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11 June 2005 | Draft

Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion

Climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance

-- / --

Reflections inspired by the Trajectories conference at the Centre for Alternative Technology (Machynlleth-Wales, May 2005) of which this is a playfully partial interpretation in the spirit of the transformative approach advocated here.

Denial: the "elephants in the living room"
Contrasting conventional foci: technology vs gardening
Bridging metaphoric focus -- the nature of engagement
"Playing" with interrelated metaphors
Psychological engagement -- excitement?
Developing playful insight
Vital distinction: gaming vs playing
Games: prime focus of finite players
Play: mediatisation of playfulness -- envirotainment? climatotainment?
Higher dimensions of "game-play space"
Playing with the rules: emergence of infinite players
Playing with the rules: cons and pros
Transforming "game-play space"
Apathy and quenching excitement
Playfully getting things into focus
Entrainment and enactivism
Game of Life and Death: beyond Homo ludens?
Playful exploration of ecopsychological embodiment of climate change pathways
Towards Homo conjugens -- humanity as Rosetta stone?


There is rapidly rising concern regarding the effects of climate change -- and their imminence. This has been accompanied by a range of initiatives to deny or minimize the evidence and the nature of any consequences [more].

Seemingly unrelated to the issue of climate change has been the widespread rising concern about the need for "new thinking", "paradigm shifts", and changes away from dangerous "patterns of consumption". These are understood as being essential to sustainable development and to more effective responses to the many actual and latent conflicts around the world.

The following is an exploration of the preoccupations of a recent conference at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) with climate change. Given the unusually self-reflexive emphasis of the event, climate change is understood self-reflexively here as a metaphorical template for new approaches to global governance based on changing the climate of opinion as a means of effectively engaging with climate change.

At the time of writing, the urgency of a response to climate change is expected to figure in the declaration of the forthcoming G8 summit (Gleneagles, July 2005). But the leaked draft text for the July summit at Gleneagles was denounced by environmental groups for lacking substance. It was described by Greenpeace as "a mush of warm words carefully crafted by civil servants to make sure no one is committed to anything" [more]. Indeed the politics are such that it is expected that the only outcome will be ineffectual pious intentions and tokenism -- with little genuine strategic direction and implementation.

Furthermore it must be said that, although global civilization has a capacity to articulate and implement strategic plans with a technical focus on material construction (or destruction), it has very limited proven capacity to undertake projects with a psychosocial or behavioural dimension. The incapacity to invest in new approaches to dialogue with those who disagree is an example -- and terrorism is an extreme result. It could be argued that thinktanks and policy-makers are unnconsciously recognizing their incapacity to respond to the complex challenges of global governance -- and that reducing them to simplistic threats, such as terrorism, is then a convenient way of claiming to do so effectively and responsibly.

The argument below builds on a recognition of a polarization of social processes into two forms of playing. On the one hand, there is the game-playing that is so characteristic of political processes and strategic initiatives, and the mind sets associated with competitive business and sport. On the other hand there is the pursuit of pleasurable play in its many forms, framed as irresponsible hedonism by some with incompatible social change agendas. In both senses it might be said that humans have already evolved from Homo sapiens into an unfortunate variant of the Homo ludens foreseen by Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in cultures, 1938).

The merit of this approach might be summarized by the adage "if you cannot beat them, join them". Rather than "pushing the river", and bemoaning the predilection for playing, there is the possibility of "guiding the canoe". The argument being that the increasingly evident phenomena of climate change can provide a carrier for fundamental insights into actions that are increasingly vital -- provided that these are understood as offering scope for a more psychologically engaging form of playfulness that would facilitate deployment of resources in ways responsive to the challenge.

Rather than use threats (such as terrorism) as both a guiding principle for global governance and as a dubious justification for repressive directives by the few, there is a case for transforming the "threat" of climate change in ways that engage meaningful action by the many alienated by current approaches to governance. The focus here is therefore on what currently engages the many, rather than on what the few believe the many should be engaged by.

In the regretable absence of a verb form, "climate" is mistakenly understood as a noun -- as daily adaptation to the dynamics of changeable weather indicates. Treating it as such is strategic oversimplification relying on statistical aggregates and averages (which have proven so methodologically inappropriate in socio-economic response to the marginalized). Similarly "play" is most meaningfully understood as a verb. Engaging playfully with climate is therefore more consonant with its dynamics and dimensionality -- and the strategic opportunities they offer. How this might be fruitfully achieved in relation to "climate change" is what is tentatively explored here.

Denial: the "elephants in the living room"

Those concerned with the evidence for climate change have caricatured the political and scientific denial of the phenomenon as a case of having "an elephant in the living room" that is carefully ignored in a conspiracy of groupthink by all concerned. It might be seen as a reverse case of the Emperor clothed in invisible (namely non-existent) clothes. The challenge of such denial is explored by Rosemary Randall (A New Climate for Psychotherapy? Outwrite, Journal of the Cambridge Society for Psychotherapy, 2005).

But a similar analysis, and conspiracy of groupthink, applies to unsustainable consumption patterns -- currently exemplified by mass air travel and 4x4 SUVs. The degree of awareness may be quite indirect, as is partly reflected in the nature of concern with obesity.

Ironically the mindsets appropriate to responding to this "elephant" may be emerging in the living room of policy-makers -- under their noses -- through the insights acquired by their young in assiduously playing interactive internet games. A second "elephant" -- but in a real rather than a virtual living room!

As a self-reflexive event, the CAT Trajectories conference of technologists was necessarily inspired by the kinds of second order cybernetics with which Gregory Bateson has become associated. As recorded by his daugher, he concluded a conference with the statement: "We are our own metaphor." (Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor: a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, 1972; also We Are Our Own Metaphor, Whole Earth, Fall, 1999). The conference therefore called for recognition of its own operation as a metaphor of the challenge it was intended to face.

The approach there involved exploration of the possibility of activating new metaphors which could enchant, empower, explain and orient approaches to the problematique through the user's own comprehension of each metaphor's significance, whether amongst the governors or the governed. Participants recognized that they had over-identified with impoverished metaphors and had been unable to see themselves in perspective.

In that spirit, and rather than an elephant, the challenge for the CAT conference was to recognize the nature of the MOUSE -- initially understood as Meaningless Over-Use of System Energies -- with which they were playing, and then to transform that game.

Contrasting conventional foci: technology vs gardening

The Centre of Alternative Technology has put a great deal of effort, over the 30 years of its existence, into "alternative technology" -- as a basis for alternative, sustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns. However the focus has only been incidentally on the psychology and people patterns fundamental to any shift in the climate of opinion regarding sustainability. As with the philosophy of architects, the technology is seen as adequately conditioning and determining appropriate behaviour. Architects have been obliged to digest a number of bitter lessons associated with this assumption, but this has only marginally affected their own behaviour. A more radical approach is called for -- perhaps implicit in the titles of periodicals by which the participants at the CAT conference had originally been inspired (Undercurrents: the magazine of radical science, 1972-1984; Radical Science Journal, 1974-1987).

In the CAT environment, and at similar places around the world, the focus is on developing, testing and implementing technologies in relation to:

These technological preoccupations, significantly conditioned by climate, translate in practice into concerns familiar to gardeners everywhere. It is therefore natural for CAT to be attentive to the plants, gardens, and ponds that provide habitats from which its own residents and visitors can derive foodstuffs and pleasure -- as is the case with even the most modest gardens.

There is however a contrast between the psychology of gardeners and the psychology of those approaching the same phenomena from a technical perspective. The distinct psychologies may be co-present in the same individual -- but this may well not be the case, or the relation may be denied or treated as incidental.

Bridging metaphoric focus

Underlying both the above perpectives, it is argued here that there is a third perspective that may provide a bridging metaphor -- vital to the approach to both changing patterns of consumption and in response to climate change. Whilst the perspective of a gardener may emphasize a higher degree of empathetic engagement with the processes of the garden, that of the technical perspective necessarily stresses a more cognitively disciplined, instrumentalist approach to those processes. Both envisage possibilities of skilled intervention and innovation -- processes of change and development.

There is widespread recognition that preoccupation with external phenomena has psychological implications:

Many do not have access to gardens and the experience of gardening -- but they may well project their acknowledgement of certain psychological processes into competitive sport. It is however significant that for a variety of sports, emphasis has been placed on the "inner game", whether as a key to conventional success in the outer game or as an experience of significance in its own right (cf the Inner Game of: Tennis, Golf, Frisbee, Chess, Poker, Billiards, Fencing, Go, Sumo, Skiing). The insight has been adapted to competitive economic activity (cf the Inner Game of: Business, Investing, Wealth, Work, Management, Trading, Entrepreneurship, Selling, Prospecting). The same is true of gardening (cf Diane Dreher, Inner Gardening: A Seasonal Path to Inner Peace, 2002; and notions of an "inner garden", or a "secret garden").

It is worth reflecting on the extent to which "gardening" corresponds to the "agricultural" phase of human community development in contrast with the "hunting" phase more appropriately corresponding to competitive sport. These therefore reflect contrasting dispositions between which some form of "marriage" is called for -- to enable a coherent new response to the challenge of the times. At present "gardening" corresponds to the kind of strategic process that sustains "business as usual", whereas "sport" (notably in the form of competitive ball games) corresponds to the kind of strategic process characterized by "point scoring" and "fast footwork". It might be argued that any "marriage" between them has so far proved to be infertile.

The question in what follows is whether gardening and/or sport, as processes with which people everywhere have a degree of psychological engagement, may not prove to be the key to changing the climate of opinion at this crucial period in the history of humanity and the planet.

If a technical justification for the argument that follows is necessary, this may be found in the isomorphism in the systemic relations between these phenomena and processes in different contexts, as understood in terms of general systems theory (cf James Grier Miller, Living Systems, 1978). Possibly more pertinent is the extent to which the role of metaphor is now considered fundamental to technological creativity and innovation -- metaphor has itself even been considered as a technology (cf Laura Mandell, Metaphor as Technology, 2003). But in addition, technology is itself considered as a powerful source of metaphor (cf Robert D Romanyshyn. Technology as Symptom and Dream, 1989; David Weinberger, Technology as Metaphor). It is from these perspectives that the alternative technology explored at CAT can be fruitfully used as a template for alernative insight.

