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16 July 2017 | Draft

Prefix "Re-cognition" as Prelude to Fixing Sustainability -- "Pro" vs "Con" ?

Speculative review of missing emphases potentially vital for psychosocial balance

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Introduction
Appropriate recognition of both "pro" and "con" implications?
Appropriate implications of "con" variant?
Appropriate implications of "pro" variant?
Unidimensional contrast vs Higher dimensional confluence: Kon vs Con?
References

Introduction

The contrasting roles of "pro" and "con" in the English discourse so characteristic of the current global civilization call for particular attention. One justification is the ambiguity of the association of "pro" with "positive" (and supportive, as in "for") in contrast with "con" as "negative" (and resistant, as in "against"). Also puzzling, as a contrast in its own right, is the association of "con" with a variety of processes implying consensus and gathering together, as with configuration and conference.

More puzzling is the questionable expectation that there should be some balance between such associations governed by the contrasting prefixes. Is it to be expected that there should be a sense of "pro" for every function in which there is an active sense of "con" -- or a sense of "con" for every sense of "pro"? If not, why not? The question is especially pertinent in those cases where discourse attaches considerable significance to a term prefixed by "con", but seemingly none to the "pro" variant -- whilst possibly stressing the need for progress and concern about problems. The point is illustrated in the previous sentence by the term "considerable" -- in the absence of any sense of "prosiderable". Is some psychosocial functionality neglected or missing? Is this of any significance to any dynamic balance expected in the quest for sustainability

Of relevance to this review is the existence of the California-based ProCon website -- presented as the leading source for pros and cons of controversial issues. A somewhat similar approach has been used in profiling potentially questionable presentations of problems and strategies by international constituencies in the online Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Such controversy acquires a particular focus in foreign policy framed by a binary "us or them" logic. There is the expectation that either countries are "for" (understood as "pro") a particular strategic agenda or "against" it (framed in terms of "con"), as previously discussed (Us and Them: relating to challenging others, 2009).

This inquiry follows an interest in the role of "con" in its association with the confluence and consensus sought through conferences in anticipation of an integrative resolution of the crises of the times (Considerable Conglomeration of "Cons" of Global Concern: eightfold constraint on constructive conflict control? 2010; Exploration of Prefixes of Global Discourse: implications for sustainable confidelity, 2011). This had derived from an earlier assumption that any requisite paradigm shift might be associated with a new set of prefixes (New Paradigms via a Renewed Set of Prefixes? Dependence of international policy-making on an array of operational terms, 2003). The inquiry was taken further in exploring the cognitive role of "con" with respect to the configuration implied by a consensual mandala beyond the focus on conviction and conquest (Checklist of words prefixed by "con" with frequency of usage, 2016) -- notably with respect to the fundamental role of confidence as the basis for any future global currency (Primary Global Reserve Currency: the Con?, 2011).

As developed further here, the argument was originally inspired by the Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis (COCTA) -- as a research committee of the International Political Science Association, and later of the International Sociological Association. Central to the early activity of that committee was the role of Fred W. Riggs (Concepts, Words, and Terminology, 1971; Proceedings of the Conference on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis in the Social Sciences, 1982). Riggs had notably highlighted the apparent absence of any term that could signal any form of reconciliation between extremes -- such as "pro" vs "con" in this instance. This is otherwise understood in terms of an "excluded middle".

A related interest was the possibility that the implications might be otherwise in languages other than English, notably in the contrast between positive and negative descriptors, as with the controversy associated with "nongovernmental" (Conceptual Distortions from Negative Descriptors: the possibility that "non-governmental" may be comprehended as "anti-governmental" in some languages, 1974). Such alternative insights have since been highlighted in various compilations (Howard Rheingold, They Have a Word for It: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases, 2000; Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass: why the world looks different in other languages, 2010; Adam Jacot de Boinod, The Meaning of Tingo: and other extraordinary words from around the world, 2007). These possibilities were associated with an earlier concern at the absence of any ordered inventory of concepts, irrespective of their linguistic formulation (Toward a Concept Inventory, 1971). The concern inspired an inquiry through the Human Values Project into "value polarities" as an approach to more fruitful understanding of antithetical values.

