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15 December 2014 | Draft

Engaging with Insight of a Higher Order

Reconciling complexity and simplexity through memorable metaphor

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Higher orders of perfection?
Appreciation of higher orders of insight
Complementarity of manifestations of perfection
Re-cognition of higher orders of insight through "new thinking"
Representation, memorability and metaphor
Questionable metaphors of perfectibility meriting challenge
Greater insight through holiness?
Engaging with higher orders of insight
Antithesis and anathema: challenge of the "Satanic"?
Potential of mirroring in engaging with greater insight


This is an exploration of the process of encountering insight of a higher order -- or seemingly so. Understood in its most general terms, this could be an insight which explains everything (a Theory of Everything), a strategy which solves all problems (the Ultimate Panacea), an exemplar understood as embodying a higher order (a Leader, a Genius, a Master, a Guru, a Professor), or a totally transformative aesthetic experience (perhaps a Revelation). Also to be considered are the implications of possible higher orders of artificial intelligence from supercomputers, as well as contact with superintelligent extraterrestrials.

The assumption here is that the sense of higher order implies an extraordinary sense of perfection -- relative to one's current ordinary experience. How then to engage with the experience of perfection? How to "handle" it in practice? The challenge is of course charmingly illustrated by the encounter with an unusually attractive person -- an encounter which may mysteriously conflate all the above (as when falling in love).

The exploration is of current relevance to the extent that there is a degree of hope, if not anticipation, with respect to the emergence of an Ultimate Plan, perhaps articulated by an extraordinarily charismatic individual, perhaps in the light of some ultimate Theory of Everything. Any anticipation of a Messiah of some kind may however be mitigated by the possibility that the complexity of the proposal, and the simple terms in which it is presented, may obscure the degree to which it is fundamentally exploitative -- meriting alternative suspicions of the "Satanic".

The approach taken here is not to presume on the nature of any higher order insight. Rather the effort is to consider how it might be recognized as a "strange attractor" and the implications for how one might engage with it -- whether as an individual or as a group.

The specific concern is not with ideal strategies for world peace, persistent territorial or border disputes, divided nations, or controversial issues like climate change. Rather the concern is the characteristics of an ideal strategic plan, its sustaining philosophy, or the exemplars who might articulate it -- but particularly whether or how these could be recognized, and how one might then engage with them.

This is an exercise in exploring the limits of what can be said about greater insight -- but without presuming to say anything from such a perspective. The value of doing so can be variously indicated (Gyorgy Doczi, The Power of Limits: proportional harmonies in nature, art, and architecture, 2005; Michael A. Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, 1994).

Higher orders of perfection?

The examples above suggest various ways of understanding "higher", "order" and "perfection" -- presumably to be associated in combination with some special sense of "clarity", if not enlightenment. Wikipedia indicates that "perfection" is actually used to designate a range of diverse, if often kindred, concepts. These concepts have historically been addressed in a number of discrete disciplines, notably mathematics, physics, chemistry, ethics, aesthetics, ontology, and theology. The focus here is on its recognition and comprehension -- and on the consequences of doing so -- but not on the process of achieving it. How is it to be recognized if encountered?

Theory of Everything: For anyone in quest of scientific or philosophical explanation, the emergence of such a theory would be a fundamental challenge. The implication of such a theory would evoke questions of:

With such criteria, and others, how are the "specs" of such a Theory to be imagined? What of the controversial arguments of Gregory Chaitin (Meta Math!: The Quest for Omega, 2006). More superficially, what might be the criteria for a model of a Theory of Everything, as separately explored (Criteria for an Adequate Meta-model, 1971)?

How might one live in an environment framed by an all-encompassing philosophy, or a Theory of Everything, that one did not understand -- especially if others claimed to understand it, or were suspected of doing so?

Ultimate Strategic Panacea: The challenge of governance, whether globally, nationally, or locally (or for oneself), could be seen as the quest for a strategic panacea -- a plan which really does address all the evident problems effectively. This can be imagined as a form of Holy Grail, as separately explored (In Quest of Sustainability as Holy Grail of Global Governance, 2011), as the mythical elixir of immortality, or as the universal solvent of alchemy. As with a Theory of Everything, this would imply issues such as:

Again, how should the design "specs" for such a Global Strategy be imagined, as may be separately discussed (Imagining Attractive Global Governance: questioning possibilities and constraints of well-boundedness, 2013; Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007) ?

How might one live in an environment governed by a Global Strategy one did not understand -- especially if others claimed to understand it, or knowledge of it was restricted to an elite?