"Playing" with interrelated metaphors

For the success of this approach, it would appear vital that there be a playful quality to its implementation. People are weary of being told what they ought to do and how they ought to do it -- whether by religious, political, scientific, commercial or other authorities (cf Liberating Provocations: use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005). The credibility of these authorities is now fundamentally suspect through their complicity in unfortunate initiatives which have not been of benefit to the planet or to the species on it.

A playful approach is essentially participative and interactive -- with a high degree of personal initiative and choice, however much people engage in groups to enhance the ludic quality. The case for playfulness has been argued in detail elsewhere (Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: a study of the play element in cultures, 1938; James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986). It is a feature of neurolinguistic programming (cf L. Michael Hall, The Inner Game of Frames, 2000; Michael Hall. Meta-States and the Inner Game, 2003).

With respect to the environment, there is a recognition of distinct processes involving "water", "air", "soil" and "energy". These each have their psychological counterparts -- even their traditional symbolic counterparts for some (notably the multitudes intrigued by astrology).

The scope for play in the "inner game" relating to the environment is therefore indicated by the characteristics of:

Biometeorologists have noted that morale and state of mind can be affected by changes in the weather, with a recognzied range of weather-related phobias [more | more], one extreme being seasonal affective disorder. Alan E. Stewart (Assessing Human Dimensions of Weather and Climate Salience, 2005) concludes that human experience of weather and climate conditions may affect attitudes and behaviours on issues such as global warming and climate-change.

John Fraim (Symbolism of Place: the hidden context of communication, 2001) provides, in a chapter on the Place of Phenomena, a valuable review of examples from literature and symbolism of the way in which climate and weather (specifically: clouds, rain, snow, wind, hurricanes and tornados, thunder and lightning, fog, shadow, cataclysmic phenomena) affect mood. In a chapter on the Place of Elements, Fraim argues that:

However, the four elements still maintain a powerful symbolism within the overall realm of imaginative experience possessing a strong correspondence to internal states and emotions. In this sense, although the world may be created from many different elements their effect on the individual is subject to a type of classification based around the four elements. [more]

Fraim notably points to one of the greatest studies of the correspondence between the basic elements and internal psychological states as undertaken by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in a succession of books (Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter, 1942; Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, 1943; The Earth and the Reveries of the Will, 1948; The Earth and the Reveries of Rest, 1946; and The Psychoanalysis of Fire, 1938).

Another valuable source, from a strategic perspective, is that of Miyamoto Musashi (Go Rin No Sho or A Book of Five Rings): The Ground Book, The Water Book, The Fire Book, The Wind Book followed by the The Book of the Void. Such sources are notably cited by technopaganists in their enthusiastic use of symbolism in internet games [more]. J Wyatt Ehrenfels (Fireflies in the Shadow of the Sun, 2003), on the assumption that the life of the individual has similarities to the weather, sets out to identify the recipes for life's "weather events" and climatological shifts through a discipline named as experiography [more]. With respect to governance, such perspectives may be consistent with advocacy of aikido activism and aikido entrepreneurship as explored by Reed Burkhart.

Depth psychologists, for example, have recognized the psychic importance of the symbolism of such "elements" to individuation processes. Weather metaphors are frequently used to characterize moods or individuals ("sunny", "icy", "glacial", etc). Ecopsychology is a prime focus for reflection on the relationship between mental and physical well-being and the natural environment, provides insights into how to reconnect with innate abilities to live in harmony and balance [more]. Dennis Merritt (The Dairy Farmer's Guide to the Universe: Jung, Hermes and Ecopsychology, 2004) uses archetypal motifs of the weather, climate and seasons -- together with land forms, water resources, flora and fauna -- to this end. The International Community for Ecopsychology explores the synergistic relation between planetary and personal well being -- the needs of the one as relevant to the other. Ecopsychology Online defined its focus as:

Andy Fisher (Radical Ecopsychology: psychology in the service of life, 2002) specifically explores the psychological roots of the current ecological crisis. This perspective is endorsed by David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous, 1997) who argues that:

The body is the location of all knowledge. What we "know" comes to us through our senses, through our contact with physical, earthly experience. That experience invariably shapes what we perceive. Perception is inherently participatory. To the body, the world is not "object." There is no "me" apart from an "other." Everything is animate for the sensing body. Touch a tree and the tree is touching you back. That we no longer know this is part of the tragedy. [more]

As a philosopher, and from a phenomenological perspective, Don Ihde (Whole Earth Measurements) makes the point in a different way, contrasting arguments of Husserl and Heidegger, with regard to detection of the greenhouse effect on the climate using technoscientific enhancement of human imaging capacity.

It is worth recalling that the four elemental systemic phenomena above are fundamental to many symbol systems, including some that have been embodied in interactive game-like devices (cf Tarot, astrology, I Ching). These have the considerable advantage over official policies -- in response to climate change and sustainable development -- that they continue to engage the attention of people at all levels of society around the world.

Whilst such devices have no formal role in official policy-making in the West (in this period), concern with the auspiciousness of a moment of decision remains a preoccupation in many cultures -- even at the highest levels. Given the apathy and cynicism with which official initiatives are currently confronted, the potential role of such devices in engaging attention in relation to climate change should not be neglected. There is even the possibility that they reflect psychological phenomena that have been marginalized -- aggravating the apathy that is so widely deplored.

Psychological engagement -- excitement?

The challenge of the times in official eyes (reinforced by the perspective of economists) is that of "energy" -- especially in the light of the depletion of oil resources and the controversies over nuclear power. But curiously the challenge of the times for most people is not energy but "excitement". Energy resources are notably depleted to sustain the pursuit of excitement in all its varied forms. Air travel and the use of private vehicles provide obvious illustrations; drug and alcohol use provide another.

Game players tend not to respond to the preoccupations central to politics. Young people respond in significant numbers to the successors of Dungeons and Dragons and other games (see John Borland and Brad King. Dungeons and Dreamers, 2003). Through the imaginative and mythological content of games, it might be argued that young people are training themselves for Armageddon -- after the enraptured have left [more] -- rather than for the implementation of the United Nations Agenda 21 and its Millennium Development Goals. Curiously they are activating, and connecting with, cultural symbols that otherwise would be largely considered meaningless in modern civilization.

This suggests that for the climate of opinion to change, excitement of some kind needs to be a focus; hence the call here for new kinds of game and play. But for this to have any effect on climate change, then such playing needs to "connect" psychologically with consumption patterns at the personal level and with policy processes at the collective level.

It might be said people are stuck in bad or impoverished "games" that are in many ways a reflection of the inappropriateness of consumption patterns and official policies:

From this perspective, planetary and psycho-social challenges need to be designed into games. But, the games available to people may be increasingly inadequate to the degree of excitement required to sustain their engagement in society. Why are some better nourished by "SUV games" than by "Agenda 21 games"? If official games were as exciting as they need to be to engage people, then surely more people would play them. There is therefore a basic distinction to be remembered between:

Developing playful insight

There is a curious irony to the fact that it is academic and military disciplines concerned with strategic policy-making that lay claim to serious examination and implementation of game theory in pursuit of strategic advantage -- especially through the thinktanks on which they depend. Complex models are used to simulate some strategic decisions. It is far less evident that models are used to explore the participatory processes through which democratic support for comprehensive strategies is sought -- or for constitutional innovation as in the case of Europe (cf Practicalities of Participatory Democracy with International Institutions: Attitudinal, Quantitative and Qualitative Challenges, 2003).

The irony comes from the extent to which young people -- under the noses of their elders -- explore games calling for strategic thinking in spaces of greater complexity than those explored in such official initiatives. As noted by Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good for You, 2005) with regard to computer-mediated games:

Not only do most games require you to remember multiple combinations of buttons (and use them fast), but often there are few established rules. Adults are likely to say: "What am I supposed to do?" "It's as if each time you start a game of chess, the moves have been scrambled and there are no instructions," says Johnson. "When you make a move, you get feedback and you have to work out the moves and the rules as you play the game." Johnson calls this process "probing". It is followed, he says, by "telescoping" - prioritising multiple objectives into a scheme to get you to the final goal. "These are raw skills that can be applied to other parts of life," he says, "core building blocks of what it means to be smart. People who are successful in life are good at these things."

Widespread interactive internet games involving many players provide a form of training in group dynamics to respond to shadowy opponents variously organized. One might ask whether the mind sets developed are of greater or lesser relevance to such opponents than those of accredited experts. Policy-makers care little for what the young (possibly including their own) consider to be relevant, but the reverse is also true -- and the young are indeed the future.

According to Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good for You, 2005):

Recent research shows that video games can improve visual intelligence and hand-eye coordination, but Johnson goes further. He thinks they increase IQ. There is an upward trend in American IQ scores - the kind based on abstract graphics and pattern-spotting - and Johnson believes this is due to the nature of modern popular culture, to the brain development gained from interactive media.

There is every possibility that computer games -- beyond "shoot-em-ups" -- may be providing the first steps towards giving form to a template, or model, fundamental to more complex and richer modes of interpersonal interaction (cf James Paul Gee and Tashia Morgridge. Video Games, Mind and Lerarning, 2004). Elsewhere, Gee (2003) sees:

Academic areas, like biology or history, are themselves like games.... Scientists act and interact in terms of certain identities and values and use knowledge and information to accomplish certain sorts of goals. So learning science should be about learning how to 'play the game' of science. Games could do this as well, since they are based on taking on distinctive identities in order to act and value in certain ways.

This trend may be vital to effective responses to the strategic challenges of the future.

The UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) effectively raises the question of whether it was a meeting of people who thought they ought to have been playing "Agenda 21" but had found other games they preferred to play. The challenge is to determine what makes available games that people ought to play so boring. Is it possible that for many their boredom relates in some way to what some find particularly boring in games such as tennis, bridge, scrabble, etc.? It is also important to recognize that the game for some includes getting others to play their game -- to play with them. Why is it that some:

Why and how may depend on where the person is centred when they play the game, namely what aspects of their psyche are engaged in the space in which the game is played. What then is the space or centering that would transform a game perceived as boring into one that is perceived as exciting? (see Apathy and quenching, below)

It is also useful to recognize that it is less frequently the case that a person would want to play the same game all the time. Rather than preferring a single game, the pattern seems to be to shift between a set of games from which excitement is derived. This compensates for the tendency of excitement to wear out when a game is played for too long -- when do we stop playing tennis and shift to scrabble or bridge? Perhaps such a set of games should be understood like a set of vitamins vital to psychic health.

