22nd June 2008 | Draft
Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration
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"?
Cultural clues to SETI comprehension
Contact with extraterrestrials?
Cognitive challenge: resolving the problematique
"Torturing the Sphinx": Militarized intelligence vs Sustainable
quality of livelihood
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
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
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
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
de Rosnay (The Macroscope,
1979) who subsequently prefaced a sequel by Luc de Brabandère
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
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
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.
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
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
"throughout the universe" to the human mirror test of intelligence
and maturity is somewhat different:
- rather than self-recognition in a conventional mirror, the standard
of maturity may be the capacity of a species to recognize its reflection
in its environment as a whole.
- rather than "intelligence", maturity may be framed as the
capacity to integrate such reflection meaningfully and to engage with others
in the light of the recognition of how they mirror oneself.
- rather than the capacity to recognize the existence of a mark on one's
face in a mirror, it may be more a capacity to recognize how
a problem in the environment is a reflection of one within one's own awareness
-- from which the problem emerged and by which it is sustained.
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:
- Self-reflectivity: Self-reference,
or self-reflexivity, was given a particular focus through the work of Douglas
Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid: a metaphorical fugue on minds and
machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll, Basic Books, 1979). In
the light of the mirror test however, the focus here is on the capacity of
an individual or a species to understand itself as mirrored in the environment
and by the distinguished features and processes of the environment. Alternative
terms might therefore have been "self-reflexive", "self-mirroring" or
The mirror metaphor is widely used in both western and eastern cultures to
clarify cognitive challenges. The contemporary challenge of this dimension
has been discussed more extensively elsewhere
Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems,
and third order organizations, 2007).
Hilary Lawson (Reflexivity: the post-modern predicament, 1986) has
clarified the dilemmas it implies for the future -- exemplified in its relevance
for administration (Ann L.Cunliffe and Jong S. Jun, The
Need for Reflexivity in Public Administration, Administration and Society,
2005). In relation to complexity, an example of self-reference
namely the process of auto (self) creation that is presumably at the core
of any adaptive reorganization in response to the challenges of the times
on Self-Reflexivity; James Juniper, A
Critique of Social Applications of Autopoiesis, International
Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 1, 3; Felix Geyer and
Johannes van der Zouwen, eds., Sociocybernetics:
complexity, autopoiesis, and observation of social systems, 2001).
Curiously such self-reflexivity may be fundamental to the nature of human
intercourse as explored elsewhere ("Human
Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other",
- Embodiment: Aspects of this dimension are evident in the
discussions of the authors named above (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
The challenge of embodiment has however been more explicitly addressed by
others such as
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied
mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999) and Francisco
Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch (The Embodied
It is significant that this concern with embodiment has featured prominently
in exploration of alternative knowledge systems, notably as characteristic
of little-appreciated indigenous communities
-- superbly documented by Darrell A. Posey (Cultural
and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: a complementary contribution to Global
Biodiversity Assessment, 1999). It is perhaps such insights that best
emphasize the "grounded" nature of such knowing -- also ably articulated
by David Abram (Depth
Ecology, 2002; The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language
in a more-than-human world, 1996), notably as discussed by
Chris Schlottmann (Embodiment
and Embeddedness in Philosophies of Ecology: deep ecology, Confucian ecology,
and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, 2002).
- Transdisciplinarity: Beyond "interdisciplinarity",
this implies a degree of coherence and complementarity between the variety
of disciplined ways of knowing . The term transdisciplinarity is
however currently used in a confusing variety of ways in relation to various
institutional agendas (cf Basarab Nicolescu (Ed.), Transdisciplinarity:
theory and practice, 2008). These have not themselves been
able to offer any methodological integration of their understandings or to
distinguish them effectively from multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity
-- as had Erich Jantsch (Towards interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity
in education and innovation, 1972). Many
of these have been profiled in the Integrative
Knowledge Project of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential.
Just as "university", despite the implications of the term, sadly
fails to encompass and interrelate the range of human preoccupations and
ways of knowing, the significance typically attached to "transdisciplinarity" also
fails in that respect. The SETI challenge is indeed to hold the full spectrum
of knowledge, whether in its concrete or abstract forms. This was experimentally
indicated and implemented in a Functional
Classification in an Integrative Matrix of Human Preoccupations (1982).
