20th May 2007 | Draft
Potential Misuse of the Conveyor Metaphor
Recognition of the circular dynamic essential to its appropriate operation
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Augmented version of arguments in Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia. To be published in an abridged form under the title Misuse of the Potential of the Conveyor Metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic essential to its operation in Journal of Futures Studies: epistemology, methods, applied and alternative futures, 12, 1, August 2007, August 2007, pp. 109-130
The "conveyor belt" is used metaphorically in the light of the common experience of people conveyors in enclosed public spaces. However the experience of such conveyors obscures important dynamic characteristics fundamental to the viability of such technology. These features may be understood as a vital enrichment of the metaphor to preclude dangerous simplifications in the dynamics of situations where the metaphor is typically applied.
In developing this argument, a comparison is made between the application of the metaphor to spiritual development, to market operation, to linear time, and to an understanding of the operation of ocean conveyors -- most notably the Gulf Stream. In all these cases the impoverishment of the metaphor, as currently used, fails to reinforce an understanding of a vital circular dynamic (with its necessary transformative "twists"). These may be essential to more insightful strategic responses to situations, such as the drugs trade or population dynamics, where the metaphor may typically be used as a simplistic explanatory device -- reinforcing articulation of simplistic strategies.
The following critique of the "conveyor" metaphor is in the spirit of the extensive analysis by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 1980) of the implicit cognitive framing associated with common use of the "container" and "conduit" metaphors.
Spirituality: a startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern
world, Shambhala, 2006) has
a widely referenced key chapter on "The Conveyor Belt". It focuses on
the role of the traditional religions as a sacred "conveyor belt" to
move people through all the stages of psychospiritual development --
a developmental conveyor belt. Wilber sees it as "quite
possibly, the single greatest problem facing the world... fixing this problem, if there is a fix, would
provide a startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern
(12 June 2006).
This example highlights the tendency to use the metaphor to illustrate "one-way", "one-sided" movement -- a developmental conveyor belt in Wilber's case. It is then assumed that those on any such people conveyor may well be unaware of the necessarily hidden reverse motion -- and that this lack of awareness is of no significance. Otherwise explored, such "unconsciousness" is the subject of a study by John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995). This suggests that the use of the metaphor typically exemplifies such unconsciousness, as illustrated by other issues:
Such examples illustrate the ease with which the conveyor belt metaphor is used to reinforce a pattern of dangerous "one-way", "one-sided" thinking.
One interesting contrast to such thinking is explored by Ilia Bider (New Logistics for Administrative/Business Processes):
The challenge of the information society to "conveyor belt" thinking is more generally made by Doc Searls (The Real Meaning of Markets, Linux Journal, February 2000), citing Alvin Toffler (The Third Wave, 1980) on how industry drove an "invisible wedge" between production and consumption. By rending the two, this wedge "ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension, social conflict and psychological malaise.''
Although Searls acknowledges that in the Industrial Age, these metaphors made perfect sense, that age is now ending (cf Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998; Sustainable Internet Penetration of Rural Areas: reframing the global challenge of the digital divide through fruitful local metaphors, 2003). However, within the emerging information society, Searls argues that the Internet is not just a way to ship content (as notably implied by the discredited conveyor belt theory of communication). It is the new agora. It restores markets to what they were in the first place: settings where people can meet and talk about "Stuff that Matters". This reframing of place challenges the socio-economic pattern of understanding associated with one-way conveyors and the linear thinking they reinforce.
Curiously a review in the The American Review of Public Administration of the study by Philip B. Heymann (The Politics of Public Management, 1987) already noted that:
Curiously a form of non-linearity was in fact associated with some conveyor belts from the beginning of the industrial revolution. As discussed elsewhere (Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia, 2007), where the metaphor is used to illustrate the transfer between two different domains, whether physical or otherwise, it may incorporate a twist into the belt to ensure equal wear on both sides (as with car fan belts, until recently). Notably where the domains are epistemological, such a twist in the feedback loop between domains highlights their fundamental distinction through an apparent discontinuity. The challenge of any such a twist is discussed elsewhere (Engaging with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of twistedness, 2004; Twistedness in Psycho-social Systems: challenge to logic, morality, leadership and personal development, 2004).
The operation of such a twist, and the challenge to comprehension, has been remarkably well depicted in the work of the artist M C Escher, specifically with respect to the Möbius strip, but more generally as discussed in relation to enantiodromia.
Of particular interest is the possibility of understanding the "cognitive twist" in terms of the adaptive cycle of complex systems. Many helpful images of this are available on the web in two and three dimensions. One example is shown below.
It might be argued that it is in the deliberate association of Wilber's
approach with the spiral sequence of vMemes in Spiral Dynamics that a form
of 'twist' is recognized. This however presupposes recognition
of that sequence as being itself a form of one-way conveyor - albeit
spiral. Curiously, in arguing for the fundamental nature of spirals, notably
by comparison with DNA, the originators of this approach appear to avoid discussion
of the coiling whereby the DNA coils upon itself without any 'loose ends',
except when in the 'unzipped' mode associated with reproduction
(Don Beck and Chris Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, 1996) (cf DNA Supercoiling
as a Pattern for Understanding Psycho-social Twistedness, 2004).
The "conveyor belt" metaphor is commonly employed with respect to movement of tectonic plates over the Earth's magma. It is also employed by meteorologists with regard to the jet stream as a high-altitude "river" of fast-moving air acting as a conveyor belt for storms [more]. The metaphor is also employed with respect to the manner whereby space "weather" is brought to the planet by solar wind [more] and to the manner in which sunspots are moved across the surface of the sun prior to erupting into solar storms [more].
The fundamental distinction from conventional "linear" thinking is however exemplified by the contrast between the "Gulf Stream" (readily described and understood as a two-dimensional "one-way" process) and the complex three-dimensional thermohaline circulation of which it is part. This is otherwise described as the great ocean conveyor belt, the global conveyor belt, or, most commonly, the meridional overturning circulation -- complete with complex three-dimensional "twists".