Exemplar of Perfection: Rather than being articulated otherwise, any sense of a Theory of Everything (or of an Ultimate Panacea) could well be embodied in a person -- whether a Leader, a Genius, a Master, or a Guru -- of global, national, or local scope. Rather than an individual, such an exemplar could take the form of a group. As noted above, it might also include superintelligent extraterrestrials (James Jaege, Superintelligent Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations; Aliens, How Smart Are They? Future Watch). Also to be considered is future contact with supercomputer artificial intelligence (Nick Bostrom, Get ready for the dawn of superintelligence, New Scientist, 5 July 2014), possibly understood in the form of a global brain. The encounter with such an exemplar would imply issues analogous to those above:

How are the "specs" of a messianic exemplar to be envisaged -- especially given what has been variously framed by the prophecies of different religions?

How might one live in an environment under the influence of a singular charismatic exemplar whose nature one did not comprehend, or of whose existence one was not even aware?

Experiential modalities: The preoccupation here is with forms of insight encountered "externally", as indicated above. Other modalities variously valued are those experienced "internally". These include:

Appreciation of higher orders of insight

The pattern above can be fruitfully reviewed in the light of the distinctions made there.

Credibility: Irrespective of its comprehensibility, what makes for the credibility of any manifestation of a higher order of insight? The phenomenon, although extremely subtle, is central to leadership, politics, religion, business, and marketing -- as well as to any proposals for social change (James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility: how leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it, 2011).

The nature and importance of credibility became only too apparent in the course of the recent global financial crisis -- partially engendered by dysfunctional "hope-mongering" (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008).

Again, irrespective of comprehensibility, credibility is intimately associated with how belief is engendered and sustained. It is clearly dependent on a sense of coherence -- although this may be partially set aside through ignoring or transcending evident contradictions. The latter process is evident in the election of leaders -- exemplars? -- with a well-developed track record of contradictions, as in the case of Jean-Claude Juncker, Silvio Berlusconi, and the like. The process is even more evident in the case of the credibility of religious leadership -- as made evident through a succession of scandals, perhaps most notable in the case of gurus and the leaders of sects

Comprehensibility: Although use is readily made of "comprehension" and "understanding", the subtlety of the associated processes is far less evident as the consequence of any learning. Most obvious, naturally, is the comprehension of specific matters of tangible form. The issue is otherwise with respect to the intangible nature of "perfection" reflecting a "higher order of insight". Arguments may be made for the necessity of "years" of learning and experience before understanding can be recognized to have been acquired. How is "acquisition" then to be understood in relation to an intangible integrative perspective? How to understand when one has "got it"?

Mathematics, despite the elegance of some of its insights, may be especially challenging, as separately argued (Dynamics of Symmetry Group Theorizing: comprehension of psycho-social implication, 2008). The matter is otherwise with respect to the quest for strategic appropriateness, however that is to be understood (Comprehension of Appropriateness, 1986). The challenge with respect to exemplars is evident from the manner in which their insights are considered to be variously meaningful by different constituencies -- each likely to deprecate other exemplars, if only with respect to their comprehensibility and authority, however these may be interpreted. This is most obvious in the case of religions and the exemplars with which they are each associated.

A valuable analysis in mathematical terms has been made by Ron Atkin (Multidimensional Man; can man live in 3-dimensional space ? 1981), as reviewed separately with respect to incommunicability (Social organization determined by incommunicability of insights)

Coherence: Clearly a high degree of coherence may be evident without this being recognized as reflective of any higher order of insight. The associated degree of connectivity may simply be indicative of complexity -- with "everything connected to everything". Of greater significance is the manner in which the connectivity is ordered such as to offer degrees of simplexity through which suborders of complexity are somehow clustered and fruitfully interrelated -- indicative of a sense of "higher order".

There is then a degree of integration -- perhaps interpreted as integrity -- to the recognized coherence. As argued by biologist Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature; a necessary unity, 1979, pp. 8-11).

The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. And it is in this from this perspective that he warns: Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality.

Of particular interest is the manner in which the coherence is associated with elegance, as separately discussed (Enacting Transformative Integral Thinking through Playful Elegance, 2010). The point has been made by Bateson, in pointing out to a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation as to why "we are our own metaphor":

One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we're not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity. (Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor, 1972, pp. 288-289).

Related insights could be cited with respect to music and song, notably as illustrated by overtone chanting. Especially intriguing is the use of sets of archetypes woven into dramatic tales and legends, as with those of the classical Greek deities or those of the Hindu tradition.

