9th February 2010
Cognitive Implications of Lifestyle Diseases of Rich and Poor
Transforming personal entanglement with the natural environment
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Human body systems
Representation of planetary system boundaries
Representation of human system boundaries
Representation of the set of human lifestyle diseases
Towards a method for identifying remedial correspondences
Patterns essential to individual and global health? (Annex A)
Lifestyle diseases as metaphors
Global and planetary problems as metaphors
Interrelating planetary and human systems through disease metaphors
Preoccupations of individual and global 'self-healing'
Towards a University of Earth? (Annex B)
Lifestyle diseases (also called diseases of longevity, diseases of civilization, degenerative diseases, or noncommunicable diseases) variously identified and clustered are held to be a result of an inappropriate relationship of people with their environment.(Top 10 Lifestyle Diseases). As diseases of civilization, such diseases are found mostly in countries which are technologically developed and where the lifespan of the population increases. They may be understood as a direct consequence of development -- or of inappropriate development associated with an inappropriate relationship to the environment.
Lifestyle diseases typically take years to develop, and once encountered do not lend themselves easily to cure.The WHO World Health Statistics (2008) summarizes data collected from 193 member states and extrapolates future health trends. Mortality from non-communicable diseases -- lifestyle diseases -- is expected to rise while deaths from communicable diseases are expected to decline significantly over the next 20 years: 'Non-communicable conditions will cause over three quarters of all deaths in 2030" (Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, Mismatch: the lifestyle diseases timebomb, 2008)
As recent research on "happiness" is suggesting, it is appropriate to reframe the significance of "rich/privileged" and "poor/underprivileged" in relation to lifestyle diseases (Happiness and Unhappiness through Naysign and Nescience: comprehending the essence of sustainability? 2008). However 'lifestyle' is understood, any psychosocial "poverty" of the "rich" may be as significant to engendering such diseases as is the more obvious "poverty" of the "underprivileged" -- who may well be less vulnerable to "lifestyle diseases" as conventionally defined. It is a form of cynical misappropriation to imply that the disadvantaged do not have a 'lifestyle', even when they may not have chosen it. What is to be said of those who make a religious vow of poverty or a commitment to voluntary simplicity? What indeed is the incidence of such diseases amongst those who lead 'alternative lifestyles' -- including the monastic lifestyle?
It is misrepresentation to imply that such diseases are 'noncommunicable' when every effort is made to ensure communication of the cognitive and behavioural patterns (and peer group pressures) which engender them. As currently framed and undertaken, it might even be argued that 'development is the communication of lifestyle disease' -- if only through communication of growth-obsessed 'unease' regarding prevailing conditions, however demonstrable their sustainability (cf Veloping: the Art of Sustaining Significance, 1997). A recent study by the New Economics Foundation indicated that advertising, for example, creates dissatisfaction and misery, and encourage over-consumption.
The exploration in what follows focuses on the reframing of lifestyle disease through metaphor and the correspondence between such sets of metaphors and those used in reframing global strategies with respect to the ills of the planet. With respect to the individual, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley (The Mind, Metaphor and Health, Positive Health, 78, July 2002) argue that:
The authors are specifically interested in the potential of cognitive reframing through metaphor (James Lawley and Penny Tompkins, Metaphors in Mind: transformation through symbolic modelling, 2000). Of relevance to this exploration is the extent to which military metaphors are both used in the engagement with lifestyles diseases and with the crises of the planet (Rebekah Richards, Military Metaphors in Cancer Discourse Cancer: "Battles," "Fights," and "Struggles", Suite101.com, 14 November 2009). Cancer is often portrayed through a military metaphor: as a battle, a fight, or a struggle.
Various "systems" are recognized in the human body. The classification of such systems varies widely -- namely what is included or excluded, or how they are grouped. This is typical of any taxonomical challenge. The number of such systems recognized corresponds approximately to 7 (plus or minus 2, or more). But Wikipedia, for example, identifies 13 human body systems. The approach taken here is to assume that how many of the "systems" are distinguished or clustered is a matter of preference and convenience rather than unquestionable objectivity. In support of the argument here, the choice has been made to distinguish 9 such physical systems essential to understanding the integrity (and health) of a human being and to cluster them as follows:
There is an amusing irony to the fact that in order to determine the 'health' of robots, specifically designed to box with each other, a 'health-o-meter' was developed to assess the condition of 9 systems within each robot (Grand Ideas Studio, Boxing Robots, 2010; J. Grand, Fighting Robots, Sensor/Health Control Board).