However it may be the manner in which such seeming externalities enrich a
full spectrum of metaphors, as cultivated by poetry, that offers a key to
the SETI criterion (Metaphors
as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future,
of Governance in the Year 2490, 1990).
- Integration: As exemplified by the challenge of the previous
dimension, this dimension emphasizes the manner in which understanding through
a variety of modes of knowing is meaningfully integrated. The challenge has
been discussed elsewhere (Dynamic
Reframing of "Union": implications for the coherence of knowledge, social
organization and personal identity, 2007)
In terms of the aesthetic implications evoked above, one possibility of understanding
this dimension is through a metaphor of "tuning" a matrix of preoccupations
as discussed elsewhere
Periodic Table of Religions, Epistemologies and Spirituality -- including
the sciences and other belief systems, 2007).
More challenging is the possibility that those meeting the SETI criterion may
have a subtler sense of the degree of connectivity appropriate to sustaining
the integrity, comprehensibility and credibility of their knowledge-based community.
The challenge is currently exemplified by the improbable connectivity associated
with "proof" of the most fundamental symmetry
group known to mathematics (Potential
Psychosocial Significance of Monstrous Moonshine: an exceptional form of symmetry
as a Rosetta stone for cognitive frameworks, 2007). The elusive quality
of that proof has been described in
terms of "moonshine",
dependent on difficult-to-substantiate correspondences (cf Theories
of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative
thinking, 2007) that are typically more credible to non-western
cultures (A. C. Graham. Yin-Yang
and the Nature of Correlative Thinking, 1986).
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
"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
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:
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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;
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
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:
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
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
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
Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms
through movement, 2002; In
Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial
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
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…
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:
- "Unidentifiable": If maturity implies a degree
of cognitive embodiment -- a form of self-reflective mirroring -- then the
mode through which any such process phenomenon is experienced is necessarily
to some extent a feature of human awareness and the capacity to engage in
that embodiment. Where this capacity is partial or episodic, the understanding
of what is experienced (and held to be external) will necessarily be
highly distorted, even verging on meaningless. The process of imputing or
inferring an identity may raise unexpected challenges. In this sense a "UFO" is
essentially unidentifiable in that its identity is not to be associated with
the kind of understanding with which it is sought to frame the experience.
Some of challenges have been explored elsewhere with respect to the possibility
of "psyclic" identity
of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity: sustainability as "psyclically" defined,
- "Fugacious": Reports of UFOs typically describe
encounters of brief duration. The "flying" phenomenon might therefore be
better understood as necessarily fugacious, fleeting, and ephemeral. To the
extent that "it" has
the kind of identity humans would find convenient, "it" does not
lend itself to stable cognitive framing of the kind that is considered desirable
and meaningful -- especially to scientists who otherwise are prepared
to attach meaning to phenomena that have a half-life measured in
fractions of a second. The challenge may be somewhat similar to that of imposing
forms on cloud formations, on swirls in streams, or on froth upon the waves
-- when their identity is more closely associated with the less superficial
processes of the winds, streams or tides by which they are engendered (as
emerges from the above-mentioned explorations of catastrophes).
- "Options": UFOs are necessarily defined as "objects"
of a kind that readily lend themselves to human cognition. Again, given the
SETI criterion for cognition, any "success" in perceiving such "objects"
through conventional human modes of knowing may be precisely what denatures
them as flow phenomena dependent on a degree of cognitive engagement
inhabitual to humans. They may be resistant to "reification" and "definition"
in unexpected ways as notably explored by Steven J. Dick (Extraterrestrials
and Objective Knowledge, 2000). Their nature may be such that they can be
variously perceived, depending on the nature and quality of that engagement
-- hence the preferable term "options".
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
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
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
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
-- 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
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
|Do unto others as you would have them do unto
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
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
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,
"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;
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,
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
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
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,
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?
