26th October 2007 | Draft

Archetypal Otherness -- "DNA vs. I Ching"

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Part B of Climbing Elven Stairways: DNA as a macroscopic metaphor of polarized psychodynamics. For access convenience this paper has also been split into two parts.

Context of clashing cultures
Part A: Existential challenge of "The Other"
-- Contrast with framework of Spiral Dynamics
-- Possibility of an implicit pattern
-- Correspondences and complementarities: "moonshine connectivity"
-- A "hidden" stairway?
-- Spiral stairway -- threatening and/or broken?
-- Guarding the entrance: the "wisdom keepers"
-- Spiral stairwells and screw conveyors
-- Paradoxical existential dynamics of the spiral stairway
-- Fundamental knower-known relationship
Human relationships and "The Other"
Part B: Archetypal otherness: "DNA vs. I Ching"
-- Correspondences and complementarities: steps on the spiral way
-- Pattern replication
-- Process dynamics
-- "Broken symbols" exacerbating relationship failure?
-- Value polarities as archetypal bonds
-- Bonding: reification and petrification of significance
-- Relationship breakdown and civilizational collapse

For access convenience this paper has been split into two parts. The unsplit version is also available

Correspondences and complementarities: steps on the spiral way

The earlier exploration (Theories of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative thinking, 2007) did not immediately highlight the nature of different correspondences. It is therefore appropriate to explore the extremely well-researched nature of the base pairs to which it is suggested here that the correspondences may be in some way analogous. The exploration is guided by the recognition that, whether in terms of microbiological processes or with respect to psychodynamic relationships, both are essential to life as it is experienced -- and that therefore, as argued above, some degree of similarity is to be tentatively hypothesized between them.

As noted in the helpful Wikipedia entry, in molecular biology a base pair is the connection via hydrogen bonds of two nucleotides on the opposite/complementary helical DNA (or RNA) strands. The base pairs are of two kinds in DNA, through which four nucleotides are connected as indicated in Table 1 (with the letters that conventionally denote them).

.Table 2: Bonding between nucleotide pairs
(linking the separate helical strands)
. purines
hydrogen bonding pyrimidines
Stable nucleotide
base pairs

AT pairing via
2 hydrogen bonds
thymine (T)
replaced by
uracil (U) in RNA

GC pairing via
3 hydrogen bonds


Nonviable nucleotide
base pairs
adenine (A) mismatch: the pattern of hydrogen donors and acceptors do not correspond in an AC pair. cytosine (C)
guanine (G) mismatch: the pattern of hydrogen donors and acceptors do not correspond in a GT pair. thymine (T)
. purine-purine pairings are energetically unfavorable because the molecules are too close, leading to electrostatic repulsion. .
. pyrimidine-pyrimidine pairings are energetically unfavorable because the molecules are too far apart for hydrogen bonding to be established .

As a template, the two types of viable base pairing will be related below to the systematic metaphorical representation of psychodynamics developed by the I Ching coding system. The "steps" on the spiral stairway are the two-fold or three-fold bonds which in that system would be equivalent to the yin and yang line coding.

The number of base pairs is therefore equal to the number of nucleotides on a single strand. The human genome is estimated to be about 3 billion base pairs in length and to contain 20,000-25,000 distinct genes. Distinctiveness, and information carrying capacity, arise from the sequencing of the four different nucleotides along one strand (complemented by the sequencing of the corresponding nucleotides on the other). A gene may then be described as a union of genomic sequences of nucleotides encoding a coherent set of potentially overlapping functional products.

The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded in genetic material (DNA or RNA sequences) is translated into proteins (amino acid sequences) by living cells. Specifically, the code defines a mapping between tri-nucleotide sequences (called codons) and amino acids; every such triplet of nucleotides in a nucleic acid sequence then corresponds to a single amino acid as indicated in Table 3.

Table 3 : 20 different amino acids used by living cells to encode proteins
that are directly encoded for protein synthesis by the standard genetic code

(originally hypothesized because 3 is the smallest n such that 4n is at least 20)
[Source: table on Gene expression and biochemistry in Wikipedia. Notes omitted]
Amino Acid Abbreviations Codon(s) in RNA
[triplets of 3 nucleotides from Table 2,
using U instead of T ]
in proteins
Essential (X) /
Conditionally (C)
in humans
Alanine A Ala GCU, GCC, GCA, GCG 7.8 -
Cysteine C Cys UGU, UGC 1.9 C
Aspartic acid D Asp GAU, GAC 5.3 -
Glutamate E Glu GAA, GAG 6.3 -
Phenylalanine F Phe UUU, UUC 3.9 X
Glycine G Gly GGU, GGC, GGA, GGG 7.2 C
Histidine H His CAU, CAC 2.3 -
Isoleucine I Ile AUU, AUC, AUA 5.3 X
Lysine K Lys AAA, AAG 5.9 X
Leucine L Leu UUA, UUG, CUU, CUC, CUA, CUG 9.1 X
Methionine M Met AUG 2.3 X
Asparagine N Asn AAU, AAC 4.3 -
Proline P Pro CCU, CCC, CCA, CCG 5.2 -
Glutamine Q Gln CAA, CAG 4.2 C
Arginine R Arg CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA, AGG 5.1 C
Serine S Ser UCU, UCC, UCA, UCG, AGU, AGC 6.8 -
Threonine T Thr ACU, ACC, ACA, ACG 5.9 X
Selenocysteine U Sec UGA - -
Valine V Val GUU, GUC, GUA, GUG 6.6 X
Tryptophan W Trp UGG 1.4 X
Tyrosine Y Tyr UAU, UAC 3.2 C
Stop codon - Term UAA, UAG, UGA - -

The above table may be represented in inverse form in Table 4. It is useful to recognize that each codon triplet in Table 3 or 4 is the representation on one strand of the ends of three base pairs. Implied by the nucleotides UAC, for example, is the existence of the corresponding nucleotides AUG with which they are bonded on the other strand -- thereby constituting three base pairs.

