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17 February 2014 | Draft

Life-skill Learning from Animal Shareholders and Collaborators

Cognitive opportunity for engaging radically with a complex world in crisis

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Clues to cognitive possibilities of "being an animal"
Varieties of animal behaviour of potential strategic value to humans
Implication of embodiment of the human mind in movement
Implications of animal-inspired proprioception and knowledge management?
Navigating the dynamics of information fluidity
Enacting a cognitive array of systemic functions
Existential choice and feasibility: freedom to be otherwise
Transcending genocidal objectification
Enabling imaginative possibilities


Much is made of the deterioration of the environment, loss of wildlife, and the challenges of formulating a viable lifestyle. Much is also made of the need for creativity and new thinking to respond to conditions with respect to which authorities are proving to be ever more incompetent. Essentially individuals are increasingly left to their own resources and ingenuity -- and possibly encouraged in that modality by those same authorities.

The recommendations by "authorities" or exemplars might be briefly clustered as:

The argument here is that these can all be understood in systemic terms. The ultimate "authorities" in thriving through systemic crises are however the millions of species in the biosphere -- whether plants or animals. It is evident that these have explored and developed every variety of "trick" to adapt to the challenges to which they have been exposed.

It is difficult to argue that such modalities have not been extensively tested over millions of years in response to particular conditions. In this sense they constitute a vast repertoire of viable strategic resources. The title of this review offers the provocative reminder that, with humans, animals can also be fruitfully considered "shareholders" in a vast collective enterprise involving a varieties of forms of "collaboration".

The systemic organization of species may be explored in terms of the patterns of structural order they variously embody, as noted by such as Christopher Alexander (The Nature of Order: an essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe, 2003-4). Far less obvious are the patterns of behaviour associated with such order -- invisible in specimens pinned and mounted in museum displays, or severely constrained in zoos.

Increasing recognition for this source of insight is however evident as biomimicry -- the study of biomimetics and its technical applications -- currently evident in the design of drones in the light of the aerodynamic abilities of a variety of species. The approach can be considered as an indication, or template, for psychosocial possibilities, as separately argued (Engendering a Psychopter through Biomimicry and Technomimicry: insights from the process of helicopter development, 2011). A brief overview is offered by a BBC summary (Animal and plant adaptations and behaviours)

However, rather than focusing on the proven technical possibilities, there is also the implication of cognitive possibilities and of "being otherwise" according to circumstance. These have been poorly recognized and explored. The question is whether the organization and behaviours of biological species are suggestive of alternative cognitive modalities that are relatively accessible to the individual, if not immediately.

The argument here is that, rather than depending on authorities anxious to ensure that their particular worldview is faithfully reproduced (however ineffectual), individuals may in effect be free to adopt and test alternative modalities at will. The corresponding challenge for authorities is whether they can prove that their conventional recommendations are of more meaningful consequence to individuals -- who increasingly perceive their effectiveness to be questionable.

The question here is how better to frame this possibility in order to facilitate and enable such exploration. This has been variously approached in previous arguments (My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development worthwhile, 2002; En-minding the Extended Body: enactive engagement in conceptual shapeshifting and deep ecology, 2003; En-joying the World through En-joying Oneself: eliciting the potential of globalization through cognitive radicalization, 2011; Being the Universe: a metaphoric frontier, 1999).

The focus here is on cognitive possibilities especially with regard to global geometry and associated dynamics, as partially discussed separately (Metascience Enabling Upgrades to the Scientific Process: beyond Science 2.0 in the light of polyhedral metaphors? 2014). Of particular interest is whether systemic comparison of animal strategies could be developed such as to enable insightful comparison with the strategies advocated by international organizations and constituencies. Some 32,000 of these had notably been profiled in the Global Strategies Project.

Clues to cognitive possibilities of "being an animal"

A surprising range of contexts and practices suggest that people associate significance to varying degrees with a particular relation with specific animals. Whilst this may be deprecated as superstition, these different practices variously suggest some form of cognitive enhancement through the process. There is a sense in which the process bears some resemblance to donning a cognitive exoskeleton -- readily deprecated as belief in the possibility that qualities can in some way magically "rub off" through that association. the following instances are presented in no particular order.

"Being an animal": Whether with respect to those in combat or competitive roles (where the quality may be appreciated) or in other roles (where it is typically deprecated), the relevance of the descriptor is readily recognized as meaningful. In either case it may be applied to sexual intercourse.

Biomimicry for management: A form of biomimicry is of course to be recognized in management texts such as that of Dudley Lynch and Paul Kordis (Strategy of the Dolphin; scoring a win in a chaotic world, 1988). This blends the latest findings in psychology, physics, sociology and business strategy to contrast the subtleties of thinking/acting like a dolphin with that of carps (prey) and of sharks (predators). Management is urged to think like a "dolphin", rather than a "shark", in order to keep on top of the "carps". A reviewer in a management journal greeted it as "a welcome respite from other management books that urge us to think like samurais, Attila the Hun, or members of the Prussian General Staff.".

The theme has also been developed by Stefan Swanepoel (Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 skills to master business and life, 2011). This merits comparison with a checklist by Earth Rangers indicating how small creatures like beetles and ants can stand up to bigger species (Top Ten Strangest Animal Survival Strategies! 14 April 2011). It is less evident that there is any suggestion there that humans can learn anything from those animal strategies, such as the behavioral evolution of optimum resource utilization (G. A. Parker and R. A. Stuart, Animal Behavior as a Strategy Optimizer: evolution of resource assessment strategies and optimal emigration thresholds, The American Naturalist, 1976). The same question is raised by the study of Raghavendra Gadagkar (Survival Strategies: cooperation and conflict in animal societies, 2001) and by the extensive literature on cooperative animal behaviour reviewed by Jan Komdeur (Variation in Individual Investment Strategies among Social Animals, Ethology, 2006).