This complex non-linear movement is to be contrasted with the dangerous "linearity" of Ken Wilber's presentation of a "one-way" spiritual "conveyor belt".
The global oceanic conveyor belt in fact offers a remarkable model (and a symbol of requisite complexity) of the cyclic nature of what Wilber's spiritual conveyor ought to be. This is a collective global analogue to the cycle in a Chinese text T'ai I Chin Hua Tsung Chih (The Secret of the Golden Flower) -- more recently translated by Thomas Cleary (1991) [Note also an online variant translated by Walter Picca in 1964]. The question is why should a mechanical device of the industrial revolution be considered the most imaginative metaphor of spiritual development? Why should an appropriate metaphor not have non-linear qualities to be of requisitely imaginative complexity?
Ironically, whilst Wilber stresses the vital significance of enabling the spiritual conveyor, considerable concern is expressed in parallel at the possibility of an abrupt stopping of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation as a consequence of climate change. There is concern that the disruption of this conveyor system through global warming may inexorably lead to to a new Ice Age. As cycles both are however a challenge to comprehension. Especially intriguing as a complex model (like Table 1), the ocean conveyor belt reconciles several transformations between different forms of "positive" and "negative" (temperature, density, salinity). It is therefore not inappropriate to associate the foreseen sudden disruption to that global conveyor to intuitions of a spiritual Armageddon (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004).
The paternoster lift is an interesting example of a conveyor in which its cyclic form is fairly obvious to anyone transported by it -- moving slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. The name derived from its resemblance to the the loop of rosary beads constituting a mnemonic aid to recitation of the Pater Noster prayer.
Curiously, despite conceptions to the contrary, the lift allowed for the possibility of passengers staying in an upgoing cabin after it had reached the top floor or in a downgoing one after it had passed the ground floor level. Clearly an alternative design would have the floor of each segment "going up" becoming the ceiling "coming down" -- emphasizing a sense of cognitive "twist" with the radical change of orientation. The Lord's Prayer would then indeed be appropriate when endeavouring such transitions! (cf Designing Cultural Rosaries and Meaning Malas to Sustain Associations within the Pattern that Connects, 2000)
A caterpillar tractor (or tractor crawler) is a vehicle using tracks instead of wheels. Again the dependence on the continuous movement of the track is obvious. Curiously such tracked vehicles have been basic to development of the military tank -- raising the possibility of unfortunate metaphorical associations to the tracking functions of think tanks ("Tank-thoughts" from "Think-tanks": metaphors constraining development of global governance, 2003)
The conveyor belt metaphor is also applied in relation to education (Stephen Gorard, Gareth Rees, Neil Selwyn, The 'Conveyor Belt Effect': a re-assessment of the impact of national targets for lifelong learning, Oxford Review of Education, 2002). Use of the metaphor has been challenged:
More generally, in the light of the above criticism of the "shipping" model of marketing, it may be asked whether "delivery of development" is also inappropriately conceived within a conveyor belt metaphor (cf A.-M.S. Moore and D W Chapman, Dilemmas in the Delivery of Development Assistance, International Journal of Educational Development, 23, 5, September 2003)
Citing Edward Hall (The Dance of Life, 1983), Steve Randall (Linear Time--the Cultural 'Norm', 1996) points out that:
He argues that in this view:
The use of the conveyor belt metaphor in relation to time has been explored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, noting that time may be understood as a line or space moving past the observer like a conveyor belt or stream.
Elsewhere Randall explores other views of time (Linear vs. Timeless Views, The Qualities of Deadline Pressure Scenarios, How Our Sense of Time Flow is Created). The implications for thinking of the container metaphor have been extensively studied.
Most problems faced by humanity and the planet are exacerbated by the ever-increasing world population of humans. It is therefore useful to explore implications of any oversimplified use of the conveyor metaphor with respect to population dynamics.
Population dynamics is now studied in terms of "conveyor belt theory" (H.A. de Gans, Population Forecasting 1895-1945: the transition to modernity, 1999). G. F. Oster (A Simple Analog for Teaching Demographic Concepts, BioScience, 1974) suggested that the population analog whereby the conveyor belt advances according to the growth rate, so that distance along the belt corresponds to chronological (or physiological) age.
A commentary on World Population Growth - Solutions to Overpopulation (2005) frames the challenge as follows:
More generally the conveyor metaphor has been used by the World Resources Institute with regard to the movement of species around the globe (A Biological Conveyor Belt, 1998)
Curiously, despite an explicit systems perspective, another example is the application of the Vensim modelling package to Material in Conveyors -- then extended to population dynamics (Population Example with Conveyors). Vensim (produced by Ventana Systems, Inc) is used for constructing models of business, scientific, environmental, and social systems. The population dynamics are framed as a one-way system.
With or without the collapse of the ocean conveyor, it would appear that current thinking regarding population dynamics could be construed as a conveyor belt approach to the movement of the population towards Armageddon -- whether inadvertently or deliberately to ensure early fulfillment of various scriptural prophecies, as noted above (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004).
Use of the conveyor metaphor for population dynamics neatly models the nature of the predicted collapse of the population when it overshoots the planetary resources necessary to sustain its continuing expansion. The biological phenomenon of "population overshoot" is used by ecologists to describe a species, as with humans, whose numbers exceed the ecological carrying capacity of the place where it lives (David M. Delaney, Overshoot in a nutshell (Malthus was an optimist), 30 Sep 2003) [more more]. This is well-modelled by belt conveyors delivering mineral ore to a dump -- dropping off the ore at the end of the upward movement of the belt.
As typically understood, the conveyor metaphor is therefore to be seen as faithfully delivering species to the point of overshoot for that population -- the form of collapse identified for humans by Jared Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005). Presumably the conveyor is then to be understood as taking delivery of the next species eventually to emerge as dominant.
Presented as a linear "one-way", "one-side" experience, a conveyor is relatively easy to understand -- even though some may hesitate to be transported by one (however unknowingly this may be so in terms of some demographic applications of a "conveyor belt theory"). As a complex cycle in three-dimensions, there is however a real challenge to understanding the physical movement -- even in the case of the Gulf Stream, let alone the more complex global ocean conveyor of which it is but a part.
