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29th May 2006 | Draft

Dematerialization and Virtualization

comparison of nuclear fusion and cognitive fusion

-- / --

Annex B of Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8)
[See also website of ITER-8: Cognitive Fusion Reactor]

-- Experimental challenge of fusion for ITER
-- Experimental challenge of "cognitive fusion" for ITER-8
-- Complementarity between ITER-8 and the ITER fusion project
-- ITER-8 self-reflexive design
-- Torus dynamics common to ITER and ITER-8
-- Dematerialization | Virtualization | Correspondence between the virtual reality of ITER and ITER-8
-- Complementary fusion metaphors: "plasma dynamics" and "attention dynamics"
-- Towards a language appropriate to dynamic engagement
---- Form and dimensionality | Embodiment | Didjeridu playing
-- 3-fold Complementarity (nuclear fusion, didjeridu, cognitive fusion)
-- Helical threading of "incommensurables"
---- Snake metaphor | Incommensurable rings and the challenge of cognitive fusion
---- Cognitive "traffic" around a "hole" | Spiral dynamics
---- Supercoiling and field effects in cognitive organization (of knowledge)
---- Simulation possibilities
-- ITER-8: a necessarily underdefined entity
-- Resonant associations to other "ITER" projects
-- People | Institutions | Technologies
-- Myth and indigenous knowledge
-- Archetypal symbolism indicative of the fundamental dimensions of ITER-8


Sources of conventional energy are typically associated with well-recognized forms of matter. These range from solid fuels (wood, coal, peat, etc), through liquid in some form (rivers, tides, oil, etc), to gas (wind, natural gas, etc). With the focus on plasma to achieve controlled nuclear fusion, there is now a progression to what is described as a "fourth state of matter". The shift in focus to plasma, as ionized gas, may be understood as a form of "dematerialization". The capacity to derive energy directly from the sun (solar power, etc) may also be understood as directly dependent on plasma-based processes.

The question of whether human society is subject to dematerialization processes has been a matter of research since the work of Robert Herman, et al (Dematerialization, in Jesse H. Ausubel and Hedy E. Sladovich, eds., Technology and Environment 1989). Initially dematerialization was defined primarily as the decline over time in the weight of materials used in industrial end products or in the "embedded energy" of the products. More broadly, dematerialization now refers to the absolute or relative reduction in the quantity of materials required to serve economic functions (cf Iddo K. Wernick et al. Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends, Daedalus 125, 1996, 3). This may be expressed as reducing the total material that goes toward providing benefits to customers -- accomplished through greater efficiency, the use of better or more appropriate materials, or by creating a service that produces the same benefit as a product (cf Dematerialization and Immaterialization)

Dematerialization has taken on a wider significance in relation to electronic information. It may then be understood as a process to convert assets and securities held in physical form into electronic form or to directly allot securities in electronic record form. Ecological sustainability may be assessed as the dematrialization of production and consumption (cf Peter Bartelemus, Dematerialization and Capital Maintenance: two sides of the sustainability coin, 2002). An important potential avenue for achieving sustainability objectives is to develop policies aimed at dematerialization of consumer preferences and consumption patterns (cf Dematerialization, habit formation and social interactions in consumer behaviour, 2005).

The widely-recognized emergence of a knowledge-based society, matched by an increasing concern with faith-based structuresand disciplines, also points to the importance of dematerialization. It is within this context that "cognitive fusion" may be understood to take place. This trend is better recognized under the term "virtualization".


More generally, dematerialization may be understood as one of the processes of virtualization. The relationship to a form of cognitive fusion is noted, from the perspective of art, by Urs Jaeggi (Morandi's Bottles, Duchamp's 'Fresh Widows', and the Tower of Babel, XXIInd International Art History Colloquium of the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1998 in Queretaro):

Virtualization as the one path. This invalidation of reality, the dematerialization is taking its course. Paralleling it, and drawing on the same resources, is a strand of enlightenment. It is becoming ever more important and its radicality is not underestimated, but prejudicially and polemically exaggerated -- either positively or negatively. The issue is the apparently seamless experience resulting from the synthesis of television, advertising, consumption, technology, and knowledge. And the issue is precisely the content that, from the beginning, critical theory has fulminantly if unsuccessfully criticized as an aberration of modernity.

Timothy W. Luke (MegaMetaphorics: Re-Reading Globalization, Sustainability, and Virtualization as Rhetorics of World Politics, 1999) usefully clarifies -- from a self-reflexive perspective -- the cognitive challenge of seeking to describe, within a highly dynamic collectivity, concepts that are used to provide coherence to social processes:

What are 'world politics?' For some, this question is easy: it is anything political about, from or on the current world system of states, economies, and nations. For others, this question is much more difficult: it is the politics of world-definition, world-construction, world-action. And, for still others, the question necessarily mixes a measure from each of the previous groups. This paper takes the third way, casting the politics of world-definition as part and parcel of the nitty-gritty political dynamics of our world....

For Luke, this calls for a new understanding of "globalization", "sustainability" and "virtualization" as megametaphors -- which could also be understood as "containers" for a form of cognitive fusion:

Megametaphors capture, in a sense, many versal possibilities as they get caught up in the politics of actualizing their more complete universalization. All who seek greater globalization, sustainability or virtualization can articulate polysemic performative discourses with such terms, which illustrate what it is 'like' to be global, attain sustainable development, and become virtual. At the same time, experts will opine about these phenomena and lay persons will believe their opinions, confirming the new doxa of these discourses. Those discussions, however, essentially start to extrude elements of globalization, sustainability, and virtualization out of the debates exploring what these phenomena could be. By presuming to suggest what such changes should be, their exponents cause parallel events and processes to come into effect, which test what they should and should not be. The hesitant and multiversal qualities of such transformations, at the same time, become much more definitive and universal, because megametaphors anchor the mythic invention of their referents. Globalization could be many different things, as could sustainability or virtuality, but they all require very specific forms of completion, definition, and execution because of how they are imagined by the doxosophers who discover, define, and then deploy them in social life. Such doxosophical agents are ambiguous forces. To some, they may seem to be popular organic intellectuals; but, in the main, they live and work in the far more inorganic domains of business, industry, and the professions. Hence, it is more plausible to see them as 'inorganic intellectuals.'

This is a point developed by John Ralston Saul (Voltaire's Bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West, 1992; The Unconscious Civilization, 1995) with regard to the deformations of thought such as ideology promoted as truth and the use of language and expertise to mask a practical understanding of the harm this causes.

With respect to "virtualization" Luke argues:

The rapidity of change in the digital domains of the Internet is widely acknowledged in the megametaphorics of the present. To write about it, or reconsider the effects of its current mix of functionalities, is a hazardous enterprise, but the digerati rise to the challenge. Still, their analysis seems doomed to lag far behind the event horizon where the latest actions are happening. These changes cannot be quantified easily, and their inherent qualities are ephemeral. So much of what is written about the Net, then, must necessarily write instead about what already is written on the Net. No one really knows what its effects are. Consequently, one tries to understand what many believe its effects have been, might be or should be, because these widely circulated doxological beliefs now constitute a considerable stock of net effects in-and-of themselves. In this respect, virtualization is partly the effects of computer networks, digital discourses, and online organizations on everyday life and partly the rush of rhetoric about what many think those effects are. Their doxic effects are widespread and influential....

Information system virtualization: This concept has been intimately associated with the development of computer and information technology over the past decades. In computing, virtualization is the process of presenting a logical grouping or subset of computing resources, whether hardware or software, so that they can be accessed in ways that give benefits over the original configuration. As defined by Amit Singh (An Introduction to Virtualization, 1994-2006):

... virtualization is a framework or methodology of dividing the resources of a computer into multiple execution environments, by applying one or more concepts or technologies such as hardware and software partitioning, time-sharing, partial or complete machine simulation, emulation, quality of service, and many others.