Table 4: 64 codons and the amino acid for which each codon codes (direction is 5' to 3')
[Inverse of Table 3. Source RNA Codon table in Wikipedia. Notes omitted ]
2nd base in codon triplet

UUU (Phe/F) Phenylalanine
UUC (Phe/F) Phenylalanine
UUA (Leu/L) Leucine
UUG (Leu/L) Leucine

UCU (Ser/S) Serine
UCC (Ser/S) Serine
UCA (Ser/S) Serine
UCG (Ser/S) Serine

UAU (Tyr/Y) Tyrosine
UAC (Tyr/Y) Tyrosine
UAA Ochre (Stop)
UAG Amber (Stop)

UGU (Cys/C) Cysteine
UGC (Cys/C) Cysteine
UGA Opal (Stop)
UGG (Trp/W) Tryptophan


CUU (Leu/L) Leucine
CUC (Leu/L) Leucine
CUA (Leu/L) Leucine
CUG (Leu/L) Leucine

CCU (Pro/P) Proline
CCC (Pro/P) Proline
CCA (Pro/P) Proline
CCG (Pro/P) Proline

CAU (His/H) Histidine
CAC (His/H) Histidine
CAA (Gln/Q) Glutamine
CAG (Gln/Q) Glutamine

CGU (Arg/R) Arginine
CGC (Arg/R) Arginine
CGA (Arg/R) Arginine
CGG (Arg/R) Arginine


AUU (Ile/I) Isoleucine
AUC (Ile/I) Isoleucine
AUA (Ile/I) Isoleucine
AUG (Met/M) MethionineStart

ACU (Thr/T) Threonine
ACC (Thr/T) Threonine
ACA (Thr/T) Threonine
ACG (Thr/T) Threonine

AAU (Asn/N) Asparagine
AAC (Asn/N) Asparagine
AAA (Lys/K) Lysine
AAG (Lys/K) Lysine

AGU (Ser/S) Serine
AGC (Ser/S) Serine
AGA (Arg/R) Arginine
AGG (Arg/R) Arginine


GUU (Val/V) Valine
GUC (Val/V) Valine
GUA (Val/V) Valine
GUG (Val/V) Valine

GCU (Ala/A) Alanine
GCC (Ala/A) Alanine
GCA (Ala/A) Alanine
GCG (Ala/A) Alanine

GAU (Asp/D) Aspartic acid
GAC (Asp/D) Aspartic acid
GAA (Glu/E) Glutamic acid
GAG (Glu/E) Glutamic acid

GGU (Gly/G) Glycine
GGC (Gly/G) Glycine
GGA (Gly/G) Glycine
GGG (Gly/G) Glycine

This representation corresponds in a number of respects to that of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, as has been noted by several authors (Katya Walter, Tao of Chaos: merging East and West, 1996; Johnson F. Yan, DNA and the I Ching: the Tao of life, 1993; Martin Schonberger, The I Ching and the Genetic Code: the hidden key to life, 1979). Katya Walter has shown that the Fu Xi Earlier Heaven Ho Tu arrangement of the 64 hexagrams can represent the DNA genetic code:

Table 5: Relationship between I Ching hexagrams and amino acids
[Source: Katya Walter, Tao of Chaos: merging East and West, 1996]
I Ching hexagrams equivalence to DNA

The relationship of the codon triplets to the conventional hexagrams of the I Ching may be made in Table 6 by recognizing the implied corresponding half of the three base pairs represented in Table 4, and the 2 and 3-fold hydrogen bonding that distinguishes them. A single codon triplet (of three base pairs) in Table 4 is then equivalent as a code to a single I Ching hexagram. Note that conventionally the yin and yang elements are associated with the even and odd numbers, 2 and 3 -- matched here with the 2 and 3-fold base pair bonding.

Table 6: Possible equivalence of RNA/DNA base pairs with I Ching digram coding
Representation of base pairs constituting codons Conventional I Ching coding
Nucleotide bases
(explicit in Table 4)
Nucleotide bases
(implicit in Table 4: other strand)
Component of
structure code number code nucleotide
double-ringed A 2 U (or T) single-
young_yin young yin
single-ringed U (or T) 2 A double-
old_yin old yin
double-ringed G 3 C single-
young_yang young yang
single-ringed C 3 G double-
old_yang old yang

[In this respect note discussion in Conditions of Objective, Subjective and Embodied Cognition: mnemonic systems for memetic coding of complexity, 2007].

In the light of the above correspondences, Chris Lofting (The Book of Structures: wholes, aspects, and the genetic code, 2005) treats the I Ching as a metaphor for the brain's way of dealing with objects (wholes, parts) and relationships (static, dynamic). H notes:

What this leads to is a model of thought based on strings of hexagrams, just as a coding sequence for a protein is based on strings of codons... Using the DNA/RNA pattern, there is a suggestion that we can produce strings that map to thoughts... Using the normal generation of a hexagram, we find that a hexagram links to a specific codon and so we use hexagrams to map strings of codons.

