Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Old Roses of the Unborn

I have just returned from two weeks of teachings, discussions and meditations in the East. That is my East, so the very un-eastern coast of Australia. I took the time to take a break from my studies and work. I took the time to take a break from myself.

You might try this sometime. To take a break from oneself. To sit with the anxiety of not doing anything, nothing that you should do, you want to do, or ought to do. That defines you. It is profoundly difficult.

I realized in this practice that mostly what we create in creating a series of life challenges is a way of escaping anxiety. The subtle difference between fear and anxiety is written about by neurologist Kurt Goldstein in the now classic The Organism. Fear is that which we can name and face and anxiety is the unease for the sense of that which exists outside our consciousness.

Sociologist Niklas Luhmann also writes about this for social (rather than psychic) holons in Ecological Communication as the environment that exists beyond our language for the environment, which we cannot perceive and bring into form in language.

I realised in the teachings on Nagarjuna's commentary Awakening the Mind by HH the 14th Dalai Lama the previous week how it is we seek solace from the anxiety of ignorance in the creation of problems and their solutions. This is the nature of our avoidance. The problem is a named thing. Non-doing is the antidote to this busi-ness.

For my non-doing I had to be very clever. I had to avoid the doing of sitting meditation, experiencing, even zazen or practices of contemplation and writing. Instead I simply surrendered and succumbed to the inspiration of nature around me and the brushes in front of me. Art resulted.

The experience was .... in the words from a similar escape to Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, as if:

"I go walking towards Mien Mo mountain in the moon illuminated August night, see gorgeous misty mountains rising the horizon and like saying to me 'You don't have to torture your consciousness with endless thinking' so I sit in the sand and look inward and see those old roses of the unborn again - Amazing ..."

In this was the recognition of that which comes before thought, being the impressions of thought that precedes me and you and our doing together, prior to any action, which holds meekly at bay the anxiety from which we try to escape fruitlessly, what lies before being found only in the mundane and beautiful which quietly speaks of this ... comfortingly, enduringly and expressively.

How amusingly forgetful we are ...

... and I am.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guiding Nature and the Human Soul

Our unusual book club, Club 451 (which has been going now for over four years) uses an integral post-metaphysics approach to literature. This reveals new author’s works we might not otherwise come across and from our discussions, perspectives previously unseen. We call it Club 451 after Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the fourth-person, fifth-person, first person perspectives we use to discover the book being discussed.

This month’s book disclosed a work of significance and perspective that requests comment. In Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin provides a guide to the unfolding stages of the eco-soulcentric human path in exquisite detail. His stages of human soul development are:

Stage 1- Early Childhood (Innocent)

Stage 2 – Middle Childhood (Explorer)

Stage 3 – Early Adolescence (Thespian)

Stage 4 – Late Adolescence (Wanderer)

Stage 5 – Early Adulthood (Apprentice)

Stage 6 – Late Adulthood (Artisan)

Stage 7 – Early Elderhood (Master)

Stage 8 – Late Elderhood (Sage)

While familiar with many soul stage development models from Joseph Campbell, James Fowler, Harry Moody, Jenny Wade and Carol Pearson something occurred in our discussion with the integration of these loops of circles that connect us and our paths that made me see these differently.

In each individual person’s biological and cognitive development there are parent guides and school teachers. In our soul journey there are spiritual and spirit guides and teachers. In our wider journey in our community there too are guides for the social evolution of society, such as those who lead in justice, equality and sustainability. Yet there are also the guides to our past societies forgotten, where we remember our indigenous knowledge and rites of passage (Plotkin’s own important contribution to our Middle Childhood learnings as a people).

This cycles within cycles approach triggered for me the new role of the guides and teachers of humanity’s own evolution, beyond our societies, and the current journey as we move as one through our growing up to become self-aware enough to enter Early Adolescence as a humanity.

These cycles of body, person, individual, society, species and humanity development all need dedicated guides and teachers. There are guides to the collective consciousness that precedes us, there are guides for personal physical, cognitive and emotional development, we are our own internal guides to our interior development, societal guides guide our social development, stage guides assist our ego-maturity development, there are phase guides for the many transitions between ego-stages, there are elder guides that guide the navigation of the sequence of the soul phases, there are humanity guides that see the stages of all humanity’s faces … and there are guides for the phase transitions humanity navigates continually in eras, epochs and eons.

The difficulty comes in this last category of guides, because as a humanity we have not individually been here before. We are both within and guiding at the same time. This is how the Hero’s Journey of the individual, of the society, and of a humanity of which we are part has always occurred. But to see the path, one cannot see from within. To do this requires the Wanderer to explore, to come back and to leave a breadcrumb trail so that we might find our way to where we have never been, once more.

The question I ask myself continuously is who are these new explorers for humanity's next cycle of development, what will they need and can they go to this place alone. The stages of the Hero’s Journey and its dynamics (and its necessity), to see that which the world does not know that it has lost and have it returned, have always defined this search for that which is intuited and is not yet known. Our boon prize in this quest is the navigation of our own becoming. This is a quest worth undertaking.

Who then will take that path ...

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Fortunate (Surfing) Life

On a recent trip to the East coast for the ISSS conference, sustainable systems were firmly in my mind. While I would not fly simply to surf, to combine sustainability conversations and working on solutions with a day in perfect local conditions, made the trip even more memorable.

My love affair with surfing began about thirty years ago and I have been blessed growing up with uncrowded waves, clean oceans and relatively warm seas surfing diligently ever since. Paddling out at Tallows near Australia's eastern tip last week was a recollection of a perfect day had almost 22 year ago. It made me wonder which is more remarkable, that I am still surfing or the place is relatively unchanged.

A pod of ten dolphins joined us and on a few occasions surfaced all around me. Mothers and babies in the crowd. In my 15 hours in the water back home in the West over the last few days of classic calm and glassy unusual winter swells the same thing occurred and I rejoice in this relatively low impact surfing life.

