral array -- sensing the potential
of the next complexification. The emergence and nature of higher forms of organization
might also be explored in the light of two seemingly contrasting evolutionary
- the necessity to switch from the simple, and essentially passive, spiracle-based
respiratory system of insects to that of the active circulatory system of
vertebrates permitting bodies of larger volume
- the necessity to switch from the complex, non-focusing faceted eyes of insects
to the non-faceted eyes of vertebrates in order to provide a more integrated
This progression points to the manner in which authenticity offers the requisite
degree of complexity (in terms of Ashby's Law
of Requisite Variety) to provide coherence to the ecosystem of paradoxes.
But the set of paradoxes active to consciousness in the struggle for coherence
may be only of tertiary significance, leaving more fundamental paradoxes unaddressed,
except by analogy and correspondence.
Movement and focus of attention
Individual attention tracks endlessly around any container, often following
habitual circuits -- as noted by many meditation masters and psychologists.
Some control may be exerted as with the control of the traffic on a model train
set of some complexity -- switching points, stopping/starting trains, etc. The
circuit may be more complex still -- perhaps as with the circuit board of any
piece of electronic gadgetry -- capacitors, resistors, etc -- or with an extensive
Attention may flow along pathways as along any decorative garden walk. Any
particular stretch may be experienced like the string of an instrument -- it
may be plucked to evoke resonances and harmonies with others elsewhere. Degrees
of consonance and dissonance may be detected. Patterns of association may become
perceptible as in the art of poetry.
As with any journey, there is a pull onward to the next junction, and the next
-- the potential of distant green fields. Significance may be derived from such
"tourism" -- with explication taking the form of travel journals as
in the earliest exercises in linear route mapping.
In a formal organization the flow and focus of attention is ensured by arrays
of subunits. A conventional organization chart might be seen to be an array
vital to that body's knowledge management process. Typically this is hierarchical
-- with daring excursions into matrix management and network organization models.
These may all be considered to be different styles of array. They reflect equivalent
arrays in conceptualization: hierarchy, matrix, and network. Interestingly the
French term for a matrix-based conceptual array is grille de lecture,
emphasizing that it is through the conceptual array that external phenomena
are read -- as through a pattern of window panes (and, ironically, the Windows
computer operating system offering a "gateway" to surfing the web).
It is also worth considering how many conceptual schemes, whether theories
or in the form of operational plans, can be considered as arrays -- ranging
from lists of concepts (as in web menus), through tables, to more complex structures.
The organization of these may be of special significance in practice (see Representation,
Comprehension and Communication of Sets: the role of number, 1978).
Although much studied, it is questionable whether array technology as applied
to social organization is now as sophisticated as that applied to radio antenna
design and operation. There has been little follow-up to Patrick Heelan's concern
with "The Logic of Changing Classificatory Frameworks" (1974) in terms
of the conceptual freedom of the lattices of non-Boolean quantum logic -- which
is in complete contrast to the essentially mechanistic structure of conventional
He noticed that meta-contextual languages able to unify two or more contextual
languages are isomorphic.
One intentional community that made very intensive use of conceptual matrices
(which they termed "screens") was the Institute of Cultural Affairs
research]. The question is how such conceptual arrays function to orient
the flows of insights and control messages throughout a community -- or for
an individual. Can polyhedral configurations be understood as arrays of differently
oriented facets that focus disparate insights? As such do they effectively function
as conceptual antennae for the detection of insights of higher dimensionality?
How does this contrast with processes based solely on logical chains of argument
-- on a "line" of argument? Can an "argument" then be better
understood as an array of reasons to be comprehended through insights into their
complementarity and symmetry -- as with a configuration of paradoxes? This then
raises issues about the kinds of visual literacy required to comprehend an argument,
or conceptual complex, so presented. The work of mathematician Ron Atkin ---
concerned with whether humans can live in only three dimensions -- is helpful
in understanding the difficulties that may be experienced in holding an array
of perspectives of any particular degree of complexity [more].
Forms of intelligence may be cultivated that are more adept at this than those
whose strengths lie in conventional forms of literacy and numeracy.
There is a case for exploring radiolaria as arrays. They are holoplanktonic
protozoa widely distributed in the oceans (and in the fossil record) and range
from 30 microns to 2 mm in diameter [more;
have long been an inspiration as art forms in their own right [more].
Many are spherical in structure. Extremely interesting efforts by Nicholas Shea
have been made to generate such spherical radiolaria structures [more]
with graphic software within the context of other generated spherical arrays
question is whether such structures could be used to configure semantic content
spherically -- a spherical semantic network map. This would then provide a context
for exploring whether some collective initiatives effectively involve the construction
of such "closed" arrays as "grilles de lecture".
Do such structures:
- map complex closed conceptual systems?
- reflect a degree of "programming" in both the positive and negative
- provide the degree of mutually reinforcement between the semantic components
to perform an antenna-like function ?
- offer clues to the emergence of coherence in the forthcoming "semantic
Authenticity as "re-membering" the present moment
A vital requirement to sustaining the embodiment of a way of knowing is through
a mutually reinforcing pattern of mnemonic keys -- a memetic ecosystem of associations.
At its simplest, and possibly richest, this may be a set of songs. Such patterns
may be reinforced through any of the arts, in isolation or in combination. Aspects
of such techniques are exploited in marketing campaigns, notably in political
or religious propaganda. Much less known are the mnemonic techniques, notably
associated with mnemonic architecture (as described elsewhere).
