26th October 2007 | Draft

Climbing Elven Stairways

DNA as a macroscopic metaphor of polarized psychodynamics

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Introduction
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
References


For access convenience this paper is also available as separate parts (Part A and Part B).


Introduction

This is an exploration of the possibility that the operating pattern associated with DNA, so fundamental to microbiological life processes, may be of some relevance in reframing understanding of the large-scale processes associated with psychosocial interactions -- with which civilization has as yet proven to be fatally incompetent.

What follows is a development of aspects of the following earlier explorations:

The central insight is that correspondences offer a form of understanding of relationships between what may well be both incommensurable and incompatible within conventional frameworks -- as between science and religion, between science and art, or between different belief systems. DNA integrates large quantities of information of qualitative and generative significance, notably through the nature of the bonding between its two intertwined, complementary strands. The most challenging bonds in psychosocial dynamics are partially embodied and understood, if at all, in poiesis of some form (poetry, dance, music, drama, etc). ***

This exploration takes a quite different approach from that of Spiral Dynamics based on the work of Clare W. Graves (The Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of the Adult Human Biopsychosocial Systems, 1981). The emphasis is on the existential challenge of comprehending any relationship with "The Other" and how such a challenging bond may break down. It focuses closely on what may be learnt from the complexities associated with DNA, notably in contrast with the existential dynamics to which the I Ching alludes through metaphor.

The question in what follows is whether, as correspondences, such bonds between the incommensurable offer a form of ladder -- a cognitive spiral staircase, in the light of the DNA metaphor, on which it may be possible lightly to tread between the polarized, "clashing" forces. Might "theories of correspondences" be more fruitfully understood as "ladders of correspondences"?

More intriguing is whether processes of creativity and schism formation in groups are usefully patterned by the processes associated with DNA replication and its role in protein fabrication. In endeavouring to comprehend the integrity of the "pattern that connects" does this imply that this depends on the ability of that pattern to engage dynamically in seemingly disintegrative processes through which the new is engendered? How are such disintegrative processes to be distinguished from those destructive of that pattern and the quality which it sustains?

Context of clashing cultures

Many of the challenges to the integrity and viability of civilization are framed in the simplistic terms of binary logic as a "clash of civilizations":

  • Judeo-Christianity vs. the others
  • Israel vs. Palestine
  • science vs. religion
  • art vs. science
  • industry vs. environment
  • natural sciences vs. social sciences
  • left wing vs. right wing
  • men vs. women
  • young vs. old
  • old vs. new
  • haves vs. have-nots

Such a framing may also be applied within groups, as argued by Wendell Bell (in: Richard Slaughter, Looking Towards the Futures Studies Renaissance: a conversation between Richard A Slaugher and Wendell Bell, Journal of Futures Studies, August 2007): Within almost every group or collectivity, there is a struggle between people:

  • on one side who wish to deal with members of other groups with peaceful diplomacy, persuasion, and comprise; who seek justice tempered by forgiveness and restraint; who have empathy for "the other"; whose self-interest is moderated by concern for the well-being of others; who have respect for others; and who have some understanding of the unity of mankind;
  • on the other side of the struggle (within the same group) are people whop are prone to use violence against "the other"; who seek justice as retribution and revenge; who demonize their perceived opponents as evil-doers; who tend to be punishing, controlling, and domineering; who are intolerant of other cultures and show scorn for what is foreign to them; whose narrow self-interest dominates their judgments and actions, and who have little, if any, sense of themselves as members of a common worldwide humanity.

The polar terms may in each case be understood as "cultures" or "civilizations" which are in process of clashing in ways that are poorly contained by the best insights of the wise and their capacity to offer remedial strategies of any credibility. For the less than wise, and those without any doubts regarding their own wisdom, the response is systemically little different from Stone Age clubmanship, locked into self-righteous, conventional, "in-the-box" thinking -- "Me right / You wrong". Conclusion: "you are either with us or against us", "you need help", "you need to be eliminated".

Pakistan was recently threatened with being "bombed back to the Stone Age" if it failed to collaborate with a superpower locked into this Stone Age mentality. The limitations of this perspective have notably been explored by Edward de Bono (I Am Right, You Are Wrong: New Renaissance: From Rock Logic to Water Logic, 1990).

Worse still is what might be caricatured as a mutation of the "Stone Age" mentality into a structurally violent confidence trick (a "new con"): "I am right. Follow my advice and be part of the solution. Don't be negative" (cf Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005).

The response of those appalled by this dynamic appears to be a desperate search for magical "common ground" -- enabling all to agree, free from toxic and potentially fatal differences. This worthy objective has however taken on the attributes of some Edenic utopia. Little thought is given to the probability that, as with Eden, it is likely (if achieved) to be resubjected to the unexamined processes of the tragedy of the commons. (see discussion in In Quest of Uncommon Ground: beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words of power, 1997; John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, 1995).

Although every respect is due to such initiatives, and every hope could be placed in them by the optimistic, history suggests that there is also a case for exploring in parallel the possibility of more complex forms of viable rapprochement that are as respectful of disagreement between opposing belief systems as they are of any agreement (see: Using Disagreements for Superordinate Frame Configuration, 1992, prepared in anticipation of the Parliament of the World's Religions). With respect to the need for such "new thinking", Edward de Bono has himself promoted the creation of a World Council for New Thinking.

DNA Segment
[Source Wikipedia: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2006, grants permission to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the
GNU Free Documentation License]
DNA small

Contrast with framework of Spiral Dynamics

It is appropriate to note that the theory of Spiral Dynamics (Don E. Beck and Chris C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership, and change, 1996) was based on the work of Clare W. Graves (Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap. The Futurist, April 1974; The Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of the Adult Human Biopsychosocial Systems, 1981), itself rooted in general systems theory and developmental psychology (cf Caleb Rosado, An Explanation of Spiral Dynamics; A Mini-Course in Spiral Dynamics). It has notably been promoted by Ken Wilber and his Integral Institute.