The challenge to comprehension may be usefully illustrated by the light provided by a light bulb. Typically understood as "positive", light is contrasted with darkness stigmatized as "negative". And yet it is at the junction of two wires (often a twisted, resistant filament), typically recognized as "positive" and "negative" (especially in the case of direct current), that light is generated. In this case "light" is assimilated incorrectly with "positive", ignoring the role of "negative" in its generation (Being Positive and Avoiding Negativity: Management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005). It is quite problematic to describe electricity as being "conveyed" from A to B; as is widely understood, the process is more correctly described as one of "creating a circuit" linking A and B. Similarly the function of the "one-way" "one-sided" conveyor is incorrectly comprehended in terms of its "positive" movement in the recognized direction of travel, failing to recognize the return movement necessary to sustain the process.
An interesting comparison may perhaps be made with comprehending, and then practicing, the special circular breathing technique whereby the didjeridoo is played -- continuously vibrating lips to produce the drone. This requires breathing in through the nose whilst simultaneously expelling air out of the mouth using the tongue and cheeks -- exemplifying the challenge of a "cognitive twist". By use of this technique, a skilled player can replenish the air in his lungs, and with practice can sustain a note for as long as desired.
Chogyam Trungpa (Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, 1973) might also then be understood as offering a Buddhist challenge to any spirituality treated as on the same surface of any "conveyor belt", rather than calling for a different quality of insight that interrelates the illusory distinction between materialism and such spirituality -- as in the cyclic dynamic through the twists of the Möbius belt:
With the Möbius strip as a model (as discussed in Psychosocial Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia, 2007), the Buddhist emphasis on "not-grasping" and "letting-go" might then be understood as one of avoiding attachment to a particular perspective on any apparent distinctions between two sides. As illusions, the "two sides" are "not as they seem, nor are they otherwise." (Mahayana Lankavatara Sutra).
As the Möbius topology makes clear, the "enlightened" view, whether with respect to spirituality or the ocean conveyor, simply calls for recognizing the apparent distinction in the moment without projecting all the cognitive overlay of self and other, beginning and end, subject and object and all the deep seated emotional attachment that gives rise to and follows from such categories. Such distinctions obscure recognition of the cycle through which such understandings are linked. The cycle is as significant in the case of the ocean conveyor, the spiritual conveyor, or that of the Golden Flower. Curiously, the apparent termination of the Gulf Stream can be understood in the light of any Klein bottle modelling of "engulfing" (as discussed in Table 4 with respect to the mystical relation to God).
Descriptions in Hinduism of the operation of the sushumna (in Buddhism called avadhuti; in Chinese medicine as meridian) as the central channel or nadi linking the chakras of the subtle body, and representing non-dual wisdom, may make fruitful use of the conveyor metaphor as illustrated by Silvia Hartmann (Thought Flow Technique Instructions, 2003):
Given the association of a spiritual conveyor with the ocean conveyor, it is interesting to note a central theme of Jorge N Ferrer (Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: a participatory vision of human spirituality, 2002) in revisiting the metaphor central to many spiritual traditions whereby most such traditions, as rivers, lead to the same ocean. This metaphor does of course raise the question, as with the conveyor metaphor, of how the "water" got into the "river" and how it eventually gets back there.
Frequently citing Wilber, he argues, however :
This participatory vision is consistent with mystical experience such as "engulfing". It is however appropriate to challenge this metaphorical understanding of an "ocean" bounded statically by distinct "shores" with the emphasis above on the metaphor of an ocean conveyor in which the different spiritual traditions variously interweave dynamically as "currents" -- made distinct by the twisting transformations between them around the globe. It is this dynamic which is essential to Ferrer's "genuine spiritual inquiry".
This switch in perspective from static to dynamic -- with an emphasis on flow -- has been well-articulated by Edward de Bono (I Am Right-You Are Wrong: from Rock Logic to Water Logic, 1991). It has been an important theme since the work of Alfred North Whitehead (Process and Reality: an essay in cosmology, 1929) and Nicholas Rescher (Process Metaphysics: an introduction to process philosophy, 1995), as exemplified by Michel Weber (After Whitehead: Rescher on Process, 2004).
The possible application of such a metaphor to religion is reinforced by the arguments of Harry Cleaver (Deep Currents Rising: some notes on the global challenge to capitalism. University of Texas, 2006) who introduces, as follows, a remarkably extensive discussion of the metaphor of ocean currents to understanding socio-political movements:
If religions are to be distinguished dynamically in some way -- in the spirit of process thinking -- what then are required as parameters that function as "drivers" for "religious currents" as they weave around the world? The parameters are perhaps those analogous to temperature, density and salinity -- which have all been used as metaphors in distinguishing religions. To what degree can interfaith relations then be modelled by thermohaline circulation?
Beyond his gross comparison of the main religions, potentially to be understood as parts of the "global conveyor", there are of course the many variants -- perhaps to be understood as "eddy currents" with special "geographic" characteristics.
Another point of departure, in the light of Galtung's insight, is that of Geert Hofstede (Culture's Consequences: international differences in work-related values, 1980; Cultures and Organizations: software of the mind -- intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival, 1996; Culture's Consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations, 2003).
Hofstede distinguishes cultures in terms of five indexes: Power Distance Index (PDI), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Masculinity index (MAS), Individualism (IDV), Long-Term Orientation (LTO). In preparation for the Parliament of the World's Religions (Chicago, 1993), these were used to explore possible implications for dialogue between religions (Facilitation in a Cross-cultural Environment, 1993). Subsequently the Sigma Two Group developed graphs and charts (Geert Hofstede Dimensions by Predominant Religion, 2003) that help to focus further exploration.