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:
- scientific geniuses, especially those mathematicians and physicists whose
very existence and sense of identity are associated with dimensions of abstruseness
which defy the ordinary imagination (eg Albert
- philosophers identified with worldviews that radically reframe many conventional
assumptions (eg Alfred
- aesthetic geniuses, notably musicians, whose identity and mode of expression
is carried by a sense of harmony to which others can but resonate -- lacking
the sense from which it emerges (eg Amadeus
- technologists, especially inventors of new devices (eg Nikolai
- business and financial entrepreneurs of unusual ability (eg George
- peace activists, the courage of whose convictions is totally inexplcable
by concentional frameworks (eg Martin
Luther King, Nelson
- spiritual leaders, notably those providing a focus for emergent movements
articulating inhabitual value systems and modes of being (eg Jiddu
- lifestyle exemplars, notably those acknowledged by the Right Livelihood
- the "twice born", understood generically to include those initiated into
other modes of understanding whether through conventional religions, esoteric
traditions or spontaneously, as with "peak
experiences" and "near
death experiences" (Varieties
of Rebirth: distinguishing ways of being "born again",
Some may combine a variety of these characteristics, as with Leonardo
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
Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization,
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
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:
- Shadowy Extreme of Transformative Implication (from a psychoanalytic perspective
and that implied by the SETI-criterion)
- Shadowy Evil of Terrifying Implication (from the faith-based
security perspective of the past decade, defensively preoccupied with the
threat of change of any kind)
- Self-reflective Embodiment of Transcendent Indication (from an existential
perspective, threatening in its own right)
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
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,
Perhaps as a variant, it has also been reconstituted under
the name Senet (Catherine
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
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
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
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,
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".
- The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language
in a more-than-human world. Vintage, 1996
- Depth Ecology. In: Taylor and Kaplan (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Continuum, 2005 [text]
J B Asendorpf and P M Baudonniere. Self-awareness and other-awareness: mirror
self-recognition and synchronic imitation among unfamiliar peers. Developmental
Psychology, 29, 1993, pp. 88-95.
Ron Atkin. Multidimensional Man: can man live in three dimensions? Penguin,
Jurgis Baltrušaitis. Le Miroir: Essai sur une légende scientifique
-- révélations, science-fiction et fallacies. Paris, Editions
du Seuil, 1978
Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor: effects of conscious purpose on
human adaptation. Alfred A. Knopf, 1972
Gregory Bateson. Mind and Nature: a necessary unity. Dutton, 1979
Kate Bernheimer (Ed.). Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. Anchor, 1999 [review]
- Specular Self-Reference in Science, Philosophy and Culture. In: E.
Gal, M. Marcelli, P. Michalovich (Eds.), Science and philosophy in shaping
modern european culture III. Bratislava, Nadacia Komunikacia, 1995, pp.
- The Gödel Code as a Mirror, 2nd Kurt Gödel Colloquium,
Christopher Bollas. The Shadow of the Object: psychoanalysis of the unthought
unknown. Columbia University Press, 1989
John B. Carroll (Ed.). Language, Thought, and Reality:
selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. MIT, 1956/1997
M. W. De Veer and R. van den Bos. A critical review of methodology and interpretation
of mirror self-recognition research in nonhuman primates. Animal Behavior,
1999, Sep, 58(3), pp. 459-468. [abstract]
Paul Demiéville. The mirror of the mind (translated by Neal Donner).
Reproduced in: Peter N Gregory (Ed.).
Sudden and Gradual; approaches to enlightenment in Chinese thought. Delhi,
Motilal Banarsidas, 1991 (also University of Hawaii Press, 1987)
Jared M. Diamond. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York,
Viking Books, 2005
Steven J. Dick. Extraterrestrials and Objective Knowledge. In: Allen
Tough (Ed.). When SETI Succeeds: the impact of high-information contact. Foundation
For the Future, 2000, pp. 47-48 [text]
Paul K. Feyerabend:
- Against Method: outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge. 1975
- Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being.
Susantha Goonatilake. Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge.
Indiana University Press, 1999
A. C. Graham. Yin-Yang and the Nature of Correlative Thinking. Singapore, The
Institute of East Asian Philosophies, 1986 (Occasional Paper and Monograph
Series, #6) [review]
Thomas Homer-Dixon. The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal
of civilization. Knopf, 2006
Marco Iacoboni. Mirroring People: the new concept of how we connect with
others. New York, FSG, 2008
Erich Jantsch. Towards interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in education
and innovation. In: Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. Interdisciplinarity;
problems of teaching and research in universities. Paris, OECD, 1972
Louis H. Kauffman. Virtual
Logic: the calculus of indication, Cybernetics and Human Knowing:
a journal of second order cybernetics and cyber-semiotics, 5, 1,
Julian Keenan with Gordon G. Gallup, Jr., and Dean Falk. The Face in the Mirror:
the search for the origins of consciousness. Ecco/Harper Collins, 2003 [review]
M Lafrance. Postural mirroring and intergroup relations. Personality and
Social Psychology Bulletin, 11, 1985, (2), pp. 207-217.