The spiral is said to incorporate a double helix through which "life conditions" at each level ("what the real world is like") may match with "capacities of the mind" (the neurobiological equipment and mindsets required to deal with such a reality). Explanations of Spiral Dynamics do not however appear to make the helical structure as prominent as is implied; it is not mentioned in the extensive commentary of the Wikipedia entry, for example. Nor is it mentioned in the critique by Michel Bauwens (A Critique of Wilber and Beck's SD-Integral, P/I: Pluralities/Integration, 2005). If the spiral is assumed to imply a direction of development, as an essentially one-way spiral, it would be subject to criticisms similar to those made with respect to Ken Wilber's one-way developmental conveyor (see Potential Misuse of the Conveyor Metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic essential to its appropriate operation, 2007).

The emphases in the exploration of this paper are however on the existential challenges of comprehension and the degree of correspondence with DNA which not evident in Spiral Dynamics; it might be argued that the emphasis there is on matching of various clear-cut psychological and behavioural categories as is characteristic of various formulaic type coding systems. Don Beck has however stated:

The real content of Spiral Dynamics, however, is not about the eight or nine levels, but how human systems emerge from the interaction of people with their life conditions. Otherwise, one is trapped with a Calvinistic, pre-determined roll out, maybe like reincarnation. Different developmental theorists will, of course, see different wrappings, because of who they are, how they do research, who is in their studies, with what data-gathering technologies. The essence of Spiral Dynamics is this Double-Helix effect. (Lines of Development and Spiral Dynamics, 2007)

Following his dissociation from Beck in 1999, the original content of the work of Graves has been edited by Chris Cowan with Natasha Todorovic (The Never Ending Quest: Dr. Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature: A Treatise on an emergent cyclical conception of adult behavioral systems and their development, 2005) through a Spiral Dynamics group distinct from that of Beck's Spiral Dynamics Integral. The point might be made that one inspiration for the current exploration is to enable a mode of understanding that responds to the differences associated with such typical relationship "breakdowns" and the contrasting interpretations to which they give rise.

Indeed, from the self-referential perspective of the current exploration, what is its relationship to such "Others"? A primary difference might be expressed as a concern with how meaning is experienced by those participants in the dynamics of strongly polarized relationships -- and how it is variously comprehended by them. Patterns of categories as explanations have proven to be inadequate to the challenge of such relationships from which many suffer.

The distinction might be caricatured by the agonized words of Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets, 1997) to a friend offering an explanation for a relational crisis: "I am drowning here and you are describing the water".

Possibility of an implicit pattern

The following exploration is of a radically different nature. Within the problematic context indicated above any possibility of reframing it merits a degree of consideration, however speculative -- as a precondition of creative brainstorming.

The argument here is that the complex processes associated with DNA are so fundamental to life that they merit consideration for their implications for the organization of psychosocial dynamics on a larger scale. Arguments for this include:

  • as a robust set of structures and processes, those of DNA may be said to have been thoroughly "tested" over millions of years to eliminate fundamental systemic weaknesses -- something that cannot be said for many "models" of reconciliation currently on offer
  • in the light of general systems theory, as a viable system, the underlying pattern is likely to be applicable to some degree on a larger scale (cf James Grier Miller, Living Systems, 1978). After all why should evolution be expected to avoid benefitting from a model that has proven its efficacy?
  • the processes associated with DNA demonstrably integrate a higher degree of complexity and variety -- presumably (or at least potentially) of an order commensurate with that requisite for the appropriate governance of psychosocial systems
  • in the light of the technique proposed by Joël de Rosnay (The Macroscope, 1979) for detecting the patterns of larger systems (by analogy with the microscope), understanding at the micro-level may offer guidance to understanding of systems of a larger scale. This approach was a stimulus to the study of Luc de Brabandère (Le Latéroscope: systèmes et créativité, 1989; The Forgotten Half of Change: achieving greater creativity through changes in perception, 2005 ).

Given this context, from a systemic perspective, it is encouraging with respect to the challenge to human capacity of global governance that at the human cellular level:

  • that the number of bases in the human genome (approx 6 billion), so recently "discovered", so closely approximates the population of the planet (approx 6 billion), so recently documented, and that the number of "base pairs" (approx 3 billion) might naturally be expected to correspond to the number of gender pairs;
  • and, furthermore, that the number of molecular lesions in the human genome per year (approx 0.6%) is of the same order as that of the global mortality rate per year (approx 0.8%)

The comparison may be considered flawed in the light of the much lower levels of the human population in earlier periods -- when the human genome was essentially the same. However this fails to take into account the cognitive dimension that it is only recently that humanity acquired the capacity to assess both the level of its own global population and the global characteristics of its own genome.

Given that humanity has neither developed the capacity to control its population levels sustainably, nor to eliminate mortality associated with failure manifesting at the cellular level, it is clearly peculiarly dependent on catastrophic failure of relationships (generically understood from the macro to the micro level) for its own survival. There is therefore a case for assuming that systemically the correspondence between the above figures may be indicative of some significance beyond pure coincidence.

The following argument is not however dependent on this assumption although it is nevertheless curious that the governance capacity to respond to systemic problems arising from both overpopulation and disease (notably AIDs) is specifically inhibited by doctrines of the Abrahamic religions. These are all highly challenged both in their relationship to each other, and with regard to that between men and women -- as well as dependent on ensuring an early total catastrophic failure of relationships in order to engender a prophesied global resolution of these difficulties. Faith-based governance, cultivating demonisation and evoking terrorism, is promoted to that end (cf Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004).

The argument is not intended to question the good intentions of those whose understandings of psychosocial dynamics enable them to respond with some degree of viability (at least to their satisfaction) to the various manifestations of the "clash of civilizations" -- whether on the larger social scale or at the interpersonal level. Rather, given the high level of fatality that these dynamics continue to engender, the question is whether more radical framings may in the future offer yet more appropriate approaches to these clashes.

In particular this exploration acknowledges, as fundamental to the dynamics that call for elucidation, the self-reflexive challenge of any approach -- however self-righteously offered by the wisest or most spiritual. Any such approach (perhaps necessarily) engenders an opposing approach by which it will in all probability be "demonised". This dimension is especially relevant in the light of the optimistic global efforts to promote global governance and consensus through particular (and largely self-selected) institutions (cf discussion in Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007 ).

In the current context, new approaches are as likely as any to offer relevant insights, especially if they are grounded in million year old patterns.