The following review endeavours to highlight polar complementarities which may be interesting, recognizing that a proportion may indeed be trivial, merely an irrelevant consequence of diverse etymological derivations, or for which other terms are typically preferred. Some without conventional significance may indeed be exploited as commercial trademarks because of an implied significance that they carry. However the question is whether some senses that are missing are potentially highly significant. For example, given that "pro" normally has a positive connotation, when is it negative (as in problem). Conversely, given the negative connotation of "con", why is it considered to be so fundamental to so many positive aspirations (such as congress, conciliation, and contemplation) and the transcendence of the constraints of binary thinking? Irrespective of any excluded middle, are there inappropriately neglected antonyms?

Ironically there is also the question as to whether the comprehension of any ultimate desirable ("heavenly") unity or solidarity ("singing from the same hymn sheet") is the fundamental implication of "con", or whether this assumption also merits challenge as a fundamental form of confidence trickery -- a "con" (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011). How is unity in diversity to be better understood in a multipolar society?

The review concludes with the suggestion that the current confusion in discourse derives from a conflation of three dimensions -- each of which has binary extremes associated with contrasting interpretations of "pro" and "con". Discourse effectively dances backwards and forwards along these three dimensions -- between the six extremes. These distinctive modalities are consistent with the variously articulated arguments of Edward de Bono (Six Frames For Thinking About Information, 2008). However, by configuring these dimensions as mutually orthogonal, the argument suggests that global discourse is unfortunately confined to a "cognitive cage" whose recognition potentially enables its constraints to be transcended.

Appropriate recognition of both "pro" and "con" implications?

Appropriate implications of "con" variant?

Here the issue is the degree of importance conventionally attached to the functions associated with the "pro" prefix, compared to the obscurity or non-exisence of any function associated with the variant having the "con" prefix

Appropriate implications of "pro" variant?

Here the issue is the degree of importance conventionally attached to the functions associated with the "con" prefix, compared to the obscurity or non-exisence of any function associated with the variant having the "pro" prefix

Unidimensional contrast vs Higher dimensional confluence: Kon vs Con ?

The presentation above emphasizes the confusing mix of extremes conventionally associated with use of the prefixes "pro" and "con". This is clearly a binary framework along a single dimension. Some of the commentary suggests that the opposition is not "mechanical" and may imply various degrees of subtlety which merit attention. In a multipolar global society, in which there are "pros" and "cons" to every strategic proposal, the need for such subtlety is obvious. As indicated, it my be vital to recognition of the elusive nature of the condition of sustainability.

Poetry: The unidimensional binary framework could be most readily challenged by juxtaposition of the terms in a poetic context to elicit suggestively other dimensions respectful of the complexity of psychosocial systems. The point has been succinctly made by the biologist/anthropologist Gregory Bateson, in explaining why "we are our own metaphor", in pointing out the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation:

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 are 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. (Cited by Mary Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor: a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, 1972. pp. 288-9)

One provocative approach to any such reframing is through the appreciation that all the terms prefixed by "Con" are pronounced in English as though they were spelt with "Kon" (as is the practice for the equivalents of many of them in German).

Strategic thinking confined to a "cognitive cage"? The degree of confusion apparent in the above review calls for clarification. Especially problematic is the unidimensionality evident in the various binary articulations of "pro" vs "con". Arguably there is a case for recognition of 3 "orthogonal" dimensions to reduce the confusion of the pro-con relationship and to clarify the cage as a fundamentally dynamic form. Succinctly, the dimensions might distinguish:

Each of these implies a particular contrast between "pro" and "con", as variously understood. These can be fruitfully distinguished and presented in the following images. Especially intriguing is the manner in which the binary dynamics along any singular dimension lead to reframing the other extreme as "negative" or problematic -- whilst appreciating the perceiving extreme to be variously conducive to the "positive". This calls into question any simple understanding of such a dimension -- with a positive refaming being given to the supposedly negative (by those associated with that extreme) and a negative framing to what might readily framed as positive (from the opposing perspective). The polar extremes across the octahedron in the images therefore merit consideration in this light -- with its centre being especially elusive to definition..

