Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
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22nd June 2008 | Draft

Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI)

the universal criterion of species maturity?

- / -

Mirror self-recognition and environmental mirroring
SETI: a "universal" criterion for species maturity?
Dimensions of a "SETI" criterion?
Lexical category trap
"Universal" indication of indication?
Multidimensional indication through transcendence of "pointing"?
Experiential dimension
Cultural clues to SETI comprehension
Contact with extraterrestrials?
Cognitive challenge: resolving the problematique
"Torturing the Sphinx": Militarized intelligence vs Sustainable quality of livelihood

"Terrestrial extras"?
SETI: Shadowy Extreme of Transformative Implication?


This is a brief reflection on possible evolution in understanding of species and cultural maturity. The focus is on how criteria for such maturity may differ from those commonly associated with measures of the "intelligence quotient" or from the many understandings of human development and psychological integration. Profiling the latter was a responsibility of the author in relation to the Human Development Project of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.

The concern here is to frame any such understanding within a possible "universal" understanding of maturity by extraterrestrial species and cultures -- perhaps throughout the universe.

Mirror self-recognition and environmental mirroring

The distinctiveness of the human species, notably justifying its exploitation of other species to its own ends, has been defined in terms of a mirror test (or a mark test). Also termed "mirror self-recognition" (cf J B Asendorpf, 1993; M W De Veer, 1999; Julian Keenan, 2003; Sue Taylor Parker, 2006; Theresa Schilhab, 2004), such recognition in an ordinary reflecting mirror is a common psychological test of both intelligence and of maturity.

The capacity for such observer self-recognition is assessed through the capacity to act on that recognition through noting a mark (hence "mark test") placed where it can only be perceived in the mirror image.

It might however be hypothesized, following from arguments by various authors (Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979; Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe, 1994; Werner J. Sattmann-Frese and Stuart B. Hill. Learning for Sustainable Living: psychology of ecological transformation, 2007) that there is a degree of implicit mirroring to be collectively discovered as the key to genuine sustainability.

It could be argued that the gesture of pointing to a mark on one's forehead, only to be seen in a mirror in the "mark test", is indication of a primary feedback loop. This could be held to be comprehensible only with some understanding of the self-reflexive preoccupations of third order cybernetics. As such it would be of fundamental symbolic significance when the environment itself provides the mirroring function. The circular gesture, the ability to point back and complete the loop, might be seen as echoed in the widespread symbol of a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail -- known as the Ouroboros -- perhaps the essence of "recycling" waste and therefore of sustainability.

It is possibly through such mirroring, however it becomes conscious, that appropriate global remedial strategies might emerge, as argued elsewhere (My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development worthwhile, 2002, especially Mirrors of my world). It is appropriate to contrast such mirroring capacity with the high extremes of intelligence as measured by standard IQ tests, and the societies formed by those with such capacities. The latter have been fruitfully documented by Darryl Miyaguchi (A Short (and Bloody) History of the High I.Q. Societies, 2000).

The use of optical metaphors is widespread in clarifying strategies -- vision, focus, image, objective, resolution, project, etc (Metaphor and the Language of Futures, 1992). There is therefore a case for exploring the metaphorical implications of combinations of mirrors and lenses. These are typically required for many more sophisticated optical systems. One pointer in that direction is that of Joël de Rosnay (The Macroscope, 1979) who subsequently prefaced a sequel by Luc de Brabandère (Le Latéroscope: systemes et creativite, 1989). The latter noted that, as the basic tool of creativity, the latéroscope is necessarily impossible to construct.

It is perhaps natural that humans seek to navigate their psycho-social world using metaphorical analogues to the optics of the biconvex lens in the mammalian eye. Especially intriguing is the sense in which science, and the strategies it reinforces, effectively makes metaphorical use of convex lenses (typical of corrective spectacles), whereas other possibilities may emerge if consideration is given to biconcave lenses based on the hyperboloid. What are the "lenses" required to correct for human sub-SETI comprehension? The theme has been partially explored elsewhere (Interrelating Cognitive Catastrophes in a Grail-chalice Proto-model: implications of WH-questions for self-reflexivity and dialogue, 2006).

Engaging with Terrorism through a Mirror?
The only way to contain (it would be naïve to say end) terrorism
is to look at the monster in the mirror.
(Arundhati Roy, Mumbai was not our 9/11,
The Guardian
, 12 December 2008)

SETI: a "universal" criterion for species maturity?

Humans have engaged over many years in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) -- where such is understood in especially human terms, necessarily favouring preconceptions of the qualitative intelligence associated with species maturity.

Those reflecting on these matters have speculated on the rise and fall of extraterrestrial civilizations and the probability of their seeking any form of contact with humanity.

It is fruitful to reverse consideration of these matters -- especially in the light of a wide body of evidence regarding the probable collapse of human civilization following significant failure to act with any intelligence regarding human population overshoot. This has been highlighted elsewhere (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008).

The challenge for humanity has been presented as the ability to navigate the adaptive cycle -- which typically includes a collapse phase (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization, 2006; Jared M. Diamond, Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005). This capacity is recognized as resilience. Arguably some feature of species maturity is a cognitive analogue to such collapse -- as implied above in relation to WH-questions. Have extraterrestrial species developed unforeseen skills in navigating cognitive catastrophes that might otherwise have resulted in collapse of their cvilizations? Do these catastrophes include the kinds of surprises envisaged by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007)?