The point to be made, as discussed separately, is whether a more systematic approach is required to discover what metaphors are beneficial to management thinking under what circumstances (Governance through Metaphor, 1987; Metaphoric Revolution: in quest of a manifesto for governance through metaphor, 1988). It may indeed be useful to think like a shark, or like a carp, under certain circumstances. A more surprising metaphor has been explored by Greg Hearn (If Your Company Were a Cockroach: how to survive in the new business ecology, 2007). Again it should not be forgotten the frequency and ease with which animal-like attributes are associated with corporate bodies -- "rat", "wolf", "snake", etc. Admiration is attached to "tiger" -- as with the so-called Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea).

More provocative is the use of "dinosaur" to refer to corporate entities (E. Lawler III and J. Galbraith, Avoiding the Corporate Dinosaur Syndrome, Center for Effective Organizations, March, 1994; Are States Dinosaurs Waiting to Die), as discussed separately (Systemic Biomimicry of Dinosaurs by Multinational Corporations: clearing the ground for future psychosocial evolution, 2011).

Totems of indigenous peoples: In some non-western cultures animal totems have played an even more powerful role in providing a metaphoric view of the world (James Cowan, On Totems, Resurgence, 1990). The totem is usually an animal or other natural figure that spiritually represents a group of related people such as a clan. Totemism is recognized as a system of belief in which each human is thought to have a spiritual connection or a kinship with another physical being, such as an animal or plant. The totem is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol.

Mascots: A more commonly recognized form of "totem" is the widespread use of animal mascots -- and the importance attached to them in relation to individual or group identity. Wikipedia distinguishes: sports mascots, corporate mascots, school mascots, military mascots, and mascots in music. These may take the form of real animals, animal caricatures, statues, or amulets.

Auspicious animals: Partially by extension of the use of totem and mascot, particular importance may be attached in certain cultures to animals that are held to be omens of either good luck or bad luck, whether encountered in daily life or in dreams:

Deities depicted in animal form: These include so-called animal deities and may imply a degree of animal worship. Wikipedia indicates a distinction between outward form and inward meaning.

Spirit animals: Particular cultures, now reinforced from a New Age perspective, may cultivate "spirit animals" as offering guidance in life, as suggested on various websites (Spirit Animals and Animal Totems; Animal Totem Meanings and Animal Symbolism). A particular point is made by the question: Ever felt an odd connection to wildlife? Do you have Native American Roots? Take this quiz to find your Native American Totem Animal! (What Totem Animal Are You?).

"Animal spirits": The term "animal spirits" is widely cited following its use by John Maynard Keynes to describe emotions influencing human behaviourand measurable in terms ofconsumer confidence (The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money1936). As discussed separately with regard to Wrangling with animal spirits (2012), there is a degree of ambiguity in use of the term "wrangling". The historical British meaning of "wrangler" is a person who excels at debate. In North America, however, a wrangler is a person employed to handle animals professionally. For some of religious persuasion, "wrangling with the devil" is a life-long challenge, or a skill attributed to exorcists (cf. Catholic Church sets up exorcist hotline,, 1 December 2012).

Psychotherapy: Some practices and exercises explore the metaphoric use of animals, possibly understood as mythical archetypes. These are used to guide personal transformation, often through forms of meditation or interpretation of dreams.

Affinity with animals: A variety of patterns merit recognition:

Animal wisdom: Various animals are recognized, through the legends and stories of different cultures, as inherently "wise" -- most notably in the case of the owl and the elephant (Jessica Dawn Palmer, Animal Wisdom, 2001). This understanding has been the subject of research by Michael Archinal (Animal Wisdom: stories from an Australian vet on what animals can teach us about love, health happiness, 2013). Drawing on scientific research from around the world and heart-warming stories from his own practice, the author shows how animals have perfected the art of eating, exercising and sleeping according to their needs; using stress in a positive way; and, most importantly, strengthening the bonds that create a sense of security and well-being. He argues that sharing our lives with animals gives us the opportunity to understand how to use our intuition and ancient animal instinct to increase our happiness and health, and improve our relationships. Use of "wisdom" indeed implies the possibility of "learning from animals", which is the focus of other studies (as noted below).

Use of animal names: Attribution of names of animals to sports teams, scout troops, and vehicles is a common practice. This is especially the case in their use by the military in naming combat units, fighter jets, missiles and naval vessels, typically with the names of fearsome carnivores (wolf, leopard, hawk, falcon, etc).

A related process is evident in advertising, as with the slogan: Put a tiger in your tank. Individuals may be given animal names, or be so nicknamed in the light of their perceived affinity with particular species. In the community Federation of Damanhur, the full membership of an individual is indicated by adoption of the name of an endangered species -- subject to approval of the appropriateness of the choice by the community.

Logos and clothing: Extensive use is made of animal imagery on logos. These may notably be associated with personal clothing (helmets, T-shirts, etc).

Emulation of animals: This may feature in a variety of cultures and circumstances:

Game-playing with animal roles: Dominant Species (2010) is a board game that has engendered comment on the strategies suggested by different animals: mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, arachnids, insects (see tutorial).

Ecosystemic embedding: This is indicative of particular forms of collaboration: symbiosis, commensalism, parasitism, allopathy, synnecrosis, amensalism, predation, allotrophy, or none. These have been configured by Edward Haskell into a general model of cognitive significance (Full Circle: The Moral Force of Unified Science, 1972). The collaborative arrangements are evident as:

Animal allegories in folk-tales: Much-valued examples of complex sets of tales include the:

Animal stories for children: This is an extension of the previous category, and partially overlapping with it

Strategic descriptions: Traces of animals and their behaviour are evident in descriptors for certain strategies such as a "sting" or a "pincer movement" (termed a "buffalo horn" formation by Zulu impis). Related use is made of terms such as "pecking order". Reference is made to the "wings" of a military formation and to "legs" of any infantry army.