A team of 26 scientists, led by Johan Rockstrom and Will Steffen, and centered on the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Stockholm Environment Institute, have produced a report entitled Planetary Boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity (2009), also available under the same title in Ecology and Society. It has been separately summarized as The Nine Planetary Boundaries. These boundaries are necessarily environmental constraints and boundary conditions, and the focus was on the degree to which they are already exceeded or in process of being exceeded. A summary of the study has been provided by Fred Pearce (From Ocean to Ozone: Earth's nine life-support systems, New Scientist).
With respect to this discussion of lifestyle diseases, the question here is whether the helpful mode of representation of the set of environmental systems (above) can be used to:
With respect to the range of human body systems, this might then take the form indicated below, given the articulation above:
This exploration was triggered by the recognition of 9 "planetary boundaries" by Johan Rockstrom et al. ( Planetary Boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity, 2009). As previously discussed, this suggested the possible existence of 9 "remedial capacity boundaries" (Recognizing the Psychosocial Boundaries of Remedial Action: constraints on ensuring a safe operating space for humanity, 2009). The pattern has been used above to suggest the possible corresponding pattern of 9 categories of "lifestyle disease" corresponding to 9 systems in the human body.
The point to be emphasized however is that such correspondences, if they have any validity, do not "exist" in any final definitive manner. The method that seems to be necessary for the "new thinking", for which calls are so widely made, needs to recognize the trap of static definitions of "what is" with its associated dangers of unfruitful closure, whether premature or otherwise. What would seem to be required is a lighter touch avoiding the dead hand of many favoured methods, which do not seem to be able to engender the remedies for the range of of intractable planetary challenges (the "crisis of crises") of which the lifestyle diseases are an indication in the human body.
The argument here is that the favoured cognitive methods of the times are themselves characterized by "diseases" which need to be recognized as reinforcing the incapacity to address either those of the planet or of the human body. The possibility of an orderly identification of systemic parallels to diseases of the body has been explored in relation to the emergence of a knowledge-based information society (Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008). Given the sense of a "crisis of crises" the dangers of rapid convergence on a "singularity", potentially associated with catastrophic societal collapse, also merit consideration (Emerging Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009).
Of particular relevance is the sense in which any "cognitive diseases" undermining current methodologies may be as evident in individual thinking as in collective thinking, notably with respect to any emergent "collective intelligence" at the planetary level of global society (possibly explored in terms of "planetary consciousness" or a "global brain").
The argument here is partially inspired by that of Susantha Goonatilake in favour of seeking out fruitful metaphors from a range of cultures (Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999). One example of its application is with respect to the global financial crisis (Remedies to Global Crisis: "Allopathic" or "Homeopathic"? Metaphorical complementarity of "conventional" and "alternative" models, 2009). This comparison specifically draws attention to occasional use of individual "health" as a metaphor for the framing of economic "health". A similar comparison is occasionally made between individual "health" and the "health" of the planet. Another example is that of E. J. S. Hearnshaw, et al. (Ecosystem health demystified: an ecological concept determined by economic means)
Any such argument raises the question as to the legitimacy of the "correspondences" that might be sought or made. To what extent are metaphorical correspondences fruitful in eliciting "healing" of the individual or of an endangered planetary society? Correspondences are considered meaningful both in modern sciences and in the world of symbolism explored by the arts, religion and various therapies. These contrasting exploitations of correspondences call for further investigation as previously highlighted (Theories of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative thinking, 2007). As discussed below, metaphor is widely explored in reframing lifestyle diseases. Metaphor is of increasing use in framing strategic initiatives (Metaphor as a language for global governance, 1995). A primary function of metaphor in both cases is to facilitate communication and understanding where other modes have proven to be less than adequate.
In seeking a "lighter touch", to bypass the "dead hand" of conventional methodology, a valuable criterion would be the extent to which the method is self-reflexive -- taking account of more recent insights into the cognitive limitations of conventional approaches, notably as articulated by Douglas R. Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979; I Am a Strange Loop, 2007) and by Hilary Lawson (Reflexivity: the post-modern predicament, 1985). It can be argued that such reflexivity is of relevance with respect to the complexities of global systems (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007; Engaging with Globality through Knowing Thyself: embodying engagement with otherness, 2009).
Patterns essential to individual and global health? (Annex A)
The following themes are separately explored in Annex A:
As noted above in the introduction, there is a well-recognized tendency to reframe diseases as metaphors. This is notably the case with lifestyles diseases. One author who has drawn significant attention to this is Susan Sontag (Illness as Metaphor, 1978; AIDS and Its Metaphors, 2001). Questions which follow from this framing include:
Consideration of the use of metaphor in reflection on global problems was a theme of the Metaphor Project within the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (Problem metaphors, 1995).