Virtualization can therefore be understood as an abstraction layer that allows multiple virtual machines, with heterogeneous operating systems to run in isolation, side-by-side on the same physical machine. It is widely promoted as the direction of development of computer-related processes, notably knowledge-related applications. The addition of intermediate layers provides an illusion of virtual machines, virtual networks, virtual storage, and even virtual services multiplexed on top of the physical resources and services. Virtualization then provides great flexibility to provision resources, customize resources for specific needs, simplify large-scale administration, provide performance guarantees, and enforce security policies.

Artistic virtualization: Under the name Global Virtualization Council, and apparently with the encouragement of the US Department of Art and Technology, an international group of artists has been formed to "mobilize and coordinate artistic forces of virtualization internationally" following signature of the "Berlin Virtualization Charter" at the opening of the Transmediale 02 International Festival of Media (Berlin, 2002). This was seen as potentially establishing conditions under which the most far-flung aspirations of humankind are ignited. Government officials and leading media artists from around the world were to endorse the global initiative promoting a radical aesthetic ideology in the larger political and social context. As mandated by the Global Virtualization Council, the Charter aims to promote:

(a) international standards for socially-engaged interactivity and collective action;
(b) movements of international activist, hyper-mediated, utopian, and related ideologies;
(c) universal respect for, and observance of, artist rights and fundamental creative expression for all citizens without distinction as to discipline, medium, gender, bias, or identity.

The accord is seen as establishing "a promising roadmap as it provides for the employment of media for the purpose of reaffirming our faith in the suspension of disbelief, as well as the advancement of all artists towards their desire to initiate social action". The Secretary of the US Department of Art and Technology has stated repeatedly that "to succeed in the 21st Century, we must be prepared to adapt to changes in our social condition - in how we communicate, where we seek cultural enrichment, and how we balance our real and virtual lives." [more | more]

Economic virtualization: The internet is now understood to be fundamentally reshaping businesses and the industries in which they compete. A form of virtualization of the contemporary economy is now taking place even though the basic rules of the "old" economy have regained their currency, and the issues as business cycle, cost, quality, inventory, productivity or traditional measures of profitability and economic value are valid. Although IBM is claimed to have coined the term virtualization to describe the process of outsourcing. Martha Young and Michael Jude (The Role of Business Process Virtualization in Your Business, 2004) use it to refer to the process by which physical infrastructure, representing sunk costs, can be replaced with electronic infrastructure, representing a dynamic business environment. They discuss business process virtualization as fundamentally new way of working with and managing employees, many of whom might not be employees in the traditional sense.

Social virtualization: The challenge of progressive virtualization of society was explored under the editorship of Magid Igbouria (Virtual Societies: Their Prospects and Dilemma, The Information Society, 14(2), 1998). The concern goes beyond virtual classrooms, virtual universities, virtual organizations, and even virtual communities. There is relatively little awareness of how people can live and work in societies in which these and other virtual practices and social forms are widespread and mixed in with face-to-face relationships [more].

In discussing weblogs, blogs and wikis, Alolita Sharma (Social Software, Technetra, May 2003) argues that:

The democratizing progress of technology has lowered the barrier for mere mortals to communicate. Weblogs and wikis are the next steps in this progression. They facilitate social interaction among people online. This is yet another milestone in the evolution of the Internet's role in virtualizing relationships between people....Social software changes the nature of people's communication. Today, a fundamental paradigm shift is in progress.

Themes relating to the virtualization of society were explored at a conference of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (York, 2002). Subjects included: Miquel Domènech and Francisco J. Tirado (The Virtual and the Social, 2002), Israel Rodríguez Giralt, Aleix Caussa, Daniel López (The Virtualization of Nature: Rethinking Social Ordering, 2002); Anna Vitores, Israel Rodríguez and Dani López (The Virtualization of Social Control: the Case of Electronic Tagging, 2002). The International Federation For Information Processing, through a working group established in 1997 on social implications of information processing, has now scheduled a conference on Virtuality and Virtualization, Portland OR, in 2007.

For Carlos Betancourth (Virtualization and Multi-cultural Global Cities, Periferia), the process of social virtualization may contribute to an understanding of the role of virtuality in both causing and helping to solve the civic problems faced by multicultural cities, as well in contributing new ways of thinking about public space that offer a way into thinking a politics of difference.

Virtualization of reality: This phenomenon has been framed in a variety of ways. With respect to religion, Saied Reza Ameli (Cyber capacity and Globalization of Religion in two parallel worlds, 2005) argues that:

Virtualization of reality means emergence of new version of reality in the virtual layer. Virtualization of reality is a potential for uploading all social, cultural and political analogue production of religion into cyberspace. This means that beside analogue presentation of religion in the real world, parallel presentation of religion in the virtual world with hyper capacity in the cyber world took place.

Concern has been expressed at the psychological fallout of the virtualization of reality through the death of affect. J.G. Ballard has called this "the greatest casualty of the twentieth century" -- a psychic numbness that cultural commentators from Camus to McLuhan have argued is a salient characteristic of our media-bombarded, hyperstimulated culture. It is distinguished by the disengagement from immediate experience, a cauterization of the soul. [more]

Virtualization of identity: The implications of cyberspace for identity have long been explored (cf Judith S. Donath, Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community, 1996; Sherry Turkle, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit ; Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, 1995). Ronald E. Purser (Virtualization of Consciousness or conscious Virtualization: what path will virty reality take?) distinguishes between the route to further cultural fragmentation in contrast with the evocation of a renaissance in culture. Kurt Mills (The Virtualization of Identity: cyberspace, the relocation of authority, and self-determination, American Political Science Association, September 1998) [resources]. The phenomenon of "identity theft" is largely a consequence of the information society. More intriguing is the sense in which identity may be as much a metaphor as anything more identifiable, as noted by Kenneth Boulding (Ecodynamics; a new theory of social evolution, 1978):

Our consciousness of the unity of self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of group, organization, department, discipline or science. If personification is a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors -- we might be one ourselves.

Virtualization of organization: This is an organization existing as a corporate, not-for-profit, educational, or otherwise productive entity that does not have a central geographical location and exists solely through telecommunication tools [more | more]. Scott M. Preston (Virtual Organization as Process: Integrating Cognitive and Social Structure Across Time and Space, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication) argues that:

Virtual organization requires a different way of perceiving the world by those who wish to participate in it. There are four key characteristics of virtual organization as process. First, virtual organization entails the development of relationships with a broad range of potential partners, each having a particular competency that complements the others. Second, virtual organizing capitalizes on the mobility and responsiveness of telecommunications to overcome problems of distance. Third, timing is a key aspect of relationships, with actors using responsiveness and availability to decide between alternatives. Last, there must be trust between actors separated in space for virtual organization to be effective. This paper describes the perceptual and social requirements of virtual organization and suggests a research plan for explicating the structure, process and content of any system based on its elements. The structures of individual actors' perceptions and expectations and the social processes that supply the content of their social experience must be addressed if virtual organization and its advantages are to be understood

Virtualization of community: The "organizational" variant overlaps with a virtualization of community, possibly extendingto "virtual nations" (cf Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community, 1999).