The concept of cocooning points to other lessons from its metaphorical roots
-- the cocoons spun by silkworms, other insects and spiders. The features are
juxtaposed to create a psychosocial cocoon, and the resultant web of mnemonic
associations, recall the mnemo-technical role of structures such as "memory
theatres" (see Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, 1966). Such devices
compensate for attention-deficiency disorders, erosion of collective memory
Networks to contain the Fragmentation and Erosion of Collective Memory.
1980), and the inability to comprehend the longer-term cycles fundamental to
sustainability. The traditional mnemonic role of beaded circlets merit wider
recognition with respect to the challenges of sustainability (Designing
Cultural Rosaries and Meaning Malas to Sustain Associations within the Pattern
that Connects, 2000).
In effect a way of knowing becomes all-encompassing when the pattern of associations
is all-encompassing -- offering particular semantic pathways in every circumstance.
Pejoratively, this may be labelled in anti-sect terminology as a dangerous degree
of "programming" typical of "brainwashing" -- that urgently
calls for remedial "de-programming". Curiously however professional
training of any kind is offered through "programmes" -- perhaps implying
that any professional qualification is the result of successful programming.
Religious education -- to compensate for the errors propagated by sects -- is
also offered through "programmes". There is already recognition that
the simpler forms of propaganda are evolving through "psychological operations",
to "information warfare" into "memetic warfare" -- to be
understood as invasive exercises in programming and counter-programming.
The plethora of information and knowledge now available, especially via the
web, is making evident the diminishing capacity of humans to "make sense"
of it as a whole. The situation will be aggravated in the future when every
person will probably have a website as a birthright -- to be cultivated during
life, and cared for as an electronic tombstone after death, in a process reminiscent
of the life-long preoccupations of the pharaohs. People are increasingly overwhelmed
by significance -- with significance grasped in the moment rapidly fading and
eroding with the passage of time (see Societal
Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory: a critique of the Club of Rome
Report, 1980). This is a precursor of the Alzheimer condition which
awaits many and may call for new mnemonic techniques for maintaining functionality
and integrity with increasingly fewer links -- a new way of framing Gregory
Bateson's challenge regarding sustaining quality by preserving the "pattern
Memory theatres and other contextual devices suggest the possibility of technologies
through which the present moment may be "re-membered" as a focus for
the authenticity projected into cultural artefacts and experiences.
As an example reviewed elsewhere (Renaissance
Zones: experimenting with the intentional significance of the Damanhur community,
2003), the community of Damanhur has
indulged riotously and joyfully in every possible art to carry and sustain a
rich and evolving pattern of insights quite distant from the western mainstream.
Its astounding temple decor, for those who can read the interwoven iconography
and scripts, seems to offer a form of mnemonic or memetic encoding -- a carefully
constructed circuitry for the mind and emotions through which knowledge is embedded
in the body. This wraparound mnemonic circuitry is quite in contrast to the
widely recognized challenge of responding to information overload. The techniques
for doing so, from speed reading to the programmes, do not address the ultimate challenge
of making sense in the moment from large quantities of information, however
well-clustered. Clearly, however, the work on strategic "situation rooms",
with their multiple displays, is moving towards the kind of "wraparound"
presentation in continuing development at Damanhur. It is the improved elaboration
of configurative encoding of significant content within physical volumes that
remains the challenge -- again as in the time of memory theatres promoted by
the hermetic tradition (cf Frances A. Yates. Giordano
Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 1991).
These issues were given a special focus by Marsilio Ficino -- named as instigator
of the western Renaissance. His special skill might be described as a preoccupation
with "composing the moment" through a configuration of aesthetic and
cultural devices then described as "natural magic" (Composing
the Present Moment: celebrating the insights of Marsilio Ficino, 2001).
It is such configurations that sustain authenticity.
"Presenting" is therefore used here in a much stronger and more radical sense
of "making present" rather than in the more common, weaker and more dissociated
sense characteristic of "presentations" about the future.
Cultivating the present moment
In the light of Ficino's insights, an earlier paper (Presenting
the Future, 2001) explored ways of making understanding of the future meaningful
in "the present" moment by giving it a new operational form of actuality and
immediacy that "the future" tends to lack when it is described in terms of scenarios
that may become a reality at some distant time. Too often people are "presented"
with projects that require austerity in the present -- justified by promises
for future well-being that are increasingly broken. The most blatant example
of such broken promises is in relation to pension schemes that have been undermined,
depleted and even annulled.
The focus on the present moment therefore responds to the often dramatic, concrete
challenges of personal survival through the austerity gap between present circumstances
and the future time when their unsatisfactory conditions may possibly be remedied
by proposed initiatives. From the prevailing perspective it is argued that many
contemporary proposals are difficult to distinguish from variants of Ponzi schemes
in which people are called upon to invest psychological or material resources
in ways that benefit the few "in the present" without any guarantee of benefit
to the many "in the future".
The focus is therefore on the enhancement of quality of life and sense of well-being
in the present -- and the ways in which "the futures" that can emerge are necessarily
embodied embryonically in radically new understandings of the present moment
-- to a greater degree than is is implied by efforts purporting to remedy external
conditions towards such ends. There is therefore a case for exploring "the future"
as a distinct way of being in "the present", rather than as how people might
experience "the present" in some projected "future".
Since it is paradoxes that undermine the coherence of the present moment, it
is perhaps through appropriately configured paradoxes that a new way of thinking
about the present and and being in it may be engendered. This requires new consideration
of the kinds of conceptual feedback loops essential to sustaining well-being
in the moment, whether or not such considerations have long been characteristic
of some non-western cultures [more].
Polyhedral configurations may prove to be useful templates onto which maps of
such loops can be fruitfully projected to ensure their coherence. They may provide
a pattern of associations to highlight both the bars of the cage in which we
are constrained reframed as the gateway through which we can then move.