As mentioned in this month's historic Australian Surfing Life's Green Issue (Issue 252) even the simplest and purest of sports have hidden impacts. Unsung surfing heroes of the environment (a close friend included) raise points in this issue of an awareness of joint responsibility impossible to ignore.

The impacts of our capacity to destroy what we love hit me hard in Byron. After several hours in the water the inflammation in my throat was so great I could not swallow a meal and the infection in both ears made my hearing vanish. Like the individuals in the protest of the pollution unseen of a coastal society I became deaf, dumb, and in pain.

Each time I surf and watch the coastline viewscape change with development, I think the more things change the more they stay the same. Interestingly, Tallow Beach is named after a shipwreck in 1864 which lost its cargo of 120 casks of tallow fat which then washed ashore. We bring our consciousness to every endeavour. If the consciousness is unchanged then the landscape too will become changed, simply by our unawareness.

For many reasons, mostly the joy of the clean ocean where I live - the Surfrider Foundation is getting my renewed membership today and a donation for every wave I have caught during that last trip.

Everything has a cost. The question really is, what needs to be our contribution.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Enneatype Bingo

I have been meaning to publish an article for a few years now on how meta-paradigmatic conjunctions occur. It appears that, over time, disciplines eventually develop schools of thought that become a conjunction of nine aspects. These aspects coincide with the viewpoints from the nine essential divisions of human consciousness.

If you think about it, this would be a logical emergence, as peer community responses to the initial thought leaders will begin to balance perspectival biases where there is a natural diversity of type. While this process takes time, it has a clear destination. In having a mix of views we eventually see the whole undistorted by the vision of the first to see. When this occurs this is a really healthy indicator of the strength and openess of the knowledge community and its engagement.

A.H. Almaas in Facets of Unity: The Enneagram of Holy Ideas sets out the nine facets by which we distort reality, with a minimum of psychological pretension. Drawing directly on the work of Chilean psychiatrist, Claudio Naranjo, the spiritual teacher Oscar Ichazo and relating the work to the concepts of Grudjieff's Fourth Way practice, this is an excellent source work on the essence of these Nine aspects. From this base, profoundly insightful descriptions using the Enneagram as a guiding model have resulted. The many other Enneatype characterologies subsequently generated are then only as valid as is the extent of the capability of our human personality to confuse the projection of reality with our own constructions.

Awareness of these distinctions is profoundly useful to the meta-paradigmatic practitioner.

The Nine Facets have been identified in theoretical convergences within the maturing fields of organisational development, systems theory, strategic management, futures studies, apithology and integral theory. Gradually over time all nine appear and the tenth is found in their convergence. So it was a surprise the other day to see at a Dialogue for Community Climate Change Action the nine faces of Climate Change already appearing. These are an extension and refinement of the already identified existing typology of frames from the science debate as it now moves to the problem of humanity's unified response to this global concern (Nisbet, 2009).

Here are the climate change themes spotted so far (for those so inclined) framed by their repeating theme and the facet they reflect. I wonder what they sound like when they sing in harmony as the voice of one choir:

One ~ Design in Sound Science: (Perfection)
"From good data we will gain a good picture."

Two ~ Grass Roots Action: (Freedom)
"All actions, even small ones, can help."

Three ~ Great Leap Forward: (Will)
"Symbolic acts of leadership will show the way."

Four ~ Back to Source: (Origin)
"To listen to the earth is to find our guidance."

Five ~ Observe and Adapt: (Omniscience)
"Survival is found in our adaptive response."

Six ~ Mitigate and Protect: (Strength)
"Respond now before we cannot."

Seven ~ Combine Solutions: (Wisdom)
"There is no one silver bullet solution."

Eight ~ Oppose Perversity: (Truth)
"Push back and push on."

Nine ~ Love and Respect (Love)
"For our kids' kids, act in peace."

Our new game in the serious task of watching the evolution of consciousness is to spot when a field reaches this level of maturity, being seen when the conjunction of the parts reveal themselves as one undivided whole organized around human perceptions. When you do see this - shout 'Enneatype Bingo!' to win our prize.

The prize is - the wisdom perspective from the undifferentiated consciousness of the collective of human compassion acting with engaged concern.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Einstein Enigmatic Quote

There are many attributed quotes by Albert Einstein. When you consider his prolific output of commentary, particularly on humanity's future in the atomic age, it is not surprising that there will be some variations and contemporary reinterpretations. One important quote in particular keeps appearing in so many different forms it has become hard to isolate its source. It's five main variations often read something like:

"Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

"The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation."

"The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them."

"The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them."

When I quote someone I like to know (if possible) the context for the quote and its source. I went looking for an authoritative reference for this quote: to the internet, leading reference works, bibliographies of materials, collected archives and professional librarians. The general consensus is that, having such wide variations usually means a quote is attributed and has no actual source. I did find this though.

In the interview by Michael Amrine titled, 'The Real Problem is in the Hearts of Men' (New York Times Magazine - June 23 1946) Einstein says: 'Many persons have inquired concerning a recent message of mine that "a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels".' (p.7)

The source of that recent message is quoted in an article that appeared the month before titled 'Atomic Education Urged by Einstein' where the mircofiche archive copy of the article reports on an appeal by telegram to 'several hundred prominent Americans' on 24 May 1946 in a 'Plea for $200,000 to promote new type of essential thinking'. The telegram was signed by the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists with Albert Einstein as Chairman and the Federation of American Scientists. The text of that telegram is quoted in part and reads:

'Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We scientists who released this immense power have an overwhelming responsibility in this world life-and-death struggle to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity's destruction. We need two hundred thousand dollars at once for a nation-wide campaign to let people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels. This appeal is sent to you only after long consideration of the immense crisis we face. ... We ask your help at this fateful moment as a sign that we scientists do not stand alone.' (Source: New York Times - May 25 1946, p.13 - 'Atomic Education Urged by Einstein')

The question to ask ourselves is when did the call for 'a new type of thinking' to enable the move to higher levels, become reinterpreted into the need instead for 'a new level' in the same problem-based thinking - and what does this pattern of abstraction say about our desire to escape from our problems?