Regarding the challenge of extraterrestrial "intelligence" and the seeming failure of such civilizations to enter into communication with a species as intelligent and mature as humanity, it might be hypothesized that the analogue "throughout the universe" to the human mirror test of intelligence and maturity is somewhat different:

The challenge, as noted by Chris Lucas (Alien Consciousness: philosophical problems, 1996), was succinctly expressed long ago by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799): "This book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no philosopher looks out". But in terms of the SETI criterion, it is the Earth environment that is the mirror for humanity -- if not our experience of the universe. Eastern philosophies have fruitfully explored the need to "clean" such a mirror in order to achieve "enlightenment" -- another optical metaphor (Paul Demiéville, The Mirror of the Mind, 1991). Indeed mirroring of this kind may offer a means of reframing the significance attributed by such philosophies to karmic reincarnation in the knowledge cybernetics of a multidimensional universe -- even in the moment.

Dimensions of a "SETI" criterion?

As implied by the title of this exploration, this criterion of species maturity might have four dimensions:

Lexical category trap

An articulation such as that of the previous section readily reinforces assumptions regarding the universal significance of lexical categories. As highlighted by Benjamin Lee Whorf (Language, Thought, and Reality, edited by John B Carroll, 1956), different human languages may have different lexical categories -- variously using noun, verb, adjective, adverb and the like (Review of Frameworks for the Representation of alternative Conceptual Orderings as Determined by Linguistic and Cultural Contexts, 1986). It is therefore problematic to assume that the "dimensions" of the previous section carry the full meaning associated with them in a mature culture when they are neatly treated as English nouns.

As argued from the perspective of process reality and flow psychology, fuller meanings may be associated with understanding them as verbs implying an inherent dynamic. In this sense the "definitions" are not as it might be convenient for them to be assumed to be in exemplifying maturity. Are there "other" lexical categories?

"Universal" indication of indication?

An intriguing assumption relating to the mirror test concerns the nature of indication -- namely how self-recognition is indicated by such a test and whether the mode of recognition can be recognized by others. Humans closely associate indication with pointing. This is not the case with animals, notably birds, that typically use vocal means. Much is made of the problematic intelligence of a dog in failing to recognize the direction in which the master is pointing -- rather than focusing on the finger doing the pointing. As with bees, a dog exemplifies a different mode of indication through body language -- especially in the case of a Pointer.

Agreement on what constitutes an indicative mark (or absence thereof), as with "positive" and "negative", is a matter of fundamental convention in any communication process, as articulated by Xavier Sallantin (L'épistemologie de l'arithmetique, 1976).

Many of the challenges of indication, and its underlying assumptions, have been articulated in the calculus of indications, notably as developed by George Spencer-Brown (Laws of Form, 1969; see website) and more recently by Louis H. Kauffman (Virtual Logic: the calculus of indication, Cybernetics and Human Knowing: a journal of second order cybernetics and cyber-semiotics, 5, 1, 1998) who states:

Our intent is to explore a number of themes that are related to simplicity and vanishing. As things nearly vanish, we reach regions where apparently distinct domains touch, join and become one. As things come into being, apparently distinct domains appear from an undifferentiated ground. These new domains grow in great profusion and prolixity, sometimes obscuring the simple origins. We are interested in creative growth. It is by returning to the origin that the source of such newness is found. The calculus of indications is a gem retrieved by a descent into nothingness.

How might centering on such creative origins be reflected in the SETI criterion?

Some of the challenges to advanced theories of communication focus on the relationship between form and medium, as featured in the work of Niklas Luhmann (Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, 1997) and discussed by Michael Schiltz (Form and Medium: a mathematical reconstruction, Image [&] Narrative, 6, 2003) in relation to the calculus of indications. Schiltz argues with respect to conventional indication in writing, for example:

Hence, we are writing in a space that connects the level of first-order (operand) and second-order (operator) observations. That space is a torus. If considered operationally, distinctions written on a torus can subvert their boundaries and re-enter the space they distinguish, turning up in their own form. The marked state cannot be clearly distinguished from the unmarked state anymore, leading to the 'indeterminacy' of the form. As the calculus explains, the state envisaged as such is a state not hitherto envisaged in the form. It is neither marked nor unmarked. It is an imaginary value, flipping between marked and unmarked, thanks to the employment of time. The form of the re-entry, as described here, has been the source of many commentaries....

Such conceptualization diverts sharply from an intuitive understanding of a medium. As seen here, a medium is far from a Euclidean container. Rather is it introverted space, it is identical to the topology of the form, it is the form's 'deep structure'.

Such challenges raise the question of how one indicates a framework of higher dimensionality from within one of lower dimensionality. By "pointing"? This is a question raised by Elisabet Sahtouris (Expanding Our Worldview to Other Dimensions, a paper for When Cosmic Cultures Meet Conference, Washington D.C., 1995). A common convention recognizes pointing "upwards" as the direction of the transcendent integrity of "heaven". Such uses of "up" and "down" metaphors have been well explored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 1980). Hence the association of "up" with mythical birds such as the Phoenix, the Firebird of Slavic folkore and the Fenghuang of Far Eastern myth.

Should humanity face up to the possibility that the SETI criterion may imply a situation in which humans are understood as "looking at the finger" rather than in the direction it indicates -- as problematically as is held to be the case with dogs?

Challenging illustrations might include "crop circles" -- if only as a hypothetical example of an extraordinary form of pointing (and irrespective of the controversy regarding claims relating to them). Also of interest is the indication provided by "indicator species" held to define a trait or characteristic of the health of the environment. As with the body language of pointer dogs, there is the possibility that far more indication may be associated with embodiment. Exemplars, notably those initiating new spiritual traditions, are typically recognized to be providing such a form of indication -- their lives effectively "point" to frameworks of higher dimensionality. Much of the difficulty associated with that effort is the focus placed by others on the "finger", the false understanding to which that gives rise thereafter, and the conflicts between those promoting different variants of such false understanding.

Aspects of these challenges may be inherent in the kinds of "pointing" inherent in the "projects" so closely associated with the promotion of appropriate development according to conventional thinking imbued by a linear sense of an "arrow of progress". This may however be contrasted with other possibilities (Knowledge Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000; Metaphoric Entrapment in Time: avoiding the trap of Project Logic, 2000).

The question in relating to humanity's maturity as a species is in what ways it may be "falsely understanding" the indications offered by the conditions of the environment and its many constituent species and cultiures. These might all be understood as indicator species, "pointing" in different modes. How might humanity then understand any indications offered by extraterrestrials? How might they be recognized as indications?

A provocative metaphor is offered in the Arthurian fantasy by T. H. White (The Once and Future King, 1958) regarding the interminable search by various knights for the Questing Beast. The legendary creature has the head and neck of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion and the feet of a hart. Its name comes from the great noise it emits from its belly, a barking like "thirty couple hounds questing" (reminscent of the numerology of Stafford Beer's "syntegration" and of the tale of the Conference of the Birds). Appropriately, in the fantasy, the trail is only indicated to its pursuers by its excreted fewmets -- also vital to the determination of its health by its hunters.

Is there any "universal" criterion of appropriate "indication" characteristic of the SETI criterion?

Multidimensional indication through transcendence of "pointing"?

It is perhaps useful to understand the erection of commemorative pillars as collective efforts at "pointing" to realities that transcend the 3-dimensional. Church and temple spires, as well as the minarets of Islam, may be explored in this light -- especially as they are challenged by the indication offered by rockets (exemplified by the Iranian missile tests at the time of writing). Do the latter now imply that cultures respond aggressively and defensively through other dimensions? The comparison between religious edifices and the dynamics of rocketry has been explored elsewhere (Entering Alternative Realities -- Astronautics vs Noonautics: isomorphism between launching aerospace vehicles and launching vehicles of awareness, 2002), notably in terms of any movement through a "knowledge universe" (Towards an Astrophysics of the Knowledge Universe from astronautics to noonautics? 2006; Noonautics: Four modes of travelling and navigating the knowledge "universe"? 2006 ).

Given the inadequacy of the single pillar-pointer-spire-rocket, however "inspiring", it is interesting how they have been employed in configurations. This suggests that indication with respect to multidimensionality may be achieved, or approximated, through configurations of "pointers" -- necessarily distinct, possibly even in their orientation in relation to each other. This then implies a requisite variety of indications to successfully "point" beyond three dimensions. Arguably the sets of pillars configured within religious edifices (and Stonehenge) may be understood in this light -- despite the degree to which they are "aligned". Curiously sets of so-called "pillars" are also fundamental to the indication of ethical and strategic principles, notably of the European Community, as argued elsewhere (Challenge of "soullessness" -- beyond the "pillar-ization of Europe", 2004).

It is interesting that the fundamental arguments for the manner in which the simplest marks were developed and configured as indicators of the complex insights of the I Ching may be understood as a means of pointing beyond three dimensions. It is only through the combination of these simple binary marks ("complete" or "broken" pillars) as trigrams that their capacity to encode and indicate interesting degrees of complexity becomes apparent. Of interest is then the degree of subtlety, complexity or multidimensionality that may be successively embodied in:

More conventionally, it is accepted that the complex conditions of society are to be assessed through "sets of indicators" (cf Eurostat, Analysis of national sets of indicators used in the National Reform Programmes and Sustainable Development Strategies, 2008). It is however far less clear how these "sets" are to be meaningfully and integratively configured in the above sense. Stratregically the issues it to "where" do they "point", how that destination is to be understood from "here", and whether there is any capacity to get "there" (Remedial Capacity Indicators Versus Performance Indicators, 1981).

It is also the case that the natural environment may be understood as a "set" of indicator species configured as an inherently coherent ecosystem. This too poses a challenge to comprehension -- of distinguishing the multidimensional "forest" from its constituent "trees" (as biological analogues to pillars, and so considered in many traditional cultures). It is useful to consider whether symbolic figures -- like the Sphinx, the Simurg or the Garuda -- are intriguing efforts to configure a set of indicator species into a single "composite" entity to highlight the challenge of comprehending the multidimensionality of the space to which they "point" through some form of embodiment.

These considerations highlight the sense in which the arguments of Stafford Beer (Beyond Dispute; the invention of team syntegrity, 1994) with respect to the elements of the icosahedron, or more generally the arguments in favour of tensegity (R Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics; explorations in the geometry of thinking, 1975-1979), are effectively about the configuration of differently oriented "pointers" in three-dimensional space. It is the ordered set of such pointers, as a form of aerial, that points "beyond" three-dimensional space (see Documents relating to Networking, Tensegrity, Virtual Organization). However:

Experiential dimension

The above dimensions of SETI all imply a degree of dynamic integration in experiential terms which clearly go beyond the capacity of disciplines to fragment reality into frames convenient to their particular methodologies and modes of knowing.

Essentially speculative efforts to point to the emergent nature of this dimension have been indicated in the following:

Cultural clues to SETI comprehension

It would be presumptuous to assume that many down the centuries had not in some way sensed the possibility of SETI-style comprehension -- or that indications and traces of such insights had not been embedded in the cultures through which they had emerged.

The challenge of such indications is however illustrated by the modern tendency to commercialize any insights -- through commodification and packaging of exclusive intellectual property protected by law. In the past, the systemically analogous process has been the tendency to dogmatize such insight -- transforming it into an exclusive religious commodity, protected as sacred religious property. The process is also to be seen in operation in the case of a scientific approach to new understanding through the production of theories and "models" -- protected as intellectual property or the exclusive property of particular institutionalized disciplines. The sense is lost of the way in which theories are merely instances of creative comprehension in time -- in the complex dynamics of a knowledge universe. In each case mystification is used to empower some in relation to others.

In each case the insights are denatured. Most unfortunately, as so well demonstrated by new technology, the primary emphasis is to ensure "lock in" -- an economic expression for the creation of dependency on the rigid framing and expression of the insight to the advantage of the suppplier or vendor. The case has been remarkably clarified by the contrast with open-source software development by Eric S. Raymond (The Cathedral and the Bazaar, 1999). It is through such arguments that the historical opposition by religious faiths to syncretism can be fruitfully explored.

The elusive creative sense -- in which any insight has the potential of being both "right" and "wrong", fruitful or not -- is readily lost in response to the challenges of more comprehensive and appropriate cognition across time as fundamental to the SETI criterion. Allusions to the comprehensive integration with which it is associated are to be found in myth, such as in reference to the Simurg, notably as explicated in the Conference of the Birds (Mantiq al-tair) by Farid al-Din Attar. Related myths refer to the process of creating a door-less golden cage, that may at some time prove attractive to such a spirit or muse that then takes up residence there - but which may also leave at any time. In this sense the cognitive container -- in contrast to dogmatization, commodification and model building -- is not a permanent constraint but rather a frame of reference through which higher dimensionality may be experienced. The case might be said to have been argued by Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge, 1975; Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being, 1999).

Just as Darrell A. Posey (Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, 1999) points to the possibility of rediscovering the subtle integrative insights carried by traditional knowledge systems embodied in the environment, the same might be said of some traditional cognitive frameworks and value systems. But both call for such "frameworks" to be understood dynamically through movement compatible with flow rather than stasis, as explored elsewhwere (Navigating Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms through movement, 2002; In Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics, 2007).

Such arguments suggest that many indications of SETI-style comprehension are embedded, if not buried, in what cultures of the past have valued highly. The challenge is how these are to be appropriately "mined" for such understanding (Enhancing the Quality of Knowing through Integration of East-West metaphors, 2000; Susantha Goonatilake. Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999). However, as a characteristic of the linear temporal understanding of the arrow of progress, "mining" knowledge may obscure a fundamental degree of cyclical understanding, perhaps symbolized by the Ouroboros and the much-cited poetic insight of T.S. Eliot's Little Gidding (the last of the Four Quartets):

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was in the beginning…

"UFOs" ?

Much has been made of the documentation on sitings of "Unidentified Flying Objects". Aside from the valid explanations (balloons, aircraft, etc) which have been readily assumed to apply to the total class of such reports, there are many reports of "UFOs" and of encounters with "extraterrestrials" that have involved transportation in such vehicles. Such information is typically problematic to verify and interpret -- where there is any genuine motivation to do so.

Of greater interest in this context is why this might be. Given the dimensions cited above, "UFO" might be more fruitfully reframed in the following way, if the SETI criterion has any validity:

These comments do not preclude a degree of coherence to UFOs as a phenomenon. But, in terms of the SETI criterion, ability to interact meaningfully with the phenomenon may depend upon the kind of maturity indicated by that criterion. Furthermore, is it not entirely possible that with achievement by a species of this criterion is naturally associated an entirely different form of technology, dependent to a far higher degree on cognitive engagement and self-reflective embodiment -- perhaps as implied by so-called "magic carpets"? In this respect it is appropriate to recall the "third law" of Arthur C. Clarke (Profiles of The Future, 1961): Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The sensitivity in various forms of research to the dimensions of the SETI criterion, as hypothesized here, suggests that some individuals may indeed meet such a criterion, if only through peak experiences and altered states of consciousness. Their reports of such encounters may therefore have a degree of veracity. A more important fundamental question is whether any group of humans can meet that criterion together, or whether humans do not at this stage have such a collective capacity. This capacity would be fundamental to any "formal" institutional recognition of the existence of extraterrestrials. Collectively humans may suffer from forms of memory deterioration analogous to that of conditions such as Alzeheimer's disease and Attention-Deficit Disorder -- as explored elsewhere (Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory, 1980).

Contact with extraterrestrials?

The above remarks have been designed to open up "speculation" on the nature of extraterrestrial species that meet the SETI criterion of maturity. They facilitate understanding of why such species might be extremely reluctant to engage with a human species that has yet to meet this criterion.

Doris Lessing articulates the challenge in her fictionalized description of a poignant encounter of a "development specialist" from an advanced galactic culture with a leading representative of a "developing" planet:

To say that he understood what went on was true. To say that he did not understand -- was true. I would sit and explain, over and over again. He listened, his eyes fixed on my face, his lips moving as he repeated to himself what I was saying. He would nod: yes, he had grasped it. But a few minutes later, when I might be saying something of the same kind, he was uncomfortable, threatened. Why was I saying that? and that? his troubled eyes asked of my face: What did I mean? His questions at such moments were as if I had never taught him anything at all. He was like one drugged or in shock.

Yet it seemed that he did absorb information for sometimes he would talk as if from a basis of shared knowledge: it was as if a part of him knew and remembered all I told him, but other parts had not heard a word. I have never before or since had so strongly that experience of being with a person and knowing that all the time there was certainly a part of that person in contact with you, something real and alive and listening -- and yet most of the time what one said did not reach that silent and invisible being, and what he said was not often said by the real part of him. It was as if someone stood there bound and gagged while an inferior impersonator spoke for him. (Re: Colonised Planet 5 - Shikasta, 1979, pp. 56-57).