Pattern replication

The correspondences of the previous section point to the importance of understanding that whatever the elusive "pattern that connects", those correspondences associated with modern understanding of DNA and those associated with traditional understanding of the I Ching are most fruitfully recognized as particular instances of it -- accessible to current human cognitive frameworks. This is succinctly articulated by Tony Smith as follows:

  • since the DNA genetic code can be represented by 4 things taken 3 at a time, or (2x2) x (2x2) x (2x2) = 64,   and
  • since the I Ching (which is based on 6 bars, each of which can be in 2 states - broken or unbroken) can be represented by 2 things taken 6 at a time, or 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 64,   and
  • since pairs of octonionic half-spinors of the Spin(0,8) Clifford algebra Cl(0,8) on which the D4-D5-E6-E7 physics model is based can be represented by 8 things taken 2 at a time, or (2x2x2) x (2x2x2) = 64,  
  • the genetic code, the I Ching, and the D4-D5-E6-E7 physics model are all just different representations of the same fundamental structure.

The nature of this underlying template is further clarified by Chris Lofting (I Ching Plus, 1997-2001) arguing that whenever maps are made of reality there is typically a failurel to recognize that the maps are metaphors for how "in here" interprets "out there" -- whether in the case of esoteric maps (e.g. I Ching, astrology) or for scientific maps (e.g. mathematics, physics):

underneath all of these maps is a neurologically-determined template which allows one to easily make analogies and create metaphors; it is a template of meaning that appears to be shared by all of these categorisation systems. Simply put, all maps of reality are metaphors for the way the brain categorises objects (wholes, parts) and relationships (static, dynamic), and the template emerges from this process.

Both the DNA and the I Ching instances are distinguished not so much by their static structure but by the dynamics associated with those patterns. In the case of DNA, this is the process of replication through which information is passed down the generations -- in biological terms. In the case of the I Ching (or Book of Changes), it is specifically claimed to be a means of holding the pattern of changes -- notably the psychodynamic changes that are the preoccupation here and which were the preoccupation of governance in imperial China. The question is how the former may offer new insights into the latter of value to the contemporary challenges of governance at all levels of society.

Considerable detail is available on the mechanisms of DNA replication at the cellular level. Many extensive commentaries are available on the manner in which the I Ching encodes the processes of change (cf Documents relating to Patterns of I Ching / Tao te Ching). Clearly extensive work could be undertaken in determining the extent of the match between them and isolating difficulties for further investigation.

Prior to any such investigation, it is important to clarify some of the issues in any such comparative process in the light of the preoccupation here regarding the psychodynamics of challenging relationships:

  • precision vs allusion:
    • the clarity of detail in the DNA case derives from the objectivity with which the matter is examined through the scientific method, as favoured especially by the currently dominant western mindset and culture. This is very different from the dynamics through which the body "understands", controls and sustains such processes. There is a sense in which a principle of uncertainty applies in that the more precise the description that science provides the less the capacity to enable and sustain that process -- otherwise artificial life and immortality would be much more feasible

    • the complex set of metaphors used to engage with the processes of change in the case of the I Ching is alien to the western mindset. In contrast with descriptions of DNA however, these are designed to enable comprehension and decision-making under conditions of uncertainty -- and by non-specialists. There is therefore a sense in which challenges to comprehension and appropriate use (and the dissemination of such insights) are designed into the I Ching, whereas these are very much external to the preoccupations of the scientific method -- as the socio-political controversies over genetic engineering indicate.

  • subjective subtleties: the contrast between the previous points is an indication of the extent to which the I Ching might be said to encompass, if only by allusion, the subjective subtleties of challenging relationships with any "Other". It might be understood as offering the degree, or mode, of description that is cognitively possible regarding the experiential challenge on the steps of the stairwell that was the subject of earlier discussion. Insights into DNA offer far greater precision regarding the structure and dynamics associated with the stairwell -- but dissociated from the subjective experience that is the essential challenge of relationships, especially at this time.

  • appropriate change: both the DNA pattern and that of the I Ching have a preoccupation with appropriate change:
    • in the case of DNA, this is reflected in the need to respond continually to endogenous and exogenous damage, as noted earlier. In the case of the I Ching, this takes the form of a preoccupation with appropriate decisions and appropriate actions, in response to emergent circumstances, whether or not these are primarily conditioned by external circumstances. The language commonly used in the I Ching to describe the consequences of such action might be suggestively compared with the challenge at the DNA level: "misfortune" as a form of lesion; "fortune" as successful repair.

    • given the psychodynamic focus of the I Ching, precisely where there is currently a concern (at all levels of society) with the need to elicit more appropriate patterns of behaviour (patterns of consumption, etc), a key question is the extent to which the understanding now being applied to genetic engineering and biotech is indicative of possibly viable approaches. Clearly such insights might be abused (as current controversies indicate), but the focus here is on whether they offer opportunities for reframing psychodynamic clashes rather than denaturing either party as a means of ensuring the dominance of the other.

  • values: whereas the structure and dynamics of DNA may be considered value free, the challenge of psychodynamic clashes is essentially value driven, in the sense of arising in part from (mis)comprehension of values however they are formally articulated:
    • the appropriate comprehension of values might however be considered fundamental to the I Ching. This is evident in the manner in which many of the metaphors, through which decision-making in dynamic situations are explicated, make direct reference to family roles (if only to facilitate comprehension). Indeed, in this sense, it might be understood as enabling understanding of the dynamics of the range of "family values" -- as a basis for more appropriate understanding of the psychodynamics on a larger scale.

    • of particular interest with respect to values is the sense in which the I Ching goes "behind" the pseudo-objectivity whereby values are conventionally so readily invoked ("family values", "national values", "Christian values", "western values", "universal values", etc) to provide a sense of values as an emergent dynamic. Ironically, despite repeated reference to "values", modern society has neither clear definitions of what they are nor clear lists of the various sets of values (see comments on Human Values Project). Elsewhere this has been explained in terms of the insights of the subtler dynamic insights of the complexity sciences (Human Values as Strange Attractors: coevolution of classes of governance principles, 1993). In this sense values might be understood as the peculiar, counter-intuitive dynamics associated with the stairwell described earlier. More interesting is the possibility that the set of core psychodynamic values might correspond in some way to the "essential" amino acids characteristic of DNA ***

  • inversion: in both the case of DNA and the I Ching a form of "inversion" of coding -- reminiscent of mirroring (as discussed earlier) -- is fundamental to the process of change:
    • in the DNA case, this is evident both in the complementary nature of the coding sequence of the nucleotide bases in the two helical strands and in the manner in which RNA encodes information from DNA

    • in the I Ching case, this is evident in understanding of how any lines in a hexagram, representing one condition, may "move" such as then to represent another complementary condition. The hexagram as a whole, or a component trigram, may also reverse in this way. The psychodynamics of such reversal is fruitful in the representation of enantiodromia

Process dynamics

Curiously both DNA and the I Ching can be readily misunderstood, in ways that are somewhat similar:

  • in the case of the I Ching, it has become widely known (notably in the West) because of the predictive value attributed to it by those seeking counsel. The misunderstanding arises from the degree to which predictions are extracted from it by what are effectively mechanical processes reinforcing a mechanical mindset. The structure is designed to guard against this by the pattern of metaphors it produces in response and the manner in which these engage and necessitate non-mechanical interpretive processes. Its complexity is such that the total pattern eludes conventional cognitive "grasping" other than by a focus on the coding system in preference to its significance..

  • in the case of DNA, the misunderstanding is best highlighted by the considerable embarrassment of biologists following the recent completion of coding of the human genome -- discovered to have only slightly more genes than a tiny worm that lacks a proper brain. It had previously been assumed that the structure of the genetic code was sufficient to explain and distinguish the complexity of different species. Genes were thought of as repositories of information about how to build proteins. As noted in The Economist (Briefing RNA: Really New Advances, 16 June 2007), "this account of the cell was so satisfying to biologists that few bothered to look beyond it." Consequently biology is now undergoing a major paradigm shift that only now takes into account the previously neglected dynamic functions of RNA in controlling cell operations. Genes for proteins are now believed to be in the minority as opposed to their role as RNA factories.

The point to be made in both cases is with regard to the unfortunate predisposition of the human mind to seek premature collective closure on oversimplistic explanations. With regard to one "clash of civilizations", this has recently been seen in the case of the consensus formed, at the highest level and by the best and the brightest, regarding the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (cf Groupthink: the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale missing the link between "freedom fighters" and "terrorists", 2002).

The question to be asked, adapting the above words of The Economist, is whether the current "account" of psychodynamic relationships is "so satisfying" to the relevant disciplines and belief systems "that few bother to look beyond it". How ill advised was the assertion made by Bill Clinton, as President of the USA, that "no stone has been left unturned" in the search for solutions to the Middle East crisis?

Even more to the point is whether questions should be raised about the nature of any descriptive "account" as it might be sought within the dominant mindsets. Might it not be specifically inappropriate to the dynamic challenge posed by psychodynamic relationships -- as proved to be the case in nuclear physics?

Does such an "account" effectively denature the existential reality of those relationships and obscure understanding of how they fail so catastrophically? Is it with understanding of this quality that the dramatic "clashes of civilizations" are currently being addressed -- with an arrogance matching that of biologists in their earlier expectation of grasping the human genome as a kind of Theory of Everything? How was that misunderstanding nurtured and by whom? With what arrogant misunderstanding will genetic engineering now be undertaken for the benefit of humanity?

From RNA's previous assumed role as a passive carrier of genetic information (from DNA in the cell nucleus to the places in the cell where proteins are made, assembling the appropriate amino-acid units), it's role has now been dramatically promoted -- possibly even to the status of operating system (in computer terms). In the words of the The Economist leader article on the matter:

If RNA is controlling the complexity of the whole organism, that suggests the operating system of each cell is not only running the cell in question, but it is linking up with those of the other cells when a creature is developing. To push the analogy, organs such as the brain are the result of a biological internet. If that is right, the search for the essence of humanity has been looking in the wrong genetic direction.