If the polyhedra can be used to map out the pathways along which attention
tends to track around, this movement may be reframed by other insights such
- ritual chanting: this is a traditional method of focusing attention to engender
a new mindset in the moment or to celebrate and sustain a pattern of insight
(as with the Aboriginal approach to songlines);
- psyching up: this technique is notably used in preparation for war or competitive
- cyclosynchroton: this technology is used to accelerate sub-atomic particles
through a a very large ring of electromagnets to an energy level at which
they can be employed in experiments offering insights into the structure of
- alternation: each of the above uses a form of "alternation" to
enhance the level of energy; alternation between paradoxical alternatives
may be usefully explored through a range of other metaphors (see Metaphors
of Alternation: their significance for development policy-making,
- standing wave: the cycles of attention in feedback loops relating to paradoxes,
as mapped along the cyclic symmetry features of polyhedra, could give rise
to a phenomenon analogous to standing waves. The standing wave mode would
then arise from the combination of reflection and interference of attention
such that the reflected waves interfere constructively with the incident waves.
Rippling around equilibrium positions in the tensegrity structures (discussed
below) may be explored as standing waves;
- sacred writing: certain scripts may sustain patterns of connections (valuable
insights that may be explored, and unfortunately
copyrighted in particular cases); in the case of "sacred writing"
these may prove to be in some way isomorphic to some degree with the sequence
of patterns of activated nerve pathways in the brain by particular memes.
Such insights point towards other ways of understanding the pattern of associations
explored and sustained in the moment by poetry in support of the noosphere --
or a person's own noosphere. The virtues of living in the present moment have
been extolled by the Buddha and his commentators in many texts [more;
The concern would seem to be both appropriate detachment from, and attention
to, whatever is brought to awareness and how this ripples through a person's
"Making a gateway"
Many myths and tales for children explore the nature of the magical doors to
"another place". A TV series (Stargate) has popularized the
function of a "stargate" worldwide. The movie Contact demonstrated
the construction and operation of a dynamic gateway in 3D. Gateways feature
in many science fiction novels.
Magic as a practice has long been concerned with construction of such doors
to and from the "supernatural" worlds. A vast literature discourses
on the appropriate use of pentacles and the various "entities" that
may be contacted through them. As exercises and operations of the imagination,
the associated symbolism has been of great interest to both poets (such as Yeats)
and depth psychologists (Jung, Hillman). It has also been a focus for many secret
Curiously "making a gateway" is intuitively understood by many --
to some degree. This knowledge is clearest in making a special occasion for
another. A space is appropriately decorated and those involved are appropriately
brought into it. It may be a birthday, a marriage, or part of a courtship or
mating ritual. It may be an initiation into a peer group -- exemplified in secret
societies from wiccans to freemasons -- and including joining of a religious
order. It may include other "rites of passage". In each case careful
attention is given to: dress, look, smell, nourishment, symbols, moves and context.
An effort to make such occasions "magically" and meaningfully transformative
as gateways is evident in "opening ceremonies" -- exemplified on the
largest scale at the Olympic Games. On a smaller scale it is evident in the
attention devoted to the care and investment lavished on project and sales presentations.
Curiously the "gateway" concept is echoed in the use of pillared
archways -- in the case of suitably draped prosceniums, recalling analogies
explored between theatre proscenium design and female genitalia. It is through
these that people enter into the moment of the "happening" and coming
alive. As an "event", the transition may be compared to passage through
and out of the birth canal -- being reborn in a new space as the culmination
of a process analogous to a mating ritual. It is this that justifies explicit
use of such symbolism in wicca and tantra.
These points emphasize the visible and tangible features of a gateway, although
it is clearly how these create a transformative ambiance that is the issue.
Without the tangibles -- and possibly of greater significance -- much may be
achieved with conceptual frameworks suitably catalyzed. Such possibilities are
explored elsewhere: speculatively (People
as Stargates: an alternative perspective on human relations in space-time,
1996), in the light of some traditions (Patterning
Archetypal Templates of Emergent Order: implications of diamond faceting for
enlightening dialogue, 2002), and through the use of circlets of beads as
a spiritual discipline (Designing
Cultural Rosaries and Meaning Malas to Sustain Associations within the Pattern
that Connects, 2000).
It is not however sufficient to configure a set of paradoxes. This is a necessary
preliminary step. The challenge is how to "make" the configuration
"work" as a gateway. This is the contrast between designing, describing,
and observing a door -- as opposed to actually opening and going through it.
It is very much a question of how the individual's awareness engages with the
configuration to "unlock" it as a door. Making the door "work"
involves issues explored by enactivism
-- succinctly summarized by Francesco Varela in the phrase "laying down
a path in walking". Is there a way in which one must become both the "door"
and the "key" in order to be able to step through it?
The may be the challenge for for the species that will replace homo sapiens,
as the Neanderthals were replaced by the Cro-Magnon (see Authentic
Grokking: Emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003)
Tragedy of "dis-membered gateways"
Suppose that active (or potential) gateways within our culture had been inactive
or dismembered by some means. This might be like being confronted with an automobile
from which the wheels had been removed -- or a doorway that had been bricked
up. In science fiction terms the elements of the door frame would have been
disassembled -- and taken to different places. Or an operating door might be
rendered phoney and inoperable by the attitude of the person encountering it
-- possibly epitomized by modern attitudes to the traditional Chinese archway
symbolizing contemplation and perspective. Worse still, a phoney door might
have been substituted -- offering a transition to nowhere significant. How is
an active gateway transformed into a purely symbolic archway to nowhere? But
even worse of course would be loss of memory of the existence of such a door
-- except perhaps in magnificent fairy tales for children.