Virtualization of psychosocial activity: The increasing extent to which many now live significant portions of their day in virtual worlds has been a topic of repeated comment. This may take the form of:

Virtualization of social constructs: As the above items indicate, within the emerging psychosocial environment of the 21st century many elements of "reality" may be as real, if not more real, in a virtual sense than in a more tangible sense. This applies to different degrees to each of the following:

The extent to which a social construct is "real" or "virtual" might lend itself to a social application of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics (cf Shay David, On the Uncertainty Principle and Social Constructivism: the case of Free and Open-Source Software, 2003; Garrison Sposito, Does a generalized Heisenberg Principle operate in the social sciences? Inquiry, 1969), The challenge of self-referential reflexivity is understood as a methodological issue in the social sciences analogous to that principle. However the principle is frequently, but incorrectly, confused with the "observer effect" since it associates precision in measurements related to changes in velocity and position of certain particles relative to the perspective the observer takes on them.

Virtualization and image: The extent to which "reality" is now treated as "plastic", to be moulded by through image management and public relations, is now widely recognized. Social entities, whether individuals, corporate bodies, programs, products or policies, all lend themselves to being repackaged independently of their facticity. The media have a central role in the process of image formation and sustainability. Psychosocial entities may usefully be understood as constructs -- memes -- travelling along the many currents of public opinion.

Correspondence between the virtual reality of ITER and ITER-8

Despite their apparently radical differences in focus, it should be clear from the above that there are many subtle similarities with regard to the degree of "reality" of the "entities" in each case and the manner in which they are engendered and sustained by their respective processes.

A key common factor is that in both cases that which can be focused on as "real" or "existing" (eg a "particle") is a very small proportion of the effect it otherwise "virtually" engenders (eg as a "wave"). Certainty with regard to one form is only possible at the price of uncertainty with regard to the other. In the current social system this is most obvious with respect to the effects of a "wave" of "terrorism", or a "movement of opinion", or "traffic" in comparison with the concrete reality of an individual "terrorist", "opinion holder" or "vehicle".

Given the oft-stated point that atoms are for the most part characterized by empty space rather than "matter" (of the component particles), it might be asked to what extent most psychosocial entities are themselves mostly "empty" space and only "exist" to a small degree "substantially" rather than to a high degree "virtually". This would accord with Buddhist notions of the "emptiness of form". It is as counter-intuitive as the fact that human bodies are effectively 90% water.

Such similarities point to the merit of looking closely at the commonalities of the energy dynamics in the case of ITER and ITER-8 -- especially given the progressive virtualization of psychosocial systems over the period until 2030 when the parameters for operational nuclear fusion are expected. A degree of convergence with understanding of cognitive fusion is a reasonable possibility over that period. The greater the virtualization of psychosocial systems under increasing "pressure" and "heat", the more the pattern of their fundamental dynamics can be usefully seen as resembling that of plasma dynamics.

The challenge in the case of the plasma dynamics of ITER, as noted earlier, is one of scale -- reconciling dynamics at a very small scale with those on a very large scale to ensure the toroidal stability appropriate to sustainable fusion. Within this context, clarity as to what "exists" at what scale is conceptually problematic. In the case of ITER-8 there is also a challenge of scale -- reconciling moment-by-moment dynamics of individual attention with forms of attention sustainable collectively over extended periods of time (whether days, months or years) required by the exigencies of "sustainable development" and its enabling psychosocial entities (programs, institutions, schools of thought, disciplines, models, etc). At what spacetime scale is a phenomenon to be recognized as having "existence" as a coherent entity -- rather than a momentary swirl in chaotic dynamics. How much "time" is required for an "entity" to be considered "real"? Particularly problematic from small-scale perception is the challenge of recognizing (beneficial) larger scale phenomena and enaging with them (cf Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004). The role of music, especially symphonic music, provides a valuable metaphor for enabling engagement with a longer span of attention. But any such engagement is necessarily but one precondition for any form of cognitive fusion.

The challenge in seeking to ensure sustainable phenomena at the larger scale is well illustrated in the case of sound by that of engendering an overtone -- as a sinusoidal component of a waveform, of greater frequency than its fundamental frequency. Overtone chanting (as exemplified by that of Central Asia) makes audible the natural harmonic spectrum of the voice, so that unusual bell-like tones are heard floating above the deep voices of the chanters. It is a form of chanting on one note where the constituent parts (overtones or harmonics) are selectively amplified by changing the shape of the resonant cavities of the mouth, larynx and pharynx [more | more]. This metaphor is relevant to both the fruitful toroidal management of plasma as well as to that of the emergence of insight from meditative attention.

Management of the large scale dynamics of plasma required for fusion necessitates integrative understanding of those processes by the human mind -- however this coherence is framed by metaphor. Correspondingly, any fruitful form of cognitive fusion necessitates metaphoric support of the degree of complexity to be found in plasma dynamics and through the learnings to be acquired from fusion experiments.

Complementary fusion metaphors: "plasma dynamics" and "attention dynamics"

The language descriptive of plasma dynamics in ITER can be fruitfully explored for its implications for the attention dynamics crucial to ITER-8.

Plasma dynamics: Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) is the academic discipline which studies the dynamics of electrically conducting fluids such as plasmas, liquid metals, and salt water. MHD theory is the simplest representation of a plasma, so plasma stability is a necessity for stable devices to be used for nuclear fusion, specifically magnetic fusion energy. stability at high plasma pressure (β) is crucial for a compact, cost-effective magnetic fusion reactor. Fusion power density varies roughly as β2. In many cases MHD stability represents the primary limitation on β and thus on fusion power density. MHD stability is also closely tied to issues of creation and sustainment of certain magnetic configurations, energy confinement, and steady-state operation. Critical issues include understanding and extending the stability limits through the use of a variety of plasma configurations, and developing active means for reliable operation near those limits.

The most fundamental and critical stability issue for magnetic fusion is simply that MHD instabilities often limit performance at high β. In most cases the important instabilities are long wavelength, global modes, because of their ability to cause severe degradation of energy confinement or termination of the plasma. Some important examples that are common to many magnetic configurations are ideal kink modes, resistive wall modes, and neoclassical tearing modes. A possible consequence of violating stability boundaries is a disruption, a sudden loss of thermal energy often followed by termination of the discharge. Strategied for improving stability include: configuration, internal structure, feedback control, and disruption mitigation.

The differential equations describing MHD are a combination of the Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics and Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism -- which have to be solved simultaneously. This is too complex or impossible to do symbolically in all but the most trivial cases. For real-world problems, numeric solutions are found using supercomputers. Because MHD is a fluid theory, it cannot treat kinetic phenomena, i.e., those in which the existence of discrete particles, or of a non-thermal distribution of their velocities, is important. The fundamental MHD equations rest on the assumption that the conducting medium can be considered as a fluid. This is an important limitation, for if the medium is a plasma it is sometimes necessary to use a microscopic description in which the motion of the constituent particles is taken into account.

A common simplification of MHD to enable solutions to assume that the fluid is a perfect conductor with little or no resistivity; this simplification is called ideal MHD. The magnetic field lines cannot then move through the fluid, instead remaining attached to the same small piece of fluid at all times. The connection between magnetic field lines and fluid in ideal MHD fixes the topology of the magnetic field in the fluid. Ideal MHD is an imperfect description of almost all physical systems. In reality, any physical system has some non-ideal behavior. In particular, the magnetic field can generally move through the plasma, following a diffusion law with the resistivity of the plasma serving as a diffusion constant. This means that solutions to the ideal MHD equations are only applicable for a limited time before diffusion becomes too important to ignore.

Even in physical systems that can be treated as ideal, the assumptions of MHD can break down. As noted above, many instabilities exist that can increase the effective resistivity of the plasma by factors of more than a billion. When this happens, the electric current sheets that separate different magnetic domains can collapse rapidly, causing magnetic reconnection in the plasma and releasing stored magnetic energy as waves, bulk mechanical acceleration of material, particle acceleration, and heat. Magnetic reconnection in near-ideal MHD systems is important because it concentrates energy in time and space, so that gentle forces applied to a plasma for long periods of time can cause violent explosions and bursts of radiation.