The radical shift in understanding might be compared to that:

  • from an assumption that biological diversity could be adequately defined by the number of keys on a musical instrument -- that for humans would be distinguished from that for the simple worm as an organ is from the simplest flute

  • to the recognition that all species were designed on approximately the same musical scale or range of notes (ca 20,000 genes), but it was how they were "played", namely the range of chordal harmonies and melodies evoked from that same scale which distinguished the more complex species such as humans -- a distinction between symphonies and simple tunes

Any such comparison does of course raise the question of what it would take for humanity to play "better" music? (cf Authentic Grokking: emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003)

Necessarily The Economist focuses on the business opportunities relating to new classes of drugs that exploit the previously unsuspected varieties of RNA. Does this reflect a "silver bullet" mindset that is specifically a characteristic of the misunderstanding that delayed recognition of the role of RNA? How might this be completely inappropriate to the leader article's recognition that:

Many of the big problems facing humanity are biological, or are susceptible to biological intervention....At the moment, policymakers have inadequate technological tools to deal with these questions. But it is not hard to imagine such tools. Ageing is directly biological...knowing how cells work -- really knowing -- will allow the process to be transformed for the better...

Is thinking regarding breakdown in psychodynamic relationships -- in dealing with "big problems facing humanity" such as "terrorism" for example -- similarly conditioned by such "silver bullet" expectations? Have policymakers been looking in the "wrong psychodynamic direction"?

The leader article compares the paradigm shift in biology with the "neutron moment" of nuclear physics in 1932 -- enabling development of the atomic bomb:

But physics gave the 20th century a more subtle boon than mere power. It also brought an understanding of the vastness of the universe and humanity's insignificant place in it. It allowed people, in William Blake's phrase, to hold infinity in the palm of a hand, and eternity in an hour.

Is there not a case for expecting a "neutron moment", analogous to those described for physics and biology, in relation to psychodynamics? What, or who, is inhibiting recognition of such a moment -- despite appeals at the highest level for "new thinking"? How may it be inappropriately distorted by the misunderstandings of faith-based intuitions whose claims have so dramatically and consistently undermined relationships between faiths down the centuries?

However limited the understanding of it through instances such as DNA or the I Ching, can the psychodynamic dimension of the "pattern that connects" be appropriately comprehended and embodied through such instances in ways that enable more meaningful engagement with catastrophic relationship failure? Do the emerging characteristics of the dynamic complexities of the RNA "operating system" offer insights into the possibilities and requirements of governance?

"Broken symbols" exacerbating relationship failure?

Symbols have always offered a powerful means of "repairing" relationship damage, notably through their capacity to "re-mind" and to enable "re-membering":

As noted earlier there is necessarily a real challenge to symbolizing the larger integrating whole of the "pattern that connects".

As specifically argued in the case of religion by Robert Cummings Neville (The Truth of Broken Symbols, 1996), it is the challenge of the limitations of the finite being used to symbolize the infinite. As he shows through a cross-cultural analysis, religious symbols can be true in various qualified senses. There is however the curious necessity that they must be "broken" specifically in order not to be perceived as idolatrous or demonic. His treatment of reference, meaning, and interpretation, offers insights into the challenge of properly understanding symbols in order to engage transcendental realities while internally exhibiting semiotic structures of reference, meaning, and interpretation.

For religions the representation of the integrating unity of the divine is therefore necessarily poorly represented through symbols -- readily to be rejected as distortions and idolatrous. The "design challenge", addressed by Barry L. Davis (Broken Symbols, 2006) is deliberately to incorporate a sense of brokenness into the religious symbol itself. It is in this sense that it is useful to look at both helical DNA and the I Ching, both of which incorporate different forms of brokenness -- the former in the separation of the helical strands (and the incidence of "lesions") and the latter in the contrasting unbroken and broken lines (and the incidence of "misfortune"). Arguably it is this feature that allows both to encode to a greater degree the dynamics of a larger whole capable of engendering the new.

Nancy K Frankenberry (On the Very Idea of Symbolic Meaning In: Interpreting Neville, 1999 by J Harley Chapman and Nancy Frankenberry, 1999) offers a contrasting view to that put forward by Neville:

For us postmoderns, broken religious symbols are so many shards whose jagged edges trace the shape of the absent complement, itself another symbol. We study the shape and pattern of each jagged edge to find the direction or "sense" in which to hold the symbols so as to "read" their complement. We conjure an image of broken symbols and, when joined, able to form a seamless whole, rather than "fitting with" or "corresponding to" some (undescribed) reality. The meshing of our meanings is holistic, leaving no referential edges, and thus suggesting an alternative to conventional extensionalist semantics. The "meaning" of the broken religious symbols that litter the postmodern landscape cannot be equated with "reference".

As the previous section highlighted, it is clear that the ability of religions to recognize the merit of "broken" symbols, as indicative of the partiality of the representation of higher order, has its limitations in practice. Religions have been significantly unable to bridge the broken relationships which separate them -- or to recognize them as a reminder of a higher unity. Token wisdom -- such as "a thousand ways to the top of a hill, but the view of the top is the same" -- has proven to be of very little significance to relationships between the Abrahamic faiths, for example.

It may also be asked to what extent the masonic symbolism of the winding stairs-- presumably significant for the male leadership of western society -- is really understood in ways that address the issues of relationship failure. In all such cases the question is to what extent the symbol is inactive or "dead", namely without any meaningful psychoactive function.

Value polarities as archetypal bonds

Reference was made above to the Human Values Project.with respect to the possibility that values might necessarily be related to the peculiar, counter-intuitive dynamics associated with the cognitive steps on the spiral stairway -- especially in the light of insights from the complexity sciences (Human Values as Strange Attractors: coevolution of classes of governance principles, 1993).