There are some interesting examples of what might be dismembered doorway elements:
- sets of tales (eg Aesop, Nasruddin,
Jataka) to which people are successively exposed without any means of
understanding how they fit together. Each tale is a mini-story which can "transport"
people imaginatively. But suppose it is the significance of the tales together
-- their co-significance in their complementarity, as with the parts of a
door -- which provides the critical mass for a more sustainable form of transportation
- a set of koans typical of Zen might constitute a transformation experience
of a different nature to that offered by a single koan. But how are the koans
in the set to be re-membered to configure such a gateway. Might the same be
said of a critical collection of aphorisms of any culture?
- much is made of the distinctiveness of particular perfumes, textures, tastes,
or even sounds, as detected by the appropriate senses. But why is it, in each
case, that the possibility of configuring these qualitative differences is
not explored? Who has the insight to recognize and circumnavigate a "globe"
of odours -- of tastes, of sounds, or of colours? Are people effectively deprived
of gateways and maps for such qualitative journeys?
- could it be said that the gateways offered by literature and music are in
many respects dismembered or rendered operable only for "local"
travel? Why is the possibility of qualitative travel no more than of a similar
order to that of the earliest explorers dependent on local guidance to help
them to the next location?
- a number of devices engendered within various cultural traditions are poorly
understood as wholes -- emphasis being placed on their features, aspects and
the personal significance of their parts. This is notably evident in the case
of the labyrinth, the mandala, the horoscope, the enneagram, the I Ching,
the prayer circlet of beads, and variants of sand painting. A gateway can
only function as an integrated whole. Any focus on aspects detracts from that
integration -- symbolized by their centro-symmetric form. Their form and function
as gateways perhaps derive their mystery and fascination from the degree to
which they echo the muscular form and psycho-social dynamics associated with
- sets of virtues and vices that collectively may be understood as navigational
aids through which the mundane may be transcended [more]. The focus on the
challenge of any particular vice (greed) or virtue (compassion) inhibits insights
into the manner whereby the set (of interacting virtue-vice pairs) as a whole
can reframe reality -- thus serving as a gateway.
- systems of knowledge organization are most significant in their inability
to relate to each other or to handle polarities and paradoxes -- from which
their incommensurability partly stems. If the governance and development of
society is subject to tensions from a variety of polarized perspectives, then
knowledge organization would seem to need to be designed in the light of those
polarities and paradoxes [more;
- a "re-union" or a "con-ference" (possibly of "members"
of an "association") suggests a bringing together of distinct perspectives
through generic dialogue processes alluded to in associated terms such as
"congress" and "intercourse" (with their curious secondary
connotations to sex). Despite the number of such events, their capacity to
constitute a transformational gateway (whether singly or in combination) has
proven to be highly questionable. The diverse elements required to build a
gateway may well be in the same place at the same time, but like a kit of
parts their "assembly" is not necessarily appropriate and does not
necessarily result in their "co-operation" as a gateway in more
than a token, cargo-cult sense. The assembly of the parts tends to be based
on simplistic understandings of "common values" or "common
ground". For a getaway to operate, it is the diversity of the assembled
perspectives that needs to be brought into play. Perhaps the focus should
not be based on "conference" but on "difference" as a
framework for holding disagreement.
- stakeholders in relation to any issue may together constitute a gateway
for transformative processes. The challenge in practice lies in their recognition
and their appropriate configuration -- as exemplifed most concretely by the
shape of the table in some diplomatic negotiations.
Is it possible that the real "tragedy
of the commons" is a conceptual one through which common gateways have
been closed off through a pattern of enclosure [more;
more]? Does the nature of any operational
gateway depend on the capacity to configure highly disparate qualitative insights,
despite their inherent incompatibility?
In the logic of this paper, there is of course a danger in the polarity between
closing and dis-membering (stigmatized as "bad") and opening and re-membering
(caricatured as "good"). In practice doors and gateways only function
if they can be both opened and closed. With respect to information and meaning,
this dimension has been most usefully explored by Orrin Klapp (Opening and
Closing: strategies of information adaptation in society, 1978; Overload
and Boredom: essays on the quality of life in the information society, 1986)
Modelling: construction of a dwelling or temple by configuring
Construction of a dwelling, whether considered abstractly or in practice, is
a challenge in configuring polarities (walls, roof/floor, doors, windows, etc).
In the simpler cases -- as with various kinds of hut -- these may indeed be
poles. They have to be positioned in relationship to one another -- and interlocked
or joined in some way -- in order to create a space. There are many techniques
for doing so which offer insights into the challenge of configuring polarities.
It is the space which is then protected from the elements by the framework
of polarities whilst providing controlled access to them (fireplace, water supply,
ventilation, etc). The framework may even serve as a lightning conductor. The
elements -- such as water, wind, or heat/cold -- can also be understood as metaphors
for the varieties of pressures and stresses that are characteristic of social
Buildings can be constructed with great attention to symbolism, attributing
significance to the polarities in the design. This is the case with temples,
mosques and cathedrals [more].
It is in this light that the polarities inherent in the symmetries of the human
body can be interpreted -- through the much cited phrase -- "the body is
the temple of the spirit".