Attention dynamics: There is a vast literature relating to disciplines of concentration and meditation, namely to the appropriate management of individual attention whether for educational study or spiritual development. Meditation, understood as a discipline for handling "memetic plasma", may distinguish between concentration (as the focus of attention on a single object) and mindfulness (as the detached focus on the flow of passing thoughts). Either may be advocated, or both may be considered essential and complementary [more]. Relevant texts, that have withstood the passage of time, include the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Path of Purity (Visuddhimagga).

A different body of literature is concerned with the management and focusing of collective attention through public information programmes (and propaganda), news management, public relations, image management, educational programmes, web interface design, and the like -- including audience skills of performers. Yet another body of literature is concerned with pathologies of individual attention, notably attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder. Comparable pathologies may be found in relation to collective memory (cf Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory, 1980). The theme is of course fundamental to processes of team collaboration dependent on collective knowledge management (cf Jay F. Nunamaker, Jr. et al A Framework for Collaboration and Knowledge Management, 2001)

The challenge is to combine the insights from such collections of knowledge and practice and to determine the ways in which they may map onto the preoccupations of management of plasma. Clearly the descriptive languages and concepts differ, whether between meditative disciplines and public attention management, or between both approaches to attention management and those of plasma management. A particular concern is the requisite complexity of the distinctions made in relation to the phenomena. However it could be argued that it is in terms of comprehension of the respective dynamics that patterns of similarity become more apparent.

For example, given that magnetohydrodynamics is applicable to both plasma and liquid metals (see above), it is interesting to note that alchemists considered that the liquid metal mercury carried the signature of the omnipotent archetypal spirit -- the alpha and omega. Symbolically mercury is intimately related to the communication process and to the union of opposites. Given the psychological significance of alchemical processes, as explored by C G Jung (Mysterium Coniunctionis, 1970), there are potential correspondences to plasma fusion through the working of matter to engender a "quintessential fire", a spiritual essence associated with electricity. Controversially some physicists have explored "cold fusion", but only as a legitimation of the physical operations of alchemy rather than its psychological correspondences (cf Roberto A. Monti, Low Energy Nuclear Reactions: the revival of alchemy, 2000) [more]

Traditional elements of the discipline of meditation, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, might be explored in terms of their correspondence to the challenges of stabilizing the dynamics of plasma. The classical obstacles to stabilizing the dynamics of attention in yoga are: (1) disease, (2) lack of interest or mental laziness, (3) doubt or indecision, (4) carelessness or negligence, (5) sloth or idleness of physical form, (6) absence of non-attachment or lacking control on senses, (7) mistaken notions or living under illusions, (8) inability to hold what is attained and (9) inability to hold progress in meditation.

One approach to "attention dynamics", indicative of the commonalities that can be highlighted, is that of Laurenz Wiskott and Christoph von der Malsburg (Face Recognition by Dynamic Link Matching, 1995) who present a self-organizing neural system for the recognition of objects from realistic images, together with results of tests of face recognition from a large gallery. Norbert Fürstenau (A Recursive Attention-Perception Chaotic Attractor Model of Cognitive Multistability. In: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Cognitive Modeling, 2004) models the dynamics of the macroscopic behavioural variables, perception and attention, by a phase feedback equivalent circuit which is related to the mean field theory of temporal binding

With respect to collective attention dynamics, Jens Newig and Julia Hesselmann (Modelling the Dynamics of Public Attention towards Environmental Issues, 2004) note:

Public attention, traced over time, often displays seemingly paradox behaviour: Contrary to what one might expect, public concern is seldom highest when the environmental conditions are the worst. Rather, concern most often rises when conditions have already become better. Furthermore, public attention dynamics frequently shows self-reinforcing behaviour resulting in distinct cycles, e.g. due to some trigger event. In this paper, public attention is viewed as a social macro-level phenomenon that is sought to be explained by the interaction of a multitude of single actors, namely individual citizens, the press, and politicians. First, a causal model based on rational choice theory is constructed in order to elucidate the mechanisms according to which public attention dynamics develop and to address the question of when and why public attention rises and falls. Key variables include the acuteness and visibility of the issue at stake as well as the ability to 'solve' the underlying problem. Self-amplifying behaviour of agent interaction on different time scales adds to the complexity of the model. In a second step, an agent-based computer model is constructed from the conceptual rational choice model. It allows to reproduce the basic features of typical issue-attention cycles such as those analysed in empirical case studies. The model elucidates the causal mechanism and clearly displays the emergent structure, i.e. the typical, complex patterns of attention cycles. It thus serves to test and validate the conceptual model. In addition, it allows to incorporate additional conceptual refinements such as simultaneously tracking attention towards multiple issues.

There is a case for framing any challenge of cognitive fusion by assuming that, individually and collectively, a form of attention deficit disorder is endemic, namely that much can be learnt by assuming that the pathology is not restricted to those diagnosed as sufferers. A text such as that of L. Michael Hall (Another Look at "Attention Deficiency", International Society of Neuro-Semantics, 2005) is helpful in this respect by seeking ways to engender attention deficiency as a means of identifying the higher frames or states of mind that provide the necessary corrective.

Towards a language appropriate to dynamic engagement

Form and dimensionality: The progressive increase in psychosocial virtualization renders progressively less adequate descriptions dependent on substantive, tangible "existence" of "entities" as the primary "reality". Beyond the psychosocial construction of reality and its components, however, meaningful description is in practice increasingly based on a sense of flow and process articulated through metaphor -- often inspired by nature.

But the appropriateness of the form on which the description is made is also called into question. The distorting constraints of a flat paper surface for a text description, or a tabular display, become increasingly evident. Surfaces such as a torus are more compatible with the dimensionality and connectivity of understanding (Michael Schiltz, Form and Medium: a mathematical reconstruction, Image [&] Narrative, 6, 2003).

In considering descriptions on such forms, there is also need to take account of the assumptions about meaning in the relationship between the describer and the description. As carefully articulated by Antonio de Nicolas (Meditations through the Rg Veda, 1978), the dimensionality of the meaning to be comprehended can only be effectively carried by shifting to a language that benefits from a higher degree of interplay between its signifiers -- and which can be embodied. He describes how this works in a language reliant on tone -- in which meaning is expressed through the embodiment in song in the moment to engender a more coherent and meaningful future. He uses the non-Boolean logic of quantum mechanics (P A Heelan, The Logic of Changing Classificatory Frameworks. 1974) in exploring the epistemological significance of cognitive experience grounded in tone and the shifting relationships between tone in the Rg Veda. It is through the pattern of musical tones that the significance of the Rg Veda is to be found according to de Nicolas :

Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, we have to be aware that we are dealing with a language where tonal and arithmetical relations establish the epistemological invariances... Language grounded in music is grounded thereby on context dependency; any tone can have any possible relation to other tones, and the shift from one tone to another, which alone makes melody possible, is a shift in perspective which the singer himself embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be "sacrificed" for a new one to come into being; the song is a radical activity which requires innovation while maintaining continuity, and the "world" is the creation of the singer, who shares its dimensions with the song." (1978, p. 57)

This offers new dimensions to sacrifice that contrast with those required by contemporary economics. The physical effects of resonance from sound are well known. Can such psychological analogues be set up to engender the future and exert a time-binding force? Within such a context, can analogues to overtones provide vehicles for particular forms of understanding?

Embodiment: Such arguments may be considered an extrapolation from those of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy in the Flesh : the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999) and others (cf Francisco Varela, et al, The Embodied Mind: cognitive science and human experience, 1991).