Some would find this to be an admirable analogy to the challenge of explaining some of the challenges of society to those formally mandated with formulating strategies of global governance. Is it indeed the case that challenges and possibilities to which some "point", in endeavouring to communicate with governing authorities, result in the governors focusing intensely on the "finger" rather than the direction indicated -- as in the example above?

Lessing's fictional case also raises the question of whether and how such an extraterrestrial might be recognized in any such encounter -- recalling reports of the challenge to indigenous tribes of "seeing" first time visitors from elsewhere, in the absence of any cognitive framework through which to attribute meaning to their sense impressions. In a sense they may indeed be "not seen" in a manner equivalent to shunning or, ironically in the case of extraterrestrials, to subliminal impressions.

There is another potential consequence of the logic of the mirror test as comprehended from a SETI perspective -- in the light of the Lessing tale. It may be fundamental to any SETI engagement, with those who have as yet failed to meet the criterion, that emphasis is placed on effectively "polishing the mirror" through which the species may perceive itself -- rather than undertaking any other interventionist educational process. This possibility was used in the provocative speculation drawing a parallel between the UN resolution mandating intervention in Iraq (as a danger to the planet) and that of extraterrestrials concerned about the dangers of the planet to the solar system (Interplanetary Security Council: Nibiru-drafted Resolution on Earth, 2002; Interplanetary Security Council Draft Resolution on Earth, 2003).

For those of the SETI criterion, such resolutions might be seen as a form of "mirror polishing" consistent with the classical biblical prescription of an "eye for an eye" (Exodus 21:23-27) and its relevance as a strategically relevant optical metaphor. Engagement may thus need to be framed in terms comprehensible to the lower dimensionality of pre-SETI comprehension ("optics"). Is "eye for an eye" -- understood as "eyeball to eyeball" however -- indicative of an unexplored possibility of a "biconcave" understanding in otherwise conflictual situations (as suggested above)? (cf Celia W. Dugger, The World: Unthinkable; Eyeball to Eyeball, And Blinking in Denial, The New York Times, 2 June 2002).

There is however the devastating possibility that conventional notions of succeeding in the SETI contact process (Allen Tough, When SETI Succeeds: the impact of high-information contact, Foundation For the Future, 2000) may need to be completely reframed by some cognitive analogue to the declaration on the back of the The (Updated) Last Whole Earth Catalog (1974): "We can't put it together; it is together". Contact may already be occurring in ways not amenable to comprehension that does not meet the SETI criterion. Is the challenge of some such ongoing "contact" a challenge of comprehension rather than of telecommunication -- as speculatively explored elsewhere (People as Stargates: an alternative perspective on human relationships in space-time, 1996)?

Just as human intellectuals typically find it of limited interest to engage in sustained "dialogue" with those other species on the planet that do not meet the requirements of the mirror self-recognition test, extraterrestrials may only have a passing interest in humanity. This would be especially the case where dialogue of any maturity was dependent on the SETI criterion, irrespective of other constraints discussed elsewhere (Communicating with Aliens: the psychological dimension of dialogue. 2000).

That discussion notably pointed to the manner in which humans are already highly challenged -- to the point of violence -- by the processes of communicating with those who are ironically also termed "aliens", namely those from other cultures and belief systems. The term may also be applied to those of other social classes, age groups and lifestyles -- as with use of the label "feral" in some cases.

However there is the possibility that other species on the planet, although failing the mirror test, may indeed meet the SETI criterion through some sense of environmental empathy. Whales and dolphins offer possible challenging examples. More provocatively, there is even a sense in which the criterion may point to the challenges of personal alienation -- and of how one might "recognize" oneself, or fail to do so, as so poignantly highlighted by Ronald Laing, as presented elsewhere (Collective Memory Personified: an analogy, 1980).

Cognitive challenge: resolving the problematique

Whilst the mirror test indicates one aspect of the challenge, another may be highlighted by the possibility of a form of Turing test whereby, from the framework of the SETI criterion, the question is whether -- in anticipation of contact -- "maturity" can be distinguished from the communications and interactions characteristic of a species such as humanity.

The cognitive challenge is perhaps forcefully made by the capacity of military intelligence to assess the nature of terrorist organization against which unprecedented resources have recently been allocated. As noted by Peter Preston (A Nation as yet Unbuilt, The Guardian, 23 June 2008) regarding Afghanistan:

But because we persisted in thinking of al-Qaida as some disciplined "terrorist army" pitted against our armies, because we talked in conventional terms that seemed to turn this wreck of a non-state into a nation like any other, we thought that conventional tactics could work. They won't. They have no foundations.

The point is reinforced by Jason Burke (The not-so-winnable war against terrorism, The Guardian, 19 July 2008):

Instead of being seen in linear terms, as something that is winning or being defeated, al-Qaida needs to be seen instead as a three dimensional matrix where different elements such as the ideology, the local groups and the hardcore can be strong or weak in different geographic locations... If you imagine one of those plastic models of molecular structures or a huge ball constructed of small individual links that web together with individual nodes or links pulsing with energy and heat for a temporary period and then fading back out of view, you have something in mind which, to me, represents the reality of al-Qaida better than a more linear model. It is, of course, much harder to imagine - and much harder to imagine defeated.

How "fit for purpose" does this suggest that military intelligence would be in any encounter with extraterrestrial psycho-cultural organization -- especially if this has been a continuing accompaniment to human civilization?