Vital distinction: gaming vs playing

Games are necessarily strongly associated with "playing". But there is an important distinction between "playing" and "gaming". "Play" may only be understood as the curiously missing verb "to game"; "game" as the rules governing any resulting form of "play". Some games are played very "seriously" and may then not involve much, if any, "playfulness". A different attitude is evoked by playfulness from which serious game players may wish to be somewhat, if not completely, dissociated. Part of the distinction is captured by the notion that games are play that is formalized -- possibly to a high degree. Playfulness may be characterized by a relative lack of rule-based formalization.

Key theories in this respect are those of Jean Piaget (Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood, 1951) and Lev Vygotsky, as reviewed by Celia Hoyles and Richard Noss (Playing with (and without) words, 1999):

According to Piaget, play is driven by pleasure: the young child plays in order to disassociate from the immediate and concrete; it frees her to engage in behaviours particularly fantasies which would otherwise be too demanding (Piaget, 1951). For Piaget, the development of play progresses from a purely individual process and private symbolism to social play and collective symbolism. Crucially, there are rules underpinning play and these are classified into two types: those handed down from above and those constructed spontaneously. It is, according to Piaget, by distinguishing between these two kinds of rules that the child learns that rules are not sacred and untouchable but can be modified and adapted. To sum up the Piagetian view, play helps transform the child's thinking from the concrete to the abstract, and proceeds from the individual to the social.

In the case of Vygotsky:

Vygotsky argues that play always consists of two interrelated components: an imagination situation, and rules governing the interactions within the imagination. What changes over time is the explicitness of the rules. In early pretence play, the overt imaginary situation is governed by a covert set of rules: children begin to learn that individual satisfaction can be enhanced by co-operation in rule-governed activities. At the opposite pole, there are games in which the imaginary situation is covert and the rules overt. For Vygotsky, the long term development of the child is from pretence play to games with rules, from games with covert to overt rules.

Table 1: Combinations of Winning and Losing
Orthogonal plane to Table 2 -- transforming its contents in a third dimension
Losing II Winning I Winning II
win-lose (competition in which both have fun) win-win (both have fun)
lose-lose (both have fun, possible because winning was not a necessity) lose-win (special relationship in which loser benefits from losing, eg a grandparent "losing" a chess game with a grandchild)
. Losing I .

The above table may be seen as a representation of two orthogonal axes (Winning-Losing I, Winning-Losing II) and may be compared with the system developed by Edward Haskell (Generalization of the structure of Mendeleev's periodic table, 1972) to map pairs of interacting biological species in terms of the nature of their transaction or "game". This gave rise to a "coaction cardioid" discussed elsewhere (Cardioid Attractor Fundamental to Sustainability: 8 transactional games forming the heart of sustainable relationship, 2005). This approach may be used as the basis for distinguishing "playing" from "gaming" in Table 2.

Table 2: Playing games with Game-playing
Adaptation of Table 1 -- distinguishing combinations of playing and gaming
High Playfulness / Enjoyment
(fun and "heart" interest; timelessness,"infinitude")
"Energy" (heat, fire, "in the flow")
Low Competitive Gaming (indifference to winning/losing) Unstructured play (fooling around, partying) Exciting games through which both win and have fun ("win-win") High Competitive Gaming
("head" interest in winning)
Boredom (no fun; no games) Serious games with an emphasis on winning/dominance (structured to the point of minimizing fun)
( groundedness)
Low Playfulness / Enjoyment
(low fun; timebound; "finitude")
(strategic repartee)

The above table may be seen as a representation of two orthogonal axes (High Play -- Low Play, High Gaming -- Low Gaming). It may be used to position any combination of play and game. For example, in the bottom right quadrant might be found highly competitive games typical of business or diplomacy -- low on playfulness and fun. On the other hand the top left quadrant is high on playfulness with a low level of competitive gaming. There is however the question of different perceptions of the degree of play or game in any game-play combination -- in the eyes of the beholder. As shown in Table 3, the axes might be compared with cooperation vs competition.[more]

Game theory is the systematic study of decision-making given a set of rules and opponents whose interests are more or less adverse. In a zero sum game the winner takes all; thus it pays to be competitive. In a nonzero sum game, the players end up better off, on average and over the long run, if they adopt a cooperative strategy. Robert Wright (Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, 2001) takes game theory and embeds it in a Darwinian framework. He proposes a kind of meta-game theory wherein competing strategies vie for players in the real world. Because nonzero sum games yield a higher average payoff over the long run, they attract more players. They are more fit in Darwinian terms. Go-it-alone, win-at-all-costs strategies might yield a high immediate payoff, but they are disadvantaged in the long run. [more]

Games: prime focus of finite players

Game theory has a long mathematical history. However game studies and game design -- notably with respect to interactive internet games -- have become specialized fields calling upon disciplines from psychology to game theory, information theory, systems theory, semiotics, mathematics, etc. For example, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmermann, Rules of Play: game design fundamentals, 2004) aim to identify the actual conceptual tools that are relevant to games. Rules account for "the organization of the designed system", whereas play accounts for "the human experience of that system", and culture accounts for "the larger contexts engaged with and inhibited by the system." The systemic nature of games becomes evident from the framework that the three constitute.

Salen and Zimmerman elaborate on the concept of "magic circle" of Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens, 1938) that is created by playing a game -- creating new reality, the place apart from ordinary life where play occurs. They make make two claims about it, one that it is actually a circle and another that "the term magic circle is appropriate because there is in fact something genuinely magical that happens when a game begins". This highlights the transformative power of games. It accounts for the "second-order reality" (cf Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, 2001) or "holding power" (cf Sherry Turkle, Life On the Screen, 1995).

The "magic circle" may be understood as a "Dionysian zone", a concept from social science with a history going back to antiquity, the zone is a point in time and space where Dionysian urges rule the ground and normal social rules do not apply -- where the players through fictive personae may behave in a way not acceptable in the normal society without repercussions. This is contrasted with an "Apollonian zone", where rule of law and reason prevail. [more]

"Meaningful play" refers to actions and outcomes within such a "magic circle" that add to the emotional and psychological experience of playing the game. It is characteristic of the actions that the game system affords the player that seem enticing and make sense in pursuing the goal(s) of the game. From such a perspective, games are understood as "transmedial" entities, a term that ludologist Jesper Juul has used to describe the tendency of games to shift between different media and technologies (cf The Game, the Player, the World: Looking for a Heart of Gameness, 2003).

Many attempts have been made to design serious games, notably those emphasizing cooperation over conflict. For example Social Impact Games (Entertaining Games with Non-Entertainment Goals, 2003) provides links to many games, notably in the categories of:

Ian Bogost, a games designer and theorist concerned with "games with an agenda" has worked on a series of games designed to help voters and citizens get to grips with policy issues in the USA [more]. Bogost considers that games could play a part in integrating real use of abstract knowledge since The best educational games, like Civilization, are procedural representations of systems which let people play around with elements of a system to see how they combine to generate effects and structures. [more]

With similar intent, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has a Serious Games Initiative headed by David Rejeski, director of the Center's Foresight and Governance Project. The initiative focuses on uses for games in exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector. Part of its overall charter is to help forge productive links between the electronic game industry and projects involving the use of games in education, training, health, and public policy. It organizes an annual Serious Games Summit.

Much is made, for example, of the innovative breakthrough in the use of artificial intelligence in a game designed by the chess master Demis Hassabis (Republic : The Revolution, 2003) [more | more]. An older game Diplomacy, commands respect for its coalition-building challenges amongst multi-player aficionados similar to the respect accorded to chess amongst two-player games [more].

With respect to the theme explored here, there are three "serious" questions to be addressed in relation to such initiatives:

The symptom of the gap to be addressed, and bridged, is that between worldwide engagement in mass audience phenomena (eg Olympic Games, football championships, Eurovision Song Contests, beauty contests, etc) and the alienating debates in plenary assemblies through which strategies vital to the future of humanity take place. Ironically, other than the question of scale, the architectural layout required for the dynamics of each is often similar -- and strangely reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum. Game-playing processes are central to both: political football? political song and beauty contests? One is engaging to the many, the other only to the few -- who usually benefit excessively from the process. Neither benefits significantly from the cognitive processes and aesthetic symbolism associated with a third category of event held in similar arenas: opera? music?

Play: mediatisation of playfulness -- envirotainment? climatotainment?

The immediate future will see a further convergence, or confluence, of "exciting" technologies and ways of interacting with them -- of which significant traces are already evident:

The emergent effects of artificial intelligence and cyborgization are already recognized. Whether for industrialized or impoverished environments, these technologies will prove to be major attractors as a source and means of sustaining excitement. One study by David Bosshart and Karin Frick (Megatrends and Countertrends for Business Society and Consumption, 2003) notes that the struggle to attract attention and overcome boredom is resulting in the emergence of new communication contexts and media genres (with distinctly unattractive names): Infotainment, Edutainment, Sociotainment, Shop-o-tainment, Architainment, Tittitainment, Eatertainment. This range is notably recognized in German neologisms.

With respect to the climate change theme explored here, there is a case for exploring analogues in the form of:

The key question however is how the movement of memes within the individual and collective psyche is sustained by these devices. Specifically the question is how the relation between the virtual and the actual is managed in terms of psychic engagement. How indeed can the exploratory ludic strengths and skills, discovered primarily by individuals in groups, engage with the operational needs required in practice -- notably by larger collectivities and preferably in the light of acceptable consensual processes? The major crisis over the acceptability of the European Constitution in 2005 is a small indication of the challenge and the risks of unacceptable tokenism.

Higher dimensions of "game-play space"

The two-dimensional plane of "game-play space" outlined above in Table 2 does not adequately hold the experiential environment of those engaged in play. In particular it fails to capture:

These are embedded or implicit in the planar representation. Also conflated into the planar representation are associated polarities:

Table 3: Game-playing space
Play Game
Cooperation Competition
Action Strategy
Collective-orientation Individualistic-orientation
Timelessness Timeboundness
Infinite (cf "infinite games") Finite (cf "finite games")
Subjective engagement Objective engagement
Openness, unboundedness Closure, boundedness
Spontaneity ("youth") Experience ("age", maturity)

The four sectors of game-play space in Table 2 may thus be understood as compacted representations of higher-dimensional experience. This higher dimensional experience may in part be associated with degrees of mastery of a game -- of which "levels" in a game are some indication. This progression to higher levels may be briefly summarized in Table 4, where each column would be positioned on one of the four quadrants of Table 2.