The process of cognitive fusion is therefore necessarily to be understood as an embodied process. The toroidal pattern to its dynamics, as clarified above, can best be understood as intimately associated with the toroidal patterning of tone within the human brain (see Memorability: musical clues to psychosocial system sustainability. In: Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006). The relation of music to the functioning of the brain is a theme in the cognitive neurosciences [more]. Research has shown that the relationships between the keys, representative of Western music, create a geometric pattern in the form of a torus (see Petr Janata, Music Mapped to the Torus, 2005, and torus dynamics movies).

Didjeridu playing: The keynote speakers at the congress of the Australian Institute of Physics (Brisbane, 2006) include both the director of the Joint European Torus project (Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith) and a professor of the University of New South Wales School of Physics (Joe Wolfe) whose team has done work on the indigenous Aboriginal instrument the didjeridu or yidaki (A Tarnopolsky, et al. The vocal tract and the sound of a didgeridoo. Nature, 436, 39, 2005; Alex Z. Tarnopolsky, et al Vocal tract resonances and the sound of the Australian didjeridu (yidaki), J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 119, 2006, 2; Joe Wolfe, Didgeridoo acoustics / yidaki acoustics (with accessible sound file); Neville Fletcher, Physics of the Didjeridu (Didgeridoo), Acoustics Australia, 24, 1996, pp 11-15; Benjamin Hammond, The Physics of Dreamtime: an analysis of the acoustical properties of a didgeridoo; Michael Hopkin, The secret behind playing the didgeridoo, Science and Technology, 23 August 2005).

It is to be expected that instructive parallels will be drawn between the dynamics of the didgeridoo and of plasma (if only over a glass of beer, as with the mnemonic role of song for practitioners of various disciplines: sponsored by the American Physical Society; Harold Baum, The Biochemists' Songbook). Modern physicists with fusion dreams are well-matched by Aboriginal preoccupations with the current reality of the Dreamtime.

Considered one of the most ancient musical instruments known, the didjeridu is played with continuously vibrating lips to produce the drone while using a special circular breathing technique. This requires breathing in through the nose whilst simultaneously expelling air out of the mouth using the tongue and cheeks. By use of this technique, a skilled player can replenish the air in his lungs, and with practice can sustain a note for as long as desired -- up to forty minutes or more. Although it usually plays only one note, the didjeridu is capable of a spectacular range of different sounds which, with the rhythmic variation in timbre, is its principal significance for musicians. In addition, in comparison with brass wind instruments where the vocal tract has only a minor role, in the didjeridu it is very important given that the player's lips produce a sound wave that travels both into the instrument, as well as into the vocal tract. Unusually the vocal tract is therefore a resonator that can boost some frequencies and suppress others -- exemplifying the "participatory" involvement of the player in the process. The instrument has been described as creating a kind of musical speech with similar range of nuances and expressions.

At some frequencies, whose values depend upon what the didjeridu player does with his tongue, resonances of the vocal tract inhibit the oscillatory flow of air into the instrument. Bands of frequencies that are not thus inhibited produce formants in the output sound. A formant is a band of enhanced frequencies, namely a concentration of acoustic energy around a particular frequency. As a peak in an acoustic frequency spectrum, it results from the resonant frequencies. Formants are the distinguishing or meaningful frequency components of human speech and of singing. These formants, and especially their variation during the inhalation and exhalation phases of circular breathing, give the instrument its readily recognizable sound. Strong formants in the sound depend on the presence of strong resonances in the vocal tract. Control of formants is an essential component of the vocal technique known as overtone singing (discussed above) in which the performer sings a low fundamental tone, and creates sharp resonances to select upper harmonics, giving the impression of several tones being sung at once.

3-fold Complementarity (nuclear fusion, didjeridu, cognitive fusion)

ITER faces the challenge of sustaining the toroidal dynamics beyond a period of a few minutes in order for productive fusion to occur. The intersection of acoustics, aerodynamics and fluid mechanics is a theme of current research, notably with regard to waves, oscillations, and instabilities in plasmas [Acoustics, Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics | more | more]. Ironically the didjeridu figures notably in "world fusion music".

There are both commonalities and differences between plasma as the "fourth state of matter" and gas as the acoustic medium for musical instruments (see comparison). Plasma has properties requiring both electromagnetic and fluid dynamic models. With respect to the acoustics of the didjeridu, although no complete rational scientific theory of the generation of noise by aerodynamic flows has yet prevailed, most analyses rely upon the analogy whereby the governing equations of fluid dynamics are combined with the wave equation of classical acoustics [more]. There is therefore an interesting possibility, if only of mnemonic significance, of a three-fold complementary relationship between the dynamics of a didjeridu, a fusion reactor (ITER) and the process of cognitive fusion (ITER-8). A more detailed "technical" comparison is given in Table 2, but for some purposes this may be more fruitfully placed in the context of the comparison in Table 1.

Table 1 highlights a transition:

Table 1: Overview of 3-fold complementarity
(clarifying the intermediary cognitive/aesthetic/participative modality of didjeridu playing)
. Nuclear fusion
Cognitive fusion
Relationship to process Arms-length fabrication/operation of circular process Personal insertion as part of the instrumentality of the circular process Self-referential / Self-reflexive embodiment as circular process
Objective instrument with dissociated controller Aesthetic fusion of objective instrument and subjective player (embodying part of the instrument) Subjective engagement of body as instrument
Radiated heat Radiated sound Radiated insight (creativity, etc)
Hindrance Plasma impedance Acoustic impedance Cognitive impedance (mismatch)
rhythmic action
(beyond start/stop)
Sustaining phases of plasma burn cycle Sustaining pattern of rhythm within playing cycle through circular breathing Sustaining rhythm of cognitive/attention, impression/expression cycle (breathing metaphor of meditative inspiration / expiration )
Exhaustion Maintenance phase (repair of container wall) Player (thematic) exhaustion; aesthetic burnout Cognitive exhaustion (project termination); creative burnout
Embedding of peaks in flow Productive burn phases in fusion cycle Fusion of variety of timbres/rhythms into aesthetic coherence Flow experience; fusion of a variety of (disciplinary) ways-of-knowing into a coherent (transdisciplinary) whole
Resonance Plasma supplemental heating through excitation resonance Acoustic resonances exciting aesthetic resonances Exciting cognitive associations and correspondences
Operational challenge Research, comprehension, design and control experience Learning to play skillfully and artfully From data, through information and (integrative) knowledge, to wisdom (maturity)
Controlling forces Magnetic fields (toroidal, poloidal) appropriately configured and controlled Vocal tract configurations appropriately controlled (annular and longitudinal muscles) [more] Fields of knowledge appropriately configured and controlled (through toroidal organization)
Control feedback Diagnostic and imaging procedures Aesthetic feedback Self-assessment; validation of self-image
Core dynamic Dynamic containment of "snake-like" ("slithery") twisting ring of plasma Dynamic containment of emergent formants within drone sustained by circular breathing Dynamic containment of a varied sequence of attention foci within a continuous conscious (transcendent / detached) cyclical flow


Technical comparison: The overview of Table 1 can be further articulated as in Table 2.