Curiously the US Military Intelligence Corps adopted the Sphinx as its regimental crest -- exemplifying the combination of wisdom with strength. And yet its personnel have been intimately involved in the torture practices of Abu Ghraib and elsewhere (Antonio M. Taguba, Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact, Physicians for Human Rights, 2008) -- despite arguments to the contrary (Warner I. Sumpter, Four essential strengths of the Military Intelligence Corps, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, July-Sept, 2004). Would a Guantanamo Bay installation for extraterrestrials be appropriate -- given the threat they may be suspected of constituting as "terraists"?

Might the SETI criterion necessarily imply a form of cognitive mirroring consistent with the ethic of reciprocity:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

What would the recent torture track record of military intelligence then evoke from a SETI perspective? Might torture be held to be a fundamentaL perversion of the insight associated with use of the Sphinx as an emblem? But, given the much-debated challenges of "moral equivalence", notably as articulated for the USA by Jeane Kirkpatrick (The Myth of Moral Equivalence, Imprimis, 15, January 1986, 1), how will potentially elusive "correspondences" valued from other perspectives be recognized -- as highlighted elsewhere (Theories of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative thinking, 2007)?

To what extent will such past cognitive deficiences be remedied by the Pentagon's pursuit of wisdom through its Minerva Research Initiative (MRI) -- a US Department of Defense sponsored, university based, social science research program initiated in 2008 -- and already arousing controversy amongst anthropologists? Is the wisdom associated with Minerva (Palas Athena for the Greeks) to be seen as a response to the failure to "decrypt" and comprehend the riddle of the Sphinx -- or perhaps an upgraded cultural effort to do so?

Given the short-termism of contemporary policy-making, within what poorly understood spatio-temporal framework is such wisdom to be found? P. D. Ouspensky (The Sphinx, 1908-1914) frames the challenge in the following terms:

The Sphinx is indisputably one of the most remarkable, if not the most remarkable, of the world's works of art. I know nothing that it would be possible to put side by side with it. It belongs indeed to quite another art than the art we know. Beings such as ourselves could not create a Sphinx. Nor can our culture create anything like it. The Sphinx appears unmistakably to be a relic of another, a very ancient culture, which was possessed of knowledge far greater than ours.

There is a tradition or theory that the Sphinx is a great, complex hieroglyph, or a book in stone, which contains the whole totality of ancient knowledge, and reveals itself to the person who can read this strange cipher which is embodied in the forms, correlations and measurements of the different parts of the Sphinx. This is the famous riddle of the Sphinx, which from the most ancient times so many wise souls have attempted to solve.

Humanity has mirrored itself through the best intelligence that money can buy. But the failure to identify itself in the distorted fearful sight presented in the mirror, marks its failure to meet the SETI criterion. This perhaps highlights the nature of the mysterious riddle of the Sphinx down the ages, so appropriately exemplified by the intelligence corps of the world's current superpower -- but characteristic of the mirroring challenge of the global problematique in general. In the light of the Club of Rome's term -- the resolutique (an optical metaphor once again) -- humanity fails to "resolve" self-reflectively the image provided by that problematique.

The challenge for conventional strategic thinking, exemplified by the USA and intelligence advisors imbued with the special merits of that worldview, may perhaps be caricatured by the vain witch in the classic Snow White fairy tale -- and the process she engenders. The challenge posed by her superpowered mirror lies in the eyes of the beholder of the image it presents and the failure to "re-cognize" the beauty of emergent alternatives -- distinctly more "snow white", above all in terms of any ethical standard. This is dramatized by the jealous, immature reaction of the witch to the mirror's revised response to the question:

"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all ?"

Curiously the dialogue with the mirror has been held to represent a dialogue with the sun and the moon -- consistent with the environmental mirroring argued here as characteristic of the SETI criterion. Traces of intuitive engagement with the operation of the mirror, whilst evident in some traditional knowledge systems (as noted above), may perhaps be seen in the continuing widespread interest in omens and (in)auspicious indicators provided by the environment. However in a civilization dominated by "bean-counting", this does not constitute the degree of engagement explored elsewhere and possibly and requisite of the SETI criterion (Authentic Grokking: Emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003)

Following the earlier argument for a "biconcave" mirroring (based on the hyperboloid), pointers to a design combining problematique and resolutique are presented elsewhere (Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation, 2007) -- together with the mnemonic challenges it poses (In quest of mnemonic catalysts for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics, 2007).

"Torturing the Sphinx": Militarized intelligence vs Sustainable quality of livelihood

Gregory Bateson declared in response to the challenge of the times: We are our own metaphor (Mary Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor: effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, 1972). This is especially ironical when the best intelligence that money can buy, representing itself by the Sphinx, engages in torture-enabled interrogation in response to the challenges with which it "believes" society is faced. Within a context of faith-based governance, these procedures are then justified in terms of "ticking bomb" scenarios. And yet, despite everything that is discovered when "all the gloves are off", the resultant resource-intensive strategies are unable to win the battle of "hearts and minds" -- or to prevent others destroying themselves in the name of a "higher" belief.

As argued above, the Sphinx, and similar composites, might be understood as embodied sets of indicators metaphorically mirroring engagement with the three dimensional spatial environment through their bird-like, fish-like, mammalian forms -- with the mysterious implication that this integration is only viable through the temporal dimension of their movement and development in relation to each other. The fourth dimension may be associated mythically with firebirds, as with the Phoenix and the Fenghuang mentioned earlier. This is the integrative challenge of the four-fold recognized in many cultures (Noonautics: four modes of travelling and navigating the knowledge "universe"? 2006; En-minding the Extended Body: enactive engagement in conceptual shapeshifting and deep ecology, 2003). Arguably, beyond such experiential evidence for the senses, it is the invisible dimension with which the "hearts and minds" identify, that enables this integration to be coherently embodied in practice.