When associated with religions, value differences, whether identified by Hofstede's indicators, as value polarities by the Human Values Project, or through the World Values Survey, would also provide a more dynamic sense of:
Hofstede's indicators may come closest to providing a correspondence to the drivers of the ocean currents within the global ocean conveyor. Ocean currents (see checklist) are generated from the forces acting upon the water like the earth's rotation, the wind, the temperature and salinity differences and the gravitation of the moon.
It is intriguing to note that whereas the individual ocean currents may indeed be distinguished (as part of the global conveyor), the claim by their religious analogues to global universality is then comprehensible and justified -- understood in terms of their participation in a continuous circumterran flow.
It is appropriate to note the degree to which such an understanding is in sympathy with traditional mythological insights such as:
These have been reviewed from an indigenous perspective by Jeremy Narby (The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge, 1999). Any such sense of "coiling" is of course consistent with the perception that argument regarding the spiritual dimension is "convoluted".
It is worth reflecting on the tendency to represent the set of religions as a simple checklist, a set of cells in a simple matrix (Galtung), data points in a cartesian coordinate system (Hofstede) -- or symbolically garbed speakers suitably configured at an interfaith gathering.
There is a case for considering their representation as (surface) area charts, with overlapping commonalities, or as (non-linear) vectors. The latter come closest to any correspondence with a mapping of meandering ocean currents on a spherical surface -- ignoring the need for any topological continuity between vectors at different levels through the ocean depths. Further possibilities follow from research on illustration of ocean currents such as that of Matthew Quinn (Automatic Illustration of Ocean Currents, 2005) which notably sought an aesthetic and demonstrative quality in three dimensions through the use of geometrical objects called super-streamlines, smoothing their shape, and rendering them as a series of variable-width ribbons or tubes.
Potentially of even greater interest is to benefit from sophisticated simulation and modelling systems used to simulate the dynamics of ocean currents and offer interactive visualizations of the output as with the MayaVi Data Visualizer application (Karen Osmond, Final Report: Parallel Interactive Scalable Visualisation of Ocean Currents, 2005). The challenges of such modelling have resulted in the generation of compact virtual reality models from the necessary supercomputers (cf Albert J. Hermann, et al. Serving 3-D Rendered Graphics of Ocean Model Output using LAS and VTK).
Also of interest are mathematical insights into multidimensional currents -- potentially offering the requisite complexity to transform the static territoriality (typical of conflict between religions) into a dynamic form capable of honouring their respective identities more appropriately (And When the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000). A toroidal meandering ocean conveyor, or a coiled Rainbow Serpent, may offer the most comprehensible approximation in three dimensions.
To the extent that religion is a cognitive challenge in recursive self-reflexivity, it is appropriate to note the insightful summary of Donald H. McNeil (What's Going on with the Topology of Recursion? S.E.E.D. Journal: Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, and Development, 4, 1, 2004). This highlights the fundamental representational role of the torus beyond that of the sphere. Topologically the torus as commonly known is described as a 1-torus. The 0-torus -- of lesser complexity -- is the commonly known sphere. Other more complex constructs, such as the hypersphere, of potentially greater relevance are explored (J. Gratus, A noncommutative geometric analysis of a sphere-torus topology change, Journal of Geometry and Physics, 49, 2, February 2004; Douglas DeCarlo and Jean Gallier, Topological Evolution of Surfaces, Graphics Interface, 1996; Erica Klarreich, If It Looks Like a Sphere.., Science News, 14 June 2003; Thomas S. Briggs, Exploring Hyperspace with the Geometric Product; Jeff Fuquay, Visualizing the Hypersphere)
As with any mandala-like construct (including the logo on this page), Wilber's basic four-quadrant set of concentric circles (AQAL) might then be an intuitive understanding of the view along the axis of a torus through which the flow of such "cognitive plasma" is magnetically centred and contained - through meditative disciplines focusing attention. It might even be argued that the cutaway 3D representation of the AQAL system as concentric spheres -- used as the logo of Wilber's Integral Encyclopedia Wiki -- obscures operational insights analogous to those requiring a toroidal (rather than a spherical) "vessel" for successful nuclear fusion. As a context, a torus can sustain a cyclic operation in time, whereas a sphere can only do so momentarily, in principle, or "outside time" (cf Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006).
The experiential quality of movement along the axis of the toroidal "ocean conveyor" may well resonate with what has been ambiguously translated as the Gateless Gate -- whose nature is indicated through a classic collection of 48 Zen koans (Mumonkan; Wumenguan) and their many commentaries. As with the circular movement of plasma in a fusion reactor, or around a particle accelerator, the issues of concentration are challenging and resist description in logical terms, as this quotation from the preface by the compiler Mumon (or Wumen) indicates:
Whether the focusing ("magnetic") constraints are a single polarity, or a configuration of multiple polarities, the ambiguous nature of experience of them is well-indicated by effort to move a metal object between two magnetized pillars. The capacity to do so is then well-indicated by the ability to "walk freely between heaven and hell" (between "positive" and "negative" forces) or other variant translations. As with toroidal particle accelerators, a particle is only to be understood as "conveyed" along this path in a most limited sense that obscures the nature of their operation.
This speculative exercise follows from earlier concerns (The Territory Construed as the Map: in search of radical design innovations in the representation of human activities and their relationships, In: Forms of Presentation and the Future of Comprehension, 1984).
For the purposes of a very simplistic initial exploration -- necessarily speculative -- some of the elements noted above could be used to associate religions with distinct ocean currents forming part of the Great Ocean Conveyor. Key features that may serve in this respect are:
A relevant binary contrast between different religious styles has been made in fictionalized form by Nobel Laureate Hermann Hesse (Narcissus and Goldmund, 1930). A very useful effort to compare and distinguish many religions succinctly, notably those of East and West, has been made by the Himalayan Academy (Truth is One, Paths are Many) -- originally presented at the Parliament of the World's Religions (1993).