Modelling: stakeholders and authenticity
A much-favoured metaphor for international strategy development and implementation
is that of "stakeholder" -- as in multi-stakeholder roundtable (working
group, conference, etc) or multi-stakeholder dialogue. Larry W. Smith, for example,
Clarity Through Stakeholder Analysis. In discussing the reality of multiple
perspectives, Christopher Fox (Mental
Models, Metaphor, Systems Theory and Theory) indicates:
Because each individual interprets the world and constructs their mental
models differently, each person's mental models will provide them with unique
perspectives onto the world. For example, in information systems projects,
this manifests itself in two ways.
- Within each project, the different stakeholders will have different perspectives
on what the desired outcome or goal of the project is. This manifestation
of multiple perspectives underpins the role of corporate politics in projects.
- Each of the stakeholders in a project will have different perspectives
on the nature of project management. These differences may result from differences
between the systemic metaphors employed by the stakeholders or from other
differences in their mental models which result from different past experiences.
(1994) offers a further basis for multiple perspectives with particular reference
to project management, in his distinction between process stakeholders and
outcome stakeholders. For both groups of stakeholders, project success is
measured in terms of stakeholder satisfaction. However, for process stakeholders,
stakeholder satisfaction is a function of the quality of the process by which
the project was enacted, whilst for outcome stakeholders, stakeholder satisfaction
is a function of the quality of the end-state reached by the project.
The use of the term stakeholder comes easily but the configuration that it
implies is less evident. Are they to be considered as configured in a ring --
reminiscent of a "fairy ring" in mushroom country, from which the
central seeding mushroom has disappeared? This is consistent with an understanding
that an invisible Registrar has recognized their right to the claims that they
each stake -- who recognizes the claims of stakeholders?
The paradoxical dimension of a stake becomes evident through reflection on
the origin of the stakeholder metaphor -- in staking a claim to land for farming
or mineral exploitation. The claimant places the stake into the ground with
a suitable symbol of authorization attached to its other extreme -- and holds
it in the middle (as dramatized in the Tom Cruise movie Far and Away,
1992). There is a paradox to the placement of a stake into the heart of the
land to which indigenous others have a different relationship -- and then attaching
a symbolism to this that is meaningless to them. Whilst this paradox may be
more obvious in the case of claims on the lands and resources of indigenous
peoples -- ensuring their enclosure -- there is a case for reflecting on the
"territories" over which more conventional stakeholders seek to register
and maintain their claims.
In the light of such claims on land territory, it is easily assumed that its
analogues in social and knowledge space are similarly two-dimensional -- and
can be so marked on a map. But the claims of modern stakeholders over social
space are more complex, as is any configuration of them. They are also less
constrained to a static territory and call for a more dynamic understanding
of their respective spheres of influence.
In an earlier paper (In
Quest of Uncommon Ground Beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words
of power, 1997), it was argued with respect to the stakeholder metaphor:
Little thought is given to building on this metaphor to suggest notions of
links between stakes, as in fencing an enclosure -- fencing the commons? Nor
is thought given to the ways in which stakes may be used (for the attachment
of guy-lines and as poles) to ensure the erection and stability of a "tent"
within which all can shelter and interact in new ways -- a three-dimensional
spatial arena. Strangely stake "holding" implies that people will continue
to cling to their respective stakes -- however a project takes form. It might
even be asked whether the term is better understood as "steakholders", where
each grabs a piece of "meat" from an ill-defined whole -- which might have
otherwise been able to live. Far more interesting is the metaphorical exploration
of the role of stakeholders in the construction of scaffolding through which
social contexts of higher dimension can be created.
Some of these dynamic, three-dimensional approaches to stakeholding are more
evident in the following models.
Modelling: configuring paradoxes through the tensional
integrity of their relationships
In the above-mentioned Human Values project the possibility of configuring
over 200 value polarities in 3 dimensions was explored
in the light of the unusual features of tensional integrity (tensegrity) structures
Such "global" structures have the unusual property of existing in
three dimensions as a result of a dynamic balance between tension elements (cords)
and compression elements (struts). What makes such structures unique is that
the struts do not touch one another and there are no privileged struts, especially
at the centre (where there are in fact no structural elements at all). It is
such properties which usefully encode the possibility of non-linear relationships
between mutually opposed value categories that collectively sustain a coherent
Of special interest is the possibility of projecting value polarities onto
struts. The particular model presented to highlight these possibilities for
further investigation was selected because it had 90 struts. Speculating that
it may be fruitful to distinguish between a conscious (explicit) and an unconscious
(implicit) form of the 45 value dimensions identified in that project, the two
sets of 45 could be projected onto such a model. The distinction between two
such sets is itself modelled by the impossibility of viewing more than half
such a global structure from any one perspective. Other properties of interest
are the three-fold and five- fold groupings of polar elements within the model
as well as many symmetry effects which contribute to the integrity of the model.
It is the use of such properties to stabilize and render comprehensible interpretation
of the complex relationships between opposing values that merits attention (see
of Challenge and Harmony: an alternative approach to alternative organization.
Whether or not the paradoxes are explicitly identified in terms of values,
the kinds of polarities listed as examples at the beginning of this paper could
be projected onto a single tensegrity as a way of providing a special kind of
common framework. In this case "common" respects the incommensurabilities
through a different kind of connectivity (referred to as the kiss-touch)
-- rather than "bolting" the items distinguished into a rigid structure
emphasizing a theoretical uniformity that has no correspondence in practice.