That project identified 987 "constructive" (examples), and 1992 "destructive" (examples), value words. It then used their antonymic relationship to cluster them as 225 "value polarities": Pleasantness-Unpleasantness; Resolution-Irresolution; etc. These included: Goodness-Badness; Truth-Error; Love-Hate; etc.

In the light of the argument above, it is such polarities that constitute a dynamic cognitive challenge in any relationship. One is "positive" and the other "negative", and much token commitment is given to eliminating the latter. The existential challenge in reality is how to navigate the middle way between them -- representing as they do a form of "broken symbol". The set of constructive values is then understood as associated with one strand (in DNA terms) and the destructive values with the other -- its "shadow". Any examination of the destructive values clarifies how problematic it would be to live in a world without them -- in the light of humanity's current understanding.

The question that then arose in that project was how to configure the value polarities in a more meaningful way. The approach taken then was to cluster them tentatively into a (5x9) matrix of 45 "value types":

  • columns: focus in context; certainty; intrinsic constraint; necessity; external constraint
  • rows: order; change; form; quantity; significance; initiative; achievement; consequence; readaptation

Formally, as a matrix, this bears some resemblance to the 8x8 matrix of Levels of Existence of Clare W. Graves (Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap. The Futurist, April 1974). However it should be stressed that the associated database of of the Human Values Project was integrated, to reflect the dilemmas the polarities constituted, in terms of the words underlying the "value types" and "value polarities", with two other databases profiling and linking:

  • over 56,564 "world problems" that were the preoccupation of various international constituencies; problems were identified by names which necessarily incorporated "destructive" value words (see World Problems Project)
  • over 32,547 "strategies" that were variously undertaken or envisaged by international constituencies; strategies were identified by names which necessarily incorporated "constructive" value words (see Global Strategies Project)

Without getting locked into particular numbers and levels (or any justification for them), the question that might now be asked is how such "psychoactive" information about incommensurables might be designed into some form of helical structure -- as suggested by DNA -- that would give greater coherence to challenging relationship dynamics.

Interesting questions for brainstorming purposes might then include:

Creation by Michelangelo
Creation of Man by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel)
as an indicative representation of the subtlest relationship bond
(as discussed below with respect to base-pair hydrogen bonding and the "kiss touch")

Bonding: reification and petrification of significance

It is important to reiterate the earlier argument that polarization of relationships, whether value polarities (as described above), strategic dilemmas, or "disagreement" necessarily implies the impossibility of containing that dynamic within a framework based on compatibility and commensurability -- on "common ground" (cf Documents relating to Polarization, Dilemmas and Duality). The nature of the dynamic makes the ground distinctly "uncommon" and characterized by paradox and counter-intuitive insight -- as exemplifed cognitively by the Zen koan. Such is the challenge of "bonding".

Indeed, if (as argued above) a "spiral staircase" (modelled by DNA) is to be understood as a powerful symbol of the challenge of psychodynamic relations, how might one expect to engage with it:

  • in contrast with the linear experience of a ladder?
  • in the uncertainty associated experientially with movement up or down a spiraling stairway?
  • given the questionable solidity of the steps -- and the "faith" required for their enactivation?

It is not with ordinary vision that the "steps" can can be rendered visible. This is the challenge of the "visions" elaborated by policymakers. The steps are only to be enactivated and sensed otherwise -- through subtler modalities of all the senses together (Walking Elven Pathways: enactivating the pattern that connects, 2006). It is in this that is to be recognized the challenge of the traditionally unfortunate relationships between the wise (Epistemological Challenge of Cognitive Body Odour: exploring the underside of dialogue, 2006)

How helpful are the paradoxical allusions of metaphorical articulation in the I Ching in giving experiential meaning to this engagement? How well do the lesions of DNA reflect the varieties of relationship failure -- and the potential for repair? What might the emerging insights regarding RNA evoke in this regard? Are these echoed in the I Ching in some way?

Curiously the terms "bond" and "bonding" are fundamental to both the molecular bonding associated with DNA and to the psychodynamics of relationships. It is these bonds which in each case enable complex structures to be built and which may be damaged, possibly beyond repair.

In both cases, however, they are readily misrepresented in a simplistic manner which obscures their subtle nature:

  • in the DNA case, molecular bonds are typically represented as sold lines, even by solid rods, as was the case in the first representations of DNA in three dimensions. The nature of such bonds is commonly explained with such "ball and stick" models, for which molecular "constructor sets" are widely available. This simplistic representation completely avoids the challenge to understanding molecular bonding, notably the hydrogen bonding linking the base pairs between the two DNA strands.

    As is evident from the image at the beginning of this paper, the delicate bonding between the strands is not appropriately represented by rod-like elements. The bond might be appropriately compared to what R Buckminster Fuller has described as a "kiss touch" in the architecture of a geodesic dome. The underlying tensegrity principles have notably been used to describe cellular architecture (Donald E. Ingber, The Architecture of Life, Scientific American, 278, January 1998).

    As noted in the Wikipedia entry on such chemical bonds: A chemical bond is the physical process responsible for the attractive interactions between atoms and molecules, and that which confers stability to diatomic and polyatomic chemical compounds. The explanation of the attractive forces is a complex area that is described by the laws of quantum electrodynamics. In practice, however, chemists usually rely on quantum theory or qualitative descriptions that are less rigorous but more easily explained to describe chemical bonding. In general, strong chemical bonding is associated with the sharing or transfer of electrons between the participating atoms.