Following from Galtung's longitudinal distinctions (above), a case might be made for a 4-quadrant polar view of the globe as follows:
Subtler distinctions of this kind might be made in terms of Wilber's AQAL, Magoroh Maruyama's mindscapes, or others (Systems of Categories Distinguishing Cultural Biases, 1993). One such, of relevance to Galtung's geographical approach (Richard E Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: how Asians and Westerners think differently...and why, 2003), argues that:
In exploring the implications of Ferrer's "Ocean of Emancipation", it is appropriate to note the extent to which it may be associated with with widespread reports of an "oceanic feeling" by mystics and users of psychedelic drugs. Since Sigmund Freud (The Future of an Illusion, 1927), the experience of an "oceanic feeling" has been well-recognized by psychoanalysis (cf Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Oceanic Feeling: the origins of religious sentiment in Ancient India, 1980; Jon Mills. The Ontology of Religiosity: the oceanic feeling and the value of the lived experience. Religious Humanism, 1999; William B Parsons. The Enigma of Oceanic Feeling: revisioning the psychoanalytic theory of mysticism, 1999; Mark Epstein, Beyond the Oceanic Feeling: psychoanalytic Study of Buddhist meditation, International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1990). But are there "currents" of feeling within such "oceanic feeling", as intimated by David S. Miall (Feelings in literary response, REDES, 2004) with reference to catharsis -- or is it currents of meaning, curiously invoking the dimension of time through shiting patterns of "current opinion"?
Such reports point to the strengths and weaknesses of particular languages and epistemological frameworks in representing this understanding meaningfully. On this point, and in addition to the above author's, the work on a biocultural paradigm merits attention (Maria M Colavito. The Heresy of Oedipus and the Mind/Mind Split: a study of the biocultural origins of civilization, 1995; Antonio T de Nicolas, Religion: the last weapon of discrimination and the bio-cultural corrective, 2007; Neurobiology, Communities, Religion: a bio-cultural study, 1998). This is valuable, whether in terms of the challenging interplay of five modules of the human brain or of the need for distinct, but complementary, languages to order experience of richer significance (12 Complementary Languages for Sustainable Governance, 2003). Particularly relevant to any ocean metaphor is the challenging fluidity through which the neural networks associated with distinct brain modules must necessarily be employed.
This fluidity is well illustrated by the interplay of the distinct instruments in a musical quartette or in an improvising jazz group. Each instrument may indeed complement or reinforce the other in some way -- achieving the depth of perspective recognized by Maruyama's advocacy of "polyocular vision". It may also challenge and undermine the other's mode of expression by introducing an alternative beyond the scope of the others -- especially that whose expression is currently dominant.
Any such framework raises interesting questions about how meaning is "conveyed through a complex musical work. The phases in the movement of the ocean conveyor -- its currents -- might then be frutifully copmpared to the complexities of the "movements" of such a work -- and the manner in which it constitutes a totality. Composers might be encouraged to represent the ocean conveyor in this way to enable wider comprehension (cf A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006).
In particular, the pattern as a whole might be nested (recursively) within each cell of the above table. The distribution of quadrants is reminiscent of the quadrilemma of Kinhide Mushakoji (Global Issues and Interparadigmatic Dialogue, 1988) especially in the light of his In Search of a Theory of Cycles; for a transfinite mathematical treatment of recurrence in social and natural processes (1988). Systemically, as complementary categories, the approach is also consistent with explorations in Cardioid Attractor Fundamental to Sustainability: 8 transactional games forming the heart of sustainable relationship (2005). This points to the nature of a non-dualistic integrating process -- modelled by the global conveyor -- through which such modes are interrelated, and potentially characteristic of complex adaptive systems (Psycho-social Significance of the Mandelbrot Set: a sustainable boundary between chaos and order, 2005).
Another possible approach is to focus on the development over historical time of one religion from another, through schismatic processes -- to be modelled either by branching ocean currents, or by changes in "density" ("temperature" and/or "salinity") resulting in a degree of fundamentalism ("deep water formation"). The global ocean conveyor in this sense functions more like a "standing wave".
A related approach would be to assume that the emergence of new spiritual understanding in an individual depends not only on any initial religious education but to some degree on movement along the succession of developmental phases of religions as modelled by a "global ocean conveyor". As noted by Greg Whitlock (Digging into Science: archaeoastronomy in a multicultural science curriculum, Mercury, July/August 1995):
More powerful support for an approach of this kind, in the light of process philosophy (mentioned above), is offered by Jason W. Brown (Foundations of Cognitive Metaphysics, Process Studies, 21:1-2, Spring-Summer, 1998) in terms of microgenetic theory:
To the extent that the adaptive cycle fundamental to complex systems (illustrated earlier) offers an approach to the relationship between the religions, it would be interesting to explore how the various religions might be distinguished in terms of the three dimensions within which it is mapped: connectedness, potential and resilience. Are they each in some way characteristic of some part of the cycle as might be inferred from discussions of resilience in social systems by Nick Abel, et al (Collapse and Reorganization in Social-Ecological Systems: questions, some ideas, and policy implications. Ecology and Society, 2006, 1) and from Lance H. Gunderson and C.S. Hollinget al. (Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems, 2002):
Panarchy has been proposed as a useful way of thinking about cross-scale dynamics in complex adaptive systems. Based on that work, Brian Weeks, Marko Antonio Rodriguez and J.H. Blakeslee (Panarchy: Complexity and Regime Change in Human Societies, Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School Proceedings - August 2004), investigate processes of socio-political change (including reference to religion) in light of the adaptive cycle and its four phases:
Reinforcing the above argument for the potential value of the relationship between the ocean conveyor and the set of relgions, the authors conclude:
Are particular religions -- or phases of religious insight -- to be considered as more closely associated with particular phases of the adaptive cycle?
It is appropriate to note that the largest circulating "conveyor belt", the so-called Great Conveyor Belt, is a massive circulating current of fire (hot plasma) within the Sun. It has slowed to its lowest point in many years. It has two branches, north and south, each taking about 40 years to perform one complete circuit. Researchers believe the turning of the belt controls the sunspot cycle, and that is why the slowdown is important (Tony Phillips, Long Range Solar Forecast, NASA, 5.10.2006) [more].