It is to be expected that other insights emerge from classical strategic texts, as with Sun Tzu (The Art of War). Related insights are associated with the Chinese classic, The Thirty-Six Stratagems, variously adapted and employed, as with An Electronic Art of War in 36 Stratagems -- and especially associated with the tiger (Gao Yuan, Lure the Tiger Out of the Mountains: the thirty-six stratagems of Ancient China, 1992; Kaihan Krippendorf, Hide a Dagger Behind a Smile: use the 36 Ancient Chinese strategies to seize the competitive edge, 2008).

Varieties of animal behaviour of potential strategic value to humans

Animal testing of human strategies? As noted above it can be readily argued that animal behaviour has been extensively tested over millions of years in response to particular conditions. Kevin M. Passino argues that there are many highly effective optimization, feedback control, and automation systems embedded in living organisms and nature (Biomimicry for Optimization, Control, and Automation, 2005). As he stresses, evolution persistently seeks optimal robust designs for biological feedback control systems and decision making processes.

In this sense Nature constitutes a vast repertoire of "pre-tested" strategic resources -- perhaps thereby implying another understanding of the so-called global brain or of the noosphere. This understanding is noteworthy in that the ecosystemic connectivity enabled by animal behviour is effectively a precursor underlying that which is celebrated in the electronic connectivity of the internet and anticipated as a potential with respect to the noosphere (From Information Highways to Songlines of the Noosphere: global configuration of hypertext pathways as a prerequisite for meaningful collective transformation, 1996).

There is therefore a degree of tragic irony to the fact that some 80 million animals are now killed per year to "test" pharmaceutical and related products for their value to sustaining human health. "Animal models" may be developed for that purpose and to avoid the slaughter (Allan B. Haberman, Animal Models for Therapeutic Strategies, 2010). As a repertoire of structures and behaviours, it is however possible that the relationship with animals can be more fruitfully explored -- both for the benefit of humans and for the sustainability of the ecosystem which humans share with animals and other species. Is it possible that some animals employ strategies especially relevant to human survival and thrival in current circumstances?

Systematics: It is of course the case that very extensive attention has been given to the range of animal species and to their placement in animal taxonomies according to their form, structure and genetic makeup -- as has been done with plants. This placement is governed by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature which rules on the formal scientific naming of organisms treated as animals. Curiously the possibility of a taxonomy of animal behaviour has not been developed to that degree, although it has been argued that there are systemic behavioural equivalences between quite different species which would allow for such clustering in terms of dynamic behaviour.

Behaviour of organisms -- understood primarily as human: Research on behaviour is widely recognized to have been strongly influenced by the title and focus of the classical study by B. F. Skinner (The Behavior of Organisms: an experimental analysis, 1938). As noted by Bryan Roche and Dermot Barnes (The Behavior of Organisms?, The Psychological Record, 1997):

The term "organism" enjoys a revered place within the vocabulary of behavior analysis, most notably perhaps within the title of Skinner's seminal work (The Behavior of Organisms, 1938). The exact status of this term, however, is unclear. For instance, the term does not appear to be a technical one. Nevertheless, its widespread use in the behavior-analytic literature suggests that it is masquerading as such. The present paper appraises the scientific utility of the term "organism" within the domain of behavior analysis and discusses some possible reasons for its widespread use.

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom headed a group of educational psychologists who developed a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. This became a taxonomy including three overlapping domains; the cognitive, affective and psychomotor (Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Behavioral Objectives).

The difficulty, given the preoccupation with influencing human behaviour, is that research neglects forms of animal behaviour considered irrelevant to that objective -- according to criteria which could prove highly questionable. Ironically this corresponds to the manner in which the insights of those considered unqualified are considered in the event of crisis (Enabling Collective Intelligence in Response to Emergencies, 2010).

Human behavioural change: Notably cited in the literature is therefore a focus on a taxonomy of behaviour change techniques, primarily focused on humans (Susan Michie, Michelle Richardson, et al. The Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy of 93 Hierarchically Clustered Techniques: building an international consensus for the reporting of behavior change interventions, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2013; Charles Abraham and Susan Michie, A Taxonomy of Behavior Change Techniques Used in Interventions, Health Psychology, 2008).

As noted in the Psychlopedia with respect to Taxonomies of behavioral change:

One of the main roles of many psychological interventions is to change the behavior of individuals. Individuals, for example, may be encouraged to exercise more often or regulate their temper.

Researchers and practitioners have recommended hundreds of practices that can be applied to initiate and to maintain these changes. For example, individuals can be asked to imagine changing their behavior for several minutes...

Until recently, researchers had not developed a taxonomy or inventory of the practices, techniques, or interventions that can be utilized to facilitate change. Such a taxonomy or inventory would provide many benefits, apart from merely offering practitioners a range of alternatives they can apply to facilitate behavior change in clients.

In particular, without this inventory, researchers cannot readily describe the techniques they utilized in their studies. Several researchers, for example, may claim they utilized "motivational strategies" to encourage people to exercise. Yet, each researcher may have applied a different technique, but used the same label.

Of some relevance to the argument here, the literature on behaviour taxonomy includes a particular focus on:

Taxonomy of animal behaviour? The comment above does not envisage the insight that might be derived from "animal information behaviour", given the variety of animals and the conditions in which they are obliged to survive and thrive through the most effective "knowledge management". Biomimicry has focused especially on tangible applications using insights from selected species: the movement of legs (for robotics, exoskeletons design), wings (aerodynamic development of planes and drones), fins (development of submarines), and swarming (development of intelligent agents).

Seemingly missing is a more generic approach to the behaviour of animals and the repertoire which any taxonomy might constitute. Such possibilities are obscured by the manner in which species are exposed in display cases in museums and confined in zoos. Their recorded behaviour in video documentaries is not designed to enable generic insight as a source of human inspiration.