In chasing down the quote it was interesting going through the full copy of the paper of the day. Issues of global threat, scarcity of resources, neo-nationalism, absence of political confidence and concerns for the future. The themes are still familiar now. The context of this particular request was very different. A global threat was immanent. Other quotes of the time reflect this:

"Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars."~"The old type of thinking can raise a thousand objections of "realism" against this simplicity. But such thought ignores the psychological realities."~"We must realize we cannot simultaneously plan for war and peace."~"These and a hundred other questions concerning the desirable evolution of the world seem to be getting very little attention."

(New York Times - 23 June 1946 )

As an author I realize that my words will always be taken out of context, quotes will be made selectively and intentions expressed will be changed to reflect the intention of the reader, finding support or opposition in those words for a different purpose.

Yet, I suppose the grace in our ever changing sociological face, is the source of those words will always remain, ... for those who care to look.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Desired Visual Didaction

Recently I put together a library of audiovisual materials on sustainability. The aim was a 'passive research' resource to allow a group of people to dip into new perspectives on sustainability issues at their leisure. The collection is here as a guide for others looking to find a list of the Top 30 Sustainability DVDs. They are in no particular order:

1. The 11th Hour (link)
2. An Inconvenient Truth (link)
3. A Convenient Truth (link)
4. The Age of Stupid (link)
5. Manufactured Landscapes (link)
6. FLOW: For the Love of Water (link)
7. The Next Industrial Revolution (link)
8. Who Killed the Electric Car (link)
9. The Planet (link)
10. Crude: The Incredible Story of Oil (link)
11. Up the Yangtze (link)
12. Energy Crossroads (link)
13. The Great Squeeze (link)
14. The Power of Community (link)
15. The End of Suburbia (link)
16. Escape from Suburbia (link)
17. The Corporation (link)
18. Drowned Out (link)
19. A Crude Awakening: Peak Oil (link)
20. The American Ruling Class (link)
21. The War on Democracy (link)
22. Life and Debt (link)
23. The Unforeseen (link)
24. Big Ideas for a Small Planet (link)
25. Addicted to Plastic (link)
26. The Future of Food (link)
27. A World at Waste (link)
28. Garbage Warrior (link)
29. Spirit Stones (link)
30. Blue Vinyl (link)
31. [Your Suggestion .... ]

Trusting that you will support these documentary gems and artistic entracements. There is a month of viewing there ~ and lifetimes of peoples' works.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spheres of Self

Today I was working with international bubbleologist, Andrew Suttar, on our creative kids book project ~ The Bubble Story. We began the story a year (or so) ago and a recent trip to the Children's Literature Centre reminded me of the importance of the communication of the childhood knowledge that we carry with us forever through life.

Something as familiar as a soap bubble holds in Andrew's hands wonderment and creative intrigue, the essence of learning - and more importantly a path to self-reflexive meta-cognition, so important for personal development. How then do we find a way to see ourselves? The answer is in the metaphor of the bubble ~ for we are one and in one at the same time. That is the essence of the nature of consciousness.

I seem to be working more and more exclusively in the 'qualities' of consciousness, building on from an understanding of the structures of consciousness. In these 'qualities' hides the aesthetics of evolution. What then are the qualities of healthy human consciousness in its bounded form at different stages of development in apithological integration?
Here are ten to begin with:

1. identity - autopoeitic existence
2. integration - expansion and growth
3. coherence - solidity of efficable form
4. resilience - flexibility to externalities
5. stability - homeostatic efficiency
6. adaptability - morphology to circumstance
7. variability - empathetic reflection
8. permeability - encompassing change
9. interaction - energetic enablement
10. formlessness - effortless transmutation

Now to explain that for three year olds and under.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Birds and Boids

In recent work with a strategic conversation group formed for generative dialogues for sustainability, I noticed the pronounced difference between generative and dissipative conversations. What was interesting was how it only took one defeating dynamic, one small mistake, to collapse the systems dynamic of healthy open inquiry. At that point the conversations reverted to any usual opinion sharing session about an intractable problem. This resulted in a similar pattern of despondent helplessness in the face of complexity, notwithstanding very strongly felt desires towards achieving the contrary.

For the penultimate dialogue I wanted to help (if I could) with the awareness of these dynamics. To do this I turned to the principles of biomimicry. If you are not familiar with Janine Benyus work in this field, it is really quite beautiful in many intricate ways. For this situation I looked at the dynamics of bird flocks. How small groups come together for collective benefit, how the leaders guide the intention of the flock as strange attractors of collective direction and how the entire process develops its own complex form of greater mimic sentience avoiding predators ~ is quite remarkable.

The system rules that govern such complex behaviours are very simple. The three necessary elements identified using computer simulations of boids (i.e. virtual birds) (Reynolds, 1987) are (with a gross simplification added): 1. Separation (Don't bump into your neighbours), Alignment (Turn when your neighbours turn), Cohesion (Head towards the forward median direction). The three simple rules applied locally allow the each member of the flock to function and for the flock as a whole to generate emergent phenomena. If one bird/boid crashes, divides the flock or is without direction, the flock dissipates. When the system rules are in place, functional beauty results.

Applying the same principle of emergent trichotomies to conversational generativity, the system rules we used for our strategic conversations were as follows:

•Rule # 1: Offer additional information to enrich
(Not imposing alternative views in conflict)

•Rule #2: Acknowledge value and explain why
(Stay aligned and different, but not divisive)

•Rule # 3: Follow the theme that is occurring
(Rather than disrupt or break the conversation chain)

Essentially the system rules are the same for birds, boids and words. Try not to clash ideas, follow others' leads and go where the conversation is going. The question is: If something is so simple, why is it so apparently hard? In watching our consciously simulated dynamic we also saw the barriers to these rules. The barriers were:

•Barrier # 1: Own view privileged as most material
(Knowledge Humility) - Openness

•Barrier #2: Own values defended in primacy
(Respect Others Values) - Tolerance

•Barrier # 3: Own point of origin regressed towards
(Self-Education) - Release

A generative conversation requires a submission of the self into the intention of the whole. When we assert our own identity we cannot also operate for the benefit of the flock. The two intentions are in tension and become contradictory. What we do not see, is what we together will be missing. Things apparently so simple as knowledge humility, respect for others and a release into unknowing are elusive to the asserting individual mind. When held gently together they combine into something so rare and yet considered essential in the collectives of nature.