The question here is whether DNA offers special insight into the "pattern that connects" the "clashing" elements of psychosocial dynamics to which the best and the brightest have little meaningful response in practice -- except possibly to bomb "back to the Stone Age" (if only metaphorically) those who disagree with their prescription. That there could well be such a relationship between DNA and the "pattern that connects" might be construed as implied by the contextual argument in which that phrase was famously first presented by Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979).

How then might DNA offer a dynamic "holding pattern" as it does in microbiological life processes? As a metaphor, does it offer a new way of framing polarized psychosocial dynamics? Is that better than what is currently on offer?

It is also appropriate to note that the following exploration is in harmony with insights of some indigenous cultures, as documented by Jeremy Narby (The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge, 1999). This might itself be seen as consistent with the Biblical adage that "The first shall be last and the last shall be first". As Narby notes, the insight is echoed in the Biblical account of Jacob's Ladder -- common to the Abrahamic religions. The question is what are the "steps" on such a ladder and why might "the first" on it be so closely associated with "the last"?

It is indeed possible that the Edenic harmony is to be found in comprehension of the nature of the harmonies of correspondences between clashing forces, rather than in the elimination of the incommensurable qualities that distinguish them.

Correspondences and complementarities: "moonshine connectivity"

In an earlier exploration (Theories of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative thinking, 2007) attention was drawn to the co-existence of two distinct sets of theories of correspondences, those associated with traditional symbolist thinking and those associated with algebraic thinking. The point was made there that no studies have endeavoured to relate these two modes despite curious similarities and the possibility that the second endeavoured to supplant the first -- without being able to acknowledge its significance.

Both sets of correspondences do however bridge credibly across a cognitive chasm in ways that are not readily comprehensible or explicable to conventional thinking. That exploration in fact arose from a study of a major discovery in mathematics that was triggered by what was termed by mathematicians "moonshine" correspondences, in that they had qualities that were suspiciously inexplicable (cf discussion in Potential Psychosocial Significance of Monstrous Moonshine: an exceptional form of symmetry as a Rosetta stone for cognitive frameworks, 2007).

Rather than seek here to highlight the many aspects of correspondences that may be of relevance to this exploration, an initial example can be given in terms of aesthetics and poiesis. In its simplest terms cognitive significance is attached to associations established in poetry, music or song based on rhyme or rhythm, consonance and counterpoint. This may be such as to evoke "beating time to the music" or even dancing to it. Poiesis may be a necessary precursor of autopoiesis ***.

More complex correspondences may be expressed on a larger scale through drama and opera, notably highlighting the process of enantiodromia through which one mode is transformed into its opposite (Psychosocial Energy from Polarization -- within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia, 2007). Psychosocial processes on the largest scale may be understood as drama and may offer instances of such enantiodromia -- as with the development of the policies of the USA from the Cold War period in supposedly dramatic contrast to those of totalitarianism.

Correspondences may be recognized in the complementarity between contrasting individuals or groups, whether in the form of affinities that "work" (however inexplicable to others), through antipathies significant to both parties, or through some profound sense of "rapport". This phenomenon may be described using metaphors of mirroring -- where one is understood to be a (possibly transformed or distorted) image of the other. According to some psychotherapeutic frameworks, any such problematic mirroring may be described in terms of a "shadow" and the challenge of encountering "The Other" (cf Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams (Eds). Meeting the Shadow: the hidden power of the dark side of human nature, 1991; "Human Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other", 2007).

In purely aesthetic terms it is possible to incorporate a variety of correspondences into a design. This may be deliberately done in order to raise the spirit of the observer in some way. This approach was central to the Renaissance concerns of Marsilio Ficino and variously described as natural magic or sympathetic magic (Sutton Pub and D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic: from Ficino to Campanella, 2000). Chinese culture has notably continued to recognize related sensitivity through the discipline and practice of feng shui. Variants are characteristic of contemporary concerns with fashion, decor and creating ambiance. More challenging are the traditional uses of rhyming "spells" to induce effects by "magic" -- usefully construed to include advertising jingles (that also "work").

The argument here is that greater awareness of complementaries and correspondences allows them to be used as viable stepping stones through which to walk in domains outside -- or more specifically between -- the frameworks provided by various conventions and forms of conventional thinking. The credibility of this is readily recognized when an unusual gesture is made that, although seeming to break the rules of convention, is nevertheless understood (and especially "felt") to be appropriate.

The question is whether these steps may be understood to be configured in any way. A stepping stone may be an isolated stone in a river or accompanied by others. In creating ambiance an interplay is sought between a variety of complementarities. This is specifically the case within a piece of music or poetry. How are these to be understood as offering a means to uplift the spirit? Are they then better understood as steps on some form of staircase or ladder to a condition of higher potential --- or possibly even to one of lower potential? How many steps may be associated with such a raising out of the mundane condition?

Should the sequence of metaphors associated with the learning process of progressive initiation into more fundamental comprehension be understood as forming such a stairway of correspondences -- notably as cultivated in degrees of initiation? (cf Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991).

Curiously environments where a set of complementaries are in play are not normally distinguished by the degree of qualitative enhancement that they enable. Efforts to do so are constrained by limitations on the superlatives that can be used and the interpretations that can be given to them. The context may be appreciatively described as "magical" or even "sacred".

The question raised here is whether, understood in this way, correspondences offer a means of stepping lightly between the poles of binary thinking. Is it then somehow possible to walk between clashing opposites through recognition of the cognitive support that a complementarity offers? In particular, through recognition of a set of such correspondences, is it possible to use them as a form of staircase? In that case does DNA, for the reasons indicated above, offer insights into the structure of that staircase and the psychodynamics that may be associated with it?

A "hidden" stairway?

Clearly recognizing the possibility of such movement -- "slipping between the walls" -- is relatively easy for those with aesthetic sensibilities, if only to music. Such "hidden" possibilities may also evoke the kinds of worldwide excitement associated with rumours of secret codes (as with the Da Vinci Code and imitations thereof). For those locked into conventional thinking, the possibility may be as problematic as the threatening chaos that the autistic may experience -- challenged to understand the rules for such behaviour.