Evolutionary stable strategies: One approach is that described by Michael Breed (Evolutionary Stable Strategies, Animal Behavior Online, 2003):

The concept of the evolutionarily stable strategy, or Ess, is an important part of game theory. An Ess is a strategy which, over evolutionary time, is able to withstand the invention of new strategies. Although Maynard Smith and Price (1973) visualized strategies as being genetically encoded, this same logic applies to strategies which are learned during the course of an animal's life. In most models of the prisoner's dilemma the "tit for tat" strategy is evolutionarily stable; over time it can beat any other strategy that you might invent for this game.

Analyses of fighting behavior are particularly well suited for game theory analysis (Breed and Rasmussen 1980, Reichert 1984, 1996). In fights, each animal has clear-cut tactics which it can employ, and these can be analyzed as a series of interchanges within the fight. The choices of which tactic to play, when to escalate, and when to submit or flee are all moves in a game. Assessment of the opponent's strength, size, and commitment to winning the fight are important in many animal conflicts, and assessment can be included in the model.

Animal behaviour: taxonomy vs. phylogeny: Another approach is the use of animal behavioural characteristics in order to facilitate phylogeny reconstruction, as argued by A.E. Stuart, et al. (Using behavioural characters in phylogeny reconstruction, Ethology, Ecology and Evolution, 2002):

Behaviour remains underrepresented in phylogeny reconstruction, possibly because the term 'behaviour' incorporates a wide range of phenomena, not all of which are equally applicable to understanding evolutionary history. We assessed the character homology (i.e., potential problems with coding) and homoplasy (i.e., lability or convergence) for each of four types of behaviour (behavioural categories, reaction stimuli traits, the specific movements of animals and quantitative information relating to each of these behaviour types) and determined the broad applicability of each behavioural type for phylogeny reconstruction. When using behaviour to reconstruct a phylogeny we recommend the following order of behavioural types: (1) animal movements; (2) quantitative components (providing that the animal movements are homologous); (3) reaction stimuli traits; (4) behavioural categories.

The situation had been usefully framed previously by John W. Wenzel (Behavioral Homology and Phylogeny, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 1992):

The sociobiology debates of the 1970s increased interest in the biology of behavior. At the same time, the growth of cladistics increased interest in how to do systematics and phylogenetic reconstruction. Yet, there are surprisingly few recent papers dealing explicitly with behavior from a phylogenetic perspective. Lack of communication between students of behavior and students of systematics is partly to blame.... Determining homology among behaviors is no different than determining homology among morphological structures. Behavior is not special, it is only more difficult to characterize. Ethology (the study of behavior) is a relatively young science and does not yet have the benefit of centuries of debate and consensus, but that provides more reason for us to take up the challenge now. [emphasis added]

The emphasis on evolutionary phylogeny in behavioural terms is seemingly more fruitful than a "taxonomic" approach. As noted by Terry J. Ord and Emilia P. Martins (Behavioral Phylogeny: the evolutionary origins of behavior, In: Michael D. Breed and Janice Moore (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, 2010, pp. 87-92):

Animal behavior is the result of millions of years of evolutionary history, but how do we study the evolutionary origins of behavior?... A phylogeny or phyloygenic tree is a visual diagram by which we describe the evolutionary relationships among species. By considering species-typical behavior in a phylogenetic context, we can learn a great deal about how behavior evolved... By mapping behavioral traits onto a phylogeny we can interpret their evolutionary origins more accurately. For example. we are able to determine if different animals share behavior through common ancestry (homologous behavior) or whether similar behavior has evolved via independent evolutionary events in otherwise distantly related animals (convergent behavior). Behavioral phylogenies are also essential for teasing out evolutionary pressures or constraints, such as ecological forces that act on behavior.

The article cited includes one such map. Missing -- with respect to the argument here -- is how the approach might be be related to human learning from animals in the course of an individual life time and in response to social pressures of a society in crisis. Of particular relevance is how such insights might be freely explored -- rather than socially imposed through behavioural conditioning in support of hidden agendas.

Implication for identity of embodiment of the mind in movement

Embodiment of mind: There is increasing interest on the part of cognitive psychology in the embodiment of mind (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought, 1999; Francisco Varela, E. Thompson, and E. Rosch, The Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human experience, 1991). Johnson in particular has developed this understanding following his earlier work (The Meaning of the Body: aesthetics of human understanding, 2007; The Body in the Mind: the bodily basis of meaning, imagination, and reason, 1987).

The argument is taken further with respect to embodiment of the mind in movement by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (The Primacy of Movement, 2011). The process is especially well illustrated by sports involving acrobatics and aerobatics. How might a reactionary experience and define identity through any such practice?

With respect to movement, the question can be raised as to whether individual identity is felt to be intimately associated with movement rather than with conventional understandings of stasis as exemplified for legal purposes by certification, photo-identities and DNA samples. Such possibilities have been explored separately with respect to both cyclic identity and identification with a wave form (Emergence of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity: sustainability as "psyclically" defined, 2007; Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002; Being a Waveform of Potential as an Experiential Choice: emergent dynamic qualities of identity and integrity, 2013; Being Neither a-Waving Nor a-Parting: cognitive implications of wave-particle duality in the light of science and spirituality, 2013).

Identification: In a remarkable review of the literature of deep ecology and ecophilosophy, the understanding of identification in that context is clarified by Warwick Fox (Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: developing new foundations for environmentalism, 1995). He notes the importance attached to the process in the writings of Arne Naess. Fox argues (pp. 231-232; italic emphasis in original. bold emphasis added) :

When Naess or other transpersonal ecologists emphasize the importance of wider and deeper identification, it is important in interpreting them not to get carried away in flights of imaginative fancy but rather to understand what is being said as far as possible in a down to earth, ordinary, everyday sense. Identification should be taken to mean what we ordinarily understand by that term, that is, the experience not simply of a sense of similarity with an entity but of a sense of commonality.