Friday, April 17, 2009

From Cradle to Graves: The genesis of health and psychopathology

For about a decade now I have been studying various nuances in the work of psychologist, Clare W. Graves and have recently been reading his original PhD thesis (1945). All of the positive qualities of intrigue and obstinacy in this brilliant mind are evident in this original source work.

Titled "A study of the genesis and dynamics of psychopathic personality as revealed by combining clinical case history and experimental approaches" he re-introduces the concept of "Anspruchsniveau" (aspiration level) while looking at why the different theories of therapy in sociology, psychology and physiology only have partial histories of success in very similar cases.

When you consider that Engel's essay on a biopsychosocial theory of medicine was not written until 1977 and the approach of triangulation in research methodology is still not often used, here we have a unique mind forming a creative methodology to an undefined problem of great importance.

In his doctorate Graves reviewed 1048 titles of theory, conducted five experiments with 94 subjects in four groupings, and reviewed seven case studies so as to highlight the difference and similarity in thirteen theoretical traits of the psychopathic personality.

His conclusion on the preceding 136 years of confusion in the field of psychology is significant. His thesis was that: "although these individuals may have many traits in common, one cannot understand the meaning of the traits until the dynamics of their organization within the individual are known." (p. 108). His conclusion on the thesis was that: "... the results of all the previous observations are not necessarily divergent if one orients himself properly. In this investigation a simple proposal was made; namely, that all the points of view are correct for one or another psychopathic personality but not for all of them." (p. 126)

What Graves found was that within the homogeneity of traits was uniqueness. The arguments on the definition of what is a psychopathic personality by its causes of deficiency leads nowhere, but to opposition. His resolution was to see the initial whole and gather greater definition of the parts. He concludes:

"Let us classify first by the broadest common trait, then as experiment shows differences exclude, so that we finally arrive at a point where we understand what the person is like in comparison to others and also how his dynamic organization differs from others." (p. 135)

This quest for the broadest common traits led to another 30 years of research and the generation of the emergent cyclical levels of existence theory. From this we are able to create, with some small measure of informed understanding, the broad classifications that lead to the definition of individual dynamics. This algorithm of uniqueness is where human nature might be disclosed for all the forms in which it is made manifest.

The only question I have is why we still prefer a simplistic answer to a complex problem rather than simple answers within a clear solution. Graves' work was apparently inspired by the confusion he saw in what must be a solvable problem in his field. In his approach he embraced, rather than narrowed, the confusion. This tendency towards the simplistic is I suspect, our ultimate human failing and one that can be easily met with acknowledgment and self-acceptance of this fact, if only for its attempted mitigation within ourselves.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Child Nation

I recently found a copy of E.O. Wilson's edited collection of the four great works of Sir Charles Darwin (The Voyage of the Beagle, On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals ~ 1700 pages).

The observational powers of Darwin, maintained and extended over a lifetime of work, always amazes me. There is something resonant to me in his open inquiry without hypothesis that allows a question to be asked continuously and at the same time demands no answer. I suspect it accords with my own bias towards abductive logic.

One observation of his in The Voyage of the Beagle did strike me as both accurate, foretelling and slightly uncomfortable, particularly in the context of present discussions I am involved in on Australia's food security and water sustainability. On visiting the colonies in New South Wales, Sir Charles Darwin wrote:

"The rapid prosperity and future prospects of this colony are to me, not understanding these subjects, very puzzling. The two main exports are wool and whale-oil, and to both of these productions there is a limit. The country is unfit for canals, therefore there is a not very distant point, beyond which the land-carriage of wool will not repay the expense of shearing and tending sheep. ... Agriculture, on account of the droughts, can never succeed on an extended scale; therefore as far as I can see, Australia must ultimately depend upon being the centre of commerce for the southern-hemisphere, and perhaps on her future manufactories. Possessing coal, she always has the moving power at hand. From the habitable country extending along the coast, and from her English extraction, she is sure to be a maritime nation. I formerly imagined that Australia would rise to be as grand and powerful a country as North America, but now it appears to me that such future grandeur is rather problematical." ~ (22 January, 1836)

If we think about the oil vulnerability of Australia's road transport systems, its fertilizer and irrigation dependency in its agriculture, its relative position to the other commerce centers of SE Asia and its absence of maritime supremacy, our role other than as mine workers for removal of our commons for use by more creative others ... appears limited.

Evolutionary biologist and geographer, Jared Diamond, offers a similarly problematic analysis of Australia's prospects in his book Collapse, with great fondness. However, it takes more than fondness to alter our physical and structural realities. These are not without hope, only requiring great presence of mind. Diamond names the problems of 'Mining Australia' - in its oil, water, topsoil, biodiversity and minerals - explicitly. Parallels between Diamond's and Darwin's approaches are well made, reflecting both in a good light. Sir Charles summed this view one hundred and seventy years earlier with brutal poignancy and poetry on departing:

"Farewell, Australia! you are a rising child, and doubtless some day with reign a great princess in the South: but you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough for respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret."(p. 388)

Personally, I am staying, not with naivete, but with optimism and a profound awareness of the questions that we have been hoping to ignore for our entire history as an emerging child nation, holding to a temporary belief in the role of human agency in geographic determinism.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Antigone's Anguish

I went to the preview performance of Eamon Flack's adaptation of Antigone at the Perth International Arts Festival the other night. This contemporary re-telling of Sophocles's 441BC classic Greek tragedy was visually stunning and compelling. It raised for me different themes in a re-visiting of this work of timeless conflict.

If you were asked to choose your allegiances to healthy old traditions or to an unhealthy new order, which would you choose? What happens in a time of crisis where decisive direction is required to prevent the schism of a state yet the decision itself is the cause of divide, dishonor and betrayal driven by the passion of love?

In Antigone, Kreon chooses to dishonor one of his two dead sons to unify a divided kingdom and in doing so divides his own household. Antigone's conflict is one of obedience to a law she believes to be wrong, even if for the good of the State, in loyalty to a now dead brother. In the classic tension of agency and communion, of the individual in society, the dissonance of evolution is reflected in every player's decision. Loyalty to personal principles highlights the poignancy of the tragedy.

This reminded me of the fallacy of the evolutionary developmentalists that higher order systems are by assumption superior. Their superiority is determined by their quality. We resist growth actively when growth is pathological. In the recurrent themes of the tragedies throughout literature, if the tyrant king is our only option to the chaos of competing factionalism, the moral wo-man ultimately chooses factionalism rather the emergent oppressive fascism. From Shakespeare to Serbia, from Ibsen to Iraq a populous may live in fear, but may also rise to liberation, when there is the slight prospect of the choice of health in its growth.

This version of the play reminded me again of the intricacy of transition in evolution and how structures that allow for natural societal emergence in health outlive the insistent fear of evolution by escape. The forces of phobos disguised as eros evoke thanatos as the expression of agape. These four way dynamics are now to be seen as one set in a single principle of many parts. What is invisible to many is played out in this play.

In the words of composer Rachael Dease's compelling chorus (that ends the play):

Time, age us, teach us.
We are still learning,
To be wise

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Black Saturday

The reflection and learning begins for us all in the aftermath of the Victorian bush fires of Saturday, 7 February 2009. The unprecedented conditions came as a shock and revealed how we cope with the unfamiliar. While anticipated, only in the retelling, can we comprehend.

A profound understanding occurred for me some years ago when I learned to define 'crisis' instead as a 'crisitic event'. The crisis is not the occurrence. It is the event that signifies the culmination of prior conditions. On Black Saturday a timeline of events came together over long and short timeframes, which were anticipated and were responded to in the only way we could.

It is now to the future of these communities that my thoughts turn. From the focus on the pathology, on the loss of life, property and confidence, there is also the apithology, of the rebuilding of lives, homes and community. What we will see is in the dynamics of coherence the places pointed to where assistance would be most intelligently and compassionately placed. One inquiry is to unravel the Gordian Knot of threads of the preceding circumstances to inform the future. The task is not to cut a path to a solution. The task is to see how the puzzle was formed. That unravelling has three threads.

If we think about when a community experiences physical, psychological and sociological shocks, one of these alone is enough to weaken the bonds of human connection. We often survive the physical events of flood, earthquake or drought and while there is a change to the environment that lives on in memory, we recover from this as the repairs and remediations occur. A psychological shock, such as a tragic death in a road accident or other loss tears at us and again the comfort of place and community provide support for the pain that remains. A shock to community cohesion, when one of our own betrays social trust in sociopathy, destroys the innocence of reliance and the community acceptance becomes conditional. From each of these shocks we are weakened, but do recover.

In Black Saturday we have the effect of all three of these shocks at the same time. The loss of the land, the loss of the loved and the loss of trust. For those communities with coherence in their resilience capacity the rebuilding of place, identity and connection will have already begun. It is in the more vulnerable towns, those that had already previously suffered loss of environment, fragmentation of identity and a decline of reliance that will need the greatest support in the months ahead.

The question is will we see within the visible crisis the hidden dynamics of resilience?

Will our rebuilding for the future have the perception of connection?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Manufactured Landscapes

I am not sure what new I can say about Edward Burtynsky's photography. The theme of the scale of the human influence on the landscape that is the built environment is thought provoking for each person in a different way. In spending time with this work in the Arthouse Films documentary by Jennifer Baichwal it draws a reflection. Perhaps the photographer's own commentary on the stills taken from over two decades of work revealed for me the dual aspects of exploration and intention.

The shadow of the human psyche is the parts we deny. In seeking out the natural grandeur and beauty of the non-man made landscape we find solace in that part of nature not yet denied to us. What then is the manufactured landscape if not other than a reflection of nature - being the spore of ourselves reflecting our human nature? Burtynsky has sought this hidden part out, lest we deny it, and deny that part of ourselves.

In the portrayal of the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh recurrent images of the efficient creation and destruction of the detritus of the rainforest kept occurring for me. Within thoughts of the social justice aspects, it is the removal of value from the decaying by the leaf cutter ants that sustains the unsustainable in a cycle of distribution and renewal. In the unnatural landscapes of Burtynsky's record are natural phenomena. Be they the formation of chemical rivers, of mountains that appear through the gradual addition of individual particles, in computer chips or tyres, or the faceted erosion of canyon walls made of slate, marble or iron ore - the human intervention creates natural landscapes no different to those we are inspired by in the environment without man. The difference lies in their toxicity to the life of man and to all other life.

The question asked by his art is not a simple 'right or wrong, but requires a whole new way of thinking', for in this examination of the non-natural is revealed, not the unnatural, but the 'human' natural in a whole new ecology of productive inequity at scales we are only just beginning to understand.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Life and Living

I am doing some work building a capability ecology for an organisation. A strategic conversations group has been formed to explore strategies for making a positive difference in the sustainability impacts of the organisation. The brief includes looking at depletion, pollution, exploitation, extraction, displacement, consumption, globalisation, discrimination, confusion and dislocation at a global scale. Fun topics. The other part of the brief is to turn this around to examine the positive reversal of these dynamics beginning with the organisation's own spheres of responsibility.

In looking at the Messages for 2100 in the time capsule of the remarkable minds interviewed in the 11th Hour, the conversations group made an observation on the different stages of engagement with these issues. They noticed how we (as a humanity) are transitioning into different change phases, in different places, at different times. The patterns were clearly discernible for them.

This recalled for me how Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' integrative work on Death and Dying (1969) has been applied to organisational systems undergoing a transformational change in identity and raised the question of what might this same dynamic look like in the social system that is humanity.

Recalling the stages once more, they are Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance, Decathexis, with Hope underlying and supporting the entire transition. If we examine the global response to not only climate change, but the emergence of a global ethic of the health of the commons - we can see waves of concurrent unfoldment in the discernible stages of the grief cycle.

What is the entity that is dying here? Is it human life as we know it and the biota in which it is in symbiosis? Or is it the identity of mankind as the bounded rationality of separation refinds itself reborn in new identification with the greater commons?

Perhaps the reframe is from the death and dying - to life and living. The object of our identification might be what defines either loss or birth.

I myself am an optimist in that transition, recognising the stages of grief and regeneration needed which are there to be seen (should we care to look). I also understand that someone will have to be there to 'hold the hand of the dying and kiss the tears of the crying' as this path unfolds in hope.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dignity of Difference

In Sir Jonathan Sacks' book The Dignity of Difference: How to avoid the class of civilizations (2002) is a plea for the embrace of difference in the diversity of the universals of mankind. He reveals something about how we each hold individual and universal truths. To illustrate this he recalls the story of the creation of mankind in the Jewish tradition, as follows:

"When God was about to create Adam. the ministering angels split into contending groups. ... Mercy said, 'Let him be created, because he will do merciful deeds. Truth said, 'Let him not be created, for he will be full of falsehoods'. Righteousness said, 'Let him be created, for he will do righteous deeds.' Peace said, 'Let him not be created, for he will never cease quarrelling'. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He took truth and threw it to the ground. The angels said, 'Sovereign of the universe, why do You do thus to Your own seal, truth? Let truth arise from the ground. Thus it is written, 'Let truth spring from the earth." (Psalm 85:12)

Reflecting on the interpretation offered by Rabbi Sacks it is suggested that God recognized that Man is not capable of the perfect truth that exists in heaven and to hold the pretense of such truth in human knowing will only create conflict, not peace. The proposal is that Man must live by 'a different standard of truth, one that is conscious of its limitations'. It is by these attempts at limited truths that heaven's own Truth is re-created 'from the earth'.

Perhaps that is where we find ourselves in the post-postmodern discourse, where an abundance of truths each reflect the universals of Man's existence and the diversity of our own interpretations. We each make truths to live by in a world of infinite things to know. Like sacks of valued gems each contributes to the others principally by the appreciation of their preciousness. Regardless of their accuracy by another's yardstick of worth, they also reveal something to us that is much more precious ...

... that each truth is the expression of humanity in understanding its own becoming.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aesthetics of Profit

I was just reading Paul Hawken's remarkable synthesis of information and vision, 'The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability' (1993), and found myself in one of those moments of surprise while immersed in the familiar. In a call for a new language for business expanding its specialized dialect he says:

"The language of commerce sounds specific, but in fact it is not explicit enough. If Hawaiians had 138 different ways to describe falling rain, we can assume that rain had a profound importance in their lives. Business, on the other hand, only has two words for profit - gross and net. ... In other words, business does not discern whether the profit is one of quality, or mere quantity." (p. 10-11)

This made me think of the aesthetics of profit. What would be the qualities we would seek to vest in something that is apparently real, albeit merely a numeric fiction? If something as temporary as a cloud could have qualities, such as ... wispy, fluffy, buoyant, gloomy and stormy, why not profits? I can see no reason, as like Hawkens, I am not against profits or business, only the unconscious desire to externalise the costs of life to a location of isolation that is a solitary and momentary P/L statement.

The question is what qualities would we seek to attribute to the profits we desire? Rather than 'ethical', 'green', 'sustainable' or 'responsible' profits, I am sure we could discover more meaningful terms to recover the emotion of business.

I, like others, would invest in a business whose profits were 'nourishing', 'generative', 'enduring', 'resourceful', 'contributive' or even 'life enriching' to the human commons. The Accounting Standards themselves would require an inspired taskforce of newly enthused auditors to put greater meaning, feeling and precision into their assessment of the human worth of the productive gain. Rather than externalities, the profit forecasts of resonant aesthetics would appeal to the internalities, of our profoundest human emotions.

I wonder which 'beautiful' company might be the first to take this challenge? It is a conversation, I for one, would love to have.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Path in Walking

In the continuation of his work with Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson's Mind in Life (2007) is the integrative discourse piece many cognitive evolutionaries had been waiting for. To limit the description of this work to the field of neurophenomenology both portrays its focus and obscures its encompassing reach. I am not sure how many years I will take over this work and its sources, yet feel time in its pages are always well spent.

On yet another reading I was reminded how one risk in creating any description of a dynamic process is how immediately the discourse begins to discuss it as an object formed. The descriptor ceases to be a shorthand in the community of shared understanding of the complexity and gains a life of its own as a thing to be discovered.

Thompson discusses natural selection and its interesting how Darwin's description of that process gained existence as a mythic force. When we go looking for the existence of the mythic beast, it is discoverable only by the parts glimpsed in its fleeting escape between the trees of the forest of our own inquiry. The process is not a thing in and of itself. It does not explain existence, but describes its process. As Thompson says:

"According to the viewpoint I am proposing, self-organisation and natural selection are not opposed but are actually two interwoven aspects of a single process of enactive evolution." (p215).

This view of organism-environment co-determination (being a 'both/and' approach) is central to our understanding of how the dynamic processes of life exhibit emergence. We enact meaning in the context of the conjunction of our 'own dynamics and those of the environments to which they are structurally coupled'. We are not a stationary thing. We are part of a process of life. In holding both concepts together we understand how "enactive evolution is the laying down of a path while walking" (p. 218).

An earlier example of this proposition is the central (and sometimes overlooked) tenet in Graves' (2005) levels of existence theory, in which he describes human consciousness as the resultant of the 'organismic' equipment and 'environmental' conditions which combine to generate 'momentary operants' (p. 162). He describes the elements as the conditions of existence and the conditions for existence, being the existential problems of living and the existential means for living, which combine as coherent forms of coping. We are neurophenomenological beings. We find coherence in the context of human existence. We are remarkable for doing this.

What if we were to accept our identity as 'momentary operants' as a reflection of the process of life in occurrence? Would we struggle to hold on to our temporary coherence of self so strongly? How does one let go into the void when there is nothing to step out to? How does one find a path forward where there appears to be none?

In knowing that we are laying down a path while walking, essentially creating our environment as we enact meaning and create ourselves, this raises for us also a moral responsibility. As members of humanity the parts and the whole co-emerge and mutually specify each other in a process of dynamic co-emergence (Thompson, 2007, p. 431). Each of us in a way is providing content in the self-definition of our collective path.

Where then are we guiding ourselves to ...

Caught in Motion

Have you ever seen an image by Robert Doisneau, the Parisian photographer? They are very distinctive. What is remarkable in these photographs for me is how they typify moments of commonplace humanity captured with great beauty.

I was in Paris a few years ago at the same time as the opening of a retrospective of his entire life's work at the Hotel de Ville. A few of these photographs are featured in the Seconds Snatched from Eternity collection. His images feature many subjects, from Coco Chanel models to the kitchens of Parisian worker's apartments. All contain candid humour and great lightness. The commonality of essence within the diversity of subjects fascinated me.

It was only on finding one photo towards the end of the exhibition that I understood the craft and art of this photographer. It was a portrait of the artist himself (1949, at Jules Ferry). Doisneau would use an older style camera with a top sighting viewfinder. Hanging this at his waist he would set up the shot, but rather than being separated by the machine and the lens, would engage and be present to the moment around him. This is what enabled the magic of the engaged voyeur.

This made me think about my own inquiry practice. I will consciously seek, less to apply the mechanical lens and filters to capture an image of a mental projection on the photographic plate of understanding, and more to be open and involved while simply being aware to what is happening as an occurrence, rather than what just happened as evidence. The engagement, not the capture, is inherent in my epistemological bias.

The artifacts of such work then are nothing, except seconds snatched from eternity.

"I put all my trust in intuition, which contributes so much more than rational thought. This is a commendable approach, because you need courage to be stupid - it's so rare these days when there are so many intelligent people all over the place who've stopped looking because they're so knowledgeable." ~ Robert Doisneau

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Beauty of Poverty

I was struck recently in visiting the Japanese collection at the National Gallery of Victoria by the forms of the Shigaraki jars. The rough and dynamic designs dating from the 16th century in the Muromachi period (1334-1573) were used in the complex aesthetics of the tea ceremony for the beauty in their 'natural imperfection' (Jap. - wabi) and their commonplace and humble origins.

The fashion of the day eventually led to innovation in glazing techniques being adopted in the regions of the Six Ancient Kilns, which sought to copy higher quality aesthetics from China of the same period (Kidder, 1981). It is ironic that the simplicity of these practical vessels created their later attractiveness.

In this we find the beauty of poverty, where the simple and naturally flawed holds a nostalgia of exquisiteness for us. We each probably have an object of beauty that holds an attraction for us, even though its aesthetic appeal is lacking to other tastes. The beauty is in the meaning, not the contents, these objects skilfully hold.

Perhaps it is the new muddy footprint on the floor of the most perfect architect designed family home that gives the clean space its 'now it is truly finished' appeal.

Daedalus' Envy

I favour Bullfinch's classic collection in mythology as a source work, mostly for the side tales and other fables of interest connected to the familiar myths, so often lost in a contemporary retelling.

In the myth of Icarus, his father Daedelus who designed the labyrinth of King Minos, loses the king's favour and they were both imprisoned in a tower above the sea. Daedelus gradually collects feathers and one by one builds the wings with wax that carry them to their escape.

We know Icarus' fate, but his father survives and later becomes the mentor to his nephew, Perdix, who becomes the great inventor's apprentice. The apprentice begins to outshine the master. Daedelus becomes so envious of Perdix's precociousness that he takes a momentary opportunity to push Perdix from a high tower. The goddess Minerva, protector of the inventive, saves Perdix by turning him into a bird, now called the partridge which nests in hedgerows rather than lofty heights, mindful of that fateful fall.

The hubris of excitement felled Daedelus' son. The envy of his successor's successes, which outshone his own, disclosed the master's true nature. In ingenuity there is to be won great praise, but in its service to humanity, there is also great caution and humility required.

The reality is we never complete the knowledge we create, only provide stepping stones to those who will follow. If we are not working for the knowledge to be held by humanity that comes after ours, who is it we are really serving?

Sustainability Groundrush

Have you ever experienced the groundrush that comes from the freefall approach to the ground while skydiving? I once jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet and got a sense of this experience as the overwealm of information floods over your sensory capacity to take action. Even once the chute is pulled, there is a delay as the rush continues, before the relief of safety returns.

Recently while preparing a course in macro-sustainability strategies I was putting together all the data for the changes in the holarchy of humanity. Hours of looking at the statistics on oil depletion, water scarcity, deforestation, species transmigration, human population explosion, political instability, child literacy, wealth inequality, social dislocation and individual depression filled my awareness, recalling all I have read in these fields. When I finished there was a sense of 'sustainability groundrush' - that feeling of freefall overwhelm when the ground of reality rushes in to meet you.

When we look into the biosphychosocial system dynamics of humanity in emergence this is a common occurrence. The overwhelm factor becomes too great for us to hold the content. The trick is to learn how to hover - and take it all in. To hold this with equanimity. While sitting with this experience for a while there came a desire to map the dynamics of this in the sustainability spheres I use to explain this field. This is what resulted (in an apithology matrix):

Sphere. Pathology. Apithology
Lithosphere. Exhaustability. Utility
Atmosphere. Variability. Stability
Hydrosphere. Uncertainty. Certainty
Biosphere. Vulnerability. Integrity
Sociosphere. Insufficiency. Security
Technosphere. Inefficiency. Efficiency
Econosphere. Reactivity. Reality
Politiosphere. Autocracy. Authenticity
Ethosphere. Autonomy. Responsibility
Theosphere. Incapacity. Self-Efficacy

The cycle of resource depletion, causing greenhouse emissions and climate variation, creating water scarcity, compounding the loss of ecological viability, generating food insecurity, requiring expansions in consumptive technology, triggering hyper-inflationary markets, causing political instability, driving ethical isolationism and a feeling of spiritual paucity - reveals itself as the reinforcing dynamics of decline.

Yet what about its opposite configuration of equal potentiality? I envisage a world (daily) of resource utility, climatic stability, water predictability, ecological integrity, society cohesivity, technological creativity, economic sensitivity, political authenticity, inter-generational ethicality and spiritual generativity.

In avoiding the immensity of the compounding dynamics we can sometimes lose our perspective, seeing a part of the half and failing to see the health of the whole. The groundrush is an illusion, for we are not falling, only floating on the uncertain wings of our own desires.

Perhaps now it is time to pull the rip cord, to float on the thermals of ascent once more, undertaking the work of transition with generative and grounded hope, implementing this between the sun, sea and every shore.

For we have been waiting for a while ...

Life Sucks (Information)

I never go to far away from Arthur Koestler in depictions of systems theory in holarchies without having to come back to source. I always find more to discover in his thoughts. In Chapter 14 of The Ghost in the Machine (1967) Koestler talks about life as open systems and the apparent defiance of entropy in the 'integrative tendency' of biological forms.

He holds an open question as to the causation of evolution and appears to posit that there is a counterpart principle in life to that of entropy in matter ~ yet sees no need to prematurely define it (or manufacture it). Koestler remarks on entropy and its relationship to information:

"Our perceptions, then, become 'negative noises', knowledge becomes negative ignorance, amusement the absence of boredom and cosmos the absence of chaos. But whatever the terminology, the fact remains that living organisms have the power to build up ordered, coherent perceptions and complex systems of knowledge out of the chaos of sensations impinging on them: life sucks information from the environment as it feeds on its substances and synthesises its energies." (p. 199)

I often wonder if it is our failure to develop the layers of physical laws that nest in holarchy that makes the irreconcilable differences of science and novel theory. We recognize the difference in energy, matter, information and meaning, and yet we try to apply the principles of one to the others without discrimination.

What if were to develop a coherent approach to the principles of existence across these layers of perception? What if we were to develop principles that were not, as Koestler suggests, the absence of chaos - but were the principles for the presence of coherence?

This parallel path is possibly the purpose of the field of apithology. It takes Koestler's invitation to look at what can be seen by its opposite counterparts and directs the inquiry to that source.

Where this perhaps takes us - is towards the coherence of life.

Finding First Flight

I recently watched a dove take its first flight. The nesting parents had found a location away from neighbouring cats in not the most secure location, on a piece of wind chime art I had made, where mother and egg swung precariously for two weeks. After carefully not disturbing the nesting, where I walk five times a day, the egg then hatched.

The hatchling slowly grew in size and strength leading up to the moments of its first flight. This momentous event I watched for two hours intently. A rare opportunity. The dove gradually stood, shuffled to the edge of the structure to stretch its wings and practiced launching. After a hour of stretch and pause a trial hop was attempted, just a couple of feet between footholds. Then the mother reappeared on a nearby tree and cooed loudly. With a great flapping of wings and nervousness the fledgling leapt into space and clumsily joined its mother. The next flight was to the empty field next to my house, where eight more new doves were feeding on seeds. Then ... it was gone.

It made me think, what makes us leave the nest? It is not the shock of denial and negation. The strength and encouragement of love is a much greater force. The dove did all things necessary to prepare for the flight and eventually leapt with the encouragement of its parent. This combination of preparation and encouragement seems so logical, yet how often do we overly protect and 'do for' others, and in doing so fail to do what is needed to enable them to survive. I think often about the responsibilities that will befall Generation Y in their heroic quests we have left them. Have we prepared them for the flight, or just kept them safe, nurturing in protection of predators? Will they learn to fly, and at the same time , not too high?

I can hear them cooing now ...

Ends and Means

I was just reading a very aged copy of Aldous Huxley's 'Ends and Means' (1938) subtitled 'An Enquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Method employed for their Realization' in which Huxley asks a common question of what is the society we ideally want and, if that were knowable, what would we logically do for its creation. This closing quote reminded me of the central reason why this does not seem possible:

“In an age in which the fundamental beliefs of all or most members of a given society are the same, it is possible to discuss the problems of politics, or economics or education, without making any explicit reference to these beliefs. It is possible, because it is assumed by the author that the cosmology of all his readers will be the same as his own. But at the present time there are no axioms, no universally accepted postulates. In these circumstances a discussion of political, economic or educational problems, containing no reference to fundamental beliefs, is incomplete and even misleading.” (Aldous Huxley Ends and Means p329-330)

The presumption of a diversity of values must now be accepted. Analysis of the belief structures operating and their identification is essential if any public discourse is to be intelligible (or productive). To see the tensions between conceptions we need first to see those conceptions. Making the coherences of meaning visible is one means by which we find a way to our common future. That is the main reason for this research.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I am not sure when I was first caught by the picture of Icarus by Matisse. I was struck though. Perhaps it was on listening to The Majesty of the Blues by Wynton Marsalis and reflecting on the meaning behind the image on the album. The myth does, however, seem appropriate.

In any inquiry into flights of fancy we must soar somewhere between the sea and the sun. If we fly too close to either we will drift from safety, yet the whole purpose is to fly.

The icarus myth is a continuous reminder to hold within oneself a premise of knowledge humility, lest we become bedazzled by the illusion of actual knowing in the unfolding world of one's own understanding.

May these fragments of reflections serve as breadcrumbs for those making similar inquiries and following parallel paths.

In openness ...