Given that tensegrities exist of complexity greater than may be appropriate
for particular purposes, it is interesting to explore the simpler tensegrities
that may be used to handle 6 to 30 polarities / paradoxes. This was the approach
taken by Stafford Beer (Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity,
1994) in a cybernetic application of R Buckminster Fuller's synergetic
geometry. For a group of 30 people his syntegration
process is explained by using an icosahedron
as a metaphor [more;
. Here, each of the 30 people is represented by an edge whereas each vertex
corresponds to a topic of concern -- in this case we have 12 topics. Usually
each vertex (i.e., a topic) is associated with a colour so each member of the
group is represented by two colours, the two colours that connect its edge in
The question might then be framed as what structure of this kind can hold the
set of paradoxes that sustain and frame my own world ? Of particular interest
is one based on the cuboctahedron or vector equilibrium (Vector
Equilibrium and its Transformation Pathways, 1980). Is there a way in
which the nested polyhedral sets of paradoxes effectively constitute a matrix
or womb within which authenticity is birthed? This perspective might be usefully
contrasted with the emphasis on the (usually cubic) "tank" metaphor
in relation to "think-tanks" as centres of excellence within which
innovation is engendered -- possibly to be developed in associated "business
incubators". Elsewhere the suggestion was made that more organic metaphors
might prove more appropriate to some of the paradoxical challenges of sustainable
development (see "Tank-thoughts"
from "Think-tanks": constraining metaphors in developing global governance,
Modelling: authentic dialogue and quarterstaff combat?
One interesting take is to consider that a metaphorical "stake" (see
above) may be both held and used like a "quarterstaff". The challenge
in both cases is the extent to which either the stake or the quarterstaff is
recognized as representing a paradox rather than as having any element of paradox
designed out of it.
The quarterstaff (of some 2 metres length) is the basis for a traditional martial
art -- which is also associated with some spiritual disciplines in West and
East. A quarterstaff combat can be fruitfully explored as the encounter between
two contrasting paradoxes or polarities -- or more in the case of many dialogue
participants each so armed. It then models only too realistically many dialogue
situations! The moves in such a conflict -- how the quarterstaff is held and
used -- model many moves open to those interacting in dialogue. A quarterstaff
may, for example, be held at one end (of the polarity) in order to beat the
opponent with the other. One opponent may poke the other with one end of the
This "one-end" (polarized) method of engagement in dialogue is also
modelled by the use of a sword. Fencing has its well known tactical elements
(such as thrust, parry, riposte, engagement, change of engagement, beat, press,
etc). This is a metaphor for some forms of dialogue as in the phrase of fencing
Maestro Luigi Barbasetti: "like poets we compose verse in the great dialogue
of steel". The metaphor is explored to a far greater degree in Miyamoto
Musashi's classic The Book of Five Rings. This has become a key text
in some Asian schools of management education. According to Harold Hayes (Strategic
Balance in Chess and Fencing, 1991):
Education in the art of fencing prepares the fencer to sustain a rational
dialogue with the opponent in the language of struggle. In that language there
are many dialects, and many universal themes. Fencing itself is perhaps the
king of those dialects, and chess is perhaps the queen. The education of a
fencer develops familiarity with the many types of part/whole relationships
that may exist among fencing actions and the infinite variations that link
Such polarized engagement has also been popularly dramatized in the archetypal
interaction of Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the Star Wars movie
series using lightsabers
("laser swords"). It is consistent with that archetype that swords
of any kind are only held at one end -- the other being used to subdue the opponent.
So held it signifies a "truth" which challenges the "falsehood"
of the opponent (holding the opposite view). They may only be held with one
hand. More interesting for dialogue, as modelled by use of a quarterstaff, is
the ability to use either end of the polarity -- in response to an opponent
with a similar degree of freedom. Both hands are used.
The quarterstaff, however, may also be held and used with two hands about its
mid-point -- notably in order to block any strike by another. This use of the
polarity (or paradox) as a balanced whole may also be understood in the light
of Carl Jung's syzygy
archetype -- a concept from depth psychology related to synergy, but applying
to the interrelationship of two complementary archetypes (typically male-female).
From this perspective there is no differentiation of priority, importance, or
sequence between the polarity's poles. The whole is then as distinct from the
polarity of "space and time" as is Einstein's description of the texture
of the universe as "space-time". In archetypal terms, this is a pattern
of wholeness and integration. Paradoxical oppositions between the outer and
the inner life are "joined" in marriage (as explored in My
Reflecting Mirror World: making Joburg worthwhile, 2002) [more].
Great power is understood to arise from this integration.
Just as sign language windows on video screens are occasionally provided to
interpret verbal dialogue for the deaf, it is possible to imagine a corresponding
"interpretation" of a dialogue using two (or more) martial art practitioners
of quarterstaff -- with each quarterstaff colour-coded to match a polarity (paradox)
in play in the dialogue. Why is it assumed that any assembly of "stakeholders"
is somehow static rather than in a dynamic interaction which calls for a special
approach to their configuration -- if a "multi-stakeholder" group
is to make possible the emergence of some higher order of consensus?
Modelling: encoding contrasting understandings of authenticity
In relation to this possibility is the use of the binary coding system of the
I Ching -- which specifically addresses the paradoxical challenge of
polarity (yin-yang) -- using combinations of broken an unbroken lines. There
is then a case for exploring two contrasting coding interpretations (and
especially their psycho-epistemological implications in relation to the world):
- "Integrated polarity" (as with the syzygy):
- unbroken line: two-handed quarterstaff, emphasizing integrity through
non-rigid continuity and flexibility (the manner of embodying the world
and reflecting the world in one's own psychic processes, as explored by
- broken line: with the gap indicative of non-discriminatory, two-handed
use (the manner of shifting flexibly between the truth of the outer and
that of the inner worlds understood as distinct)
Perhaps best exemplified in the aspirations of some Eastern martial
arts and in the goal of many spiritual disciplines. Exemplified in embryonic
form perhaps by the European foreign policy position of ambivalence on many
issues -- embryonic because of the major constraints on "getting its
act together" (unbroken line) and finding appropriate strategic
forms to deal effectively (and with integrity) with radically opposed views.
