In dispersal there is development. The king comes to have a shrine. It is beneficial to cross great rivers. It is beneficial to be correct.
EXPLANATION Dispersal means disorganization and disorder. In the body of the hexagram, below is water in which one yang is hidden between two yins, yang being trapped by yin; above is wind in which one yin enters under two yangs, yang being damaged by yin. Yin and yang do not interact, essence and sense are separated; so it is called dispersal.
This hexagram represents yin and yang being lost in confusion, then reordered; it follows on the previous hexagram wind. Wind involves gradually entering true eternity; because yin and yang are disordered, one progresses harmoniously to balance them. Once people’s yin and yang are disordered, and essence and sense have shifted, the mind of Tao is obscured and the human mentality arises, the true sane energy is damaged and the false aberrant energy grows. This is like the one yang in the middle of water trapped by yin energy; the primordial is concealed inside ac- quired conditioning. Once the primordial is concealed, its vast energy is inhibited, and yin energy takes over affairs, insufficient to do good, excessive in doing evil, inevitably leading to total loss of natural innocence. This is like the one yin of wind —insidiously rising under pure yang, subtly dispersing yang. This is why dispersal is so called.
However, even after dispersal, sages have a way to resolve dispersal, which is able to reorder that which is dispersed. What is the way to resolve dispersal? It is none other than the path of progress through obedience: The only distinction is that if you go one way, obeying invading conditioning, you disperse yang, while if you go the other way, obeying the primordial energy, you foster yang. If you can reverse obedience from acquired conditioning back to the primordial, gradually progressing, without hurrying or lagging, stopping falsehood and preserving truthfulness, master-ing yourself and returning to appropriate order, that which is scattered can be assembled, that which is disorderly can be ordered, so that you can return to your original being. First dispersed, ending up not dispersed, there is thus paradoxically a way of development in dispersal.
Those who develop this have no danger in their hearts even when there is danger in events, are not imperiled inwardly even when there is outward peril; they make use of the path of flexibility to travel the path of firmness, and use positive energy to transmute negative energy. This is like a king coming to have a shrine, using sincerity to summon the spirit, so the spirit can be summoned. It is also like wood following the nature of water, “beneficial to cross great rivers,” so that danger can be solved.
When people’s yin and yang are scattered, it is always because of using the human mentality and abandoning the mind of Tao; every act, every step, is on dangerous ground. But if you use the mind of Tao and dismiss the human mentality, you can seek the jewel of life in a tiger’s lair, search out the pearl of illumination in a dragon’s abyss, progressing harmoniously in danger and getting through danger. With proper control according to events, whether agreeable or disagreeable, the mind of Tao is ever present, the human mentality passes away; the five elements aggregate, the four signs combine—what dispersal is there?
However, in the path of resolving dispersal, there is a process, there is a course of work, there is intensification and relaxation, there is stopping at sufficiency. The slightest deviation and you go far astray. It is only beneficial if you are correct. Accomplishing the work correctly, hastening and relaxing methodically, advancing and withdrawing at the proper times, there will surely be development and benefit. (The Taoist I Ching – John Cleary)
(I continue musings which exemplify what I’m musing about. This is the set up to my presenting a schema, the Reduced Bateson Set, I can use to interpret my experience of other person’s presentation of information. Caveat: I am entertaining here an informal perspective. My eventual goal is to connect this perspective with further musings on adult learning.)
Although it may count as one of my most abstruse attempts at communicating complex, ‘softly’ phenomenological discoveries about the exchange of knowledge between persons, between human systems of awareness, the previous post in this series nevertheless entertains several main points. Its first point was that seemingly simple systems of human action do not yield answers to simple questions. The second point was these unanswerables are apparently due to incapacities in both formal and heuristic means for deriving answers and making accurate predictions. The third point was that in a discussion among persons who bring into the discussion differing perspectives and approaches, this discussion productively can happen irrespective of pertinent differences found or implicit in individual perspectives and/or approaches.
Here’s a mundane example. Your car needs a repair. You take it to the mechanic and discuss its ill symptoms. The mechanic sketches some possible causes. You don’t know much about how cars work. The mechanic does know how cars work. Yet, you have a discussion about what’s possibly wrong with your car. In this example, you and the mechanic share the assumption you the car owner do not need to know how a car works, as a condition for having the discussion. However, if you say to yourself, “I really don’t know what he’s talking about since I don’t know how a car works,” then it would be the case that you hold a different assumption. In fact, this different assumption could prove to be decisive. Still, you and the mechanic can have a discussion.