But whilst one may or may not have experience of how such an "unconventional" movement "works", it is interesting to note various forms of recognition of it in mythology and legend:

  • the challenge of navigating Scylla and Charybdis is one classical example
  • the Vedic insight regarding Neti Neti (not this, not that) is another
  • the two pillars, Boaz and Jachin, of Solomon's Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:21; 2 Kings 11:14; 23:3) of significance to the ritual of freemasonry and other esoteric groups, and common features of their symbolic architecture.
  • as noted elsewhere (The Isdom of the Wisdom Society: Embodying time as the heartland of humanity, 2003), mytho-poetic folk legends, and modern fictional explorations, serve to sustain and echo the archetypal insights in many cultures relating to elder "ancestral" races who "withdrew into the stones" -- or to those that may have been "trapped" therein, like Merlin and the proverbial geni in the bottle. Most curiously, one of the most popular and best known Christian hymns has as its opening lines: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee [more | more].
  • as an extension of the last point, a number of theological studies refer to the necessarily "broken symbols" through which people are reminded of the broken world in which they live and which appropriate insight may heal as a dwelling place "for eternity" (cf Barry L. Davis, Broken Symbols, 2006; Robert Cummings Neville, The Truth of Broken Symbols, 1996). Whenever reference is made to something through symbols, this is an indication that it is representative of something else - generally much greater than the symbol itself.
  • in Theravada Buddhism, the Middle Way is understood as a description of a Nirvana-bound path of moderation -- between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification through the practice of wisdom, morality and mental cultivation. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Middle Way refers to transcendental ways of approaching seemingly antithetical claims about reality.
  • the decorative art of China, including temples and traditional folk dances, focuses extensively on the theme of two dragons, typically depicted facing one another in the air in eager pursuit of a spinning pearl floating like an iridescent bubble between them. This theme was a mark of books issued under imperial auspices. For Taoists, the complex associations of that pearl include wisdom, yang energy, truth and life -- even the everlasting life of those who perceive the truth and attain enlightenment. Elsewhere (Psycho-social Significance of the Mandelbrot Set: a sustainable boundary between chaos and order, 2005), it was suggested that the two dragons can readily be associated with the two sides of the standard rendering of the Mandelbrot set -- in pursuit of the circular 2-period ball.
  • as with the Chinese dragons, complementary (magical) beasts, "counter-rampant" are a common feature of heraldic devices symbolic of the identity of dynasties and nations
  • numerous political groups have endeavoured to articulate a "third way", to avoid the polarizing extremes of left and right-wing politics (Anthony Giddens, The Third Way: the renewal of social democracy, 1998 ; The Third Way And Its Critics, 2000)

To the extent that the intermediary passage is an open secret, it is seemingly only "hidden" by fixation on the attraction or repulsion of the twin guardians -- however symbolized -- of the way between them. Correspondences subtly introduce what is effectively a "spacer beam", holding the opposing forces apart in order to provide a viable cognitive pathway. Such a beam might be understood in terms of the best of counter-intuitive lateral thinking.

The degree of "openness" of the "secret" is perhaps best exemplified by what has been ambiguously translated as the Gateless Gate -- echoed in a very common symbolic portal in China and Japan -- whose paradoxical cognitive nature is indicated through a classic collection of 48 Zen koans (Mumonkan; Wumenguan) and their many commentaries. Its comprehension resists description in logical terms, as this quotation from the preface by the compiler Mumon (or Wumen) indicates:

The great path has no gates,
Yet thousands of roads enter it.
When one passes through this gateless gate,
He walks freely between heaven and hell.

Spiral stairway -- threatening and/or broken?

Curiously freemasonry, as described by Albert G. Mackey (The Symbolism of Freemasonry, 1882), has also cultivated The Legend of the Winding Stairs associated with access to the so-called Middle Chamber:

Although the legend of the Winding Stairs forms an important tradition of Ancient Craft Masonry, the only allusion to it in Scripture is to be found in a single verse in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings, and is in these words: "The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third." Out of this slender material has been constructed an allegory, which, if properly considered in its symbolical relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty. But it is only as a symbol that we can regard this whole tradition; for the historical facts and the architectural details alike forbid us for a moment to suppose that the legend, as it is rehearsed in the second degree of Masonry, is anything more than a magnificent philosophical myth.

A further study has been made by Homer L. Zurrrwalt (A Study of the Winding Staircase, 1989) since it is a key feature in the design of King Solomon's Temple that is central to the symbolism of freemasonry. He notes it has been made a central feature of the Second Degree which every Fellowcraft Mason must symbolically ascend in order to make his advancement in the degree. This is explained in more detail elsewhere (Charles A. Sankey, The Winding Stair to the Middle Chamber, 1968). The focus in masonic use is on the value-related symbolism of a succession of steps in the winding stairs (The Winding Stairs, Short Talk Bulletin, January 1932, 1):

There actually was a winding stair in Solomon's Temple, but of the three, five and seven steps the scriptures are silent.  Only in this country have the Winding Stairs but fifteen steps.  In older days the stairs had but five, sometimes seven steps.  Preston had thirty-six steps in his Winding Stairs; in series of one, three, five, seven, nine and eleven.  The English system later eliminated the number eleven from Preston's thirty-six, making but twenty-five in all.  The Stairs as a whole are a representation of life; not the physical life of eating, drinking, sleeping and working, but the mental and spiritual life, of both the lodge and the world without; of learning, studying, enlarging mental horizons and increasing the spiritual outlook.

If the pattern, exemplified in DNA, holds more generally -- as suggested here -- then it is to be expected that it holds whether one believes in it or not, and to whatever degree. The cognitive dynamics of "believing in it" (or not) may well be fundamental to the operation of the pattern. It may well hold in some way at a range of scales, from the personal to the global (as discussed below). The question for the moment (and especially in the moment) is how such a stairway may be experienced -- if it is only partially experienced -- and what are the pathological forms of partial experience?