Table 4: Higher orders of game-playing space
Dimensionality "Earth" "Air" "Energy" "Water"
Highest Progressive
Progressive cognitive self-reflexiveness Progressive increase in flow excitement Progressive increase in sense of joy

The increasing dimensionality represented by Table 4 is associated with an experiential melding of the polarization indicated in Table 3. For example, much is made in martial art philosophy of the existential melding of self and other in higher-order combat situations. The melding of individual and collective would be another example. Higher dimensionality is then about increasing engagement with the pattern in the "plane" represented by Table 2 -- as higher orders of "ex-planation". Table 4 could also be represented as concentric circles of "mastery" increasing dimensionality centering on a common focal awareness -- of greater "mystery", in contrast with "mastery".

Time and "recycling": Time in a game context has been explored by Jesper Juul (Introduction to Game Time / Time to play: an examination of game temporality, 2004). The time dimension is particularly important to the sense of Johan Huizinga's "magic circle" (described above), given the following distinctions:

But in both cases there is a broader context which brings in a quality of cyclic time:

Time might indeed be treated as a third axis in relation to the planar representation of Table 2. This would allow shifts across that plane to be indicated with the passage of time. It might not however enable cyclic time to be adequately captured -- the sense of "recycling" and renewal that is part of the context of playing particular games (and where vital cycles may actually be more appropriately understood as third or fourth-dimensional phenomena). This contrast has been emphasized by James Carse (Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986).

Time may also be important where decisions have to be made rapidly rather than at the rate at which a condition (like climate change) is monitored with a view to elaborating recommendations for appropriate strategic action sometime. This is as much the case in interactive internet games as it is in live combat situations and political "fire-fighting" -- and potentially in response to catastrophic climate change and tsunami-like disasters. Aron Katsenelinboigen (The Concept of Indeteminism and its Applications: economics, social systems, ethics, artificial intelligence, and aesthetics, 1997) notes:

Analysis of systems characterized by relatively fast-paced change has been impaired by the application of methods suitable for systems that feature slower rate of change. More specifically, research into biological, socioeconomic, artificial intelligence, art, linguistics, and other such systems is affected adversely by the use of the methodology more suitable for such extensively explored systems as the physical system. The investigation of the universe aims to uncover the laws that govern the physical processes. This methodology was deemed appropriate because the physical system was perceived as changing very slowly (in time and in space).... This raises the following question: What are the specific features regarding fast changing systems that preclude the use of the methodology that is widely adopted in physics

"Meta-games" and "Meta-play": The planar "game-play space" also has implicit in it the possibility of its own manipulation and transformation, notably through "playing with the rules". The "game-play space" (as a kind of psychological "flatland") may in this way be warped into a third or higher dimension and wrapped around the player -- as an attractor? It is such warping that draws the player from linear time into cyclic time. In a sense the "magic circle" becomes an enveloping "magic sphere" -- perhaps to be understood as a creative corrective analogue to reductionistic concerns with "globalization" that exlcude the psychological dimensions of well-being. Such a "magic sphere" might fruitfully be explored as a higher, emergent form of order -- transcending the Apollonian-Dionysian polarity of game-play.

Understandings of meta-games are first discussed below, before exploring the ways of playing with the rules that may be a characteristic of meta-games.


Beyond the mathematics of game theory, meta-game theory is an even more rarefied mathematical preoccupation. In a classic study, Nigel Howard (Paradoxes of Rationality: Games, Metagames, and Political Behavior. 1971) aimed to produce a technique that could be used to resolve real-life, real-time conflict situations and to investigate political and social interactions between decision makers. He includes an analysis of the Vietnam conflict. Elements of this perspective are to be found in another classic study of Vietnam by Scott Boorman (The Protracted Game: A Wei-ch'i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy, 1969).

As noted by Chris Langan (Levels of Rationality: Metagames and Mega. Noesis: the journal of the Mega Society, 1997), in arguments of relevance to strategies negligent of climate change:

Nevertheless, there are some major practical contexts to which the theory applies. Consider the Wallet Paradox itself. Like the Tragedy of the Commons, it centers on a "micro-economy" in which total wealth is limited; in light of this limitation, the theory of metagames generates higher-level information that reveals that the decision to play leads to a "false optimism". Such paradoxes describe other kinds of economy as well, including the global free market economy of the modern world. Even now, individuals, nations and international consortia are playing all kinds of "wallet games" with far-reaching implications for present and future generations of humanity. Unfortunately, the players often neither know nor care what long-term paradoxes might lurk within their strategies, ticking away like time bombs set to go off on the poor unborn souls who get stuck with the monetary and environmental tab.

Given the neglect of higher dimensionality, it is therefore extremely curious that "meta-games" and "meta-gaming" are a major preoccupation of designers and players of interactive internet and role playing games -- although "meta-play" is variously used to name an activity in its own right [more]. Meta-games may indeed be confused by some with "cheating" (see Queasy Games: exploring player-game interactions; Meta-Gaming: Definition ). According to Nathan Barnes (Dispelling Meta-Gaming Myths, 2002), "meta-gaming" means many different things to many different people. He endeavours to address the misconceptions about "pre-game alliances", "old boys clubs" or "CareBear Alliances", among groups of players. Emphases included:

Live Action Role-Play (LARP) is a form of role-play where the participants (termed players) take on fictive personalities (called roles or characters) and act out their interaction in a predefined, fictive setting. In a description of the game, Petter Bøckman (Dictionary In: As LARP Grows Up: The Book from Knudepunkt, 2003), such "meta-playing" by "larpers" is described as:

An expression covering a situation where a player is taking non-diegetic actions as a part of playing the role. [NB: diegesis is an expression from film theory, denoting the totality of the story and possible truths within it. In a larp that will translate to "all that is true to the roles"]. This may occur when two players need to sort out technicalities of game mechanics... or when play has broken down to such an extent that there is no longer is any point to playing in character.... However, meta-actions are always taken in the interest of the role, so that normal play may resume as soon as the situation is resolved. Meta-play is thus the direct opposite of meta-consideration, where the actions is diegetic, but the reasons are not.

Such insights could be usefuilly explored in relation to the political game-playing ("behind the scenes") relevant to climate change.

Jason Newquist explores such strategies (Meta-Gaming Strategies) and has a very helpful tabulation of them (Meta-Gaming Strategies: Categorization). There is much concern with how to constrain them (cf How To Minimize Meta-Gaming: GM Mastery, 2004):

Meta-gaming (the use of information possessed by the player for the gain of his\her character that the character couldn't have known) is a force that has managed to fray the temper of many a good GM and is responsible for the breakdown of many RPG campaigns. Harried GMs are always looking for ways to minimize the effect meta-gaming has on their games without the need for time consuming practises that destroy suspension of disbelief.

There would seem to be a degree of isomorphism with studies of multi-agent systems fundamental to emerging insights into agent technology. For Peter J. Braspenning (Plant-like, Animal-like and Humanoid Agents and corresponding Multi-Agent Systems, 1997):

We claim, that these notions are the most visible signs of a not yet clearly visible revolution in the ways in which modern intelligent software systems are going to be analysed and designed. We intend to direct attention to the shift in perspective which is fundamental for the description of a system as consisting of relatively autonomous agents. After discussing the different possible kinds of cognitive "make-up" of agents (plant-like, animal-like and humanoid), we deal with the more communicative/organisational viewpoint of a Multi-Agent System. The concept of "commitment" will be seen to play a crucial role here. Finally, we pinpoint some rather new ecologically inspired, "open-systems" approaches within Distributed Artificial Intelligence with a sure impact on computing in general.

The relevance to action in social projects, such as action on climate change, is evident in Braspenning's further remarks that:

Finally, a separate place is taken by those approaches which make use of game theory in order to let the agents make decisions about future actions. By introducing utilities for the players in a common move, it may become easier to reach co-ordination of actions more effectively, while taking into account communications taking place and possible binding promises which agents have made to each other. Even meta-game theory has been used... to allow an agent to model the decisions of other agents (which are also based on their perceptions of the multi-agent situation). Further, one has put quite some effort in developing voting mechanisms to ensure that agents collectively as a group are able to incrementally update their plans and in that way are directed to reach a state in which social welfare is maximised... The latter purpose has also been explored by using the auction metaphor in a computational context.... in order to realise socially optimal re-allocation of (indivisible) resources among the agents. [text]

Variations of games that themselves develop are examples of emergent metaplay, the predominant catalyst of the evolution of new games:

Emergent behavior is also important in games and game design. For example, the game of poker, especially in no limit forms without a rigid betting structure, is largely driven by emergent behavior. For example, no rule requires that any player should fold, but usually many players do. Because the game is driven by emergent behavior, play at one poker table might be radically different from that at another, while the rules of the game are exactly the same. [more]

Playing with the rules: emergence of infinite players

There is an obvious contrast between "playing within the rules" and "playing with the rules". Sivasailam Thiagarajan ("Thiagi"), is a prolific writer, and designer of some 120 games and simulations with a focus on improving human performance effectively, efficiently and enjoyably -- on getting the learners engaged. Through his training sessions he stresses that the way people prefer to play games depends on their cultural values and beliefs -- even those determined by discipline:

Any game I play, I have at least a dozen different modifications, plus many more I can make up on the spot to increase or decrease the level of competition, to increase or decrease the level of self disclosure, touching, physical movement, cognitive complexity, and so on. You can make these changes even while you're playing the game. [more]

Eric Nehrlich (Playing with Rules, 2003):

D&D and other role-playing games.... let the young nerd explore other worlds, other rulesets, other possibilities, and grow comfortable with those possibilities. By altering the world rules, and by letting the participant construct an alter ego, it permits the telling of a story that would not be possible under the rules of the real world. These stories are often very powerful to the participants, and my current theory is that this is because it lets them assert aspects of themselves that are not available under the real world ruleset. But by playing with the rules in this virtual way, they can discover these aspects that they can then apply in the real world.

Nehrlich then argues that:

Taking the playing with rules idea to an extreme are games like Nomic, where changing the rules is the whole point of the game, or Mao, where discovering the rules (and later adding to them) is the point. There’s also a fascination with game design; figuring out how to tweak the rules to make them fairer or more interesting.