To pursue this further, one can have a sense of certain similarities between oneself and another entity without necessarily identifying with that entity, that is, without necessarily experiencing a sense of commonality with that entity. On the other hand, the experience of commonality with another entity does imply a sense of similarity with that entity, even if this similarity is not of any obvious physical, emotional , or mental kind; it may involve "nothing more" than the deep-seated realization that all entities are aspects of a single unfolding entity... What identification should not be taken to mean, however, is identity -- that I literally am that tree over there, for example. What is being emphasized is the tremendously common experience that through the process of identification my sense of self (my experiential self) can expand to include the tree even though I and the tree remain physically "separate" (even here, however, the word separate must not be taken too literally because ecology tells us that my physical self and the tree are physically interlinked in all sorts of ways).

Expressing this point in another way, the realization that we and all other entities are aspects of a single unfolding reality -- that "life is fundamentally one" -- does not mean that all multiplicity and diversity is reduced to a homogeneous mush. As Naess says, the idea that we are

... 'drops in the stream of life' may be misleading if it implies that the individuality of the drops is lost in the stream. Here is a difficult ridge to walk: To the left we have the ocean of organic and mystic views, to the right the abyss of atomic individualism.

Whilst offering an admirable clarification, the expressions in bold are indicative of a form of dogma which is not the intention of the argument made here with regard to the freedom to interpret reality as one so chooses, as previously explored (Being What You Want: problematic kataphatic identity vs. potential of apophatic identity? 2008). It is of course the case that the bold emphasis conforms to one such choice.

Activating new metaphors: The approach advocated here, however, involves exploration of the possibility of activating new metaphors which can enchant, empower, explain and orient approaches to the problematique through the user's own comprehension of each metaphor's significance, whether amongst the governors or the governed. Such a use of metaphor is only new in that metaphors have not been deliberately used in this way before, despite the fact that everyone has access to them. In the words of Kenneth Boulding:

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. (Ecodynamics; a new theory of societal evolution, 1978, p.345)

Or, as expressed by the poet John Keats:

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.

Framed as poetry, it may be asked why individuals are not enabled to understand themselves as poetry in motion, as separately argued (Being a Poem in the Making: engendering a multiverse through musing, 2012). The charm of it, as expressed by Gregory Bateson in concluding a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, is that it can be argued that We are our own metaphor:

One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we're not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity. (Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor, 1972, pp. 288-289)

Irrespective of how poetic or aesthetic it is held to be, there is little question that, in seeking to render website and web-surfing experience especially attractive, many opportunities are being explored for reframing personal identity in cyberspace. Striking examples are offered by adoption of avatars of animal form in some virtual environments (see animal avatars). How this might come to modify behaviour and a sense of identity is a matter for the future. Such avatars give a sense to the process of adopting a cognitive exoskeleton -- if not a cognitive endoskeleton. The process can be recognized in dressing up for an occasion, or in choosing a set of clothes as part of an effort to "reinvent oneself".

Implications of animal-inspired proprioception and knowledge management?

The argument above has noted the extent to which animals inspire humans in a variety of ways -- to the point of their metaphorical use in management and military strategy (presumably variously extended to sport). Such usage contrasts with the literature of behaviourism and its primary focus on manipulation of human behaviour in support of the agendas of interested parties. The concern here is rather to enable individuals to learn from animals in new ways to enable them to act more effectively and fruitfully as they consider appropriate.

The question can then be framed in terms of innovations effectively "pre-tested" by animals faced with constraints, and how these are to be understood systemically. As noted, there appears to be no taxonomy of animal behaviour as such -- as that might otherwise be inspired by zoological taxonomies of form. A phylogenic approach would seem to offer further insight, if it can be related to human engagement with animals.

There are necessarily many studies, more or less generic, relating to the following animal strategies as a means of understanding the organization of behaviour in systemic terms:

  • hunting strategies
  • defence strategies
  • mating strategies
  • feeding strategies
  • migrating strategies
  • strategies for care of weaker members of a group
  • strategies of conservation (heat, food/hoarding, water, strength/endurance, and the like)
  • sheltering strategies
  • strategies of subterfuge
  • strategies of attraction
  • escape strategies
  • social group strategies
  • detection strategies (sight, smell, vibration touch, hearing)
  • strategies of anticipation (hunting, hibernation, etc)

Of interest is how species-specific are such studies -- and the extent to which they have been extended as might be required for phylogenic comparison. However, of greater interest is the possibility of understanding such strategies even more generally to render their insights relevant to those of human learning and behavioural possibilities. As framed here, the concern is how strategic understanding by animals can be expressed in terms of proprioception and knowledge management -- as these cognitive and information processes might be readily comprehensible in human terms.

The approach might be termed behavioural biomimicry, although this would tend to obscure the cognitive and experiential dimension in favour of various technical preoccupations, as indicated by the following:

A web portal on behavioural ecology has been created to enable people to discover solutions provided by Nature.

Navigating the dynamics of information fluidity

All species can be understood as embedded in information flows which they variously apprehend and to whose features and characteristics they variously attach significance. The process can be framed in terms of cognitive stimuli, whether or not "cognitive" is necessarily the most appropriate term for those with a minimal nervous system.

The framing is useful in that it emphasizes the fluid nature of the information environment as recognized in terms of finanical flows, movements of opinion, traffic flows, and the like. But is it experienced as a lake, a river, a waterfall, mist, a bog, a flood, a tornado. a storm, a gyre, a tide, a wave -- or otherwise, or any of them according to circumstance?

Distinguishing variety: Within that environment elements can be distinguished and variously ordered. Much is made of ordered arrays of categories in the case of humans. These can be usefully challenged from the perspective of cognitive psychology by the argument made with respect to mathematics by George Lakoff and Rafael Nuñez (Where Mathematics Comes From: how the embodied mind brings mathematics into being, 2001) [see review]. Categories of any kind can themselves be understood as emerging in this way -- contrary to the assumption that their boundaries are tidily defined by other processes. In this sense the boundaries distinguishing categories can be considered as arbitrary to some degree and a matter of convenience -- irrespective of how those boundaries are variously "set in stone" by authorities.