Suggestive clues may be obtained by comparing how stairways are experienced as unsafe with current understanding of how DNA may be damaged (and repaired) -- bearing in mind that the systems of the human body necessarily have a comprehensive understanding of the latter:

  • Potentially unsafe stairways (and their associated dangers): This is a common experience for those personally familiar with ruins, but it has been widely explored in movie scenes. Possibilities include:
    • fragility of steps however solid they may appear (wood rot, etc) -- especially if they appear to be made of unusual materials
    • invisibility of steps (due to inadequate lighting or to optical illusions) calling for an act of faith in both their presence and solidity
    • special, and possibly unfamiliar, requirements for walking -- possibly to avoid inducing destructive vibrations (as with ropeways)
    • absence (or invisibility) of any supporting far wall and the consequent danger of falling off
    • any counter-intuitive need to avoid the prudence of clinging to the proximate side of the stairway
    • the presence of unforeseeable others, of unimaginable nature and motivation, on the strange stairway -- especially if it is not clear where it goes or the identity of those who may make use of it

  • Damage to DNA: This occurs at a rate of 1,000 to 1,000,000 molecular lesions per cell per day due to environmental (exogenous) factors and normal metabolic (endogenous) processes inside the cell. It corrupts the integrity and accessibility of essential information, notably altering the spatial configuration of the helix.

    The replication of damaged DNA before cell division can lead to the incorporation of wrong bases opposite damaged ones. Daughter cells that inherit these wrong bases carry mutations from which the original DNA sequence is typically unrecoverable. Accumulation of extensive DNA damage by a cell, or its inability to continue DNA repair to damage incurred, results in its entering one of three possible states:
      • an irreversible state of dormancy, known as senescence
      • cell suicide, also known as apoptosis or programmed cell death
      • unregulated cell division, which can lead to the formation of a tumor that is cancerous

Table 1: Indicative patterns of DNA damage and repair
to be interpreted as a comprehensive guide to the challenge of relating to a complementary "Other"
(further information is available from the extensive Wikipedia entry and its links)

DNA damage by a range of mutagens can be subdivided into two main types:
  • endogenous damage to DNA due to endogenous cellular processes:
    • oxidation of bases from reactive oxygen species produce multiple forms of damage, including base modifications, as well as double-strand breaks
    • alkylation of bases (usually methylation), such as formation of 7-methylguanine
    • hydrolysis of bases, such as deamination, depurination and depyrimidination.
    • mismatch of bases, due to errors in DNA replication, in which the wrong DNA base is stitched into place in a newly forming DNA strand, or a DNA base is skipped over or mistakenly inserted.
  • exogenous damage caused by external agents such as
    • ultraviolet radiation from the sun causing crosslinking between adjacent cytosine and thymine bases creating pyrimidine dimers in a DNA strand
    • ionizing radiation such as that created by radioactive decay or in cosmic rays causes breaks in DNA strands.
    • thermal disruption at elevated temperature increases the rate of depurination, and notably hydrolytic depurination
    • certain plant toxins
    • human-made mutagenic chemicals, especially aromatic compounds that act as DNA intercalating agents resulting in insertion into the space between two adjacent base pairs; intercalators are mostly aromatic and planar molecules distorting the DNA strands by unwinding of the double helix thereby inhibiting both transcription and DNA replication, causing toxicity and mutations.
    • cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy
DNA repair mechanisms: Depending on the type of damage inflicted on the DNA's double helical structure, a variety of repair strategies have evolved to restore lost information. If possible, cells use the unmodified complementary strand of the DNA or the sister chromatid as a template to losslessly recover the original information. Without access to a template, cells use an error-prone recovery mechanism known as translesion synthesis as a last resort
  • direct reversal is achieved by three types of chemical process
  • single strand damage to one of the two strands of a double helix may be repaired by using the other strand as a template to guide the correction of the damaged strand.
  • double-strand breaks are particularly hazardous to the cell because they can lead to genome rearrangements; two mechanisms exist to repair them
  • translesion synthesis involves the use of specialized translesion DNA polymerases that can insert bases at the site of damage but with some risk of mutation.

Understood in terms of a stairwell, it is vital to recognize the cognitive challenge of the unfamiliar, if one's primary association is with one pole of the binary -- whether or not it is understood to be purportedly bridged by a sense of correspondence and complementarity. The other side may be existentially terrifying whatever may be hypothesised about its complementarity.

The terror of such unfamiliarity may be readily associated with the demonic -- as is only too evident in the tendency to demonize those who hold unfamiliar views evoking disagreement. In this sense any such supposed step on the stairway beyond doctrinal convention may be quite appropriately framed as encountering "Satan on one's doorstep". It is understandable why some belief systems are totally opposed to forms of aesthetics that may suggest correspondences and complementarities that relate them to other belief systems with which they have no conventional (doctrinal) affinity.

I summon to the winding ancient stair;
Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
Upon the breathless starlit air,
'Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
Fix every wandering thought upon
That quarter where all thought is done:
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul?

(from W B Yeats, A Dialogue of Self and Soul)

Guarding the entrance: the "wisdom keepers"

Perhaps the most curious feature of the open secret is the manner in which it is guarded. Given the above selection of examples from different cultures and traditions, a fundamental question might be how "jealously" it is guarded and to what end? In the case of the twin dragons, the "secret" is widely and frequently publicized in dragon dance ceremonies -- notably in rural communities. Symbolic twin columns, with appropriately symbolic beasts as guardians, are admired as characteristic of many temple-like designs. As noted above, such columns are a characteristic feature of masonic temples and initiation ceremonies -- and of common heraldic devices.

It would seem that there are various possibilities:

  • that the knowledge of meaningful access to any intermediary way is effectively lost
  • that the architectural and symbolic representations are accepted as having ceased to perform any genuine role as psychoactive reminders or catalysts of insight and merely serve decorative ceremonial purposes -- echoing (nostalgically) what might have been and what (longingly) might come to be (cf Connie Zweig, The Holy Longing: the hidden power of spiritual yearning, 2003).
  • that claims to the knowledge (whether real or illusory) are indeed jealously guarded as secret because of the power that so doing is held to offer, if only with respect to those seeking to acquire access
  • that the nature of the secret, to the extent that it is understood, is mistakenly understood in some way
  • that the very nature of the secret lies in the difficulty in communicating such subtly intimate knowledge, whatever the motivation to do so

One interesting, if tragic, example is that of the traditional "wisdom keepers" of indigenous cultures. In addition to their values having been well-disparaged by the currently dominant world culture, well-meaning efforts to position and promote their insights might themselves be seen to be counterproductive. Sadly it might be said of the Wisdom Keepers assembled on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) that they were indeed the most effective of those gathered there in achieving their apparent objectives. Not a trace of their wisdom emerged. Or is that the very nature of wisdom -- that its expression should leave no "traces"? Or is it that its nature lies in how it is comprehended by others -- if at all?

A quite different example is that of freemasonry, given the degree to which the eminent and powerful are in some way secretly complicit in its processes at the highest level of leadership (cf Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid", 2003) . To the extent that freemasonry, as noted above, indeed holds and enables such profound insights amongst its members, it might be asked how (or why) such insights have failed to imbue global leadership with greater wisdom -- whether through intergovernmental institutions or the various world councils of the wise (see discussion in Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007) . Or is it the case that the problematic nature of the dysfunctional dynamics of the times are in some way integral to the sustainability of the holding pattern that the wise consider appropriate? What is it that they are allowing (not) to happen and why? (cf The Deafening Silence of Those Who Know Nothing, 1998).

As with the purported ideal of classic imperial China, is it the case that the secret of governance at the highest level is a form of inaction -- however mysterious? (cf The Quest for the Socio-Economics of Non-Action, 1993; The Art of Non-Decision-Making and the manipulation of categories, 1997). Is this how the wise view their relationship to what the Club of Rome has named as the problematique -- without being able to give significant content to the corresponding resolutique? (Council of the Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution, 1991, edited by Alexander King and Bertrand Schneider).

Is it this secret:

  • that is held to absolve those at the very highest level of being called to account for problematic initiatives for which they have been responsible, or with which they have been complicit -- including those triggering calls for their indictment?
  • that is the basis for the "creative accounting" of which they are so often accused -- perhaps justified by a correspondingly dubious "creative ethic"?
  • that offers those "in the know" the necessary "wiggle room" to navigate these problematic times with effective impunity -- however criminal their actions may appear to others?

How many "in the know" have indeed been complicit in the Iraq debacle, and are complicit (at the time of writing) in the build-up to a nuclear strike on Iran -- in preference to providing effective aid to those in dire straits (Dafur, etc) ?

On the other hand, it might presumably be imagined that those "in the know" consider the level of tragic fatalities and suffering in today's civilization to be necessary and appropriate (despite their skillfully publicized "sincere" regrets) to sustaining the psychodynamics of the system. They may even consider it appropriate occasionally to fine tune the level of fatalities with any of the instruments of the Four Horsemen -- as a means of "assisting God's work". The logic of such a perspective was explored in the notorious Report from Iron Mountain -- possibly to be considered a precursor to that of the UN's Global Compact and that of the European Economic Forum (cf "Globalization": the UN's "Safe Haven" for the World's Marginalized -- the Global Compact with Multinational Corporations as the UN's "Final Solution", 2001)

Spiral stairwells and screw conveyors

If the DNA pattern holds, however, why the spiral? How may the spiral and twist be of psychosocial significance in development of understanding -- in contrast with other intuitions, such as those regarding a simple, linear "Jacob's Ladder"?

A previous exploration (Potential Misuse of the Conveyor Metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic essential to its appropriate operation, 2007) reviewed insights into the significance of the conveyor as a metaphor of development and notably of spiritual development, as specifically advocated by Ken Wilber (The Conveyor Belt. Ch. 9 of Integral Spirituality: a startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world, Shambhala, 2006). The section in that exploration on spiral staircases and screw conveyors (omitted from an abridged version of the paper published in the Journal of Futures Studies) is reproduced in this and the following section.

The process of "return" 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.

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.
(from T S Eliot, Ash Wednesday)

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. Curiously the spiral staircase is often used as an example of an architectural design 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:

I am trying to describe an experience that has nothing whatever to do with words or ideas and is not amenable to the logic of grammar and neat sentences that put things into an order that makes sense... It is as though a comforting veil of illusion has been ripped away and you see the world without form, without significance, purposeless, blind, trivial, spiteful and ugly to the core. T S Eliot describes something similar in the third poem of Ash Wednesday. He is climbing a spiral staircase, a mythical image of the 'ascent' of the mind and heart to spiritual enlightenment. But 'At the first turning of the second stair' he sees a shape twisted into the bannister, surrounded by vaporous, foetid air, and he is forced to struggle with the 'devil of the stairs'. He leaves these convoluted forms behind, and at the next turning finds only darkness: 'Damp, jagged, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair. Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark', the underbelly of consciousness that lurks in the basement of our minds. (p. 75)

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:

There was a complete and satisfying 'fit' between my inner and outer worlds. The poem, with its quiet, haunting accuracy, perfectly expressed my own state, and endorsed it, showing that I had... somehow stumbled upon a truth about the human consciousness and the way men and women work.... In the very first poem of the sequence... the verse constantly turns upon itself in repetition of word, image and sound. Repeatedly the poet tells us, 'I do not hope to turn again', and yet throughout the poem, he is doing just that, slowly ascending to one insight after another. And even though he insists that he has abandoned hope, I felt paradoxically encouraged. (p 164-5)

Paradoxical existential dynamics of the spiral stairway

Whilst this is an admirable experiential account, it somehow seeks to design out the significance of what Armstrong 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 (and illusory in its own right?).

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:

It is a process of death and resurrection: initiates die to their childhood and rise again to an entirely different life as mature human beings... The idea is that in these extreme circumstances, the young discover inner resources that will enable them to serve their people as fully functioning adults. The purpose... is thus to transform dependent children into responsible self-reliant adults... and if necessary to die in order to protect their people. (p 45)

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.

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, fundamental to yoga and tantra, that characterizes the spiraling channels (ida and pingala) entwined around the spinal sushumna, with their particular points of intersection, or by the caduceus of western tradition -- an example of the double spiral symbol common to many cultures.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

(from W B Yeats, The Second Coming)

Fundamental knower-known relationship

If the pattern, as suggested here, is indeed of relevance to a way of reframing sterile and unfruitful polarized dynamics, it is to be suspected that it would be of relevance (recursively and self-reflexively) to the very relationship between knower and known. This is the "conventional" relationship between "the observer" and "reality" with which people are faced in their daily lives -- even moment by moment. The self-reflexive challenge has been extensively documented by Douglas Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid: a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll, 1979; I Am a Strange Loop, 2007) and variously by others (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999; Henryk Skolimowski, Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe, 1994).