Table 2: Technical presentation of 3-fold complementarity
. Nuclear fusion
Cognitive fusion
Carrier Plasma (ionized gas: an electrically conductive collection of charged particles, in which the positive and negative charges can move freely; responsive as a whole to electromagnetic fields ) Non-ionized gas (responding as a whole under the "excitation" of acoustic pressure) Discourse, narrative, dialogue, etc (subject to "excitation" when concepts are held in an "unlocked" condition associated with "creativity", "cross-fertilization" and "brainstorming" and "positive" and "negative" insights can move freely)
Container Toroidal tube reactor Didjeridu tube (and vocal tract) Meeting, think-tank, invisible college, athanor, etc -- potentially with concepts organized in toroidal form [more]
Descriptive discipline Magnetohydrodynamics using various fluid modelling techniques Aeroacoustics combining fluid dynamics and classical acoustics Conceptual blending, transdisciplinarity, "memetic integration", etc
Wave form Electromagnetic waves
Mechanical waves
Mechanical (sound) waves (pressure waves) with longitudinal motion of individual air particles in the direction parallel to the direction of energy transport. EEG ("brain waves"); widely explored and promoted through various (controversial) uses of biofeedback for therapy and self-development
Movement Ions and electrons in plasma are forced to travel tightly around toroidal magnetic field lines -- with limited poloidal rotation (drift) movement (except in cases of instability). The plasma (toroidal) current in the toroidal direction creates a (poloidal) magnetic field which is 1/10 of the toroidal magnetic field (in a tokamak).

Zones (or pulses) of compression and rarefaction that travel (as sound waves) down the tube at a rate equal to the rate of that source's vibration
-- frequency is the number of pulses passing a fixed point in a given time (cycles per second).
-- wavelength, which is the physical distance between compression pulses.
-- amplitude (loudness) is the amount of air moved with each pulse of pressure.

Spiral developmental movement (?)
ResonanceExcitation Resonant electromagnetic waves (used for additional heating of plasma and optimizing plasma performance); very high electric current is induced in the plasma to heat it (Ohmic heating by Joule Effect) Vibration by the lips is enhanced by the presence of strong resonances in the vocal tractVibration of player's lips Exciting cognitive associations (creative, aesthetic, etc) and symbolic correspondences
Impedance Electromagnetic impedance is a measure of opposition to a sinusoidal electric current Acoustical impedance: degree of absorption of sound by the medium (relating the amplitude and phase of an applied sound pressure to the amplitude and phase of the resulting sound flux). A large variation between impedance maxima and minima produces strong formants in the radiated sound. Information impedance: ease of passing information between parts of a system (notably where these may be relatively incompatible, employing different languages / standards, etc). Impedance mismatch describes an inadequate or excessive ability of one system to accommodate input from another
Dysfunctional structures and processes Instabilities (potentially 20-30) when the state of the plasma deviates from small dynamic movements leading to rapid loss of heat and particles. Curvature driven instability resulting in long-life, large-scale structures (of the dimension of the plasma) embedded in broad-band turbulence. Coupled instabilities resulting in phase locking [O Grulke and T Klinger. Large-scale fluctuation structures in plasma turbulence. New Journal of Physics 4, 2002, 67.1-67.23 ] Absorption of the resonant high frequency components in the resistive impedance of the lungs. Hindrances and obstacles to concentration and meditation
Exhaustion Diffused plasma particles are guided along diverted magnetic field lines to a neutralization plate (diverter plate) as they are cooled, and are exhausted after reverting to a gas phase. Air is expelled at the end of the tube in a continuous process; player (thematic) exhaustion; aesthetic burnout Cognitive exhaustion (project termination); creative burnout
Potential emergent outcome Fusion (following confinement at high temperature and density for significant duration) releasing heat removed through container wall Formants (musical overtones) (described as "uplifting", "transporting", "enfolding", "entrancing", "entraining", etc) Integrative memes, concepts, creative insights, "peak experiences", "flow experience", etc

Helical threading of "incommensurables"

Snake metaphor: The "snake" metaphor has long been used in the description of plasma in tokamaks. It describes a large, very localized, persistent pressure perturbation. Many detailed properties of the snakes are known (cf R.D. Gill et al Snake-like density perturbations in JET Nuclear Fusion, 1992). J A Wesson (Snakes [JET resonant localised structures] Plasma Physics Control. Fusion, 1995) notes:

The injection of pellets into JET sometimes leaves a resonant localised structure commonly known as a snake. Snakes constitute a remarkable phenomenon, having both an intrinsic interest and a relevance to understanding transport. How are snakes formed? What maintains the magnetic island created by the snake? How does the confined density persist? And finally, why don`t such structures arise spontaneously?

There is continuing concern in fusion research with regard to "snake-like" instabilities and "runaway snakes" [more] (cf A Beghi and A Cenedese, Advances in real-time plasma boundary reconstruction: from gaps to snakes, Control Systems Magazine, 25, 2005, 5). A transverse modulational instability of soliton stripes, known as the 'snake instability', is studied in relation to quantized vortices and dark solitons in a waveguide-like trap geometry [more]. Somewhat ironically, ITER is to be equipped with a "snake robot system". Iterative procedures -- as presumlably required by the super-computers through which ITER's fusion process will be controlled -- make use of "snake algorithms" (cf M Sakalli, et al, A Faster Converging Snake Algorithm to Locate Object Boundaries, 2006).

Didjeridus (discussed above) are often decorated with snake symbols -- including the Rainbow Serpent as a major creation symbol for the Aboriginal peoples, described as the agent of their destiny [more]. Didjeridus are naturally recognized as phallic symbols and as such are traditionally made and played by men. There is little published on the metaphors used by a player to frame the skilled control of rhythm and sound, but given the effective extension of the instrument into the vocal tract, it may be suspected that the challenge of playing can be framed as controlling, or charming, a snake -- "keeping the snake in the tube". Comparisons of it made with the use of a flute of a snake charmer may be interpreted in this light. There is the ironic possibility that aesthetic insights of the player in controlling the instrument may be analogous to the iterative "snake algorithms" used to control the fusion process -- or operationally superior. The myth of the Rainbow Serpent, as a great energy current that travels the world, is now being reactivated in cultures around the world with corresponding myths (cf Rainbow Serpent Project).

Beyond its widespread use in the caduceus as a western symbol of healing, the snake metaphor is used in various ways in relation to psychic and creative energy and to the difficult-to-control tendencies to lose self-awareness in meditation (Arthur Avalon, The Serpent Power, 1919). For example:

The technical relevance of this metaphor to chemists is well-illustrated by its use by Kekulé to enable him to elucidate the structure of benzene -- the basis of organic chemistry fundamental to life. Perhaps the metaphor will prove of corresponding significance to physicists. Certainly the mastery of fusion energy will be understood by history to be as significant to the future development of humankind as was the original mastery of fire -- by the Aborigines of that time. This may be doubly significant in that its necessary toroidal container has possible implications analogous to the discovery of the wheel.

The credibility of a "snake-like" challenge to understanding relevant to economic development is made clear by past use of this metaphor with repect to European currency proposals (cf Juraj Valachy et al. Exchange Rate Regimes and Volatility: Comparison of the Snake and Visegrad, 2003). "The Snake" (Serpent monétaire européen), originated in 1972 as a group of European Union countries which in 1979 became members of the former European Monetary System. First known as the "snake in a tunnel" it evolved into the 'floating snake' -- with the advent of "generalized floating" in March 1973 and the oil crisis. "The Snake" described the agreement whereby those countries maintained their currencies within a narrow trading band to reduce the currency variations between them and with the dollar ("the tunnel"). Economist Jacques Attali, later to be president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, subsequently proposed a "world monetary snake" to the US Congress in 1984. Ironically Attali framed his prescient predictions for the transformative implications of 2001 under the heading Année du Serpent (L'Express, 11 janvier 2001).

The various uses of the snake metaphor point to a degree of common understanding of the challenging dynamics required to engage fruitfully with the integral dimensions of the processes it represents -- whether or not snake-like instabilities only become apparent in the plasma case when the fusion process is inappropriately managed. There is a certain irony to recognizing that the art of "snake charming" may be as much of relevance to controlled nuclear fusion as to appropriate cognitive fusion of relevance to sustainable development. However, although "snake charming" may be a necessary condition for the desired outcomes in each case, it is not sufficient to ensure them.