The occult tradition of magic, whose symbolism has inspired some role playing games (and technopaganism), also features an understanding of "playing with the rules", as argued in a review of Peter Carroll's Liber Null and Psychonaut (1987):

Carroll posits a universe which is an expression of Chaos. That which is "real" is just a small part of chaos. There is a vast realm of possibility which doesn't exist, except in a realm of "aetherics" (or at least this appears to be the gist of what Carroll says. He is known to self-contradict on occasion). Magick involves playing with the rules of the universe, to get an end achieved. Think of it as getting away with cheating whilst playing a board game.

In the chaos worldview, no paradigm is strictly true. Chaos contains all possibilities, whereas paradigms involve the denying of some qualities while embracing others (for example, one cannot be both monotheistic and polytheistic). The chaos magician does not believe in the inherent truth of anything, but selects certain beliefs which will help him to conduct an operation.

The contrast between "playing by the rules" and "playing with the rules" is explored by Celia Hoyles and Richard Noss (Playing with (and without) words, 1999):

There are some recent attempts to exploit children's engagement at the [computer interface] surface with the deeper issues underpinning design and therefore learning..... The message of this and related research is clear. In designing computer games children have the opportunity not only to create, modify and adapt rules to structure the forms of co-operation and competition, to decide what is a fair result, to begin to appreciate causality and conditionality but they do so in the context of a formal system. Can digital games be exploited for learning? Can we build systems which possess the immediacy of the computer game, the richness of interface design with deeper goals for learning? Can we get behind the interface without destroying what makes it work?

In distinguishing two kinds of games, James P. Carse (Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986), characterizes two types of players:

Inspired by this perspective, Alicia Smith (Games are a Reflection of Behavior, 2005) applied the insights in a penal institution;

So if our true nature comes out in a game, what can we do with that information? Can we transform situations so that we can be true to our nature? Can we make a game out of real world situations to allow our true nature to flourish?

Smith showed that the players who "get it" are "playing with the rules looking to transform a finite game into an infinite one."

Playing with the rules: cons and pros

Cons: In the "real world" however, concern at the problematic consequences of "playing with the rules" has been expressed in relation to:

These examples are indicators of the significance of "playing with the rules" -- "beyond the law" or "above the law". The "bad guys" would seem to be operating in a higher dimensional space -- and with the freedoms that it offers (cf The "Dark Riders" of Social Change: a challenge for any Fellowship of the Ring, 2002). It is therefore a social tragedy that such capacity is not a much sought skill for those who would constrain them. Regrettably those who are acquiring insights into some of those skills are those who have been marginalized into a world of interactive gaming, especially the young.

The relation of cheating to rule breaking is explored in a healthy perspective by one of the most important thinkers within the Situationist International, Raoul Vaneigem (The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967):

Every game has two preconditions: the rules of playing and playing with the rules. Watch children at play. They know the rules of the game, they can remember them perfectly well but they never stop breaking them, they never stop dreaming up new ways of breaking them. But for them, cheating doesn't have the same connotations as it does for adults. Cheating is part of the game, they play at cheating, accomplices even in their arguments. What they are really doing is spurring themselves on to create new games. And sometimes they are successful: a new game is found and unfolds. They revitalise their playfulness without interrupting its flow.

Pros: By contrast, there are several sectors where "playing with the rules" is highly valued as a mark of creativity:

In both problematic and creative cases it may argued that a cognitive "space" is transformed or "twisted" in some special way that merits exploration (cf Engaging with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of twistedness, 2004).

Transforming "game-play space"

The previous arguments highlight the degree to which the cognitive environment may be considered plastic. Learning tends to be associated with acquisition of skills to mould and shape that cognitive environment. This becomes evident as people rise to the higher levels of any organizational hierarchy, whether in public organizations or in semi-secret societies (as with the "processing levels" of scientology or the "degrees" of freemasonry) [more]. It is recognized in the process of becoming "street-wise" and gaining "respect". Such a person may then be recognized as a "player". The higher they rise in any hierarchy, the more they can "bend" the rules and exploit "secret" loopholes. An analogous process occurs in interactive games, notably on the internet, through acquisition of skills and "powers" as the player rises through "levels" -- also effectively gaining "respect". In some groups these transitions may be marked by ritual "initiations".

Similar skills may be learnt in order to manipulate the physical environment. In a subsequent section the intimate relation between these two sets of skills is explored.

Here the concern is with how patterns of categories can be transformed and reconfigured -- the more plastic they can be considered to be.

Boundary transformation: How the boundaries of a game are defined or redefined may offer opportunities for transforming "game-play space". Christopher Robinson comments (2002) on a section of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (1953) as follows:

Remark 68 moves us again away from notions of uniformity and parameters in and between games. Wittgenstein investigates how we use the word "game." Our perspective is one of players within a game. The view from this playing field does not include boundaries. Boundaries can be drawn, but the perspective that leads to the drawing of boundaries is different from that of the player. Umpires or referees worry about boundaries; players play. But even this distinction in perspectives within the playing field does not hold generally. Everywhere in the game are "unregulated" or unboundable areas. The game of tennis, for example, "is not everywhere circumscribed by rules; but no more are there any rules for how high one throws the ball in tennis, or how hard; yet tennis is a game for all that and has rules too."

I think about the skill of the player in terms of playing with the rules. In ice hockey there are rules against elbowing, spearing, slashing, high sticking, and so on. However, great hockey players have always known that these rules apply only to those stupid enough to get caught. There is an art to breaking the rules that is very much part of the game.

Geometric transformations: A valuable guide in this respect is the understanding of the conditions under which various geometric and topologically transformations become structurally permissible according to the dimensionality of the space.

The geometric transformation of shapes to obtain visually interesting or mathematically useful results is a common process that has long been explored. It is particularly significant because of the facility with which highly accessible computer software encourages people to comprehend these various transformations. Users are able to generate complex forms by application of geometric transformations to elementary shapes and tessellations, especially by use of novel combinations of transformations (cf Leo S. Bleicher. Serial Polar Transformations Of Simple Geometries, 2002). Use of polar coordinates may provide an imaginative locus for the situation of an "identity" in a space -- or a reconfiguration of its dimensions.

Such transformation is particularly interesting in the light of understandings of how spaces may be "warped". Whereas this is clear in the case of astrophysical gravitational attractors operating in space-time, the possibility that an identity (a "player") may act as an attractor to warp "game-play space" merits further attention. A form of such warping is a characteristic of the communication space around a celebrity. In this light an "identity" may indeed be an "attractor" around which "game-play space" is somehow "wrapped" -- perhaps in concentric spherical shells corresponding to any notion of emergent levels. Furthermore, one or more game-play processes may themselves be understood as attractors around (and between) which players orbit.

Whilst the formal understanding of these transformations by players may be limited, their understanding in practice may be of a surprising level (notably in the light of a developed kinetic intelligence from sports such as skate boarding). Furthermore they tend to have been subject to extensive exposure to computer graphic representations of complex transformations or to imaginative descriptions of them (as in science fiction). In a very real sense players may operate their avatars in a space of a higher complexity than might be assumed.

The possibility that humans are not effectively constrained to three dimensions has been formally explored as q-analysis by mathematician Ron Atkin (Multidimensional Man; can man live in 3-dimensional space? 1981). Q-analysis is a combination of geometric and algebraic tools for studying relationships and connectivity among entities in a complex system as traffic through hypergraphs. Peter Jackson (The Geometry of Intention - Values in the creation of curriculae) offers a speculative exploration of Atkin's insights that is relevant to the knowledge of a player.

Topological transformations: A player may work with topological transformations that are therefore important to any understanding of navigation in higher dimensional spaces. Barry Smith (Topological Foundations of Cognitive Science, 1994) concludes that:

Topological structures play a central role also in studies of naive physics, not least in virtue of the fact that even well-attested departures from true physics on the part of common sense leave the topology and vectorial orientation of the underlying physical phenomena invariant: our common sense would thus seem to have a veridical grasp of the topology and broad general orientation of physical phenomena even where it illegitimately modifies the relevant shape and metric properties.

Smith sees topology as providing a unifying framework:

In talking somewhat grandly of 'topological foundations for cognitive science', now, we are contending that the topological approach yields not simply a collection of insights and methods in selected fields, but a unifying framework for a range of different types of research across the breadth of cognitive science and a common language for the formulation of hypotheses drawn from a variety of seemingly disparate fields.... One rationale behind the idea that the inventory of topological concepts can yield a unifying framework for cognitive science turns on the fact that, as has often been pointed out..., boundaries are centres of salience not only in the spatial but also in the temporal world (the beginnings and endings of events, the boundaries of qualitative changes for example in the unfolding of speech events...). Moreover, topological properties are more widely applicable than are those properties (for example of a geometrical sort) with which metric notions are associated.

Smith's final point is relevant to any further understanding of future navigation of "game-play space":
Given the pervasiveness of qualitative elements in every cognitive dimension, however, and also the similar pervasiveness of notions like continuity, integrity, boundary, prototypicality, etc., we can conjecture that topology will be not merely sufficiently general to encompass a broad range of cognitive science subject-matters, but also that it will have the tools to do justice to these subject-matters without imposing alien features thereon.

The topological perspective is also relevant to the connectivity of social networks within so-called "small worlds" (cf Duncan Watts, Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness, 1999; Nexus: Mark Buchanan, Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, 2002; Albert-Lázló Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks, 2002) [reviews].

Metaphoric transformations: The argument here is based on the distinction made above between zones of "game-play space" as having qualitative attributes contrasting to the same degree as "earth", "air", "water" and "energy" -- physically fundamental to issues of climate change. In purely physical terms these distinctions are a consequence of the nature of the bonds and the dynamics between the atoms in each case.

As noted above, such four-fold distinctions are fundamental to the symbolism of various kinds of symbolic games. In exploring metaphoric transformation, as it may prove meaningful in such games, distinction can be usefully made as in the table below.