Militarized intelligence is faced with a perceived threat to the forms and dynamics of civilization as it is conventionally known. This threat is exemplified dramatically by access to increasingly scarce resources and their wasteful use -- but especially by the inequalities, perceived by the marginalized, and a general malaise regarding decreasing quality of life. There is concern that civilization is in danger of "losing its soul". This "crisis of crises" might indeed be understood as a "ticking bomb" scenario to which urgent response is required. Together the degradation of environmental cybernetic feedback loops and the indifference to time might be considered the antithesis of the integrity indicated by the Sphinx.

Torture is the shadowy mode into which a lower-dimensional intelligence is forced in dealing with the higher-dimensional "intelligence" by which it believes it is threatened in dealing with a "ticking bomb" -- that its own inadequacies have engendered. Humanity, through the manner in which it is stressing the environment -- torturing its own environment -- may indeed be understood to be torturing the integrative understanding vital to any sustainability.

For militarized intelligence the threat is displaced onto "terrorists" and the need to cause them harm. Such action, purportedly on behalf of the highest values of humanity, is curiously echoed by the re-emergence of body piercing -- as a valued cosmetic enhancement -- or other more pathological forms of self-harm. A curious mode of self-enhancement in the context of any mirror test of self-awareness? Should the "development" of many sites of natural beauty be seen in this light -- as piercing-style enhancements? (cf Veloping: the Art of Sustaining Significance, 1997).

But if the essence of the art of sustainability lies beyond the visible dimensions, to which the Sphinx (in mirroring the human environment) is but a multidimensional "pointer", what meaningful knowledge can be elicited by torturing any pointer -- torturing the messenger of integrative understanding to extract that knowledge? Once again, how does an N-fold entity indicate a strategic direction in N-fold space to one who functions only in 3-fold space -- acceding only to the fourth dimension through foreshortened short-termism? (cf Matteo Tonello, Revisiting Stock Market Short-Termism, Conference Board, 2006). Curiously other secretive groups, for whom the Sphinx is also a central symbol, are also much challenged by the temporal dimension in their efforts to preserve the status quo.

In this desperate mode, information of every kind is collected and decrypted in an effort at Total Information Awareness -- without achieving any understanding of the integrative "know how" that is intrinsic to higher dimensionality. In the pursuit of the highly valued secret of sustainable quality of life -- implied by the Sphinx -- this process engenders an unprecedented quantity of classified "secrets" of little value to that challenge, as argued elsewhere (From ECHELON to NOLEHCE: enabling a strategic conversion to a faith-based global brain, 2007). The "secrets" worth knowing for the future of civilization are seemingly only to be found in dimensions beyond the focus of militarized intelligence (cf Transforming the Encounter with Terrorism, 2002).

In this context, the mindset of militarized intelligence permeates into the language of initiatives in the interminable quest for sustainability -- thereby undermining any possibility of comprehending the appropriateness implied (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998; Comprehension of Appropriateness, 1986).

How appropriate under the circumstances that militarized intelligence is forced into the shadowy mode of torture in confused pursuit of the art of sustainable quality of livelihood -- under the emblem of the Sphinx that symbolizes that understanding. How well their pursuit echoes the misplaced sense of reality characterized by Plato's famed allegory of the cave. This exemplifies the challenge of the mirror test as it might be understood in terms of the SETI criterion. As the application of such intelligence, should Guantanamo Bay be repackaged as an extraterrestrial receiving facility -- a "centre of excellence" -- as humanity's Center for Applied Knowledge Extraction?

"Terrestrial extras"?

Rather than anticipating human contact with "extraterrestrials", is it not more fruitful to understand that, from the perspective of a SETI criterion, humans are best understood as "terrestrial extras" (in the cinematic sense), namely as actors not participating in the ongoing dialogue? Are we the aliens?

Is there a sense in which many human beings struggle to "engage" with the dimensionality of conventional discourse that they essentially experience as alien? Do many such individuals struggle to "make contact" in a manner otherwise hypothesized as probably characteristic of distant "extraterrestrials"? Is this a feature of the common sense of feeling "alienated" -- of coming from "another part of the universe"?

It is instructive to consider examples of how individuals may share communication challenges with extraterrestrials and of how efforts to engage with those of unusual talents may be equally challenging. Cases include:

Some may combine a variety of these characteristics, as with Leonardo da Vinci.

Whether recognized as geniuses, gurus, cultural creatives, wise in some special way, or with a high degree of presence, the process of interaction with them is necessarily challenging. If their understanding is primarily associated with some form of higher dimensionality, any interaction within conventional frameworks necessarily draws them into the simplistic dynamics of polarization and three-body relationships -- all too comprehensible roles that are typically both dramatic and problematic. They themeselves may be constrained to act through simplistic "models" of understanding -- as with helicopter pilots confronted by the challenges of driving an ox-cart, or by users of hi tech computers obliged to use the earliest applications. They may be readily perceived as very "full of themselves" -- for good reason -- whether or not they extoll the merits of "emptiness" and "mindlessness".

Some may use humour and self-mockery to reframe fruitfully their exchanges with others, as exemplified by the legendary Nasruddin. Recognizing the challenges of such communication, some may favour "negative capability". or the arguments typical of apophatic theology and the via negativa, rather than the conventional emphasis on the "positive" as a preferable mode of appropriate indication.