The argument applies to species as is clear from the manner in which they may or may not be distinguished in different cultures -- or by an individual with little need to discern any variety amongst "birds" or "dogs". At a more fundamental level, the argument applies to the subtlest concepts, including those of theology, as separately discussed with respect to apophasis and the merits of "unsaying" (Being What You Want: problematic kataphatic identity vs. potential of apophatic identity? 2008).

Framed in this way, an individual is to a significant degree free to engender or recognize categories as seems appropriate. This is clear in the case of species where 3 categories of bird might be distinguished, or 10, or 50. Enthusiasts would distinguish far more, but only specialists would presume to distinguish among the 3 to 30 million animal species. How many might the average person choose to distinguish?

How does this argument apply to other distinctions where some note many varieties? How is this distinguishing process constrained (as noted below)?

Role of metaphor: This suggests that for certain purposes engagement with a fluid information environment might call for 2 "fins" (or "feet", or "wings:), or possibly 4, or 6 or 8 -- or hundreds in the case of a centipede or dependence on cilia. It would be convenient to alter the number of appendages (or sense organs) according to circumstance. Some form of "all terrain" cognitive vehicle could be envisaged.

Rather than rigid conceptual "models", "metaphors" could prove to be the cognitive vehicles of the future, as separately argued (Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991). An imaginative stimulus for such investigation is provided by a science fiction scenario explored by a number of writers. It focuses on the challenge of comprehending high degrees of complexity in the information environment -- calling for decision-making under operational conditions (as is the case in global management). It can be stated as follows:

The problem is that of piloting or navigating a spacecraft through "hyperspace" or "sub-space", as imagined in the light of recent advances in theoretical physics and mathematics. Because of the inherent complexity of such environments, writers have explored the possibility that pilots and navigators might choose appropriate metaphors through which to perceive and order their task in relation to qualitative features of that complexity -- for example, flying like a bird, windsurfing, swimming like a fish, tunneling like a mole, etc.

The mass of data input derived from various arrays of sensors, and otherwise completely unmanageable, is then channelled to the pilot in the form of appropriate sensory inputs to the nerve synapses corresponding to his "wings" or his "fins". Perception through the chosen metaphor is assisted by artificial intelligence software and appropriate graphic displays. The pilot switches between metaphors according to the nature of the hyperspace terrain. Such speculations stimulate imagination concerning a possible "marriage" between metaphor and artificial intelligence in relation to governance.

Imposition of names: Such a possibility can be compared to the process of naming as a means of imposing a degree of order on a perceived information environment. Clearly people are potentially free to name the features visible from the perspective of their own worldview, without subscribing to those attributed by others.

This recalls the process of psychosocial appropriation of a space at the collective level, described as land nam by Ananda Coomaraswamy (The Rg Veda as Land-Nama Book, 1935), to refer to the Icelandic tradition of claiming ownership of uninhabited spaces through weaving together a metaphor of geography of place into a unique mythic story. This territorial appropriation process, notably practiced by the Navaho and the Vedic Aryans, was further described by Joseph Campbell (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: metaphor as myth and religion, 2002):

Land nam ("land claiming or taking") was [the Norse] technical term for this way of sanctifying a region, converting it thereby into an at once psychologically and metaphysical Holy Land.... Land nam, mythologization, has been the universally practiced method to bring this intelligible kingdom to view in the mind's eye. The Promised Land, therefore, is any landscape recognized as mythologically transparent, and the method of acquisition of such territory is not by prosaic physical action, but poetically, by intelligence and the method of art; so that the human being should be dwelling in the two worlds simultaneously of the illuminated moon and the illuminating sun.

Knowledge management: In both the above cases the response can be understood as a particular style of knowledge management.

The relevance to this argument lies in the suggestion that individuals be enabled to adopt cognitively the behavioural form of an animal with particular skills in navigating in an information environment of a specific quality with characteristic challenges and opportunities. How many feet, wings or fins? What shape and size -- swallow, leopard, snake, elephant, mosquito?

Rather than life-long adoption of a totem animal, the issue is how to acquire the flexibility to shift between forms in terms of the circumstantial need for knowledge management. This adaptability has been suggestively anticipated by the much-cited study of D'Arcy Thompson (On Growth and Form, 1917) and by the work of Rene Thom (Structural Stability and Morphogenesis: an outline of a general theory of models, 1972), especially its cognitive and semiotic implications (Semio Physics: a sketch, 1990).

Rather than a single conventional entity, this might even take the form of a collective entity -- as with a flock, a swarm, a shoal, or a pack -- as suggested by the manner in which intelligent agents may come to be controlled and by current reflections on crowdsourcing.

Framed in this way there is a strong case for considering the manner in which flows of information can be experienced and moulded,, namely how they engage, hold and channel attention. How does attention "ride" any "waves" of information -- perhaps understood as a carrier wave? The process is implied to a degree by "web-surfing". The question is whether there are more specific articulations of the process with which people could engage through creative imagining. Some possibilities include:

The last example is helpful in enabling the individual to recognize how it is possible to be centered within a dynamically configured cognitive flow -- variously associated with information and knowledge, and variously moulded according to circumstance. It could be understood as unicellular, but is better understood as taking on -- according to circumstance -- any animal form to which evolution has given rise along the evolutionary pathways. This suggests that tather than thinking of evolution as taking place over millions of years, the forms it has explored are indicative of creative possibilities for (re)configuring attention in the moment. Ironically, there is a sense in which this can be understood as a particular form of "creationism" -- with the individual as the Creator variously elaborating and collapsing categories through functions playfully enacted.

The latter dynamic may well be en-joyed, as separately imagined (En-joying the World through En-joying Oneself: eliciting the potential of globalization through cognitive radicalization, 2011). It is however the existential terror of nothingness, indicated above as a reality of living, which merits recognition -- as fruitfully framed by Omar Khayyám, the polymath and "poet of uncertainty", in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, in quatrains such as the following:

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes -- or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two -- is gone.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in -- Yes --
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be -- Nothing -- Thou shalt not be less.