The birth pains of a more integrated perspective are only too evident in
the European integration processes bedevilled by a variety of forms of corruption,
even in the finances of the European Commission itself. The pressures to
take even-handed (broken line) account of alternative perspectives
and processes are however more consciously and sensitively addressed. This
struggle towards a more flexibly integrated approach is also evident in
the challenges of the United Nations.
- unbroken line: namely the sword-like use of an integrated weapon
(the manner of standing with integrity in one's truth in opposition to
contrasting truths in the world that are to be appropriately subdued);
- broken line: namely indicative of the grip at one preferred end,
distinct from the other end used for striking (the manner of holding
to one's own truth whilst recognizing the reality of the diversity of truths
in the world to which one must adapt).
Exemplified on the international scene by the "binary thinking"
of current American foreign policy: "you are either with us or against
us". Such thinking even has dangerous implications for the democratic
process when the party in power is faced with opposing parties (within the
USA). It is out of the strategic firmness (unbroken line) on which
the USA prides itself (and identifies as reflective of its integrity) that
opponents are held at bay and subdued. This is accompanied by the demonization
of opponents as "evil" and disconnected (broken line) from
the civilization it claims to uphold for humanity. Such thinking is reinforced
by righteous religious fundamentalists convinced that they act with the
blessing of God in opposition to the forces of evil -- a view held in equal
measure by their opponents. The monopolar bias does not however create a
context for diversity -- perhaps to be caricatured by the phrase that people
cannot dwell inside a maypole!
The italicized comments on the inner-outer implications are necessarily tentative.
The two interpretations of course stand in polar opposition to one another.
The second is much more easily integrated into simplistic, mechanical ("linear")
thinking. The first is a major challenge to conceptual and institutional structures
and processes -- and to individual comprehension and individuation processes.
Whichever interpretation is used, there is the fascinating possibility that
the combination of such lines into 8 trigrams (or 64 hexagrams) in the I
Ching system may be used to distinguish both the many quarterstaff conflict
situations and a set of corresponding dialogue situations (see experiment in
derived experimentally from the Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) for sustainable
dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community and lifestyle,
1997). This approach has also been used experimentally to distinguish a set
of strategies (see Interrelationships
between 64 Complementary Approaches to Sustainable Development, 2002).
It is understandable that the metaphors used in the I Ching emphasize
to such a degree the most common polarities encountered in the dynamics of family
life: father-mother, father-son, mother-daughter, first son-second son, etc.
It is these dynamics -- often highly challenging -- that can make such a mockery
of any simplistic, rigid, "universal" framework of "family values".
Modelling: authentic dialogue as a game?
But it is worth speculating on the nature of a possible authentic dialogue
"game". Such a game might combine the old children's game of "paper/scissors/stone"
(paper wraps stone, scissors cut paper, stone blunts scissors) with a widely
popular pattern matching computer game like Tetris
[more] -- that has been
subject to a fruitful analysis [more].
Rules might include some elaboration of:
- dialogue participants can put forward configured paradoxes of 1, 2 or 3
- if a 3-dimensional structure can absorb or subsume the patterns of a 1-
or 2-dimensional structure then it "wins", through remaining unmodified,
through effectively absorbing it onto its surface;
- but if the 1- or 2-dimensional structure can effectively split the 3-dimensional
structure (on an axis of symmetry) then it "wins"
Perhaps the rules might include dialogue processes analogous to quenching,
grounding, burning or fusing -- in the light of the traditional Chinese recognition
of the relationship between the "five elements" [more].
These five elements are not just the materials that the names refer to, but
rather metaphors for describing how things interact and relate to each other:
|Water engenders Wood
||Water can extinguish Fire
|Wood engenders Fire
||Wood can break the ground (Earth)
|Fire engenders Earth
||Fire can melt Metal
|Earth engenders Metal
||Earth can make Water disappear
|Metal engenders Water
||Metal can break Wood
According to a Wikipedia description of the relationship between the
Daoism promotes a production chain between the elements, as well as a control
chain between them. In the production chain, wood produces fire; fire produces
earth; earth produces metal; metal produces water; water produces wood. In
the control chain, wood controls earth; earth controls water; water controls
fire; fire controls metal; metal controls wood. If one lays out these circular
chains in a circle, then one chain outlines a pentagon and the other chain
outlines a five pointed star pattern. These interactions and relationships
form a framework for different schools of philosophy, belief and discipline.
The interaction of five elements becomes a tool that helps scholars sort out
observations and empirical data. Based on observations of how things interact,
things are classified into one of the five elements so that they fit into
the observed pattern. Then one can draw high level conclusions or predictions
based on the element types. [more]
Just as a game like Tetris crudely models the manner in which molecules in
genetic biochemistry match onto sites, the proposed game might point to the
way in which memetic components might lock into suitably configured sites.
There is the intriguing possibility of a relationship, if only visual, between
the pattern of all moves in a quarterstaff conflict and the structure of a tensegrity
(that can indeed be constructed using quarterstaffs as struts). A tensegrity
could be perceived as effectively "a standing wave" that is an expression
of the potential range of angled quarterstaff encounters in any global "multi-stakeholder"
dialogue. The different angles in such geometry may usefully offer an intuitive
way of encoding the different "angles" from which stakeholders approach
a possible common endeavour -- suggesting a function analogous to an oriented
Given the global "great circle" symmetries characteristic of tensegrities,
it would then be interesting to explore whether such interlocking circles could
be used to encode the various "production" and "control"
chains within the Chinese 5-element theory. This could be the basis for electronic
support of integrative dialogue (see Spherical
configuration of interlocking roundtables: Internet enhancement of global self-organization
through patterns, 1998)
Illustrations from Taoism and Buddhism ?