A specific concern was the possibility of considering problems as metaphors (Reframing problems as metaphors, 1995; Generative metaphor and policy-making, 1995; Innovative Global Management through Metaphor, 1989), In one exercise (Problems as metaphors, 1990), the examples considered were:
Consideration was also given to metaphor in relation to overpopulation (Reframing the problem of 'overpopulation', 1995). The possibility was subsequently explored in relation to a variety of global challenges, as separately summarized ( Degrees of Cognitive Engagement with Interrelated Global Categories, 2009) -- most notably with respect to the Rio+10 Earth Summit (My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) worthwhile, 2002). The latter exploration considered the following:
Given the long tradition of comparing the economic system and its ills (through metaphor) to those of the human body, the nature of a remedial response to the challenge of 'healing' the global financial crisis has been separately explored in terms of the contrasting systems of therapy typically critical of each other (Remedies to Global Crisis: 'Allopathic' or 'Homeopathic'? Metaphorical complementarity of 'conventional' and 'alternative' models, 2009).
The innovative conceptualization of quantum physics has given itself the legitimacy to give credence to the totally counterintuitive phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Also called the quantum non-local connection, this is a property of a quantum mechanical state of a system of two or more objects in which the quantum states of the constituting objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart -- even if the individual objects are spatially separated in a spacelike manner.
If it is admissible to allow of such linkage, and to give credence to experiments that claim to prove it, it is appropriate to ask whether a fundamental property of this paradoxical kind might characterize the relationship between the individual and the encompassing environment, whether local, planet or universe. The argument with respect to the former case is that the property is an artifact of the human cognition which gives it credibility. However it may hold true, it could be argued that analogous forms of entanglement might hold in some way between systems defined by other categories. In the quantum case the phenomenon holds between objects 'linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart'. Some interpersonal relationships might well be described in terms of such 'entanglement' -- by those who experience their relationship in this way.
The argument here is that a degree of entanglement of some paradoxical kind may hold between the understanding an individual has of personal identity and the understanding that person has of the encompassing environment. This would suggest that the same pattern of thinking -- subjective or objective -- applied to the individual would be 'cognitively entangled' with that applied by that person to their environment, and vice versa. Lifestyle disease may then in some way be understood as a dysfunctional form of cognitive entanglement.
Drama of cognitive entanglement: Curiously cognitive entanglement is perhaps most evident in drama and narrative, namely the development and culmination of a plot. Typically significance is then associated with a form of 'cognitive twist' (as discussed in Annex A in relation to the adaptive cycle). The twist then holds a relationship between initial incomprehension (ignorance of what is unknown) and the surprise of subsequent discovery -- of the unexpected at which clues may variously and tantalizingly hint. for some, based on such hints, twists may well be foreshadowed allowing probabilities to be attached to predictions. For others the outcome may be a complete shock.
Progressive recognition of the twist therefore effectively tracks the emergence of knowledge over time. Arguably such a twist may relate imagined possibilities to subsequent scientific discovery -- effectively a relationship between 'fiction' and 'science', as celebrated in science fiction and the discoveries it has prefigured. It also offers a way of holding the relationship over time between the challenged predictions and prophesies of doom-mongers (and hope-mongers) and the subsequently emergent reality. This is echoed in relationship to prediction and knowledge of strategic challenges -- hence the relevance of the twist to the adaptive cycle, its representation by the Möbius strip (discussed below), and the possibility of catastrophic collapse through failure to navigate the twist.
The theory of drama has long recognized phenomena associated with such a 'twist':
As suggested above, the 'realities' of current events derive part of their interest as 'fictional' dramas and through dramatic interpretation (Gorbachev: Dramaturge ?! Participative Democracy vs. Participative Drama, 1991). This is most evident in the case of celebrity scandals, conspiracy theories, false flag operations, and '-gates' (Watergate, Climategate, etc).
Entanglement as time binding: The entanglement across time between imagination and reality, between dramatic potential and science, ensures the transmission of knowledge and abstractions accreted in cultures -- as articulated by Alfred Korzybski under the term time binding. This phenomenon is especially relevant to the current civilizational challenge of navigating the adaptive cycle and avoiding catastrophic collapse as envisaged by several authors (Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005) Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization, 2006). The challenge may also be explored as a thought experiment (Minding the Future: thought experiment on presenting new information, 1980; Presenting the Future: an alternative to dependence on human sacrifice through global pyramid selling schemes, 2001; Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004).
As noted in Wikipedia, dramatic catastrophe is the final resolution in a poem or narrative plot, which unravels the intrigue and brings the piece to a close -- particularly in the tragedies of classical antiquity. Catastrophe has long been recognized Given the sophisticated insights of catastrophe theory into the patterns of catastrophe and how they may be navigated, it is valuable to relate such patterns to the more accessible understandings of cognitive twists and the associated learning process offered by plots and their dynamics.
The question has been raised as to the possibility of viewing the panarchy adaptive cycle as a special case of the cusp catastrophe. In the study of E. J. S. Hearnshaw, et al. (Ecosystem health demystified) consideration is given to catastrophe theory in relation to that cycle:
The civilizational challenge of the adaptive cycle of achieving sustainability might then be reframed as one of navigating 'cognitive catastrophes' (Interrelating Cognitive Catastrophes in a Grail-chalice: proto-model implications of WH-questions for self-reflexivity and dialogue, 2006). The relevant catastrophic dialogue processes are mapped in the latter exploration on the form of a chalice -- appropriately present on the table in the above image (itself part of the traditional time binding narrative offered by the Tarot). To the extent that the challenge is memetic, of relevance is the study by Patricia Karathanos, et al (Sudden Lost Meaning: a catastrophe? Management Decision, 1994), especially their diagram as follows -- also of relevance to understanding remedial possibilities:
A figure of this kind is potentially of use to indicate the conditions of emergence of abuse of faith in governance (Abuse of Faith in Governance, 2009).
Orientation entanglement: In mathematics and physics, the notion of orientation entanglement is used to develop intuition relating to the geometry of spinors namely the properties of rotations in space. The orientation of an object may then become entangled with the orientation of the surrounding walls. This leads to the question as to whether such an understanding applies in some way to the relation between an individual and any surrounding context, whether local, global or relational.
Cognitive entanglement in deep ecology: Individual engagement with nature, as understood in deep ecology and ecosophy, might be appropriately described as a form of entanglement. The importance of this for indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge systems has been extensively documented for the United Nations Environment Programme by Darrell A. Posey (Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, 1999). A more recent and specific example is offered by Catherine Laudine (Aboriginal Environmental Knowledge: rational reverence, 2009). A valuable exploration of this entanglement has also been provided by Jeremy Narby (The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge, 1999) as discussed separately (Myth and indigenous knowledge, 2006).
Local (individual) / Global (collective) entanglement: These forms of entanglement involve the kinds of paradoxes associated with the Möbius strip (above) and with the 'cognitive twist' (discussed in Annex A in relation to the adaptive cycle). It is only too appropriate that such a topological form should be included in the above image (which predates its mathematical description). The questionable delineation of two 'eyes' by the Möbius strip, provides a reminder of the paradoxical nature of what is brought into focus by the 'stereoscopic' capacity of 'polyocular vision' (cf John A. T. Robinson, Truth Is Two-Eyed, 1979). Appropriately the form is the conventional symbol of infinity (the lemniscate) and, by implication, of the continuity desired in a sustainable adaptive cycle. The form is discussed elsewhere (Psychosocial Work Cycle: beyond the plane of Möbius, 2007) with respect to Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia (2007) in which the following diagram was presented.
The Möbius strip (like the Klein bottle) embodies the quadrilemma (discussed in Annex A). Within any alchemical metaphor, the Klein bottle (as an alembic) would be an appropriate cognitive 'container' for transformation (cf Intercourse with Globality through Enacting a Klein bottle: cognitive implication in a polysensorial 'lens', 2009):
Such possibilities are no more 'ridiculous' than that of the quantum case -- famously challenged as needing to be 'crazy enough' to explain the phenomena of fundamental physics. If counterintuitive modes of understanding are appropriate to disciplines that have yet to prove their relevance to the challenges of a crisis of global crises, it is at least appropriate to explore their possible relevance to comprehension of those crises -- for which, seemingly, few cognitive disciplines have as yet any viable insights to offer.
There is also a charming irony in relation to therapeutic remedies in that they have been controversially sought by the pharmaceutical industry through exploiting the local knowledge of indigenous peoples -- otherwise universally deprecated. As argued by Susantha Goonatilake (Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999), there may be forms of traditional knowledge which address the cognitive ills that may underlie the lifestyle diseases indicated above. Conventional science may be in extreme danger of 'throwing the baby out with the bath water' in the inability of its methodology to discern insights relevant to the memetic ills faced by a society widely recognized to be in danger of collapse.
The fact that human systems are embedded within planetary systems with which they interact in various ways is a trivial observation. More intriguing is the manner in which such systems are framed through cognitive processes, specifically how cognition is implicated in the definition of categories conventionally understood to be distinct and indicative of separation. In this sense cognition relating to diseases of the individual body can readily be dissociated from those of the planet. Each may well be the focus of disciplines that have little interest in communication with each other. This of course reflects the challenge of lifestyle diseases, dissociated from the ills of the planet, just as the latter are typically dissociated from those of the body. There is then no sense that lifestyle diseases may in effect be functioning like the traditional canary in coal mines. -- as an indicator of environmental ills. In that sense lifestyle diseases function like indicator species.
Any such exploration, although justified by the manner in which metaphors are used to enable understanding and communication, is of course fraught with the potential for error -- especially when any effort is made to benefit from traditional insights relevant to such comparisons. Hence the relevance of the argument of Donald N. Michael with respect to both planning and learning "On the requirement to embrace error" (as discussed in Annex A).
This tentative exercise points to the possibility of representing the earlier diagrams together in the following image
The above argument stresses the merit of exploring the way in which metaphor is used to frame systemic ills, especially those of a potentially catastrophic nature. However the essence of lifestyle diseases, as it has been argued, is the dissociation of identity from context -- of the individual from the environment and of society from the global context. In that sense., rather than appropriate entanglement with the 'lifeworld', there is disentanglement from that lifeworld -- typically framed as humanity's independence from nature, or humanity's conquest of nature (using a military metaphor). For some nature is therefore already 'dead'.
The question for further exploration is the extent to which any framing of remedies reinforces that dysfunctional disassociation. As stressed, lifestyle diseases and planetary diseases might usefully be understood as sustained by similar dysfunctional cognitive patterns.
Potentially of even greater interest is the extent to which the system, whether individual or collective, then engages in activities which reflect an intuitive understanding of an appropriate remedial response -- holding a memory of remedial possibilities but in a deactivated ('denatured') form. This might then even correspond to the strategic adage: 'having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts' -- a preoccupation with the trace of the systemic insight which one most needs to learn.
In this sense there may then be valuable learnings implicit in the form of any compensatory activity or preoccupation -- then to be understood as a preoccupation with the only traces of what one most needs to learn. This would be consistent with the insight of Gregory Bateson in concluding a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, is that: "We are our own metaphor." (Mary Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor, 1972., p.304). Unfortunately we have over-identified with the metaphor and have been unable to see ourselves in perspective.
The question is then how 'displacement activity' may be reactivated as a 'cognitive healing catalyst' -- circumventing the forms of denial it otherwise reinforces (and the compensatory focus it offers). A number of authors (cited above) have in various ways articulated ways of thinking about this possibility (David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world, 1997; Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe, 1995). The process of 'reactivation' may for example be understood in terms of 're-enchantment' as used by some (Thomas Moore, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, 1997; Morris Berman, Reenchantment of the World, 1981).
Of interest is then to explore specific compensatory preoccupations in relation to the experience of specific diseases to determine whether they do indeed hold implicit systemic insights. For example, in the case of multiple sclerosis (given the systemic connectivity that is progressively undermined by the breakdown of patches of nerve sheath), for which Metaphor A to Z: Multiple Sclerosis MS, (Healing Keys) offers:
What then is to be learnt from a (professional) preoccupation by the sufferer with hydrology, hydrography and water systems? Is there any correlation between lifestyle diseases and such (planetary) systemic preoccupations? The example of MS is especially interesting in the light of the extensive comments by Thomas Moore on the psychological significance of water systems -- to a large extent lost in modern global society -- notably the spiritual dissociation from water and its flows. For Wade Davis (The Wayfinders: why ancient wisodom matters in the modern world, 2009):
More generally this tendency to dysfunctional externalization may be understood as effectively breaking the vital 'pattern that connects', again as articulated by Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979) in making the point that:
In the light of the arguments for enactivism, the challenge with respect to engagement with the lifeworld may then be expressed as one of 'enactivation' as previously argued (Walking Elven Pathways: enactivating the pattern that connects, 2006).
As seen at the global level, many examples of treating externalities as irrelevant have proven to be problematic -- most notably in the case of the global economic system. In each case these effectively consist of 'exporting' issues outside the boundaries of the system with which it is possible to deal conventionally using a degree of subunderstanding of complexity. The question is how to embody externalities, as argued elsewhere (Existential Embodiment of Externalities: radical cognitive engagement with environmental categories and disciplines, 2009).
Towards a University of Earth? (Annex B)
The following themes are separately explored in Annex B:
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