    Hydrogen bonding in DNA
    is well recognized as playing an important role in determining the three-dimensional structures adopted by proteins and nucleic bases -- bonding between parts of the same macromolecule cause it to fold into a specific shape, which helps determine the molecule's physiological or biochemical role. The nature of such bonding is currently described by molecular orbital theory .

    In macromolecular chemistry, as in the case of DNA, bonding is described in terms of "stacking". This occurs where two relatively non-polar rings have overlapping pi orbitals. The exact nature of such interactions (electrostatic or nonelectrostatic) is currently a matter of debate. As noted in the Wikipedia entry on molecular orbitals: These are introduced in qualitative and pictorial models of bonding in molecules, and specify the spatial distribution and energy of one (or a pair) of electrons. More precisely, they are found quantitatively as wave functions, mathematical solutions to the Schrödinger wave equation for a molecule, using an approximation known as the Hartree-Fock or Self-Consistent Field method.

  • in the case of psychosocial relationships, any "bond" is readily represented linearly, typically depicted by a solid line -- as in organization charts, kinship diagrams and genealogical trees, or more generally in social networks. In the language of the complexity sciences, such relationships are to be understood as non-linear -- if they are to be understood at all. Curiously, for those in the relationship, a marriage bond may be represented by an exchange of rings; other bonds may even be represented by an exchange of blood. In all such cases the complexity of the actual psychodynamics, as experienced, is very poorly represented by such symbols. Attempts to do so are the domain of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, anthropology, and similar social science disciplines, including theology -- or that of poets, artists and musicians. These also fail to encompass the existential subtleties of loyalty, love and giri, for example.

    A seemingly quite different interpretation of Fuller's architectural tensegrity has been made by anthropologist Carlos Castaneda as a way of understanding traditional " magical passes" as the interplay of tensing and relaxing in a way that contributes to the overall integrity of the body as a physical and an energetic unit. Tensegrity is then seen as an art: "the art of adapting to one's own energy, and to each other's energy in a way that contributes to the integrity of the community that we are". [more]

Such misrepresentation is completely inappropriate to the experiential "ethereal" quality of complementarity and psychodynamic relationships -- and of how they "work", sustain and support. Here lies the challenge of "climbing" such "elven" stairways -- and of comprehending the nature of their breakdown.

There is therefore a strong case for accepting that the uncertainties of meaningful psychodynamic relationships are as complex and challenging to comprehension as is the hydrogen bonding "described" by quantum electrodynamics. Their reification into depictions as mechanical "bonds" clearly obscures what those involved experience as most essential to any human relationship -- or even to that with animals and nature. There is therefore a case for learning from the complexity and subtlety considered completely credible in the case of DNA hydrogen bonding. It is the very subtlety of such bonding that is the basis for the cognitive spiral stairway essential to the development of human understanding -- hence the "elven" sensitivity required for climbing it.

Symbolic curiosities?

Is the Tower of Babel to be understood as an indication of the consequences of the petrification of significance, namely of inattentiveness to the subtler understanding regarding relationships (consistent with the argument above regarding DNA)? Is the Tower of Babel then an inappropriate representation of DNA -- "destroyed by God" as an inappropriate representation of the "means for mankind to reach Heaven"?

Given the earlier argument regarding the importance in the masonic tradition of the "winding stair" in King Solomon's Temple, it is curious to note that the "challenging" (Spiral) Tower card in the Tarot deck is traditionally associated with the Tower of Babel (The History of the Tower (Fire) Card). And, given that the steps on the masonic "winding stair" (mentioned earlier) number 3, 5 and 7, as the Tarot card numbered XVI, is the inappropriateness symbolically indicated by the association of the first prime number with that sequence pointing in the "wrong" direction?

Curiously, given that the arrangement of DNA strands is termed antiparallel, the asymmetric ends of DNA strands are referred to as the 5′ (five prime) and 3′ (three prime) ends. As noted above, the two strands twist around the helical axis once every 10.6 base pairs of sequence. There is a Heptad Repeat of the Coiled-coil Structure. Proceeding beyond 3, 5, and 7, the next prime is 11 (included in one version of the masonic stair), totalling then to 26, thereby offering some interesting resonances with fundamental patterns (cf Patterns of N-foldness: comparison of integrated multi-set concept schemes as forms of presentation, 1980):

  • catastrophe theory:
    • 3: the number of types of umbilic elementary catastrophe (hyperbolic, elliptic and parabolic)
    • 5: the number of elementary catastrophes in systems governed by 3 control factors
    • 7: the number of elementary catastrophes in systems involving 3 dimensions of space and one of time
    • 11: the number of catastrophes associated with systems governed by 5 control factors
  • string theory: the number of dimensions hypothesized is 10, 11, or 26, depending on the specific theory and point of view.
  • monster group: in group theory the comprehensive classification of finite simple groups includes 26 sporadic groups that do not follow the systematic pattern of the others; the largest, termed the Monster Group contains all but six of the other sporadic groups; its existence was proven using string theory. As the most complex symmetrical form known, it has been described as being of order approximating 8x1053 or as a giant snowflake in 196,884 dimensions (cf Potential Psychosocial Significance of Monstrous Moonshine: an exceptional form of symmetry as a Rosetta stone for cognitive frameworks, 2007).