Incommensurable rings and the challenge of cognitive fusion: In the case of ITER, the design and construction of the tokamak torus is based on a succession of distinct rings that form the toroidal container for the plasma. It is the management of the magnetic fields associated with these rings, and their relationship, that is the basis for the magnetic field containment of the plasma necessary for fusion to occur.

In the case of cognitive fusion, as discussed separately (Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: Transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006), "rings" were indeed identified as portions of the torus corresponding to distinct disciplines -- typically held to be incommensurable. As with the rings in the case of ITER, these disciplinary rings are differently oriented to one another -- to the degree that they are not conventionally understood to have any common focus or significant degree of mutual relevance (eg biology, psychology, economics, physics, religion, art, etc). It is only when the rings are "threaded" together -- into a torus, for example -- that any degree of commonality can be recognized. Any notions of interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, or integration of distinct ways of knowing, are associated with such cognitive threading -- a necessary precondition of "cross-fertilization", interdisciplinarity creativity and cognitive fusion.

A university, or a think-tank, may be assessed for its capacity as a cognitive reactor -- indeed the recent international use of the term "incubator", with regard to concept development contexts, suggests an understanding of this function. The assessment might then be made in terms of the number of disciplinary rings "threaded" together, the distinctness of their orientation, and their effectiveness as a container for cognitive fusion. Such assessment could usefully call upon:

Cognitive "traffic" around a "hole": Atkin is very successful in providing a mathematical framework to demonstrate the necessary relationship of communication dynamics to a "hole" in the geometry that is not perceptible from within the communication "traffic" around it -- given its dimensionality. In this sense communication between disciplines may engender a "hole", further justifying the toroidal organization of the various kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing. His approach points to the possibility of exploring the use of tori of genus higher than one (single-holed), namely to those with multiple holes (n-tori). One of the more common uses of n-dimensional tori is in dynamical systems. [more]. Of related interest is the configuration of comprehensive sets of entities onto toroidal forms of higher dimensionality in order to highlight their coherence and integrity (cf Carlo H. Séquin, Analogies from 2D to 3D Exercises in Disciplined Creativity, 1999; Carlo Séquin and Ling Xiao, K12 and the Genus-6 Tiffany Lamp, 2006). This addresses any concern that the simplest torus is of inadequate dimensionality for the connectivity of the entities embodying the whole.

The use of a "threading" metaphor usefully points to the widespread traditional use of circlets of beads (whether worn as a necklace, a bracelet, or used as "worry beads" or as a guide to prayer). Typically each bead offers a reminder of a distinct preoccupation essential to an understanding of the whole (cf Designing Cultural Rosaries and Meaning Malas to Sustain Associations within the Pattern that Connects, 2000). It might be usefully asked whether a "rounded education" does not suggest that universities should offer such devices -- to both students and faculty members -- as a reminder of the distinct ways of knowing in the universe of knowledge that they may variously claim to encompass. Representing "faculties" of study by beads so threaded then exemplifies the challenge of the toroidal organization of knowledge -- as a precursor for cognitive fusion. This might have many advantages over the overlapping of fields (circles) of knowledge as represented in the "fish scale" model of transdisciplinarity (cf Donald T Campbell, Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish Scale Model of Omniscience, 1969)

Atkin's approach reinforces the extent to which interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity are not simply structural issues of a higher ordering of relationships between elements of knowledge, disciplines or faculties. For there to be any viable coherence, these have in some way to be bound into a circular dynamic to carry the attention around. Representations of disciplines as static sectors of a circle (signifying the universe of knowledge) do not draw attention to the need for the dynamic around the centre to sustain that circle by passage through the distinct ways of knowing. It is this dynamic that is the key to forms of transdisciplinarity associated with creativity and cognitive fusion. But for a such a dynamic "around", a "hole" is required -- as with the toroidal fusion reactor.

Naming engenders ten thousand things....
Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub.
It is the centre hole that makes it useful...
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
usefulness from what is not there.
Lao Tzu

Assumptions that the body of knowledge can be appropriately and meaningfully represented by a sphere obscure the neeed for a dynamic to sustain that sphere. In effect the sphere has to "collapse" into a torus for the dynamics to work and provide the necessary connectivity. The much-cited insight of Amos Bronson Alcott that Truth is spherical and seen differently according to the culture, temperament and disposition of those who survey it does not address the dynamic nature of that connectivity. Similarly the cover quote of The (Updated) Last Whole Earth Catalog (1974) that "We can't put it together; it is together" obscures the cognitive dynamics sustaining that understanding of togetherness. A higher order of dynamic connectivity is required.

As suggested above, the challenge of transdisciplinarity could then be usefully examined in terms of the snake metaphor, namely how the threading of the body of knowledge by the "cognitive snake" is to be understood and managed -- the challenge of keeping "the snake in the tunnel". This of course has symbolic resonances to the role of the snake in relation to knowledge -- with the ironic detail that the religious group with the most problematic relation to "evil" has formed into a sect of "snake handlers" [more].

Spiral dynamics: There are many approaches to the organization of human types and ways of knowing. These commonly take the form of lists or tables -- possibly implying progressive development through levels of insight. The advantage of presenting such categories on a torus has been argued separately (Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006). Unusually a spiral metaphor is used or this purpose by Don Beck and Chris Cowan (Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership, and changs, 1996) with significant use of colour coding to distinguish the spiral development and highlight relationships between positions on successive turns on the spiral. These spiral dynamics have been merged by Chris Lucas (Spiral Complexity Dynamics, 2006) with the insights from the complexity sciences in order to achieve a more integrated perspective. Lucas helpfully stresses the "inadequacy" of any one perspective from another -- effectively driving movement through the spiral. The colour coding of course reinforces mnemonic associations to the Rainbow Serpent discussed above. Related use of colour is made by Henry Evering (Creating Whole Organization Synergy: the Eidetic reference book, 2000).

Given the traditional wisdom through which the snake-metaphor is developed into the form in which the snake is represented as biting its own tail (cf the Ourobouros), the question to be asked of any developmental model is whether the highest level is not in some specially significant way associated with the lowest -- as exemplified by various biblical references to "the first shall be last and the last first" (Matthew 20:16) or T S Eliot's poetic reference to finally knowing any original point of departure for the first time (Little Gidding, 1943). With respect to the cognitive organization of spiral dynamics, does this suggest that the highest turn of the spiral should develop "further" into the cognitive mode associated with the lowest? From the complexity science perspective, a case has been made for this by Ben Goertzel (Unification of Science and Spirit Hyperrealism: a unified vision of the physical, mental and spiritual universe). Elsewhere Lucas (Freeing Our Wild Side, 1999) also argues the case from such a complexity perspective:

We are accustomed to regard physical reality as a linear hierarchy, from atoms at the lower end to galaxies at the upper. This size related layering, with us in the middle, is echoed in our awareness layering, from viruses to man (and Gods), each layer larger and more powerful than the last. Complexity thinking however regards each layer as of equal value, since the systems processes of emergence and so on operate in the same way for each - the same rules occur at all levels of reality. In this way we can view experience instead as a circle, where the lowest layer merges with the highest. This viewpoint takes the energy of sub-atomic physics and equates it to what we may call universal intelligence. Not surprisingly, this move is also common to ancient spiritual traditions.

In the Zen circle, changes of consciousness are related to developing views of reality. Initially we identify with the world of forms, the material world. Moving around, we later see that all form comes from nothing (energy) and ultimately returns to it. Further growth shows that form is illusion and only change exists - non-material flow. In the next stage all is thus possible, and mind has no limitations to its conceptions - magic and miracles can occur. Finally we return to the start, viewing the world as is, but from a new higher viewpoint of non-attachment. It is this sort of transformation that we encourage here.