Communicability: Discussion of the above criteria points variously to the challenge of communicability. What methods might be envisaged to communicate a higher order of insight? This is a challenge variously addressed in education, training and public relations. The issue can be framed speculatively with respect to hypothetical groups endeavouring to communicate across centuries (Minding the Future: thought experiment on presenting new information, 1980). The latter considered, for different cases: the dispatch problem, the reception problem, the action problem, the problem of reflecting on possible action. It concluded with the questions:

More generally the issue can be framed in terms of the cognitive constraints of any potential audience. The point is obviously highlighted by issues of information overload and constraints on attention span (Conceptual clustering and cognitive constraints, 2014), These go beyond those of specific interest to professional advertising (Investing Attention Essential to Viable Growth: radical self-reflexive reappropriation of financial skills and insights, 2014).

To "how much" insight of a higher order can a person fruitfully respond? Is a form of "insight overload" to be recognized -- perhaps of a nature similar to psychic numbing?

Just how much (quality) attention time is required to respond fruitfully to any communication carrying a higher order of insight -- seconds, minutes, days, months, years? Can the matter be framed otherwise by interpreting the use of the medium to be the message, following Marshall McLuhan? What role might Twitter play in such communication? Following Pope Francis, will the next Messiah tweet?

Potentially more intriguing is framing the challenge of explanation in terms of how one explains the insight to oneself.

Applicability: Fundamental from a different perspective is the relevance in practice of an insight which may well be of the highest order. The issue is evident in the manner in which the "pure" sciences -- presumably articulating such an insight -- deprecate those that are "applied". The reverse is evident in the distinction made between "practical" (namely concrete) and "abstract" (readily framed as useless).

In strategic terms, applicability may be framed in terms of feasibility or viability. A particular understanding has been associated by Edward de Bono with operacy. At the time of writing, commentators are noting that the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture resulted in little, if any, "actionable intelligence" -- whatever the insights obtained.

The relevance and viability of any new Renaissance offers a way of framing applicability, as separately discussed (Consciously Self-reflexive Global Initiatives Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems, and third order organizations, 2007).

Complementarity of manifestations of perfection

There is a case for identifying forms which can usefully hold a relationship between the various categories identified above. Especially interesting are those which suggest how they might be best understood as complementary. How can perfection best be implied by a set of categories beyond a simple checklist -- as with the 99 Names of Allah.

Configurations variously suggestive of complementarity
Manifestations of insight Exercise combining left and right images
in a two dimensional pattern
Criteria of insight
Exploratory exercise in combining the left and right-hand images above
in a three-dimensional icosidodecahedral configuration

Re-cognition of higher orders of insight through "new thinking"

New thinking: Much is made of the need for "new thinking" with respect to a global civilization in crisis (Richard A. Slaughter (Ed.), New Thinking for a New Millennium: the knowledge base of futures studies, 1996; Edward de Bono, New Thinking for the New Millennium, 2000; William J. Williams, New Thinking for a New Millennium: the processes and application of abstracting, 2000). How is this concern related to the recognition of higher orders of insight? What new thinking is required to recognize new insight and to enable a new Renaissance?

The question is especially provocative when accompanied by any recognition that "there is nothing new under the Sun". This has the implication that such insight may be "under one's nose" -- did one but have the eyes to see it.

The challenge is evident from the oft-cited quotations of Albert Einstein:

One lead is offered by the faint sense of any pattern of intuitions as to the nature of the insight -- a pattern potentially understood as facets of a configuration of which the elusive generative insight is the higher order focus. The intuitions may be understood in terms of glimpses, elusive harmonies, or the like. The ultimate challenge has been framed as hearing the music of the spheres.

Special games: Such insight may be framed as elusively embodied or implicit in a game, as may be variously explored (Playing the Great Game with Intelligence, 2013; James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games, 1987). The nature of such a game has been remarkably articulated by Nobel Laureate Hermann Hesse (Glass Bead Game, (1943) where he comments:

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

These associations offer curious echoes to the elaboration of a "game of spheres" by Nicholas de Cusa (De Ludo Globi, 1463), written as a contribution to both a literature and a practice of moral game-playing. This formed part of the tradition of the forgotten chess-like game Rithmomachia ("The Battle of Numbers" or Rythmomachy), which combined the pleasures of gaming with mathematical study and moral education. Intellectuals of the medieval and Renaissance periods who played this game were not only seeking to master the principles of Boethian mathematics but were striving to improve their own understanding of the secrets of the cosmos (Ann E. Moyer, In The Philosophers' Game, 2001).