There are many traces of the recognition that there is a degree of mirroring of "knower" and "known" (Mirroring and Mixing Metaphors, 2006; My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) worthwhile, 2002).

Contrasting understandings of enlightenment in Chinese Buddhism have been expressed through contrasting understandings of a mirror metaphor. Philosophically both perspectives are based on a belief in the intrinsic purity of mind, which, while pure in its self-nature, is soiled by adventitious passions (cf Paul Demiéville. The Mirror of the Mind. In: Peter N Gregory (Ed) Sudden and Gradual; approaches to enlightenment in Chinese Thought, 1991):

  • the gradualist approach, insists that effort is necessary to rid the mind of these foreign impurities, expressed through the metaphor of wiping and polishing a mirror;
  • the sudden approach to awakening considers only its essential purity, hence the refusal to recognize the existence of any impurity needing to be removed.

The corresponding, mutually challenging, verses are:

  • The body is the tree of the awakening; The mind is like a clear mirror. Be unceasingly diligent in wiping it and polishing it, So that it will be without dust.
  • Awakening entails no tree at all, Nor does the clear mirror entail any material frame. The Buddha-nature is eternally pure; Where could there be any dust?

Curiously no reference is made to the fact that these "opposing" views -- fundamental to two "opposing" belief systems -- might themselves be seen as mirror images of each other. As correspondences, it is between them that one is called to step.

The mirror metaphor, with its optical associations, also offers a way of reframing speculations about "speculative freemasonry" -- especially given its embodiment in the title Masonic Mirror and Keystone (an early periodical). In the year in which the first play (Love's Labour's Lost, 1598) bearing the name of W. Shakespeare was published, an anonymous translation of Guillaume de la Perrière's Le miroir politique was published by Adam Islip as the The Mirror of Policie -- in which a freemason with square and compasses is depicted (cf Ron Heisler, The Impact of Freemasonry on Elizabethan Literature, The Hermetic Journal, 1990). As noted by Peter Dawkins (Shakespeare and Freemasonry, Francis Bacon Research Trust, 1997), the masonic references in the Shakespeare plays are numerous, "some fairly obvious and others extremely subtle, but all woven into the text in such a way that they form a natural part of the magical garment".

Norman D. Livergood (The Perennial Tradition, 2003) notes the commentary on a text of Plotinus by Marsilio Ficino (De vita coelitus comparanda) with respect to mirroring of a fundamental kind:

I think . . . that those ancient sages, who sought to secure the presence of divine beings by the erection of shrines and statues, showed insight into the nature of the All; they perceived that, though this Soul (of the world) is everywhere tractable, its presence will be secured all the more readily when an appropriate receptacle is elaborated, a place especially capable of receiving some portion or phase of it, something reproducing it and serving like a mirror to catch an image of it.

Also of relevance to understandings of mirroring, Livergood comments with respect to the title of Ficino's opus, that it might be variously translated as: On Capturing The Life of the Stars, On Obtaining Life From the Heavens, or On Instituting One's Life Celestially but that -- in light of Ficino's fondness for puns -- his title probably means all three and more. Some of these implications have been recently explored by Thomas Moore (Planets Within: the astrological psychology of Marsilio Ficino, 1990). Contemporary variants of this traditional understanding were a theme of a conference of the Scientific and Medical Network at the Pari Center for New Learning (Towards a New Renaissance, 2007).

Disciplines of meditation frequently allude to the possibility of reframing the relationship between knower and known in ways that might be understood in terms of offering access to other, and wiser, modes of understanding. However typically this reframing is described in terms implying a degree of fusion of knower and known -- although the "levels" of insight into the nature of such fusion, as articulated in Buddhism for example, might be said to evoke those of the staircase metaphor, as with the "degrees" of initiation of various esoteric traditions, as noted above (cf Navigating Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms through movement, 2002).

Given the preoccupation of this exploration, it is appropriate to note the number of web sites of schools of meditation specifically addressing the issue of meditation in relation to DNA, based on certain research (Grazyna Fosar and Franz Bludorf. Spiritual Science: DNA is influenced by words and frequencies. In: Vernetzte Intelligenz). These explorations have presumably been considerably encouraged by direct personal experience of fatal illnesses such as cancer and AIDs -- and irrespective of conventional judgements as to their meaninglessness, in comparison with death itself.

It is appropriate to stress that the sense of any correspondence, affinity or rapport, seemingly calls for ways of knowing beyond any intellectual description thereof. It implies a deeper form of (self-)understanding on the part of the knower as much as a degree of cognitive engagement with "the other" constituting an existential challenge (cf Creative Cognitive Engagement: beyond the limitations of descriptive patterning, 2006; "Human Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other", 2007).

From such a perspective, especially intriguing at this point in time are the immense resources devoted by humanity to two fundamental explorations of the known that depend for their success on unconventional understandings of the relationship between knower and known:

  • the Large Hadron Collider, constructed by the CERN particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, that will commence operations in 2007 with the purpose of detecting the Higgs boson, the most elusive speck of matter in the universe. Also termed the God particle, it is supposed to be the key to explaining why matter has mass (Richard Martin, The God Particle and the Grid, Wired, April 2004). A second and larger variant, the International Linear Collider, has been announced (Frederic Garlan, Dark matter and 'God particle' within reach, Cosmos, 15 February 2007)
  • an international tokamak (magnetic confinement fusion) research/engineering project, ITER (under construction in France), intended to investigate the application of insights into plasma physics into future electricity-producing fusion power plants

Both, but notably the latter, suggest the possibility that as complex cognitive templates (like DNA), they may offer special insight into the relationship between knower and known and the nature of processes associated with their "union" or "fusion" (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8), 2006).

Human relationships and "The Other"

The challenge of correspondences, complementarities and affinities has long been recognized as being well reflected in that between man and woman. Much is made of "family values" as fundamental to society. Fundamentalists of every persuasion deplore unconventional and broken relationships -- possibly even to the point of criminalizing them and making them punishable by death. And yet the patterns of complexities and subtleties of such relationships remain a prime focus of interpersonal preoccupation -- and of the media in consequence.