With respect to the requirements for controlling plasma to enable fusion to occur sustainably (as indicated earlier), it has proven necessary to ensure a twist into the form of a figure-of-eight. Whether physically or magnetically, the plasma has to be twisted into helical form to avoid losses during its movement through the torus. Is such twistedness necessary to sustain higher orders of cognitive organization (cf Twistedness in Psycho-social Systems: challenge to logic, morality, leadership and personal development, 2004)? Do such requirements reinforce the need for spiral dynamics as a basis for ensuring sustainable cognitive fusion -- a spiral within a torus, but with "the snake biting its tail"?

Supercoiling and field effects in cognitive organization (of knowledge) : As noted above, for the purposes of controlled nuclear fusion a helical organization is imposed upon the plasma to achive stability. However the degree of organization required for this, and resulting from this process, needs to be understood in terms of the kinds of structural instability that can emerge in the plasma inhibiting that required for fusion. Typically the concern is whether any small perturbation will grow, oscillate, or be damped out. The most important plasma instabilities are long wavelength, global modes, because of their ability to cause severe degradation of energy confinement or termination ("quenching") of the plasma. But many instabilities exist that can increase the effective resistivity of the plasma by factors of more than a billion. When this happens, the electric current sheets that separate different magnetic domains can collapse rapidly, causing magnetic reconnection in the plasma and releasing stored magnetic energy as waves, bulk mechanical acceleration of material, particle acceleration, and heat. Magnetic reconnection in near-ideal MHD systems is important because it concentrates energy in time and space, so that gentle forces applied to a plasma for long periods of time can cause violent explosions and bursts of radiation. [more]

Efforts have been made to use instability effects in fusion power design as with the z-pinch (or zeta pinch) confinement system whereby the electrical current in the plasma generates a magnetic field that compresses it. Instabilities that may take the form of "plasma fibers" or "plasma pinches" include:

It has been estimated that over 99.9% of the universe is made of plasma, including the Sun, the stars, and most of the space in between. Additionally plasma phenomena, such as the "instabilities" described above, scale in size over at least 14 orders of magnitude. This means that the same phenomena may be seen in a controlled nuclear reactor and in a tenuous plasma across light years of outer space. Given such scaling, and aside from the coincidence in terminology, it would appear to be more than a coincidence that at the level of the biological cell, the term "plasma" is also used and that at that level are to be found structures characterized by supercoiling -- formally analogous to that associated with Birkeland currents -- namely supercoiled DNA [more | more]. Whilst the component elements of DNA are conventionally treated as distinct atoms and bonds, it is not to be forgotten that these can also be understood and described, possibly more correctly and precisely, in electromagnetic terms. DNA supercoiling is of course fundamental to transcription processes [more]

It is therefore of interest to locate theoretical studies of "supercoiling" in relation to helical structures in plasma and to determine the extent to which this offers insightful descriptions of DNA supercoiling. One of the most-studied nonlinear equations in the physics community is the cubic complex Ginzburg-Landau equation. Igor S. Aranson and Lorenz Kramer (The world of the complex Ginzburg-Landau equation, Reviews of Modern Physics, 74, 2002), in a discussion of "helices, twisted vortices, and supercoiling instability" in relation to votices, note the presence of a "traveling-helix solution" or the "superposition of two helices with opposite chirality" -- as well as the emergence of stable helices and a secondary supercoiling instability. Their concern was how to create a vortex with a persistent twist, notably through the creation of an inhomogeneity close to the axis of the vortex filament.

That study cites that of Guillaume Rousseau, et al (Coiling and Supercoiling of Vortex Filaments in Oscillatory Media, Chaotic Dynamics, February 1998). This is concerned with the behaviour of vortex filaments subject to a uniform density of phase twist in oscillatory media described by the complex Ginzburg-Landau equation:

The first instability is a supercritical Hopf bifurcation to stable propagating helical vortices. The secondary instability, also a forward Hopf bifurcation, leads to quasiperiodic supercoiled filaments. The structural changes undergone by these dynamical objects are akin to those of twisted elastic rods, in spite of the presence of the ribbon component of the twist, particular to phase singularities.

The related work of David Chiron (Vortex helices for the Gross-Pitaevskii equation) is concerned with the existence of travelling vortices.

To the extent that the field effect of supercoiling is a significant phenomenon in such different contexts, and at such immensely different scales, it is legitimate to ask whether this degree of order is relevant to the "intermediate" challenge of cognitive organization. It might even be considered presumptuous to imagine that some simpler conventional ordering would be more appropriate -- however immediately comprehensible that might appear to be. To what extent should the cognitive relationship between the elements of "fields of knowledge" be explored in terms of such patterns of field effects and supercoiling? (cf DNA Supercoiling as a Pattern for Understanding Psycho-social Twistedness, 2004). Of particular interest is the possibility that the various kinds of "instability" evident in plama may well offer a form of simulation of the challenges experienced in cognitive fusion -- especially in the only too evident "interdisciplinary" dynamics between different cognitive domains. Few would deny the extent to which these can exemplify boundary zones between conditions of chaos and order -- "vortices" could well be an appropriate descriptor, consistent with the work of Ron Atkin (see above).

Simulation possibilities: Various interactive educational applet simulations have been developed by Interactive Plasma Physics Education Experience, for virtual tokamak operation (magnetic containment plasma drift; time dependent virtual tokamak; steady state virtual tokamak). [NB Many "snake applets" have been produced, usually as simple games unrelated to the plasma handling challenge]

There is the possibility that the effects of lip and vocal tract movements in generating acoustic waves could be emulated with respect to managing plasma waves in order to maximize sustainable excitation peaks conducive to nuclear fusion. The challenge in the plasma case is indeed one of ensuring within the torus a degree of continuity corresponding to circular breathing in the didjeridu. There would appear to be a case for exploring -- with a suitable simulation -- the technical possibility of emulating the player's movements through appropriate adjustments to the magnetic fields controlling the plasma in the torus. The challenge is to define the two cases so that any learnings from either case could be appropriately generalized to be meaningful in the case of cognitive fusion.

The Aboriginal didjeridu, through which the cognitive Dreamtime is evoked, may thus be considered as offering one evocative model of the challenge of cognitive fusion for ITER-8 -- as well as suggesting an approach to the macrodynamics of plasma in ITER. As a participative "all-at-once" framing of reality, the Dreamtime has been presented as complementary to that of Theories of Everything of theoretical physics (cf Amy and Arny Mindell, Dreaming While Awake, 2001; Cosmic Path Walker, 2007). It is the sad fate of physicists (as with most "disciplines") to hold rigidily to the belief that they can define everything for everyone else -- without questioning the wider significance of what they mean by definition or imply by "everyone else".

But although this argument is indicative of necessary conditions under which fusion may take place, it falls far short of communicating the sufficient conditions or the exact nature of the process. This is a challenge shared by ITER-8 with ITER. Clearly more is required than being "moved" by a song, or a process of chanting, to interweave cognitive elements in a manner appropriate for insightful, transformative fusion.

The use of ITER as a simulator for the challenges of cognitive fusion suggests that the real challenges of the transdisciplinarity required for sustainable governance may be far more complex than assumptions about the "mechanical" or "organic" interrelationship of disciplines as is currently attempted. The necessity of "twisting" the torus of plasma to ensure stability/sustainability is especially significant. There is a strong case for developing game-style applets to enable people to explore the complexity of managing the "snake-like" nature of a twisted ring of plasma -- offering understanding of the challenge of the governance of sustainability through a variety of disciplines.

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