Whereas there is a clear cyclic sense in this movement of plasma, on an even larger scale Sylvain Veilleux, et al (Colossal Galactic Explosions, Scientific American, 1998) might be understood to raise the question of the remaining part of the conveyor belt cycle in the following extreme case:
However plasma does indeed offer an accessible way of understanding the pattern of circular continuity of process through many phases. For example, a 'conveyor belt' effect is also well known in accelerator storage rings [more | more]. But it is appropriate to note the importance to current research on controlled nuclear fusion of the oscillation of a so-called plasma "snake" or "serpent" in reactors. A new self-regulated plasma state, fundamental to "global energy confinement", has recently been named the "Serpens mode" (J Miyazawa, et al. Self-sustained detachment in the Large Helical Device, Nuclear Fusion, 46, 2006, 5). Given the focus on toroidal confinement of plasma in tokamaks -- as the key to controlled continuous nuclear fusion -- clearly such a plasma snake can be usefully understood as "biting its tail" (when appropriately contained) . In such environments, the role of plasma as an energy carrier -- a carrier wave -- is increasingly understood as essential to the fusion process.
The relevance of such research to more fundamental integrative thinking -- any "global awakening" as envisaged by religions -- has been explored with respect to the possibility of cognitive fusion (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8), 2006; Cognitive Fusion through Myth and Symbol Making: archetypal dimensions, 2006). The challenge of managing plasma is there seen as modelling the challenge of enhanced management of attention -- whether individually or collectively.
There is an opportunity to transform the sense of being on a mechanical conveyor through time by a recognition of how time may be expressed in the associated cyclic flow. An existential time-binding sense (beyond that proposed in general semantics) is exemplified by the classic quote of T S Eliot (Little Gidding, 1942):
We shall not cease from exploration
This accords with the sense of return exemplified by the Ouroboros "biting its tail" -- as with the ocean conveyor. It points to the possibility of being in the moment rather than dependent for a sense of identity on being transported onward "elsewhere" and "elsewhen" (Julian Wolfreys, The Reiterable Circularity of Being: poetics, selfhood, and the singular witness that is "I", Parrhesia, 2, 2007; Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004; Hyperspace Clues to the Psychology of the Pattern that Connects, 2003). The dynamic of the Gateless Gate, which a hypersphere may be used to represent (see model), may then be understood as collapsing intensively into the moment (as a standing wave) the flow of attention otherwise conveyed extensively through some form of toroidal "cognitive reactor" (Thomas S. Briggs, Exploring Hyperspace with the Geometric Product; Jeff, Fuquay, Visualizing the Hypersphere).
Of great potential collective significance is the reframing the "conveyor" then offers to any special sense of "return", especially a "right of return". This of course applies to displaced populations ("indigenous", Palestinians, Jews, etc), to any return to family (the archetype of the "prodigal son"), to community, or to a belief in God. It points to more profound significance conflating various understandings of "reclaiming one's heritage", reproduction, restitution, reparation, rebirth, karmic reincarnation, and at-one-ment.
Such intuitive understanding is a powerful psychosocial driving force when fundamental to religious ecstasy experienced by mystics (Parabola, 23, 1998, 2). It is especially well-modelled as a form of plasma-like "cognitive fusion", transcending space and time, as exemplified in Jewish mysticism by the exceptional experience of hitlahavut (Martin Buber, The Goblet of Grace: Hitlahavut as the key to life. Parabola, 23, 1998, 2). This is variously translated as the burning ardour of ecstasy, spiritual enthusiasm or passion -- namely an inner spark or flame through which the meaning of life is unlocked, embracing God beyond time and space. It might be said to correspond to the Christian understanding of rapture and the ecstasy of Islam as articulated by its Sufi mystics To the extent that the central importance of such a dynamic experience implies a cyclic process of "return", it is clear that simplistic understandings of it may drive socio-political processes that do not honour its transcendental nature.
Intriguingly the molecular dynamics of protein folding are now rendered comprehensible through simulation on a hypersphere -- suggesting the merit of its use for the equally fundamental psychosocial dynamics explored by Julian Wolfreys with respect to the "reiterable circularity of being", neatly modelled by the circular breathing required for the didjeridoo (as noted above). Hence the arguments for Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8) (2006). Furthermore, to the extent that "dark matter" is in any way to be considered as symbolic of "godlessness" or "negativity", it has been suggested that comprehension of the universe in terms of a 4-dimensional hypersphere results in its elimination (Jose B. Almeida, An Hypersphere Model of the Universe: the dismissal of dark matter, 2004).
A sense of sustainable "right of return" is also offered in the contrast between finite and infinite games made by James P. Carse (Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986). Discussion of the Philosophical Implications of the Theory of Everything (2007) includes reference to the necessary flexibility of movement implied by such infinite games on a hypersphere and by the Ouroboros mythologies that privilege an understanding of the Universe as "existing" in a state of "Absolute Being". This is then considered as being "acceptable as a counterpoint to the predefined concept of a non-existent state of 'Absolute Nothing'" -- with "Whether a Creator is implicitly part of the Creation can be left to further discussion".
Especially interesting, however, is the emphasis placed in Buddhism (cf The Itivuttaka; the Buddha's sayings) on "non-returning" in contrast with the pattern of "returning". The latter is sustained by the processes of greed, hate, delusion, anger, contempt and conceit -- with which many other religions are also concerned (Navigating Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms through movement, 2002). The "pathological" self-referential "return" engendered by these processes can be understood as fundamental to sustaining the illusory nature of identity -- arising from what is effectively an "identity conveyor" of low dimensionality -- that Buddhism in particular seeks to transcend.
The role of language and religion has been recognized as a collective "identity conveyor" prior to this being primarily associated with the geographical boundaries of the nation state -- still supported, however, by extensive use of symbolism (see Matteo Ionta, Nation Building: a literature review, in: Regional Media and Identity in Sardinia, 2006, ch II.4). Whilst conventional architecture is also recognized as an important "conveyor of identity" (Carmen Popescu, Space, Time: Identity, National Identities, 8, 3, September 2006), it is appropriate to ask what role knowledge architecture (on the web) may come to perform in this respect (cf Joseph Nechtval, Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances: a study of the affinity between artisitic ideologies based in virtual reality and previous immersive idioms, 1999).