Consideration of the cognitive possibilities is facilitated by recognition of the support provided by geometry as discussed and illustrated separately (Metascience Enabling Upgrades to the Scientific Process: beyond Science 2.0 in the light of polyhedral metaphors? 2014). However the inherent flexibility of qi as "attention in motion" can be usefully compared to current discussion of the experiential process of embedding in virtual reality environments. This suggests the possibility of geometrical configurations of greater than three dimensions with which identification is then possible. In this sense such confogurations become viable dynamic vehicles for identity.

Especially interesting in this respect are those configurations capable of holding transformations which are otherwise considered as paradoxically impossible in three dimensions. This is exemplified by the nature of the Klein bottle and the process of sphere inversion (World Introversion through Paracycling: global potential for living sustainably "outside-inside", 2013; Psychosocial Implication of Without Within, 2013). These are suggestive of complex forms potentially appropriate to individual self-reflexivity -- and its credible engagement with engendering corresponding collective forms vital for global governance (Sustaining a Community of Strange Loops: comprehension and engagement through aesthetic ring transformation, 2010).

The fluidity and malleability of form can be usefully illustrated and imagined through the diagrams originally presented by D'Arcy Thompson (On Growth and Form, 1917). Rather than reproduce his images, the process can be admirably illustrated by the manipulation of images using the functionality of Adobe Illustrator, as separately discussed (Computer Use as Philosophy in Operation: metaphors of the inner game, 2003). These are embodied in the animation below. He made the point that the appearance of many distinct species arose from a simply "distortion" of a geometrical framework.

Animation illustrating change of form between forms typical of a range of fish species
based on manipulation using Adobe of an image of the Telescope fish (Mendosoma lineatum)
(reproduced from Wikipedia )

Enacting a cognitive array of systemic functions

Playing the Great Game: It is useful to recognize the extent to which the individual effectively engages in playing the great game through variously reframing the external environment, as discussed separately with respect to a social analogue (Playing the Great Game with Intelligence: Authority versus the People, 2013). In the terms of the current argument, one is then oneself "the Authority", and the diversity encountered is "the People".

As the key player, and central Authority, the individual can imagine acting in the role of:

In each of these leadership roles information is obtained through the array of divisions -- usefully understood in this argument as appendages (limbs, wings, fins) or sensory functions (antenna, etc). Instructions for response may be conveyed through that "chain of command" in the light of that information. Equivalents can be recognized in the more familiar challenge of the control of a complex vehicle -- whether an automobile, a helicopter, or a spaceship (as envisaged above).

Cognitive constraints in the face of complexity: Some sense of the complexity of the situation (to which response is required) may be recognized, obtained or assumed. This recalls the assessments of the Situational Complexity Index (SCI). In enacting any such deployment of functions, key constraints include:

Of potential relevance to this argument are the cognitive analogues to the fundamental biological constraints indicated by the:

However all these are quantitative measures constraining the conscious articulation of functions. Potentially more complex are the qualitative distinctions to which the deployed functions may be assumed to be appropriately responsive -- and the capacity to engage with those distinctions. These might include various approaches to recognition of mindscapes and cultural biases, as separately reviewed (Systems of Categories Distinguishing Cultural Biases, 1993).

The issue is one of how many strategies can an individually be usefully aware -- or be able to recall when appropriate? If the role of distinctive species in the environment is readily ignored, as beyond the scope of human comprehension, why expect interest in their distinctive behaviour?

It is useful to note how constrained patterns of distinctions have been articulated in a variety of domains (Patterns of N-foldness: comparison of integrated multi-set concept schemes as forms of presentation, 1980).

Constrained pattern of appendages and functions: The following tentative exercise endeavours to indicate how appendages can be considered as increasing the number of functions deployed. The table design is obviously defective in not including other sensory organs (eyes, ears, etc).

Speculative framework associating species with number and character of functions (very tentative)
(number effectively increased for pair-bound male+female)
  Potential "functions"
  Feet +Arms / Wings / Fins +Antenna +Tail +Tongue +Penis
Single snake?          
2-fold human, bird          
3-fold       kangaroo, etc    
4-fold human (m+f) human, bird        
5-fold   starfish   kangaroo,
monkey, etc
humans, etc  
6-fold insect       kangaroo,
monkey, etc
humans, etc
7-fold           kangaroo,
monkey, etc
8-fold spider,
human (m+f)
2-winged insect
0-winged insect
(with 2 ant.)
10-fold decapoda 4-winged insect 2-winged insect
(with 2 ant,)
  human (m+f)  
11-fold           human (m+f)
12-fold     4-winged insect
(with 2 ant,)

The table raises interesting questions regarding any correspondence between the number of "functions" through which species interact with reality and the number of "dimensions" by which humans now consider it appropriate to define reality -- given the focus on the requirement by superstring theory for 10 dimensions and by M-theory for 11 dimensions. The 11-fold case in the table then clearly invites speculative comment regarding the number of "dimensions" that a human couple can handle -- potentially bypassing, as a couple, the constraint of the Miller and Warfield numbers, and that of span of control..

Also of relevance with respect to the relative movement of the above "appendages", as implying functions, is the work on gestures of Rafael Núñez (A fresh look at the foundations of mathematics: gesture and the psychological reality of conceptual metaphor, 2008).

Enacting as en-minding: Elements of the above argument have been developed otherwise (En-minding the Extended Body: enactive engagement in conceptual shapeshifting and deep ecology, 2003). This includes the following sections:

Sets of operational concepts in collective enterprises
Sets of animal appendages
Animal movement and conceptual exoskeletons
Dynamic coordination of sets in movement
Indigenous insights
Animal locomotion: example of walking as a cognitive metaphor
Insights into shapeshifting from collective behaviour
Conceptual endoskeleton vs Conceptual exoskeleton
Identity, invariance and enactivism
Unconscious models as beasts of the imagination
Endangering species by rationalizing the environment
Memetics as the under-explored analogue to genetics
Memetic engineering: a Western discovery ?
Memetic engineering: an Eastern practice ?
Neurobiological clarification
Memetic engineering: Western magical arts ?