The authenticity induced at the focus of a set of paradoxes -- by transcending
them in some way -- may be compared with the understandings of emptiness in
Buddhism and Taoism.
The philosophical systems of Buddhism and Taoism both hold that logical discourse
is limited in any metaphysical description of reality. However, there are many
ways in which the two systems differ. The most common misunderstanding about
the Tao is that "Emptiness" in the Tao has a similar meaning to "Emptiness"
(Sunyata; Chinese, Kung; Japanese, Ku) in Buddhism. This
is because different words in Buddhism and Taoism were all translated as Emptiness
in English. "Taoist Emptiness" is completely different to "Buddhism
Emptiness" [more; more].
According to the Heart Sutra of Buddhism:
"That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness form." No object
or concept has its own self-nature. Everything is interconnected on an ontological
level. In contrast, the Taoists believe that form is the complement of emptiness.
According to the Taoist Lao Tzu:
"Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut
doors and windows for a room; It is the holes which make it useful." Form
works because of emptiness, emptiness works because of form. All the forces
of nature, not only form and emptiness, exist in complementary pairs of yin
and yang: Heaven and Earth, dark and light, hard and soft...".
It is this authenticity that provides a coherent context for the interplay
of the dynamics of the paradoxes on the surface of the spherical polyhedral
configuration. This is best exemplified by the following insight from Chuang
Tzu where "authenticity" is here understood in terms of "Tao"
Tao is obscured when one understands only one of a pair of opposites, or
concentrate only on a partial aspect of being. Then clear expression also
becomes muddled by mere wordplay, affirming this one aspect and denying the
rest... each denies what the other affirms, and affirms what the other denies.
What use is this struggle to set up "No" against "Yes," and "Yes" against
"No"? Better to abandon this hopeless effort and seek true light!
There is nothing that cannot be seen from the standpoint of the "Not-I."
And there is nothing which cannot be seen from the standpoint of the "I."
If I begin by looking at anything from the viewpoint of the "Not-I," then
I do not really see it, since it is "not I" that sees it. If I begin from
where I am and see it as I see it, then it may also become possible for me
to see it as another sees it. Hence the theory of reversal that opposites
produce each other, depend on each other, and complement each other. However
this may be, life is followed by death; death is followed by life. The possible
becomes impossible; the impossible becomes possible. Right turns into wrong
and wrong into right - the flow of life alters circumstances and thus things
themselves are altered in their turn.
But disputants continue to affirm and deny the same things they have always
affirmed and denied, ignoring the new aspects of reality presented by the
change in conditions. The sage therefore, instead of trying to prove this
or that point by logical disputation, sees all things in the light of direct
intuition. One is not imprisoned by the limitations of the "I," for the viewpoint
of direct intuition is that of both "I" and "Not-I." Hence one sees that on
both sides of every argument there is both right and wrong. One also sees
that in the end they are reducible to the same thing, once they are related
to the pivot of the Tao. When the sage grasps this pivot, one is in the
center of the circle, and there one stands while "Yes" and "No" pursue each
other around the circumference.
The pivot of Tao passes through the center where all affirmations and denials
converge. One who grasps the pivot is at the still-point from which all movements
and oppositions can be seen in their right relationship. Hence one sees the
limitless possibilities of both "Yes" and "No." Abandoning all thought of
imposing a limit or taking sides, one rests in direct intuition. Therefore
I said: "Better to abandon disputation and seek the true light!" (Chuang Tzu.
It is the dynamics of the pursuit of "Yes" and "No" around
the polyhedral surface (described earlier) that evokes the centre as a form
of strange attractor (see Human
Values as Strange Attractors: Coevolution of classes of governance principles,
1993; A C Graham, The Disputers of Tao, 1989). The interlocking cycles
of pursuit are indeed nicely represented visually by a tensegrity constructed
with quarterstaffs -- a set of interlocking standing waves -- the variously
angled polarities with which any society or individual must attempt to juggle.
Such an eloquent explanation also points to the paradox that the most important
insights are not new but somehow coexist with both the continuing denial of
their significance (which they encompass poorly) and with their repeated rediscovery.
The significance is repeatedly lost through "quenching" by the containing
explanation. Like a Questing
the continuing trail of explanation may obscure the nature of what is engaged
in that journey -- and why.
Fundamental paradox: Authentic vs. Unauthentic
This paper has been structured to stress the authentic over the unauthentic.
The play between the two is however a typical paradox in the lives of most people.
As with other polarities, the challenge is to find new ways of relating to such
paradoxes in order to prevent the human spirit from being "quenched",
"grounded", "smothered", or "burnt-out" in the
processes of daily life.
The challenge of such an opposition may be related to the Buddhist recognition
of the fundamental non-differentiation of Samsara and Nirvana [more;
more] which, necessarily,
is itself contested [more]. But
again, in the spirit of Jung's archetypal syzygy,
the challenge may be best expressed as that of comprehending the nature of the
"marriage" between them -- perhaps best explored as the mythical marriage
between Beauty and the Beast (see Poetry-making
and Policy-making: arranging a marriage between Beauty and the Beast,
1993). Authenticity may be the progeny engendered by such a marriage. Perhaps
it is the pattern of aesthetic associations that provides a key template in
support of Gregory Bateson's much-cited insight into the need to protect the
meta-pattern -- "the pattern that connects".
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