Jacques Lacan. The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I
as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience. Écrits: a
selection. Tavistock Publications, 1977
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson:
- Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied
mind and its challenge to western thought. Basic Books, 1999
- Metaphors We Live By.
University of Chicago Press, 1980.
- Glimpsing Heaven, Oh So Close Chris Lucas. 2006 [text]
- Alien Consciousness: philosophical problems. 1996 [text]
Copthorne Macdonald. The Wisdom Page. [web
R. R. Meeks. The Mind in the Mirror: Self-Awareness, Self-Recognition, and the
Mark Test. Paper presented at the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness,
Memphis, Tennessee, 2003
Basarab Nicolescu (Ed.). Transdisciplinarity: Theory and Practice. Hampton
Mark Nielsen, Thomas Suddendorf, and Virginia Slaughter. Mirror Self-Recognition
Beyond the Face. Child Development, January/February 2006, 77, 1,
pp 176 - 185 [text]
Gunter Nittbaur. Stafford Beer's Syntegration as a Renascence of the Ancient
Greek Agora in Present-day Organizations. Journal of Universal
Volume 0, 2005, 1 [text]
Sue Taylor Parker, Robert W. Mitchell, Richmond Maria L. Boccia (Eds). Self-Awareness
in Animals and Humans Developmental Perspectives. Cambridge University Press,
Darrell A. Posey (Editor). Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity:
a complementary contribution to Global Biodiversity Assessment, Intermediate
Technology, 1999 (for the United Nations Environment Programme)
Elisabet Sahtouris. Expanding Our Worldview to Other Dimensions. (Paper
for When Cosmic Cultures Meet Conference, Washington D.C.,
Xavier Sallantin. L'épistemologie de l'arithmetique. (Communication
aux Seminaires internationaux d'épistemologie de l'Abbaye de Senanque,
Sept. 1976). Laboratoire Bena de Logique Generale 1976. (A longer version
of this paper appeared as Pt. 3 of L'Epreuve de la Force. Cahiers de la Fondation
pour les Etudes de Defense Nationale. No. 2, Octobre 1975)
Werner J. Sattmann-Frese and Stuart B. Hill. Learning for Sustainable
Living: psychology of ecological transformation. Morrisville, Lulu, 2007
John Ralston Saul. The Unconscious Civilization. House of Anansi, 1995
Theresa Schilhab. What mirror self-recognition can tell us about aspects of
self. Biology and Philosophy, 19 (no.1), 2004, pp. 111-126 [text]
Michael Schiltz. Form
and Medium: a mathematical reconstruction. Image [&] Narrative,
6, 2003 [text]
Michael Schiltz and Gert Verschraegen. Spencer-Brown, Luhmann, and
Cybernetics and Human Knowing 9, 2002, 3-4
Chris Schlottmann. Embodiment and Embeddedness in Philosophies of Ecology:
deep ecology, Confucian ecology, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, 2002
Henryk Skolimowski. The Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and
of the universe. Arkana, 1994
Roy Sorensen. The Aesthetics of Mirror Reversal, Philosophical Studies,
100/2, (2000), pp. 175-191
George Spencer-Brown. Laws
of Form, 1969 [website]
Howard F. Stein. The Influence of Psychogeography upon the Conduct of International
Relations: clinical and metapsychological considerations. 2008 [text]
K B Swartz. What is mirror self-recognition in nonhuman primates, and what
is it not? In J.G. Snodgrass and R.L Thompson (Eds.), The self across psychology:
Self-recognition, self-awareness, and the self-concept. New York
Academy of Sciences, 1997, pp. 65-71.
Antonio M. Taguba. Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture
by US Personnel and Its Impact. Physicians for Human Rights, 2008 [summary |
Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: the impact of the
highly improbable. New York, Random House, 2007
Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind.
MIT Press, 1991
Allen Tough (Ed.). When
SETI Succeeds: the impact of high-information contact. Foundation
For the Future, 2000 [text]
Francisco Varela. Laying Down a Path in Walking. In: W I Thompson
(Ed). Gaia: A Way of Knowing (Massachusetts, Lindisfarne Press,