Table 5: Metaphoric distinctions between symbolic games
(the subject from which the attributes are derived)
(the subject to which attributes are
(geometry, topology)
atomic properties
(eg ice vs liquid water)
psychic properties
dynamic transformation
(eg ice to water)
caterpillar to butterfly*
(vital to any identification)
*** ***

The above table is important in providing a link between the concept of "rules" and that of "play". In effect, in the four-element metaphor, the "rules" are associated with the rigidity of the molecular bonds (being most rigid in the case of crystalline ice). However "play" is associated with the degrees of freedom of the molecules -- which increases through transformation to water or to "fire" (where they are positively or negatively ionized). The contrast in a political sense is seen between a rule-bound society and one in which there is a high degree of "freedom of association" -- whatever the risk of disruptive crowd behaviour.

As explored elsewhere (The Isdom of the Wisdom Society: Embodying time as the heartland of humanity, 2003), what might then be the stages of reification as the quality of knowing in the moment "hardens" into objective reality -- passing through analogues to the states of matter (plasma -- gas -- liquid -- solid):

A possibly more fruitful metaphor than this linear sequence is that of a phase diagram such as that for water [more]. This is a representation of the states of matter (solid, liquid, or gas) as a function of temperature and pressure. Lines separating the regions of space indicate the pressures and temperatures where phases can coexist and are in equilibrium with one another. Lines in the phase diagram may intersect at a point where solid, liquid, and gas all coexist -- a unique "triple point". Similarly a "critical point" may exist that is characterized by large fluctuations between the liquid and vapor states. Such diagrams are also used in describing the conditions of plasma -- understood as an ionized gas [more]. Plasma is however characterized by much higher temperatures and pressures.

A highly simplified diagram of that type is adapted below to show the variety of relationships between the different forms of insight -- especially indicating that the transition from data to knowledge may not necessarily pass via information. It suggests possibilities for resolving definitional ambiguities associated with any assumed linear progression between them..As the extreme ionization of gas, plasma is not directly represented in the diagram (it would be far to the right). The diagram does however suggest possibilities of exploring the ionization metaphor in relation to knowledge -- and the corresponding implication of the bonds in the case of solids, liquids and non-ionized gases. The adaptation calls for a metaphoric equivalent to temperature and pressure -- which are both commonly used metaphorically in insight-related processes (eg "feeling the heat", "under pressure", etc).

Table 6: Data -- Information -- Knowledge
Tentative adaptation of general phase diagram (for water) to suggest non-linear relationship between them

Phase diagram relating Data -- Information -- Knowledge
Curves: Indicate the conditions of "temperature" and "pressure" under which equilibrium between different phases of insight can exist
Critical point: The "temperature" above which the gas cannot be liquefied no matter how much pressure is applied (the kinetic energy simply is too great for attractive forces to overcome, regardless of the applied "pressure")
Triple point: The particular condition of "temperature" and "pressure" where all three states are in equilibrium
NB: Phases may be subdivided into a complex pattern of sub-phases (exemplified by the variety of forms of ice as solid water) [more]

Of special interest are the implications for the transitions across the boundaries, such as sublimation (from data to knowledge) and deposition (from knowledge to data). The more tenuous bonds between elements of knowledge (corresponding metaphorically to atoms or molecules in a gaseous state) call for exploration in the light of implications of some equivalent to ionization. Aspects of this may be intuited in language used to describe the degree of "excitation" of a debate, whether academic or otherwise. Note that such excitation in an exciting meeting, for example, does not necessarily make for the conditions with which wisdom is associated. This may be more closely associated with the intensity of that excitation and how its focus and coherence can be sustained.

Apathy and quenching excitement

The concern here is with sustaining, and even enhancing, the excitement sought by people in "game-play space". The challenge is one of boredom and apathy -- of being "turned off". Curiously this can be explored further using the above metaphor in relation to the so-called fifth form of matter, namely plasma. This is the focus of major investments in fusion reactors as a source of energy. The technical challenge is to prevent the plasma from being "quenched", preventing the fusion reaction from taking place -- as with "throwing cold water" on a new insight. It might be argued that this is a perfect metaphor for exploring the energy challenges in relation to climate change. Furthermore, in many symbols systems it is of the highest value in relation to insight.

As discussed elsewhere (The Isdom of the Wisdom Society: Embodying time as the heartland of humanity, 2003), what is effectively the "magic circle" of Johan Huizinga is surrounded by what may be termed a "quenching" boundary. Its "magical" nature is "quenched" by any encounter with the cognitive "not-ness" of conventional understanding of space-time. This is the problem for players in "virtual life" in responding to "real life".

The metaphor of quenching derives from the research on nuclear fusion (in contrast with nuclear fission). This fusion process is dependent on plasma that can only exist under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure and is "quenched" when it comes into contact with the container in which the fusion reactions take place. Many decades of research have been devoted to the design of a container capable of containing plasma -- in order that nuclear fusion can take place as a prime source of energy for the future. The art has been to contain the plasma within a "magnetic bottle" such that magnetic field effects repel the plasma from any part of the encircling container wall. In the larger scheme of things, it is perhaps no coincidence that such research is now entering a new phase with the construction of ITER as a major international project to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy. This work on the "governance" of fusion processes essential to economic development may be as valuable as a metaphorical pointer to governance of psycho-social processes of sustainable development.

Understanding "plasma" as a quality of intensity, of attention, it might then be understood how the high energy "is-ness", characteristic of the state of being within the "magic circle", can readily be quenched by contact with any mundane cognition. Sustaining interaction within the "magic circle" therefore calls for an analogous existential technology to maintain the detachment of being from that containing spatio-temporal world. This existential technology may be considered as having been identified in many spiritual disciplines (see Navigating Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms through movement, 2002; Psychology of Sustainability: Embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002).

Playfully getting things into focus

The above challenge of fusion is one of focus -- through which "unlimited energy" is released to sustain the global civilization as we hope it might be. Metaphorically it is this focus which is vital to sustaining excitement which would make life in that civilization meaningful rather than alienating.

The future tends to be explored through a single sense, exemplified by use of "vision" and "foresight" -- implying an inability to sense around obstacles or through obscurity, in contrast with other senses. The vision metaphor -- basic to "focus", and the associated use of "foresight" -- suggests the need to explore metaphorically the known defects of vision -- as recognized by opthalmologists and opticians. As suggested elsewhere, these include the possibility that social visionaries, and their audiences, might explore metaphorical variants of myopia, presbyopia, colour blindness, astigmatism, etc -- and their policy consequences. (cf Metaphor and the Language of Futures, 1992)

In a world in which other senses most certainly have a role to play, what is to be learnt from analogues to vision-based policy in the light of sound, touch/feel, taste/smell -- all important to navigating the world of "earth", "air", "water" and "fire", namely the world of climate change?

Confronted by appeals to "envision" the future, what of the insights from "ensounding", "entouching" or "entasting" it, despite their limitations? Indeed rather than "insights", is vital understanding to be acquired and held in terms of "insounds", "infeels" or "intastes"?

This is most obviously relevant in commentary on the political "vision" associated with the proposed European Constitution -- which acknowledges that politicians may be seriously out of "touch" with the attitudes of citizens. Having lost meaningful "contact" with citizens -- is it politicians or citizens that need "contact lenses"?

Politicians are said to have failed to "listen" to the objections of citizens to the "vision" as it is explained to them (in texts too long for even the motivated to read) -- despite consultations through numerous "hearings". This complaint is rejected, notably by the European Commission, with the assertion that it is the citizens of Europe who fail to "listen". The efficacy of such "hearings" -- and the possible need for modern "hearing aids" -- or "interpreters" -- is never questioned. Can the "listening" of such institutions be compared metaphorically with selectively listening to a radio -- namely to predetermined channels at certain times, or possibly only within certain wavelengths (FM, SW, LW?). How is such listening to be contrasted, metaphorically again, with the full-spectrum listening and transcription practiced by satellite-enhanced surveillance services of government -- and considered vital to national security (cf Echelon)?

The possibility is ignored that many citizens may oppose the "vision" presented by politicans, not because it is not appealing as a vision (as in a glossy presentation), but because -- undetectable by "vision" -- for citizens it "stinks", is of questionable "taste", or "sounds" wrong. The possibilities complementary to "foresight" -- "foretaste", "foresmell", "forelistening" (and "foresound") -- would necessarily be open to exploration in innovative play in the kinds of games now being designed. It should not be forgotten that options envisioned for responding to the climate change challenge might result in a future that "stinks" -- however good it "looks".

Why do Live Aid concerts give such worldwide focus to popular concern -- most recently as planned to communicate such concerns to the G8 Summit (Gleneagles, July 2005).?

Given the obvious popular appeal of the annual Eurvision Song Contest, how is it that the European Commission did not endeavour to set its proposed Constitution to song, or to music, to anchor it mnemonically symbolically in the imagination of people? (cf Structuring Mnemonic Encoding of Development Plans and Ethical Charters using Musical Leitmotivs, 2001). Curiously there is seemingly so little distinction between "signing" a Constitution or a Declaration -- and "singing" it.

How did Beethoven's Ode to Joy get chosen as the most appropriate anthem for Europe? How symbolically significant to the choice is his deafness at the time he composed it -- and the fact that he himself had ceased playing for the public? What are its cognitive implications and connotations for the young? (cf Jacques Attali. Noise: The Political Economy of Music, 1985) How is it that it is essentially the static quality of the EU structure that is emphasized in 448 articles of legalese -- rather than the dynamics, perhaps playfully, through interactive, participative games that would have enabled people to get a "feel" for the operations of the structure and would engage their imagination in its possible development? (cf Animating the Representation of Europe, 2004; Using Research in the Participative Orchestration of Europe, 2004)

Is it possible that there is a significant correlation between those that identify more with the monolithic coherence of the orchestrated polyphony of the unchanging score of the Ode to Joy and with those who voted "Yes" for the European Constitution. How would this compare with the correlation between those who identify more with the participatory evolving chaotic diversity of the European Song Contest and with those voted "No"?

But, given these various metaphorical possibilities of engaging in an exciting manner with change, how has "focus" been lost -- to employ the vision metaphor? [more] Possibilities include:

Such defects of "vision" might become more evident, and more widely comprehensible, through a metaphorical equivalent of those detected (and corrected) by ophthalmologists and opticians. Itonically some of these are often explored in distorting mirrors at amusement parks or through games. "Blind Man's Buff" might, for example, offer interesting insights into problematic strategy-making..

Entrainment and enactivism

An earlier section indicates an increasing propensity to reframe communication-related activity -- even including warfare -- in terms of some sense of play. The challenge of climate change is how to make rising levels of engagement with environmental processes more attractive than competing attractors. How is the environment to be meaningfully embodied by the player in order to sustain healthier relations with it -- precisely because it is a more challenging game with the potential of greater excitement?

One indication is provided by Jane McGonigal (A Real Little Game: the performance of belief in pervasive play, University of California at Berkeley, Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies):

Ubiquitous computing and mobile network technologies have fueled a recent proliferation of opportunities for digitally-enabled play in everyday spaces. In this paper, I examine how players negotiate the boundary between these pervasive games and real life. I trace the emergence of what I call "the Pinocchio effect" -- the desire for a game to be transformed into real life, or conversely, for everyday life to be transformed into a "real little game". Focusing on two examples of pervasive play -- the 2001 immersive game known as the Beast, and the Go Game, an ongoing urban superhero game -- I argue that gamers maximize their play experience by performing belief, rather than actually believing, in the permeability of the game-reality boundary.

Another lead is offered by Alessandro Agostini (Homo Ludens: on the play-element in inductive logic, 2001):

As multi-agent systems are becoming more and more important, my strong belief is that it is important to develop a theory of learning agents in strategic processes, a theory that would explain how an agent's beliefs about the environment (which includes the behavior of others insofar as it affects him) evolve until they have come to agree with the actual properties of the environment. This opens new perspectives on the interaction of game theory and learning theory.

Yet another lead into participative democratic processes is provided by Daniel Roberts and Mark Wright (Object Oriented Prompted Play (O2P2): a pragmatic approach to interactive narrative. Edinburgh Virtual Environment Centre, University of Edinburgh):

This paradigm occupies the middle ground between open-ended play and structured narrative. Our goal is not to create a system which encodes, models, understands or generates a definitive narrative, but to create a system that facilitates collaborative play from which improvised narrative emerges. The narrative is object oriented in the sense that behaviours, attributes, and most importantly, stories are attached to objects in the scene. An object oriented architecture is appropriate for improvisation because its distributed nature does not impose much predefined structure.

The argument here might well be described in terms as a metaphor based on the physical and biological processes of entrainment (cf Attitude Entrainment: Communicating thrival skills and insights, 2004)

The interactiove processes of play might be understood as having resonant effects fundamental to such entrainment. In terms of enhancing human well-being in relation to the challenges of sustainable development and climate change, consider the arguments of D Talbot (Psyche and Play: Homo Ludens cavorts on the playground of capitalism, Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2004):

Frederich Schiller determined that an individual was not "fully a human being" without play; this dissertation is a treatise on the role of play in the quest for completeness or wholeness. Play becomes the tool for not only healing the fractured psyches of the postmodern age but also the fractured cultural stories or myths.

Play is as polysemous as the gods that populate the archetypal realm. The Notion of play sifted and shaped within these pages is frivolous and wise, childlike and earnest, free and restrained. It is, indeed, the tensional movement between these opposites, the play of paradox as distilled by Schiller and explicated by Drew Hyland’s responsive openness, and found within the give and take of Hans Georg Gadamer’s leeway. Play as movement, resonance, tolerance, the dance between the opposites, an embodiment of wholeness, an inherent aspect of being —that is the lens developed here through which I explore the mythos of capitalism within American culture. Play, or rather the Notion of play developed within this dissertation, becomes the hermeneutic for discovering soul within money and work, business and markets.

To uncover the archetypal forces within the dynamics of play and capitalism I call upon members of the ancient Greek pantheon but most importantly upon the stories: the ancient stories, certainly, but also the modern stories. A number of cultural and historic forces that influence the pursuit of capital within postmodern America such as the maximization of profits, productivity and consumerism are examined. By allowing the interplay of certain elements of these driving principles with "other," I create a playground that challenges the "truth" of contemporary cultural myths. It is on this playground, embedded in aspects of ritual, nature, the liminal, and the feminine, that capitalism can be re-visioned and made whole, inclusive of social and natural values, and can participate within a new story that augments the one-sided myths of constant progress and profit maximization with the play of relational being. It is on this playground that capitalism is ensouled.

Enactivism, in the form of second-order cybernetics, draws on the metaphor of laying down a path in walking on it -- as articulated by Francisco Varela (Laying Down a Path in Walking, 1987) [more].

Francisco J Varela, et al (The Embodied Mind: Cognitive science and human experience, 1991) argue that: is only by having a sense of common ground between mind in science and mind in experience that our understanding of cognition can be more complete. To create this common ground, they develop a dialogue between cognitive science and Buddhist meditative psychology and situate this dialogue in relation to other traditions, such as phenomenology and psychoanalysis. The existential concern that animates our entire discussion in this book results from the tangible demonstration within cognitive science that the self or cognizing subject is fundamentally fragmented, divided, or nonunified....

The future may come to think of the conceptual activity in the thinking process over decades as somewhat akin to playing on the many keyboards of a conceptual organ. In this sense, and following Varela's enactivist articulation of "laying down a path in walking", the future is then composed and played into being -- offering far richer dimensions to the meaning of organ-ization (see also Future Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being through conversation in the present moment, 1997). Varela's phrase might be reworded as "laying down a score in thinking".

Game of Life and Death: beyond Homo ludens?

As noted above, the historian Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens, 1938) wrote of the coming of a new specimen of humanity, the playful human, focusing on the element of play in human culture. He examined the role of play in law, war, science, poetry, philosophy, and art. Huizinga saw the instinct for play as the central element in human culture -- all human activities are playing:

Now in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play.

In the sixties the former situationist Constant defined Homo Ludens as the successor of Homo Faber, the working human.

Of special interest are the devices that encourage reflection on the dynamics and coherence of alternative frameworks (cf Imaginal education: Game playing, science fiction, language, art and world-making 2003). Perhaps the most influential has been that of Herman Hesse (Magister Ludi or The Glass Bead Game, 1943), in which the main character is called Ludo ("I play"). As a consequence, Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. The game remains of extensive interest on the web and indeed is seen as having similarities to the web [more]. It "lays the foundations for an artistic/conceptual game, which integrates all fields of human and cosmic knowledge through forms of organic universal symbolism, expressed by its players with the dynamic fluidity of music" [more]. The game, so allusively described, is a celebration of culture, symbolism and their mathematical associations in a region known as Castalia -- described by Theodore Ziolkowski as "a symbolic realm where all spiritual values are kept alive and present, specifically through the practices of the Glass Bead Game":

I suddenly realized that in the language, or at any rate in the spirit of the Glass Bead Game, everything actually was all-meaningful, that every symbol and combination of symbol led not hither and yon, not to single examples, experiments, and proofs, but into the center, the mystery and innermost heart of the world, into primal knowledge. Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with truly a meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang holiness is forever being created. (Glass Bead Game)

Of special relevance to this reflection is M A Foster's far less known Gameplayers of Zan (1977).

There is a curious dissociation between the games to which people are attracted, and by which they are intrigued and inspired, and the games (based on mathematical models) used to inform strategy and economic policy. Equally curious is the lack of simulation, whether for the public or for policy-makers, in relation to major social options -- such as the European Constitution, or the challenge of privatisation vs nationalisation. Cynically, the only gaming done in that respect tends to be betting games on the outcome of votes and referenda. Why is the future of Europe -- or Africa -- not open to exploratory "play" through which options could be discovered and discussed, as with chess?

It is interesting that intentional communities such as Findhorn (Scotland) and Damanhur (Piemonte) both use games as a guide to their own strategic development -- the Transformation Game and the Game of Life, respectively (cf Renaissance Zones: experimenting with the intentional significance of the Damanhur community, 2003). But there is no Great Game of Europe -- as a healthy contrast to the neoliberal classic of Monopoly.

One of the merits of games is that they offer players an emulation of death, rendering the game more realistic and exciting than one in which all players win. As usefully explored by James Carse (Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986), distinct attitudes are developed towards death by "finite players" playing to win, in contrast with "infinite players" playing to continue playing. It is the latter playing style which is fundamental to the systemic perspective required for sustainable development and appropriate response to the cycles of climate change.

Playful exploration of ecopsychological embodiment of climate change pathways

The argument above suggests the possibility of providing a form of tentative dynamic integration, through creative play, of the elements of climate as they figure in the external and inner environments. The suggestion is that computer-mediated play can provide templates through which to explore variants and possibilities, whether these are meaningful and acceptable or not. There is also the possibility that this process would highlight isomorphism -- and a form of resonance -- between pathways of changing climate and those characteristic of the shifting moods of individuals and groups that characterize the dynamics of public opinion.

The possibility, and the challenge, can be highlighted through traditional static symbols of the "four elements" of both climate and of psychic integration (whether individual or collective) -- such as the four-fold lauburu (the Basque cross) or its many cross-like equivalents in other cultures. In the case of the lauburu, each head (or arm) is drawn with three sweeps of a compass (upon a scribed cross, employing in each head a common center but two settings, one the half of the other). Superimposing the two variants gives rise to another form of cross.

In the Basque culture, the heads on the vertical axis represent female expression (emotional and perceptual) or the elements of fire and water. Those on the horizontal axis represent male energy (mental and physical) or the elements air and earth. Imanol Mujica (The Lauburu and Its Symbolism) considers that the lauburu symbolizes mankind, made up of four elements: Form, Life, Sensibility and Conscience. The first head symbolizes form or density, the second head symbolizes life or vitality, the third head symbolizes sensibility and the fourth head is the conscience state. Together they are held to represent nature in action and can be associated with the movement of the Earth around the Sun.

Table 7: Lauburu (Basque cross)
Lauburu (Basque cross) left-facing Lauburu (Basque cross) right-facing
Left-facing (symbolizing death) Right-facing (symbolizing life)
Superposition of left and right facing Lauburu (Basque cross)
Superposition of left and right-facing variants (demonstrating construction)

The lauburu could be related to conventional four-quadrant representations by rotating the symbol 45 degrees. It then lends itself to mapping both the 4-fold "elements" and their corresponding 4-fold personality types of thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition (as extensively explored by depth psychology following C G Jung). Such explorations relate to the four-quadrant synthesis of Ken Wilber [more | more]. A valuable commentary, informed by mathematical insights comparing the perspective of Jung and Wilber, is provided by Peter Collins (Clarifying Perspectives 2: Perspectives, Personality Types and Strings). Collins relates the 4-fold mapping to 8-fold mappings, to the 16-fold mapping of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and to a 24-fold mapping necessary to handle a further ("missing") 8 personality types.

Construction of the lauburu in its two forms can be understood in several ways:

The symbol itself, in its positive (right-facing) and negative (left-facing) variants, is derived from selectively colouring the result. On one count, this may be understood as giving rise to 24 parts. This is an interesting 2D variant on the notion of closest packing in 3D. Thought can also be given to the way in which the result is a 2D projection of a 3D variant -- with its extra axis having the same constructions on it.

These features raise interesting questions about the possibility of mapping the set of "climate" relationships using the symmetry properties from the mathematical theory of groups regarding the 24 transformations of a group on itself (cf Steven H. Cullinane. The Diamond Theorem (of 24 transformations), 2002; Moreno Andreatta (analyse et reconstitution). Iannis Xenakis: Nomos Alpha, 1965).

The resulting two-variant symbol may be explored as:

The challenge, however, lies in the fact that such symbols can be used to represent both negentropic and entropic processes, namely the life-enhancing and life-destructive processes characteristic of sustainable systems in the environment. In the case of the lauburu these two variants (right-facing and left-facing respectively) have their appropriate places in the Basque culture. Negative associations are necessarily projected onto the life-destructive variants of these symbols.

The use of the Tao symbol in constructing the lauburu is a reminder here of the way in which it distinguishes opposites (hot/cold, wet/dry) basic to:

With respect to "internal climate", in homeopathy, for example, David Little (Mappa Mundi: Constitution and Temperament in Homeopathy, 1998) notes:

In the human organism the fire and air make up what the ancient Greeks called the vital force (pneuma zotikon). Due to the innate heat of the fire element stored in the heart, the outer air is drawn deeply into the lungs to cool the body. These complimentary opposites produce the energy cycle of the vital force that is circulated through the arteries (fire) and the nervous system (air). The water and earth element make up the natural force (pneuma physikon) which rules from its seat in the liver, the transformation of food (earth) and drink (water). The combination of the vital force and the natural force distills the essences of the four elements which become the four humours of the body, the bile (earth), phlegm (water), blood (fire) and atrabile (air).

David Little clarifies the relationships in a symbolic geometrical design -- a Mappa Mundi deriving from the Latin tradition initiated by Empedocles (see also Misha Norland. Mappa Mundi and the Dynamics of Change: synthesis of the four elements and the four temperaments). This holds the essential teachings of Hippocrates on Constitution and Temperament (Nature) and its interaction with the environment (Nurture). The following table is a summary:

Table 8: "Internal climate"

Dry / Hot


Hot / Moist




Cold / Dry


Moist / Cold
Phlegmatic emotion

(cf other variants: Piet Guijt, 2005; H J Eysenk, 1958;
also the American Indian medicine wheel)

Of these relationships, David Little says (elsewhere):

This geometric design has eight principle areas based on the cross and its intermediate points. The cross represents the four [Pythagorean] homoeomeries, which are similar archetypal patterns that make up all phenomena. These are symbolized by the earth, water, fire and air. Ether makes up the space or dimensions in which these patterns function. For example, there are four universal forces in physics, the strong and weak nuclear forces as well as gravity and electromagnetism. In the inner universal all of our genes are made up of only four chemicals in different combinations. This is an example of the primordial homoeomeries found in the macrocosmic and microcosmic universes.

The geometric design of the Mappa of Mundi... is based on the cross and its intermediary points. This makes up eight major categories of phenomena. The cross represents earth, water, fire and air and the place where the vertical and horizontal lines meet represents the ether. The earth is dry and solid, the water is moist and fluid, the fire is hot and radiant and the air is cool and light. The ether represents space, time and consciousness. The four intermediate points represents the unique combinations of the homoeomeries that makes up the four temperaments, the choleric (dry and warm), the phlegmatic (moist and cool) the sanguine (hot and moist) and the melancholic (cold and dry).

In contrast to the lauburu, the case of the swastika (as but one cross-based equivalent), is far more complex -- despite its ancient usage around the world and the widespread current use of both variants (left-facing and right-facing) in Asian cultures (see excellent summary in Wikipedia). There is considerable confusion regarding left-facing and right-facing swastikas:

The argument here is that the systemic processes of changing climate call for an understanding of the relationship between both negentropic (life-enhancing) and entropic (life-destructive) processes -- as with the necessary relationship between anabolic and catabolic processes in the environment. In the terms of depth psychology, the confusion between the two effectively reflects the confusion in dealing with the unintegrated shadow of the individual and of humanity. The challenge is exemplified by the work of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death, 1997; Death and Denial: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 2002) [more]. It would seem to be that it is this shadow that is the challenge to be dealt with in enabling an appropriate response to climate change. An asystemic approach ensures failure -- as with empasizing "positive" to the exclusion of "negative" (cf Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge -- positive vs negative, 2005).

The superposition of contrasting symbols celebrating both life and death has been explored with respect to its culmination in the widely influential Christian cross -- combining the hope and redemptive reassurance it promises with the sacrificial suffering it recalls and implies. It is the transcendence of this polarity that constitutes a psycho-social driving force. Such sacrificial iconography of death has been compared with that of the Aztecs. Both however constitute formula for engaging and sustaining psycho-social relationships (cf How Art Made the World, BBC documentary, 6 June 2005; David Carrasco, City of Sacrifice: Violence From The Aztec Empire to the Modern Americas, 2000).

The merit of a four-fold symbol like the lauburu is that it is sufficiently rich in complexity to be used as a "systems diagram" of either:

Playfully explored, there is the possibility that a feeling for "directionality" (chirality) will emerge so as to constrain entropic (catabolic) processes where appropriate and to enhance negentropic (anabolic) processes where appropriate. The challenge is to obtain a more creative understanding of "bad weather" versus "good weather" or "winter" versus "summer" -- and to recognize the function of each.

Towards Homo conjugens -- humanity as Rosetta stone?

There is merit to a playful approach to creatively interrelating forms and functions, whether through explanations or stories -- and insightful metaphors. Like the best of the scientific method it avoids premature closure on what does fit as an explanation in anticipation of further challenges and experiments.

The argument above points to the possibility of using sophisticated tools to assist the imagination in exploring new patterns of integration that may prove to be better carriers of meaning. In avoiding closure however it also makes allowance for the possibility that personality, cultural and educational differences may incline some to favour particular explanations over others. There is therefore less emphasis on a "one-size-fits-all" explanation (and condemnation for failure to subscribe to it). The emphasis is on a challenging playful knowledge environment in which alternatives can be explored -- and possibly rediscovered after having been abandoned.

The approach advocated emphasizes the value of exploring the integration of knowledge of the "objective" climate of natural systems, the integration of knowledge of "subjective" psycho-social systems, and the ways of possibly understanding their interplay. But it is the insight, at any stage, into how they work in sustaining personal psychological significance and engagement that is stressed. This is the inteplay between the "outer game of life" with the "inner game of life" and their mutual entrainment -- a degree of self-other melding.

In a number of respects this echoes and honours the insights of indigenous knowledge -- the embedding of psycho-social reality into the external environment and the climate as carriers. This has been extensively documented (notably in : Darrell A. Posey (Editor). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, Intermediate Technology, 1999 -- for the United Nations Environment Programme). For some of shamanistic persuasion -- and active in the imagination of many -- it offers a sense of how "weather making" (eg rainmaking, windmaking) might work through a special form of engagement.

Classic tale illustrating the shamanistic perspective on the challenge of balance

A rainmaker is invited to come to a Chinese village, to bring rain -- for the village is experiencing drought. The rainmaker requests a cottage far from the village, and asks not to be disturbed. Three days later, rain and snow fall on the village. The rainmaker explains that he did not bring the rain. As he had felt immediately infected by the imbalance of the village people upon arrival, he took refuge to balance himself -- naturally balancing the outside world through that process -- and it rained.

How then does the psyche engage with external phenomena such as:

Why would it not be that humanity evokes the constraints of climate change from the environment in response to its own systemic negligence? Would this not constitute a higher order systemic corrective dynamic? In this sense is climate change not challenging humanity to think in new ways?

The focus is not just "excitement" -- as explored earlier -- as a favoured attractor in "game-play" space. The implication is that there are other less well-recognized attractors, valued in a sustinable system, perhaps indeed a set of four:

It is the development of the ability of Homo ludens to interweave these more complex game themes and strategies that will ensure the emergence of what might be termed Homo conjugens (cf Authentic Grokking: Emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003). From the perspective of Homo conjugens, humanity then functions as a form of Rosetta stone, interpreting between the systemic languages of the seasons.


The argument highlights the merit of introducing a playful element into policy-making and into the development of strategy in response to the dramatic issues faced by humanity and the planet in the immediate future. It challenges the exclusion of "playfulness", in favour of "game-playing", in the current processes of strategic innovation and the exploration of alternatives. It questions the exclusion of "play" and "humour" from directives as to what "ought" to be done -- whether in the form of strategic plans or ethical frameworks: "Governance is a no-play zone"? "Abandon all play ye who enter here"?

Essentially the argument is that "no play equals no engagement" -- at least of any sustainable form. Modern civilization is boring itself to death trying to manage change -- and indulging hedonistically in happenings (and taking drugs to compensate for its inadequacies). There is a need for radical playful reframing.

The issue is why interactive internet games (Warcraft, Civilization, Diplomacy, etc) attract high orders of participation from those alienated from conventional democratic political processes or from any particular preoccupation with the condition of the environment and its climate. Why are "serious world games" less engaging? How can playfulness be used as a carrier for higher orders of strategic insight? What is to be learnt from the participative potential of such games? How does their "communication climate" affect climate-determining behaviors?

A practical possibility (as notably suggested by Steven Johnson) is for internet game companies to open up the underlying architecture of such games. The purpose would be::

Why indeed does the United Nations not have an attractive world game from which all could learn? What of equivalents in response to the regional challenges of Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, etc? What are the possibilities of a musically-grounded game --notably for Africa? (cf Knowledge Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000)

Adapting the classic remark of Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr to physicist colleague, and Nobel Laureate, Wolfgang Pauli: "We are all agreed that the above approach is ludicrous. The question which divides us is whether it is ludicrous enough to have a chance of being useful. My own feeling is that it is not ludicrous enough."

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or dehumanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832)


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