Octahedral configuration of 3 mutually orthogonal pro-con dimensions
(characteristic extremes across the centre are coloured either white or black)
Images prepared using Stella Polyhedron Navigator

The question is whether the above configuration defines a dynamic "cognitive cage" which effectively frames and constrains much discourse relating to governance. Arguably discourse shifts backwards and forwards along any of the 3 dimensions across that framework -- understood as a cognitive "cavity" in the above sense. Sustainability can then be understood as the elusive condition framed as the centre of that cavity understood dynamically.

As noted above, these distinctive modalities are consistent with the variously articulated arguments of Edward de Bono (Six Frames For Thinking About Information, 2008). The mutually orthogonal configuration of the three dimensions enables discussion about the nature of the "cognitive cage" to be taken further -- with the implication that it might be transcended. Curiously the cage, and its dynamics, recall the Kekulé benzene molecule which is so fundamental to organic life. Especially suggestive is the recognition of the benzene molecule as a resonance hybrid which derives its improbable stability from its inherent dynamic. Is there a case for recognizing that the subtle complexities of viable discourse and psychosocial organization might be similarly structured, as may be variously argued (Configuration of alternatives as a resonance hybrid, 2008; Morphic resonance hybrid of complementary metaphors, 2011; Psychosocial coherence as a resonance hybrid?, 2014)?

Neuroscience: The question is whether such factors play any part in the higher dimensional connotations of Pro and Kon in which there is greater confluence consistent with the transcendence of the more constrained binary significance -- seemingly overly simplistic in a complex society. This may offer new insight into the nature of "unity" and the challenge to its comprehension. Whether with respect to the relatively limited knowledge of the brain, of cognitive processes, or of the capacity for fruitful collective governance of a global society, unusual possibilities clearly remain to be explored.

From a purely scientific perspective, recent research has indicated the remarkable possibility of cognitive processes taking up even up to 11-dimensional form in the light of emergent neuronal connectivity in the human brain. As summarized:

Using mathematics in a novel way in neuroscience, the Blue Brain Project shows that the brain operates on many dimensions, not just the three dimensions that we are accustomed to. For most people, it is a stretch of the imagination to understand the world in four dimensions but a new study has discovered structures in the brain with up to eleven dimensions – ground-breaking work that is beginning to reveal the brain’s deepest architectural secrets..... these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object. ...

The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner. It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates. (Blue Brain Team Discovers a Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks Frontiers Communications in Neuroscience 12 June 2017)

In their published paper the researchers suggest that these cavities open the way to new understanding between structure and function (Michael W. Reimann, et al, Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function, Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 12 June 2017).

Reframing the cognitive cage: As suggested by the insights from neuroscience, the elusive cognitive "cavity" framed by the dynamics of the cage lends itself to further exploration through the geometry and the distinctive memetic insights this can carry. Whilst the argument from neuroscience indicates a bridge between structure and function, the octahedral framework of the cage-like depiction above offers a means of associating it with an even more cage-like frame, namely the cube. The cube is the geometrical dual of the octahedron. However it is the transformative interplay between cube and octahedron which is especially intriguing in clarifying the relation between the 6-fold pattern (deriving from the 3 "binary" dimensions of discourse) and the 8-fold pattern so significant to other frameworks.

Most notable in this respect is the traditional Chinese triadic encoding of the 8-fold BaGua pattern. This suggests that it is the 8 complementary 3-fold combinations of the dimensional extremes which together enable the cognitive cage to be reframed, as suggested by the following animation.

Animation distinguishing "pro-con" discourse modalities
using BaGua trigram encoding (indicative only)
Animation prepared using Stella Polyhedron Navigator

A particular advantage of this BaGua encoding is the manner in which it has been embodied into poetic form to enable wider comprehension of its subtle complexity. Within that cultural context a further advantage is the sense in which the 3 dimensions are understood in terms of 6 "directions" -- appropriate to the alienation each direction experiences with respect to its opposite.