The relationship between the set of amino acids and the Tarot trump cards has also been the subject of a range of explorations [more; more; more].

Relationship breakdown and civilizational collapse

An indication was provided earlier as to the nature of "DNA damage", whether of an endogenous or exogenous variety. It was described in terms of the failure of certain bonds, whose severity (and challenge to repair) might be roughly ordered as follows:

  • in the hydrogen bonding between helical strands,
  • in the break of a single strand, or
  • in the breaking of both strands, to which might be added
  • any dysfunctionality in the newly recognized dynamic association with RNA

The most severe damage is associated with diseases such as cancer and their progressively fatal systemic consequences as in metastasis. Ageing might itself be considered one such "disease".

The challenge to comprehension and remedial action in the case of DNA might be usefully recognized as analogous to that in psychodynamic relationships:

  • in the (temporary) reversible failure of a relationship bond, characteristic of domestic quarrels and "tiffs" between friends
  • in the one-sided break in a relationship, that may be reparable by using the integrity of the "other half" as a basis for reassembling the corresponding pattern with which it resonated, reconstituting the basis of affinity
  • in the double break-up of a relationship, essentially irreversible in that there is no longer any dynamic for its remedial reconstitution

Whilst these different degrees of relationship are more readily recognizable in the case of individuals, and by them with respect to their experience, equivalent patterns are also evident between groups. On a larger scale they are also evident in the breakdown of relationships between much larger groups -- whether schools of thought (notably academic disciplines), ideological movements or religious belief systems (heresies and schisms).

Contrasting examples of relationship breakdown and repair are provided by the following:

  • breakdown: experienced as breach of faith in some way:
    • "broken promises" and "broken commitments", whether at the interpersonal level, between groups, between leadership and electorate, or relating to product and/or service delivery
    • at the international level, and in relations between countries, this is most evident in:
      • the failure to fulfill strategic commitments (UN Millennium Goals, G8 commitments to developing countries, UN Global Compact, "Health for All by the Year 2000", etc)
      • breach of treaty commitments, notably through military invasion or failure to respect Geneva Conventions
    • denial of equivalence:
      • notably as promoted under the Kirkpatrick Doctrine (Jeane Kirkpatrick, The Myth of Moral Equivalence, Imprimis, 15, January 1986, 1; Madeleine Albright, We Think the Price is Worth It, Fair, 2001) precluding any meaningful comparison between the divinely inspired morality of atrocities engendered by American foreign policy and those for which opponents of such policy are responsible (possibly in the light of their own divine inspiration).
      • rejection as meaningless by the USA of any equivalence between US objections to installation of USSR missiles in Cuba in 1962 and Russian objections to installation of US missiles in the Czech Republic in 2007.

  • repair: experienced as recognition (or recollection) of compatibility and affinity:
    • evident at the interpersonal level in the action of family and group therapists, as well as marriage counsellors
    • evident on a larger scale in the approach of mediators, as in industrial relations or conflict resolution (eg Transcend: a peace and development network for conflict resolution by peaceful means; Nonviolent Peaceforce)
    • the preoccupation of diplomacy at the international level
    • evident in the efforts by general systems research ***to establish relationships between disciplines in the light of correspondences and isomorphisms
    • currently strikingly evident in interfaith relations in the form of a unique set of proposals from the Islamic world (A Common Word Between Us and You, 2007) which identifies a set of scriptural correspondences between the Qur'an and the Bible, effectively to match and repair "strands" (in DNA terms)

Of special interest is the possible relevance of this approach to understanding the kinds of processes which bring about civilizational collapse as explored by Jared Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005). But of course part of the capacity to "break down" is intimately associated with pattern replication and renewal -- through reproduction. The challenge is how to distinguish fruitful from unfruitful breakdown.

Contrasting "genetic" exacerbation of societal relationships

Wherever modern humans, living outside the narrow social mores of the clan, are allowed to pursue their genetic interests without constraint, they will hurt other people. They will grab other people's resources, they will dump their waste in other people's habitats, they will cheat, lie, steal and kill. And if they have power and weapons, no one will be able to stop them except those with more power and better weapons.
Our genetic inheritance makes us smart enough to see that when the old society breaks down, we should appease those who are more powerful than ourselves and exploit those who are less powerful.
The survival strategies that once ensured cooperation among equals now ensure subservience to those who have broken the social contract. (George Monbiot, Governments aren't perfect, but it's the liberatrians who bleed us dry. Guardian, 23 October 2007)

If you've never heard of synbio, you will hear plenty in the next decade.... In this brave new world, they talk of a future in which synthetic biologists will work much like graphic designers, building new organisms on their laptops and emailing them off to the gene foundry for construction....
So beware of how we are being sold this scientific revolution with pledges to help Africa's poor and ease global warming.... creating fantastic bacteria in a contained laboratory is one thing, but what happens when they get out and cross with their wild cousins, mutating into organisms we had never foreseen?
The whole point of this science is the development of large-scale use outside a lab, but can we predict what consequences releasing these new organisms could have? The answer is a resounding no....
We might have a "new, improved nature" which is more efficient in meeting our needs and ensuring the survival of future generations: is that a threat or a promise of salvation? And who are we going to trust to make that judgment call? (Madeleine Bunting, Scientists have a new way to reshape nature, but none can predict the cost, Guardian, 22 October 2007)
What do these together imply regarding the corresponding psychodynamic insights necessary for any adequate response?


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