Existential choice and feasibility: freedom to be otherwise

The possibility of individual or collective choice to engage "otherwise" with reality -- however radically or fantastic -- has been variously discussed separately (with extensive references):

Readily recognizable examples of the "freedom to switch" imaginatively include:

The change in question may be unrecognizable to others. Although possibly taken very seriously, and held to be deeply significant, the switch may well be simply understood as a change of attitude -- indicated separately as a highly individual form of cryptocurrency (Circulation of the light: What flows? What circulates? Cryptocurrency? 2014). The framing of any such change in terms of a "switch" metaphor, may however be usefully challenged (Recontextualizing Social Problems through Metaphor: transcending the 'switch' metaphor, 1990).

Transcending genocidal objectification

The argument has stressed the flexibility with which engagement with "otherness" can be enabled. It challenges the rigidity by which externalities are defined through categories. This can be variously discussed:

Such arguments then clarify the nature of the cognitive reification and objectification through which an "other" is transformed into an "it" with which there is a purely instrumental relationship -- unconditioned by any sense of empathy or compassion, namely a total indifference to its possible suffering. This can also be variously discussed (Indifference to the Suffering of Others: occupying the moral and ethical high ground through doublespeak, 2013; Marrying an Other whatever the Form: reframing and extending the understanding of marriage, 2013; Us and Them: relating to challenging others, 2009; Transcending Simplistic Binary Contractual Relationships, 2012).

The objectification process enables and legitimates phenomena such as the following:

The violence against "others" -- typically in an effort to subsume or eliminate them -- precludes real possibilities of learning from them. This may well have profound implications for individual and collective health -- and survival in a global society in crisis, characterized by lifestyle diseases (Cognitive Implications of Lifestyle Diseases of Rich and Poor: transforming personal entanglement with the natural environment, 2010). These may be echoed and reinforced by :information diseases" (Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008).

Enabling imaginative possibilities

Exploring biological patterns, there is a case for seeing oneself at any one moment as conforming to dynamics of any amongst a wide spectrum of species, from all levels of the evolutionary diaspora. There is a way in which one can be an amoebic blob, a spider, a snake, a bird, a wolf, etc. To what degree are we all behavioural shapeshifters? Should shapeshifting be a part of our education -- as Merlin offered the young Arthur (in T H White's Once and Future King, 1958) and as in totemic education in many tribes? The possibilities are separately discussed (Secret sharing, Shapeshifting and Embodiment Reintegration of a Remaindered World, 2011).

How are we constrained in adopting particular behavioural patterns? When is there a case for experiencing reality as an amoeba? A doormouse? A tiger? What ecosystems do we then require in order to survive and thrive? How do we relate to others through such patterns?

People may have different degrees of access to such patterns. More intriguing is to understand the range of such patterns as being arrayed mnemonically in some way -- a global map of memetic possibilities, perhaps like a periodic table which one is free to play like an organ (Periodic Pattern of Human Knowing: implication of the Periodic Table as metaphor of elementary order, 2009; Periodic Pattern of Human Life: the Periodic Table as a metaphor of lifelong learning, 2009). The Periodic Table is especially significant in that it is considered to be one of the most comprehensive generalizations of science.

As noted above, there is indeed a literature on 'learning from animals" (cf. Monique A. R. Udell and Clive D. L. Wynne, Learning from Animals. Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, 2012; Louise S. Röska-Hardy and Eva M. Neumann-Held, Learning from Animals?: Examining the Nature of Human Uniqueness, 2008; Marc Bekoff, Learning from Animals, Resurgence and Ecologist, March/April 2012; Jeff Howlin, Learning from Animals: why it matters, 2012).

The emphasis here is however on the systematics of animal behaviour rather than on specific instances or general prin ciples. It is such systematics that could enable the emergence of a global sense of pattern of strategic possibilities as a resource on which individuals could draw.A formal analysis of such possibilities, and their simulation, would then enable comparison with the kinds of strategy currently advocated -- exemplified by the 32,000 profiled in the Global Strategies Project (as mentioned above)

The argument to be stressed is the role of the active imagination -- and the attraction this may have for the younger generations -- impoverished in that respect by their elders with regard to the world of externalities in crisis (Existential Embodiment of Externalities: radical cognitive engagement with environmental categories and disciplines, 2009; Reimagining Principles Enabling an Existential Ecostery: engendering out-of-the-box awareness and its transformation, 2013; Imagining Attractive Global Governance: questioning possibilities and constraints of well-boundedness, 2013).

How one dons and doffs such patterns in a continuing dance with reality is then the challenge. How can one learn to dance with greater elegance, elan, engagement and enthusiasm? How frequently to alternate between such patterns?

There is of course the challenge of how to live simultaneously in the "real world" and in that which it is possible to imagine as more meaningfully consistent with the challenges of living, as discussed separately (Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds: global implications of "betwixt and between" and liminality, 2011).

Irrespective of human challenges, there remains the issue indicated by reference in the title to animals as "shareholders" and "collaborators" in this global enterprise. In a world dominated by a financial mindset, it is appropriate to extend the metaphor and recognize that animals are also "stockholders", "bondholders" and "stakeholders" in the enterprise -- in addition to many being "employees", if only within each human body. They can in fact be usefully recognized as "majority shareholders".

It is in this sense that the provocative argument of Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged, 1957) can be reinterpreted. The danger is that, as majority shareholders, animals may effectively "shrug". Given the evident challenge from a financial perspective of maintaining shareholder confidence, it is appropriate to ask whether "shrugging" might take some form of "biological action" (like the bee colony collapse, rather than "industrial action"). How then to sustain confidelity, as speculatively explored (Primary Global Reserve Currency: the Con? Cognitive implications of a prefix for sustainable confidelity, 2011)?


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