The conventional attitudes, regulated by doctrine and law, are quite distinct from the knowledge of such relationships as experienced by those challenged by affinities (notably by those with the opposite gender) -- experiences for which people have long been prepared to die. The nature of these relationships -- as the essence of "being human" -- has long been a focal challenge for those of aesthetic bent. They have evoked poetry and song in every culture. Archetypal variants were, for example, associated with the Medieval culture of courtly love through which efforts were made to ennoble that relationship.

Most curiously it has typically been men who have endeavoured to circumscribe, regulate and institutionalize such relationships. Even more curious, it has been men -- as in priesthoods specifically required to abstain from such relationships -- who have been empowered to define them for society. Typically they have endeavoured to divert the unconventional experiential ways of knowing associated with such relationships such as to reinforce the more conventional ways of knowing of which they have positioned themselves as gatekeepers and interpreters.

It might be argued, as they have always done, that there is every justification for doing so if it enables more fruitful relationships within society. However it is precisely the total inability of those empowered in this way to relate to others of their own kind, holding different doctrinal positions on the matter, that has resulted in the level of interreligious conflict that has been fatal to millions -- and continues to be so. Their various approaches to appropriating the understanding of subtle relationships and correspondences would seem to have been a historic disaster for which they notably consider themselves free from all responsibility.

The situation might be considered more curious in the case of the craft of freemasonry or of other secret societies -- as supposedly holding subtler insights of "higher degree". It is especially curious in the case of freemasonry because of the manner in which it has been traditionally instituted as a male-only group committed to restricting its insights to its membership -- expected to conform to a code of morality (which, like its code of ethics, is seemingly open to creative interpretation in practice). This would appear to preclude any shared understanding in practice of the nature of such subtle relationships with any "Other", most especially of opposite gender. This might even be considered to be a prime example of enantiodromia whereby, through instituting a system to cultivate subtler forms of knowing, it in fact resulted in a system which precluded such knowing in effective practice -- however it may be celebrated in theory, ritual and symbol.

It is within this context that other approaches to understanding subtle relationships, involving those of both genders, have been set. As an extreme example, it is understandable how threatening is perceived to be the challenge of "witchcraft" for the Christian and other religions. More intriguing is the perceived justification in traditional societies for the separate secret societies of men and women and whether, through this separation, subtler understandings of relationship are cultivated that are meaningful to sustaining their culture in practice (cf A. P. Elkin, Aboriginal Men of High Degree: initiation and sorcery in the world's oldest tradition, 1993; Darrell A. Posey, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999).

Not only do religions continue to exacerbate bloody conflict, through their inability to exhibit understanding of the practice of subtler relationships with those of other ways of knowing -- whether other religions, science or the arts. They have also effectively exposed society to an increasing pattern of unfruitful and broken relationships -- as reflected in divorce and HIV statistics. In effect each religion is in the invidious position of claiming to have a solution to unfruitful relationships -- within its own doctrinal framework -- whilst simultaneously exacerbating bloody conflict (especially destructive of human relationships) with those of a different framework. More curious still, as with freemasonry, are the curious dynamics regarding access to roles within priesthoods of those of the opposite gender.

It is appropriate to argue that the quality of understanding of relationships offered by religion is therefore totally inadequate to the challenge of the psychodynamics of 21st century society. By extension it might be argued that religion, as with many other current belief systems, continues to reinforce inadequate (if not primitive) understanding of the challenging relationship with any "Other" -- namely with those who are different or who disagree. This is currently exemplified by the simplistic, Stone Age, response to those selectively framed and labelled as "terrorists".

It is therefore interesting to explore whether richer insights into such subtle relationships are to be found in the structure and dynamics of DNA -- especially given the manner in which they are at the root of the reproductive capacity of the human race. Do the challenges of "DNA damage" and "DNA repair" (noted above) offer insights into those of damaged human relationships and the possibilities of repairing them? Note however, as stressed above, that any such insights relate to the subtle, hidden, experiential nature of such relationships -- to which the arts can but allude. The doctrinal account, especially as elaborated authoritatively by men, is but one mode of knowing that typically --- if not necessarily -- misrepresents or deforms understanding of another. As emphasized above, it is in the complementarity between these modes of knowing that lies the stairwell of affinities offering access to subtler patterns of relationship.

It is ironic that in this period of crisis for humanity the knowledge and opportunity of genetic engineering and "biotech" have been recognized:

  • Is it possible that the knowledge will offer relevant insight into a vital and more appropriate "science of human relationships"?
  • Beyond the self-interested psyops of the superpowers and the advertising industry, is it possible that an analogue to genetic engineering will offer new approaches to repairing the kinds relationships that are otherwise recognized as likely to engender ever more bloody conflicts?
  • That new understandings of the nature of possible "union" may be possible? (cf Dynamic Reframing of "Union": implications for the coherence of knowledge, social organization and personal identity, 2007)

Such a "prefigurative" capacity has been well argued by Jacques Attali (Noise: the political economy of music, 1977/1985) in relation to music. He suggests that the patterns of psychosocial organization characteristic of the 20th century were prefigured and sustained by those of the music of the 19th century. This suggested that the patterns of organization characteristic of the music of the 20th century would be fundamental to the psychosocial organization of the 21st century (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007). From this perspective there is a fatal irony to the use of Beethoven's Ode to Joy as the anthem of an institutional Europe. This has been deliberately institutionalized (at the time of writing) without democratic consultation, in a period when the Eurovision Song Contest was won through a democratic process, by a demonically garbed heavy metal rock group (cf A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006).

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
(double-ringed)
hydrogen bonding pyrimidines
(single-ringed)
Stable nucleotide
base pairs

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

guanine
(G)
 
GC pairing via
3 hydrogen bonds

cytosine

(C)
 
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 ]
Occurrence
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
U C A G
1st
base
(in
codon
triplet)
U

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

C

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

A

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

G

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)
hydrogen
bonds
Nucleotide bases
(implicit in Table 4: other strand)
Component of
hexagram
structure code number code nucleotide
structure
digram
name
double-ringed A 2 U (or T) single-
ringed
young_yin young yin
single-ringed U (or T) 2 A double-
ringed
old_yin old yin
double-ringed G 3 C single-
ringed
young_yang young yang
single-ringed C 3 G double-
ringed
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:

CreatCreation of Man by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel)
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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