Establishing and sustaining identity may also be seen in the light of game-playing. Framing relationships as the capacity to"convey" bombs or terror to another country loses sight of the degree to which this necessarily evokes a right of return -- recognized in competition and game theory as a "return match". Unfortuinately this "one-way" relationship mindset has been replicated in the "bullet points" defining programmes of every kind, even when understood as in the best interests of the "targets" (Missiles, Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: Navigation of strategic interfaces in multidimensional knowledge space, 2001; Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998).
Daniel Goleman (Social Intelligence: the new science of human relationships, 2006) summarizes a wide range of research on social neuroscience indicative of the manner in which identity is established and sustained by cyclic psychosocial processes. Whereas the circulatory system is a closed loop, the emotions are an open loop system sustained by cognitive processes that allow others to help manage individual emotions more appropriately. Goleman uses the term "looping", which readily recalls the anxiety that people may feel to be "kept in the loop". Empathy creates a feedback loop as people work towards a "fit" between their own perceptions and the reality of another -- such that looping enables a person to feel within themselves the distress expressed by another. On the other hand, looping too tightly -- excessive mutual entrainment -- can be experienced as suffocating in a relationship. He distinguishes between "positive" and "negative" (or toxic) loops.
In generic terms, the challenge would appear to be that of distinguishing between cyclic processes fundamental to necessary concentration (to achieve cognitive fusion and control of the "serpent" through "tail-biting") and the ability to "walk freely between heaven and hell" associated with the Gateless Gate (above). If an understanding of nuclear fusion is currently dependent on a Standard Model of particle physics recognizing 6 "flavours" of leptons and of quarks -- of which one is termed "charm" -- perhaps useful insights into the dynamics of the 6 fundamental processes of the "standard model" of religions ("greed", "hate", etc) might benefit from an analogous clarifying formalism in order to facilitate "cognitive fusion" (cf Towards a logico-mathematical formalization of "sin": fundamental memetic organization of faith-based governance strategies, 2004).
The distinction to be made might then be caricatured as between a "right of return" arising from misplaced concreteness and one which does not lend itself to description. Some formal insights into the geometry by which the dynamics of such comprehension and communication are constrained are helpfully provided in terms of q-analysis by Ron Atkin (Multidimensional Man; can man live in 3-dimensional space? 1981). A review of the relevance of such insights to an understanding of the psychology of operating in complex communication spaces is given separately (Comprehension: social organization determined by incommunicability of insights). Peter Jackson explores their relevance to education (The Geometry of Intention: values in the creation of curriculae).
The relevance of a toroidal representation of these contrasting dynamics is also discussed elsewhere (Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006. This includes a virtual reality model (below) clarifying the intimate relationship between:
These patterns suggest a possible relationship to those discussed earlier (Present Moment Research: exploration of nowness --Presenting the Future, part 5, 2001) in relation to Francisco Varela's analysis of a central 3-fold relationship (The Gesture of Awareness, 1999) [see also Claus Otto Scharmer. Three Gestures of Becoming Aware: Conversation with Francisco Varela January 12, 2000]. He proposes a 3-fold cycle at the core of the act of becoming aware in the moment : "an initial phase of suspension of habitual thought and judgement, followed by a phase of conversion of attention from 'the exterior' to 'the interior', ending with a phase of letting-go or of receptivity towards the experience." (see below). Varela sees the phenomenological epoché as "the ensemble of these three organically linked phases", for the simple reason that the second and third are always reactivated by, and reactivate, the first. He provides a valuable discussion of the three interlinked cycles and the obstacles traditionally recognized to some of their processes. Borromean rings (notably of significance to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan) and one traditional Celtic pattern may also be understood as ways of representing in two dimensions any such intuitive understanding of a multi-dimensional process..
Kenneth Boulding (Ecodynamics; a new theory of societal evolution. Sage, 1978) helpfully cautions against rejecting such metaphors in the following terms:
The above argument would appear to be undermined in interesting ways by the operation of the screw conveyor (or Archimedean screw) that has been used for transferring water from a low-lying body of water into irrigation ditches (see animations). As a screw conveyor within a tube, material at one end is delivered to the other through rotation of the screw. Most screw conveyers currently in use have a single blade, while modern Archimedes screws typically have two or three blades.
The process of "return" discussed above is seemingly absent from this form of conveyor. Interestingly the spiral staircase is one favoured adaptation of the mythical "ladder" of "spiritual development" to "heaven", notably as used by Karen Armstrong (The Spiral Staircase: my climb out of darkness, 2004) -- inspired by T S Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday (1930) and by Dante Alighieri 's Divine Comedy, especially the Purgatorio. In both the spiral staircase and the screw conveyor it is the "material" that moves, either of its own accord (as on the staircase) or as an effect on "static" material of a rotating screw. In this sense the conveyor rotates on its axis; its ends do not meet in any "tail-biting". In effect the conveyor then acts as a form of "timeless" standing wave; it is only the material that has a temporal experience. As a metaphor this accords better with Spiral Dynamics (as discussed above). Curiously the spira; staircase is often used as an example of a phenomenon that cannot be adequately communicated with words -- making the use of images (even gestures) essential to comprehension.
However Armstrong explores the challenging experience of a spiral staircase in her development "out of darkness" over time:
The figure on any such spiral staircase (given the parallel to the screw conveyor) is of course appropriately named as Screwtape by C S Lewis (The Screwtape Letters, 1942). As Armstrong later notes with regard to Eliot's poem:
Whilst this is an admirable experiential account, it somehow seeks to design out the significance of what she elsewhere describes as the "ghost" on that spiral staircase. Emphasis is placed on overcoming the illusion of despair through discovery of appropriate hope -- however paradoxical.