SETI: Shadowy Extreme of Transformative Implication?

It is curious that contact with extraterrestrials should be so widely and closely associated with "Seti" at this time. That name, through some of its various (modern) spellings and (uncertain) pronunciations is associated with the ancient Egyptian god of chaos, evil, war, storms, deserts, and foreign lands: Seth, Set, Setekh, Setesh, Seti, Sutekh, Setech, Sutech. "Seti" had the meaning "of Seth". Seti is an appropriate indicator of the challenges of the times.

However indicated, as the embodiment of evil, Seth was fundamental to the mythology of some 3,000 years, notably as the killer of his brother Osiris. As with the Arthurian Questing Beast and the Simurg (both mentioned above), as well as the Sphinx and the Garuda (of Hindu and Buddhist mythology), he was depicted as a polyform, with a combination of human and animal features -- in the case of Seti, a human with a head of an aardvark, curved snout, square tipped ears and a forked tail.

In the present era so much is made of optical metaphors in envisioning the future of humanity (as noted above). Reactivating "Seti", as central to a project for humanity's relationship with extraterrestrials in the wider universe, highlights a problematic aspect of any use of the metaphor of light. Where there is light, there is necessarily the possibility of shadow in any optical system. As a divinity, Seti was closely associated with the world of shadows.

Much has been made of the shadow metaphor in psychotherapy -- as that which is denied or ignored in some systematic fashion as part of the unconscious mind -- especially when the strategic focus is on "light". Indeed, in a special sense, any extraterrestrial contact may be understood in the psychoanalytical terms of Christopher Bollas (The Shadow of the Object: psychoanalysis of the unthought unknown, 1989) who highlights the nature of a "transformational object" in relation to the "self as object". For humanity, indications of the challenges of such dangerous unconsciousness at this time have been well-argued by John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995).

The current period is also characterized by a remarkable world-wide preoccupation with terror -- whether as a result of terrorism or of the consequences of failure to respond to food, oil and climate challenges. Curiously also, in addition to anticipated contact with extraterrestrials, modern mythology has focused in a variety of ways on anticipation of seemingly disparate phenomena of convergence ("rapture", technological singularity, "2012", "end times"). For example, at the winter solstice of 2012 the mid-winter sun will align with the dark rift of the Milky Way, which the Maya called Xibalba -- the black road that leads to a fearful underworld (Geoff Stray, The Mayan and Other Ancient Calendars, 2007).

In this context, in mythological terms, "Seti" (to use that spelling) suitably exemplifies the shadow and all that is challenging with respect to it. This suggests that, as an alternative to the title of this paper, SETI might usefully be an abbreviation for complementary sets such as:

It is then understandable that any potential contact with "extraterrestrials" will be framed in terms of the current conflation of "extreme" differences of any kind with a "terrorist" threat (Norms in the Global Struggle against Extremism: "rooting for" normalization vs. "rooting out" extremism? 2005).

Given such arguments, there is a degree of irony to the fact that the senior astronomer of the SETI Institute is so appropriately named Seth Shostak -- a phenomenon explored by the New Scientist as "nominative determinism".

Given the intelligence with which Seti was associated, it is perhaps to be expected that a strategy board game from that epoch has been reconstituted (on the basis of the limited information available). It might be understood as a precursor of chess (Andreas Steiner and Hartmut Witt, Seti, Bütehorn Spiele, 1979; André Platzer, Seti: an Ancient Egyptian strategy game, 2008). Perhaps as a variant, it has also been reconstituted under the name Senet (Catherine Soubeyrand, The Game of Senet). Its 3x10 board perhaps deliberately offers a mnemonic association to the set of 30 birds mentioned above in relation to the Conference of the Birds -- a device for preserving collective memory as discussed elsewhere (Minding the Future: thought experiment on presenting new information, 1980).


The challenge for humanity to achieve the SETI criterion has been discussed separately in the conclusion of an analysis of the kind of intellectual immaturity that is engendering painful transformative processes through which that criterion may emerge as essential to remedial strategies capable of sustaining life on the planet (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008). The challenge of being able to recognize "extraterrestrials", other than subliminally, curiously resembles that of being able to recognize unforeseen challenges in contemporary society.

Cognitive blinkering may be such that extraterrestrials are effectively "shunned", notably in the light of the analysis of incommunicability by Ron Atkin (Multidimensional Man: can man live in three dimensions? 1981). More generally the challenge may be one of the Comprehension of Appropriateness (1986).

Is imminent population overshoot then to be understood as a significant mark on the collective face of humanity -- which it is as challenged to recognize as it would be for some immature species?

Is such unconscious recognition the reason for institutionalized shunning of the challenge of overpopulation -- in anticipation of the painfully transformative consequences of systemic negligence?

More problematic is the sense in which humans are increasingly transforming themselves into "aliens" in the erosion of their relationship (lien in French) with the natural environment. They are increasingly "de-linking" themselves from the ecological processes by which they have been sustained. The characteristic of the anthropocene era, so recently announced, is that humanity is now seriously "out of the loop" by which planetary ecosystems are sustained rather than degraded. This is curiously paralleled by a tendency to enable (or displace) linking capacity to the virtual environment of the web. However such information links do not adequately reflect the information links (cybernetic feedback loops) essential to the sustainability of natural ecostems -- pointing to other challenges (Sacralization of Hyperlink Geometry, 1997).

With respect to "contact", the essential insight of the SETI ceiterion may well be that one must be able to communicate frutifully with oneself in order to be able to communicate fruitfully with others -- whether "extraterrestrials" or "terrestrial extras".


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