The geometrical argument is developed separately (to follow). The depiction of a triadic pattern may well prove to be usefully associated with the arguments of various authors (Francesco Belfiore (The Triadic Structure of the Mind: outlines of a philosophical system, 2016; Paris Arnopoulos, Triadic Paradigm: dialectics-politics-cybernetics -- the sociophysics of complex systems, Cybernetica, 36, 1993, 4). It is widely recognized that Hegel's arguments are highly dependent on triadic patterns.

The concern here is not with triadic patterning alone, but rather with how the triads are configured together and to what framework of a higher order that may give rise, as previously discussed to a more limited degree (Triangulation of Incommensurable Concepts for Global Configuration, 2011). Tentatively, for purposes of discussion, the octahedral images above then suggest 8 triadic discourse "modalities" as follows -- with each clustering proximate extremes between the orthogonal dimensions. The apparent viability of any cluster as a "superficial" discourse modality derives from its exclusion of any opposite extreme (across the octahedron).

Modalities Contrasting triadic discourse modalities based on the dimensios in the above images
(descriptors for each polar nexus are purely indictative and suggestive of how they are framed and perceived)
Modality 1 Progress / "For" change Professional / Exclusive / Bounded / Unity / Solidarity / Conformity "Negative" / "Con" / Critical / Disagree / Questioning
Modality 2 Progress / "For" change Consensual / Inclusive / Open / Many / Diversity "Negative" / "Con" / Critical / Disagree / Questioning
Modality 3 Progress / "For" change Consensual / Inclusive / Open / Many / Diversity "Positive" / "Pro" / Supportive / "Like" / Agree
Modality 4 Progress / "For" change Professional / Exclusive / Bounded / Unity / Solidarity / Conformity "Positive" / "Pro" / Supportive / "Like" / Agree
Modality 5 Konservation / Perfection of what is /
"Against" change
Professional / Exclusive / Bounded / Unity / Solidarity / Conformity "Negative" / "Con" / Critical / Disagree / Questioning
Modality 6 Konservation / Perfection of what is /
"Against" change
Consensual / Inclusive / Open / Many / Diversity "Positive" / "Pro" / Supportive / "Like" / Agree
Modality 7 Konservation / Perfection of what is /
"Against" change
Professional / Exclusive / Bounded / Unity / Solidarity / Conformity "Positive" / "Pro" / Supportive / "Like" / Agree
Modality 8 Konservation / Perfection of what is /
"Against" change
Consensual / Inclusive / Open / Many / Diversity "Negative" / "Con" / Critical / Disagree / Questioning


References

Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor: a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation. Hampton Press, 1972. pp. 288-9

Francesco Belfiore. The Triadic Structure of the Mind: outlines of a philosophical system Rowman and Littlefield, 2016

Adam Jacot de Boinod:

Edward de Bono:

Guy Deutscher. Through the Language Glass: why the world looks different in other languages. Metropolitan Books, 2010

Gaston Dorren. Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages. Grove Press, 2016

Yee-Lum Mak. Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world. Chronicle Books, 2016

John H. McWhorter. The Language Hoax. Oxford University Press, 2014

Michael W. Reimann, Max Nolte, Martina Scolamiero, Katharine Turner, Rodrigo Perin, Giuseppe Chindemi, Paweł Dłotko, Ran Levi, Kathryn Hess and Henry Markram Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function, Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 12 June 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fncom.2017.00048

Howard Rheingold. They Have a Word for It: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases. Sarabande Books, 2000

Fred W. Riggs:

Fred W. Riggs (Ed.). Proceedings of the Conference on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis in the Social Sciences. Indeks Verlag, 1982

Ella Frances Sanders. Lost in Translation: an illustrated compendium of untranslatable words from around the world. Ten Speed Press, 2014

Eden Sher. The Emotionary: a dictionary of words that don't exist for feelings that do. Razorbill, 2016

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