The challenge may however lie in an overly simplistic understanding of the essentially "static" staircase metaphor -- as partially indicated by the challenge of understanding the "dynamics" of the screw conveyor and how it "works". Understanding it simplistically may indeed evoke encounters with "traffic" in the opposite direction -- "going downstairs". Any "ascent" of the mind and heart to spiritual enlightenment is then necessarily matched by the "descent" of forms of attachment variously imagined.
Armstrong herself equates the segregation she chose to undergo through her novitiate in a convent as a type of isolation central to rituals of initiation practiced in many cultures:
Again the error may lie in focusing inappropriately on the nature of "enlightenment" when a more appropriate understanding is only achieved, paradoxically, "in the light" of "endarkenment" (Enlightening Endarkenment selected web resources on the challenge to comprehension, 2005). In relying on simplistic understanding of the spiral staircase metaphor to communicate the fundamental means of conveyance to greater insight, the nature of this "error" may best be highlighted by contrasting this pattern with that of the uncontestably fundamental pattern of DNA (DNA Supercoiling as a Pattern for Understanding Psycho-social Twistedness, 2004 -- annex to Engaging with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of twistedness, 2004).
The features missing from the metaphor of the spiral staircase, or of the screw conveyor, are then more likely to be found in the structure and dynamics of the supercoiling of DNA as the conveyor par excellence of information across generations. The existentially challenging illusions may then be understood in terms of a misplaced "impossible fusion" of the two right spiralling strands of the DNA double-helix or its conformations. It is appropriate to note that the theory of Spiral Dynamics was based on the work of Clare W. Graves (The Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of the Adult Human Biopsychosocial Systems, 1981).
Consistent with the complex spiraling of DNA is the double spiral staircase which might offer more appropriate "staircase" metaphors for spiritual development. A second helical staircase can indeed be interwoven with the first (as with DNA) -- as explored by both Leonardo da Vinci and M C Escher. It is a notable feature in the Vatican Museum, and at Chambord, allowing one person to ascend and another to descend without encountering (or even seeing) each other. It also features in one old English country house -- to ensure that residents and guests did not need to encounter servants. Perhaps more significant is the fact that fire escapes, though built with landings and straight runs of stairs, are often functionally double helixes, with two separate stairs intertwined.
The cognitively twisted nature of any illusions arising from inappropriate conflation would of course be even more appropriately represented by a combination of right- and left-spiraling "stairs" -- only possible in a space of more than three dimensions. It is perhaps such a pattern that characterizes the spiraling channels (ida and pingala) entwined around the spinal sushumna (discussed above), with their particular points of intersection, or by the caduceus of western tradition -- an example of the double spiral symbol common to many cultures.
The point was made that it needs both "positive" and "negative" currents to illuminate a light bulb -- focusing on the "positive" as the source of light being indeed a mistake. Similarly it takes two of opposite gender to "make a baby" -- despite any unisex fantasies of either sex. As a pattern of The Unconscious Civilization (1995) of John Ralston Saul, it is possible that the "one-sided" failure to recognize the larger system, in which dynamics described by the conveyor belt metaphor are embedded, can be crudely compared to the failure to recognize the role of women in history. This is exemplified by the title of the work of Elise Boulding (The Underside of History: a view of women through time, 1977).
The challenge to comprehension of "engulfing" dynamics is exemplified in a comment by the author of I and Thou (1923) in recognizing the role of myth -- as with the encompassing dynamic of the "world serpent" in various cultures. Martin Buber (The Legend of Baal-Shem, 1955) remarks:
It is myth that offers an understanding of complex relationships whose nature extends ambigously far beyond any simplistic characterization as "positive" or "negative" (Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, 1988). Karen Armstrong (A Short History of Myth, 2005) addresses the curious status of myth in industrialized societies, its long-demonstrated functions:
Given the challenge of climate change to humanity and the planet, richer understanding of the complexities of the ocean conveyor is appropriate (cf. Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005). Given the challenge to humanity of some form of faith-based "clash of civilizations", there is a case for a richer understanding of the relationships between the faiths and their respective psychodynamic roles -- especially in the light of efforts to communicate this role in terms of the conveyor belt metaphor. There is a possibility that the cognitive pattern required for a richer comprehension of the first may reinforce efforts to comprehend the second -- and vice versa. It may well be that through this pattern more appropriate and credible strategies can emerge for effective engagement with both -- the "light" may then finally shine. Similar conclusions may be drawn with respect to the dynamics of the market, to the experience of time, and especially with respect to the crucial challenge of population dynamics, as discussed above.
More generally it might be asked whether the conveyor metaphor (as misapplied) is an example of inappropriate conceptual "linearity", notably with respect to a dogmatic "line" of argument. Beyond male fascination with sexually attractive "curves", there is indeed a need to understand "curvature" and circularity -- as is evident in research on sustainable plasma containment as a future source of energy. Rather than being limited to spiritual development, more complex metaphors may offer insights intop sustainable development of any kind.
It is appropriate that belief systems should be understood dynamically rather than statically -- especially in identifying more powerful metaphors for interfaith dialogue. Such systems may well come to be understood as evolving "currents of opinion" well-modelled in relation to each other by the ocean currents weaving together around the globe -- through mysterious transformations from one to the other beneath the surface of the sea. There is even the possibility that the (inappropriately perceived) distinct segments of what is a moving global continuum of currents could fruitfully model the process relationship between "distinct" religions. More generally there is some possibility that meteorological systems may be of requisite complexity to symbolize -- if not elegantly to model -- the mix of global and local decision-making processes (justifying the mnemonic wordplay of a complementarity between "weather" systems and "whether" systems !).
This approach focuses on the psycho-spiritual dynamics within Jorge Ferrer's "Ocean of Emancipation" -- rather than emphasizing some form of homogeneous (and essentially static) global or planetary consciousness. Perhaps this is a way of giving significance to the suggestion of Ashok K. Gangadean (Awakening Global Consciousness: why it is vital for cultural sustainability, Kosmos: an integral approach to global awakening, 3, 2; Spring/Summer 2004) that:
Is global communication enabled by
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