This was undoubtedly an inspiration to the magnum opus of Nobel Laureate Hermann Hesse, as noted by Todd R. Harris (The Interplay of Opposites, the Language of Experience, and the Geometry of Ascent: a comparison of Hermann Hesse's "Das Glasperlenspiel" and Nicholas of Cusa's "De Ludo Globi", 2001).

Insight recognition: More provocative is the sense in which the insight is associated with traditional exemplars (Hidden Masters, and the like) -- or those, like Messiahs anticipated in the light of prophecy. More probable, as noted below, is the encounter with a supercomputer endowed with a high order of artificial intelligence.

Some such possibility can be explored further in terms of any encounter with hypothetical superintelligent beings, whether extraterrestrial or epiterrestrial (Sensing Epiterrestrial Intelligence (SETI): embedding of "extraterrestrials" in episystemic dynamics? 2013). How might humanity "re-cognize" the insights of a higher order that such aliens might choose to offer? The challenge can be more readily understood in terms of various educational contexts with which humans are familiar, namely educating:

New empathy? Through the emphasis in this argument, equating "insight" with "thinking", readily obscured is the sense in which the "insight" may be intimately associated with multiple intelligences, with emotional intelligence, and with new values. The imagined "new thinking" may be dependent on "new empathy" and other understandings of identity (Authentic Grokking: emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003; Encountering Otherness as a Waveform: in the light of a wave theory of being, 2013).

It could be readily imagined that the intelligence of superintelligent aliens might be characterized by a form of emotional intelligence with which values, currently unrecognized by humans, could be associated. Beyond efforts to formulate a global ethic, why is it so readily assumed that a higher order of values is not required for the salvation of global civilization?

Paradox: Most intriguing is the sense in which any higher order of insight is essentially counterintuitive and characterized by paradox -- perhaps to be understood as a puzzle or a riddle (as in traditional tales). The arguments of Nassim Nicholas Taleb are of value in this respect (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007; Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, 2012).

The paradox can be framed in terms of a "cognitive twist" -- through which the world is effectively turned "inside out", as separately discussed (Sphere eversion as guide to the cognitive twist of global introversion? 2013). The symbol, in the form of the Möbius strip is fundamental to a related argument by Steven M. Rosen (The Moebius Seed: a visionary novel of planetary transformation, 1985). It may be framed by reference to a neglected "netherworld", as mentioned below (Designing Global Self-governance for the Future: patterns of dynamic integration of the netherworld, 2010).

Locked-in cognition: The question is how cognitive habits (of "in-the-box" thinking) are challenged by recognition of a higher pattern of order (Antonio de Nicolas, Habits of Mind: an introduction to philosophy of education, 2000). These offer a reminder of the extent to which cognition can be "locked in" -- through a pattern of "subunderstanding" (Magoroh Maruyama, Peripheral Vision: polyocular vision or subunderstanding, Organization Studies, 2004).

References to lateral thinking, thinking outside the box, and the use of Zen koans addresses this constraint -- especially the traditional collection of 48 in The Gateless Gate.

Representation, memorability and metaphor

Memorability: There is a major challenge to insight of a higher order in that any "re-cognition" of it may only be temporary -- a momentary flash. This has been eloquently described in the fictional account by Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing of the encounter of a "development agent", from the benevolent galactic empire Canopus, with a person on a planet facing disaster:

This was quoted in the context of a discussion of the erosion of collective memory, critical of an overly optimistic Club of Rome report (Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory -- a critique of the Club of Rome Report: No Limits to Learning, 1980).

With a new invasion of the Middle East underway at the time of writing, the point is succinctly made by the oft-quoted adage of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. How is the survival of global civilization to be ensured if recent history is so readily forgotten?

Representation: It is in this light that the above-mentioned hypothetical scenarios with respect to Minding the Future (1980) merit revisiting. How may insight of a higher order have already been embedded in cultures highly vulnerable to forgetting? What are the viable holding patterns -- wisdom containers understood as vehicles for traversing time?

Curiously the issue is explored more attentively with respect to seed banks able to conserve plant genetic diversity for the future (beyond any nuclear holocaust), as with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is only speculatively, in relation to extended space travel to other solar systems, that the issue is considered with respect to preserving memetic diversity and cultural heritage over generations.

The issue can be discussed in terms of mnemonic triggers (In Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics, 2007). Examples worth considering, implying requisite connectivity and coherence, could be clustered as follows: