27 May 2010 | Draft
Engaging with the Future with Insights of the Past
Consulting the dead, sacrifice, bone-cracking and divination
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Institutionalisation of "hell" and "consultation" with its inhabitants
Divination by sacrifice: entrails and extispicy
Divination through the I Ching
Science vs Imagination: another polarity to be transcended?
Weaponisation of the Heart: from pomegranate to hand grenade
Education and research as consultation with the dead?
References (main paper)
Produced in celebration of the United Nations International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010) and the
This is an Annex to a paper on Designing Global Self-governance for the Future: patterns of dynamic integration of the netherworld (2010) and specifcally with respect to the case made there for the Cognitive embodiment of an "underworld" into governance. That paper is itself is the development of an argument in an introductory paper (Tao of Engagement -- Weaponised Interactions and Beyond: Fibonacci's magic carpet of games to be played for sustainable global governance, 2010).
As noted there, in a world much characterized by denial in many forms, distinct cases may be made for exploring "undersides" or the "unconscious", as variously argued (Elise Boulding, The Underside of History: a view of women through time, 1976; John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, 1995), most notably by Carl Jung with respect to the collective unconscious and the individual "shadow", as previously argued (Global Strategic Implications of the Unsaid: from myth-making towards a wisdom society, 2003). The case may be extended to various forms of "Omertà", perhaps most recently and dramatically illustrated by the policies of the Catholic Church with respect to sexual abuse by clergy, widespread concern with the secrecy of tax havens, or the scientific neglect of a particular factor in consideration of climate change policy (Mapping the Global Underground: articulating Insightful Population Constraint Consideration, 2010; Sins of Hot Air Emission, Omission, Commission and Promission, 2009).
Within such a context, the question becomes how best to integrate that dimension of "darkness" into the design of global governance -- into its "geometry". One approach is to recognize the insights to be derived from what is so systematically ignored in conventional thinking, as previously discussed (Enlightening Endarkenment: selected web resources on the challenge to comprehension, 2005).
For a "futurist" of today, any such exploration can be usefully set within an historical context of a challenge faced by many civilizations over thousands of years. This has been courageously done, citing an extensive body of literature, by Robert Temple in an extensive study variously titled in distinct editions (Netherworld: discovering the oracle of the dead and ancient techniques of foretelling the future, 2002; Oracles of the Dead: ancient techniques for predicting the future, 2002). Although the title is technically appropriate it unfortunately disguises both the range of issues covered (with very extensive references) and the unconventional insights that Temple brings to the matter. The apparent emphasis presumably arises from conventional marketing considerations.
The study is introduced by the following statement, relevant to contemporary challenges to governance, to whatever degree that relevance may be denied:
In the current period when efforts are made by science to scope out the future as an aid to policy formulation, Temple considers the "underside" of man's history by surveying four major forms of institutionalised prophecy on which governance of the past was heavily dependent over thousands of years. Explicitly excluding astrology, he distinguishes:
Unfortunately the lengthy examination of these disciplines suffers greatly from the disadvantage that it is effectively four books in one, each of particular interest to a different audience. But it is the insightful possibilities from a wide body of research that is so valuable in the perspective that emerges from an exploration that is only too readily deprecated by disciplines that assume that the current scientific approach has a methodology adequate to the escalating challenges of governance in a crisis-prone world.
Ironically this strategic challenge of uncertainty has been (notoriously) highlighted in poetic form by a former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as previously discussed in relation to the encoding offered by the I Ching (Unknown Undoing: challenge of incomprehensibility of systemic neglect, 2008).
With respect to the above argument, the value of the Temple review lies in the manner in which the following seemingly disparate insights exemplify "correlative thinking". Their potential future significance is further explored in a section of the main paper (Dynamic structure of events within event-space).
As Temple documents, following the work of Robert F. Paget (In the Footsteps of Orpheus: the discovery of the ancient Greek Underworld, 1967), it is only in recent decades that the actual physical construction (or replication) of the widely-mentioned "Hades" was discovered at Baia in the Bay of Naples (The Antrum of Initiation, Baia, Italy, BBC/H2G2, 6 May 2010). Its legendary existence had previously been assumed to be purely a matter of myth -- the domain of the God of the Underworld, Hades, and his wife Persephone. It is within this extensive subterranean structure, complete with river, that the original Oracle of the Dead functioned for so long, offering necromancy in support of the processes of the Roman Empire, and its predecessors -- subsequently to be emulated in Greece at the better-known Necromanteion.
Indeed if the success of Friedman's understanding of globality is consistent with the success of Facebook, as he would probably claim, a more rounded understanding would be consistent with success associated with unmentionable portions of the human anatomy -- as the volume of internet traffic on relevant imagery has long proven to be the case. It is indeed through those non-facial portions of the anatomy that the future is engendered ("Human Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other", 2007). Of course there are many "handbooks" of best practice -- each offering a vade mecum and insightful metaphors (Handing Over: handy metaphors for the communication of intent, 2006). As might be expected, there is even an Arsebook anti-social networking utility that claims to connect people with those they hate. The face-focused metaphor might then be seen as overly supportive of any commitment to "facing the future" at a time when historians (notably George Santayana) imply that its dangers might paradoxically emerge from "behind" -- potentially offering curious justification to equally problematic metaphors (Backside to the Future: coherence and conflation of dominant strategic metaphors, 2003). It is strange that France, for example, should currently be giving legislative priority to the superficiality of facism (Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism, 2009). Do such metaphors suggest that civilization is faced with a crisis of "one-sidedness" -- with individual identity dangerously associated with the "cut-out" figures of comic strips?
The cognitive implications of rounded "globality" -- metaphorically supported by all portions of the human anatomy -- might be usefully considered as still to be fully understood (Metaphorical
Geometry in Quest of Globality, 2009; Future
Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being
through conversation in the present moment, 1997). The challenge is especially evident in the problematic relationships amongst those who explore it (Epistemological Challenge of Cognitive Body Odour: exploring the underside of dialogue, 2006; Women and the Underside of Meetings: symptoms of denial in considering strategic options, 2009).
Good riddles do, in general, provide us with satisfactory metaphors: for metaphors imply riddles.... Metaphors must be drawn... from things that are related to the original thing, and yet not obviously so so related -- just as in philosophy also an acute mind will perceive resemblances even in things far apart... Well-constructed riddles are attractive for the same reason: a new idea is conveyed, and there is metaphoricl expression.... The thought is startling, and... does not fit in with the ideas you already have... The effect produced... is a surprise (Rhetoric, Book III, 1405a-b, 1412a, trans. W. Rhys Roberts)
Provocatively, it might then be the case that "the secret of global governance may lie in the riddle of a cross word" (extending the variant proposed in the introductory paper). The ambiguity recalls the tale of the governor who sought only one-handed advisers -- to avoid being repeatedly confronted by advice of the form, "on the one hand....but on the other hand...". The current widespread enthusiasm for riddles is illustrated by the success of The Da Vinci Code (2003) of Dan Brown, and by similar works.
Again Temple documents the extent to which "consultation" by extispicy was practiced as a guide to key decision-making in governance over thousands of years -- even considered legitimate by the founding fathers of Western civilization, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (pp. 265-278). His documentation of the manner in which the liver, as the focus of such divination, was understood as a form of mirror of emerging reality is a reminder of the extent to which questionable processes of "speculation" remain central to risk taking at all levels of society (Extreme
Financial Risk-taking as Extremism -- subject to anti-terrorism legislation? 2009)
As the Chinese functional equivalent of extispicy, Temple reviews the extent to which this process was of fundamental importance to decision-making over thousands of years. He notes that the decoding of the patterns on the many thousands of oracle bones, now stored in museums, remains to be achieved -- despite dramatic recent advances in decryption technology.
Temple provides a very useful review of the function of the I Ching, noting (as with others before him): In all of Chinese history there has never been a single book held in so much awe and reverence as the I Ching. If it were simple to understand, perhaps it would not have been held in such awe.... the fact is that this strange oracle book is, and has been for two and a half thousand years, at the heart of Chinese culture. (pp. 304-5).
As previously argued with regard to the current "energy" challenges of global society, any "psychic energy" merits greater attention (Reframing Sustainable Sources of Energy for the Future: the vital role of psychosocial variants, 2006)
The coding system of the I Ching explicitly embodies the paradoxical cognitive relationship between such polarities as light-dark, thereby incorporating the cognitive challenges to conventional, mono-polar governance -- exemplified in part by the challenges of a multi-polar global system. It is in this sense that the second pair of Drasny's Yi-globe images (Fig. 11) is suggestive.
Symbolic portrayals through carefully designed institutional logos may faintly imply the necessity for such a countervailing perspective to encompass globality -- only too readily understood simplistically. In the case of the logo of the United Nations, for example, the two olive branches framing the globe are held to be a symbol for peace, but without implying any understanding of the cognitively challenging dynamic through which "peace" is sustained by governance. As previously argued, the manner in which a polarity (or binary logic) can "hold" (or "uphold") globality is not readily evident -- as political parties continue to demonstrate in their struggle with each other (Metaphorical Geometry in Quest of Globality, 2009). The "olive branches" may however offer an aesthetic echo of understandings of the flow forms discussed below.
Curiously, given the various "imaginative" modes for engaging with the future, as documented by Temple, he himself regards the matter as being ultimately much more scientific and less psychological (p. 317). The current relevance of such readily deprecated insights is however usefully highlighted by Temple by placing past modalities (and those currently favoured) within a pattern of change -- in all probability giving rise to future deprecation of those now so authoritatively advocated. In effect it is the generality of the I Ching that ensures its demonstrated greater capacity to embody shifting modalities and polarities -- exemplified by deprecation and advocacy. But, as he stresses with regard to "scientific methodology", and the many examples of its resistance to new thinking:
The pattern of relationships between the disparate points of the argument above might be usefully reinforced by:
It is within this context that the founding myths of Western civilization with respect to life/death, good/evil -- and the role of Hades -- may be fruitfully revisited in relation to the Chinese system of encoding polarity and the value of designing it into a Fibonacci spiral (as in the main paper).
As previously argued, there is a case for relating the challenges of global governance to those of game-playing and imagination in the light of insights from complexity theory (Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007). It is questionable whether the intangibility of "imagination" is compatible with the focus of science on tangibles. Within what methodological framework can science per se lay claim to the process of imagination, readily to be defined as meaningless, if not nonsense. The assumption that science alone is the basis for global governance is questionable when so much of value proves to be dependent on kinds of imagination and credibility that science is unable to furnish. The challenge for science is well illustrated by a much cited quote from Albert Einstein:
As a polarity science-imagination could be fruitfully transcended.
Persephone and the pomegranate: With respect to the Oracle of the Dead in the Hades at Baia, Temple appropriately notes the terrifying role of Persephone in relation to the myth -- as Queen of the Underworld, namely "She Who Destroys the Light". Curiously, although not mentioned by Temple, her movement and significance are intimately associated with the pomegranate fruit in various myths in the cultures of the Mediterranean basin (including Judaism, Greece, Christianity, Islam) as well as in other cultures (Pomegranates and Symbolism; The Power of Pomegranate Symbolism; Nancy Haught, A Pomegranate for All Religions: Looking at the fruit's spiritual properties in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Beliefnet, 2005). The compound design (in the main paper), with the original spiral and its reversal, holds the complementarity between light and dark -- and the alternation between them (discussed below). In the myth Persephone moves between both realms in a regular annual cycle, embodying appropriately a paradoxical ambiguity.
Any such shared significance across cultures merits attention when their relationship and beliefs have exemplified violent divisiveness down the centuries. This is particularly relevant since the pattern includes those cultures which have contributed most to Western beliefs -- widely claimed to be "universal". As noted in the Wikipedia entry, particular significance is variously attached to the seeds of the pomegranate fruit and their supposed number, as in the case of Ancient Greece, for example:
Cultural relevance of the pomegranate: Of greater interest is the extent to which the pomegranate was central to the symbols of the cultures named, as noted in the Wikipedia entry. In Jewish tradition the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds. Through gematria, it is believed to be of potentially fundamental significance (Yaron Gordon, Star of David: inspired by the pomegranate, EzineArticles.com, 21 Oct. 2009). The seeds are held to correspond to the commandments of the Torah -- the 613 Mitzvot -- of which no definitive list appears to exist, as discussed in The Magic 613 (Dyneslines, 13 September 2008). In a curious international effort to assess that number using a scientific methodology, the average number was indeed reported to be 613 (Alexander Haubold, How many seeds does a pomegranate have?).
In almost every religion the pomegranate has been used as a symbol of humanity's most fundamental beliefs and desires, life and death, birth and eternal life, fertility and marriage, abundance and prosperity. Appropriate to the argument here regarding the weaponisation of interactions, 'pomegranate' and 'grenade' are identical, or almost identical, in many European languages, most controversially in Hebrew (Philologos, Pome-Grenade: on language, The Jewish Daily Forward, 6 February 2004). The latter notes that, as with the Hebrew term for "terrorist" (habel), both terms had completely different connotations when used in an erotic love poem and the Biblical Song of Songs.
Persephone and leadership of the Western world: Perhaps even more curious, with respect to Persephone, are the various documents identifying her as the statue on the top of the Capitol Building in the U.S. (Why is a statue of Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld atop the Capitol Dome?; Persephone on the US Capitol Building; Mystery Lady at the top of the Capitol, 2006). This is a bronze statue that, since 1863, has crowned the dome of the building. Now formally named the Statue of Freedom, it was originally named Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace. This formality has not prevented other interpretations -- a developing urban mythology appropriate to Persephone herself (Occult Symbolism in Washington D.C.; U. S. Congress - A Pagan Society). It is noteworthy that Temple's own account was the subject of an extensive review from a masonic perspective (Entering the Oracle of the Dead: Robert Temple Descends into an Ancient Hell, Freemasonry Today, Issue 20, April 2002). Such curiosities are matched by the significance accorded to Persephone in Canada's cultural heritage (Government of Canada Supports Persephone Theatre, Canada News Center, 30 March 2010).
Pomegranate as the primary symbol of healing: To the extent that the challenge of global governance addressed here is one of design enabling a degree of psychosocial "healing", it is appropriate to note that the pomegranate was selected as the logo for the Millennium Festival of Medicine. According to Patricia Langley (Why a Pomegranate? British Medical Journal, 2000, November 4, 321(7269), pp. 1153-1154), the reasons were:
"Persephone" as an indicator of attention span: With respect to the Fibonacci-based spiral design, the "number of seeds" might be variously associated with it. With regard to Persephone's alleged "consumption" of from 3 to 7 of them -- cognitive "ingestion" -- this could usefully point to variations in the cognitive span of engagement beyond the polarity, namely the number of "arenas" around which the spiral is constructed. References in the Chinese literature to the encounter with "10,000 things", acknowledged as signifying "many" or "infinite" (p. 341), could be seen in terms of a cognitive constraint imposed by an analogue to the Dunbar number -- a constraint on cognitive embodiment (Existential Embodiment of Externalities: radical cognitive engagement, 2009).
As in Christian symbolism, the fruit as a whole is indicative of the "bleeding heart"-- at the origin of the design. But, through what amounts to a weaponisation of the heart, Persephone herself, in her terrifying form, might even be understood as the deity of the improvised explosive device (IEDs) -- a seemingly perverse antithesis of freedom, but an appropriate complement to the forms of freedom spread by drones (unmanned aerial vehicles). Such distortions are the price of binary logic and the consequence of reductionism.
Understandings of the distant past regarding deprecated "consultation with the dead" and their "spirits" may be fruitfully, if ironically, compared with modern understandings of "education" and "research" -- more especially in the emerging virtualized cyberworld.
The point to be made is that ever larger proportions of extant knowledge and insight are now embodied in books or their electronic equivalent. As previously explored, the challenge is how to enable access to the vast sweep of time and insight in the present moment, constrained by time (Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004).
An increasing proportion of the authors are now definitely dead, at least physically, if not in relation to collective memory -- as with the founders of many religions. Some might well already be perceived as the "living dead", to say nothing of those formally recognized as "Immortals" (as with members of the Académie française). A significant proportion of education and research therefore involves "consultation with the dead" -- and indeed their "spirits" live on through their works. Here lies the challenge of education, however -- namely how to evoke those spirits and benefit from their insights.
Many of the processes attributed to the consultation of oracles, especially those detailed by Temple with regard to the Oracle of the Dead, can be compared with educational processes. This is especially the case with respect to the means employed to trigger imaginal receptivity, respect for the past, and the as yet unknown. In their more extreme form, as he notes, they may be associated with modern approaches to brainwashing. Evocation of a sense of mystery through appropriate ritual may be upheld as a mark of an influential educator -- well-celebrated by the movie Dead Poets Society (1989). The challenge is engendering an appropriate disposition of mind for learning through subtle attitudinal catalysts. How can the "dead" be encouraged to speak? How can people be enabled to "hear"? Deriving insight from arrays of the entombed in libraries, or embalmed in copyright, is no trivial matter.
Approaches to engendering such disposition, echoing those of the past, may be variously appreciated and deplored: cult rituals, hazing, bootcamp methods, "outward bound" exercises, meditation, fasting, etc. Those of secret societies, such as the freemasons, may bear an even closer relationship to those of the distant past -- especially through use of "high priests" or "high priestesses" ("Persephones"?). After the experience of educational "hell" -- a qualifier commonly used by students -- Temple remarks on the euphoria of the "post-consultation" experience, namely the return from "Hades" (for those who survive). It is an aspect of the process of being born anew (Varieties of Rebirth: distinguishing ways of being born again).
Also worthy of consideration are the parallels between modern "re-search" and the surreal dimensions of any such consultation -- notably in the future, as explored in the fictional accounts of archetypal "libraries", such as that of Jorge Luis Borges (The Library of Babel, 1941) or the "Galactic Imperial Library" on Trantor of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series. Given the dispostion of knowledge in cyberspace, the nature of "consultation with the dead" through the use of search engines -- Google and the like. -- merits consideration, especially given the ambitions to render all published knowledge accessible through such facilities. But again the challenge is how to evoke the "spirits" so embodied and how to derive meaning from their pronouncements -- however well they may be abstracted and summarized.
As is widely recognized, a key to human access to knowledge over the web is interface design. Hence the exploration of a Fibonacci-style "magic carpet" in the main paper and separately (Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways: noonautics, magic carpets and wizdomes, 2010). Given the widely recognized possibility of a holodeck, its anticipation in memory theatres, memory palaces, and the high-tech Allosphere theatre-like research facility, there is every possibility that search engines may simulate environments in which "consultation with the dead" is enabled -- complete with "librarians", potentially in either of the forms of Persephone. It is ironic that many students and researchers have referred to particular librarians of their experience as "Gorgons", whatever the fruitful implications of their multi-snake-headed connectivity, or their petrifying capacity ("rock logic") unless viewed via a suitable mirror. As a monster of the underworld, the threat of such an encounter with the Gorgon (Medusa) is described in the Odyssey:
"...and pale fear seized me, lest august Persephone might send forth upon me from out of the house of Hades the head of the Gorgon, that awful monster..."
Given the informal corporate slogan of Google, don't be evil, it would be ironic if any simulated environment required for such interactivity necessitated a dimension of what is too readily deprecated as "evil" or "negativity" -- in order to evoke appropriate learning. No pain, no gain?. Might Google be obliged to create a form of "cyber-Hades", using features explored by millions in Second Life, to enable acquisition of knowledge, if not wisdom? Notions of a Second Death have been long held, whatever its relation to wisdom. Given the widespread use of the mirror metaphor in relation to speculation regarding the future, what kind of cognitive mirror might be appropriate (Stepping into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns, 2009)?
The oracles of the past seem to have done marvels -- even without an iPad and Wifi access, or the associated media effects now available. Future "consultation with the dead" via iPad or iPhone? Presumably the future will have even better consultation facilities to offer -- interactive animations of dead authors, irrespective of the aspirations for cryogenics and "mind uploading".
[Implications of this argument are developed in the main paper: Designing Global Self-governance for the Future: patterns of dynamic integration of the netherworld (2010) where the references are also to be found]
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.