I’m not qualifying, in setting out this example, whether this kind of a discussion is a good or bad kind of discussion. The suggestion is: these kinds of discussions are common.
Another example. A friend once shared a description of their spirituality. The key element of the description was their belief in a single God. I asked my friend if he understood this God to be the God of All. We clarified that I was asking whether this singular God could be defined as being behind or above ‘everything’. He put it that his definition of God could be reduced to a complex proposition:
“God is first, God is last, God is in relation to all phenomena.”
I asked my friend,
“Then your God is also the God the other Abrahamic faiths believe in?”
He had never pondered this. We talked it over, with me suggesting the following implication of the proposition.
“If there is a God of All, then this God is also in relation to those who do not believe in this God.”
On one hand, in this example I’m striving to understand a very fundamental feature of his proposition, while, on the other hand, there’s no reason we could not have discussed his spirituality without attending to the proposition in this particular way. I don’t have to know how his God works to engage in a discussion about his God.
Another example. If I remember correctly, Ludwig Wittgenstein sharply criticizes the method of Freudian analysis by pointing out that the psychoanalyst chooses the element in the analysand’s chain of association that is of psychoanalytic, and potentially curative, interest. Well, by what right understanding of how the psyche works is this a fruitful intervention? The analysand, in this example, is taking symptoms to a different kind of mechanic.
In the same vein, I can discuss Jung’s analytic psychology without entering into this discussion the very basic assumption that holds that there is no substantial empirical evidence able to demonstrate the implicit understanding that each and every human psyche in actuality reflects the structural model given by Analytic Psychology. On one hand, this is a big problem at the level of foundational assumptions, on the other hand it doesn’t have to subvert a fruitful discussion.
I’m sensitive to foundational assumptions. Often hidden, nonetheless these basic assumptions are related to the content of most common kinds of discussions. (‘Discussion’ here is used also as shorthand for many other kinds of communicative acts.) It was fascinating in 2008 as the financial crisis unfolded to read and discuss what different people thought were its causes. That discussants had no substantial idea about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are actually operationalized in the system of finance does not prevent peoples’ productive discussion about possible causes.
For example, at times in my work life I’ve been told what a marketing plan is to be. I often choose to overlook the plan’s mistaken (to me) assumptions about what are the facts (of mechanics, or operations, or contingencies in the market,) so I can proceed to my role in the plan. The plan doesn’t really make sense, yet this does not prevent discussing it. This doesn’t mean my view is correct. This only means I believe it to be correct given unexamined, or presumptive, or, missing, or, poorly formed, assumptions, suppositions, assertions of factitude, etc..
Obviously, the following point is not profound. Discussions may implicate assumptions which could be part of the discussion, but are not brought into the discussion. Some assumptions could disrupt the discussion, yet these same assumptions are not entertained in the discussion.
Discussions, etc., have consequences. The auto mechanic goes fishing. The inept marketing plan unfolds. Deadly force is unleashed on Iraq even though the assumption that there are WMD is mistaken. The rationales for the Iraq war constitute a series of mistaken assumptions which yielded mountains of productive discussion, even given that assumptions implicit within these discussion were abject.
The Reduced Bateson Set provides, among its six factors, a factor for analysis of whether or not a presentation of knowledge or understanding both depends on, and is informed by, an accurate estimation of what is actually materially, (or positively,) true as a matter of spoken or unspoken knowledge or understanding.
You are placed in the role of observer. Presented to you is a person who will whistle Mary Had A Little Lamb. Your direction for the exercise is to describe the act of this person whistling this tune. The only qualification for the description you are to document is that you are able to articulate for any of its elements what each has to do with the whistling you are observing.
At the conclusion of you, the observer, documenting observations, your report will be evaluated against two constructs: Observer-Independence/Observer-Dependence. Each element of observation will be classified as being one, or the other.
For the purpose of the former classification, Observer-Independent descriptive elements are those elements that are necessary to human whistling, and, do not require prior knowledge beyond the modest scope given by self-observation.
For example, to state:
(1) I am observing a whistler.
(2) Whistler whistling have to include a human with a blood-pumping heart.
(3) Whistling has to include brain activity.
is to assert Observer-Independent elements.
For example, to state:
(1) This is a fast version of the tune.
(2) The whistling is loud.
(3) The last passage was uncertainly in-tune.
is to assert Observer-Dependent elements. These latter descriptions are not necessarily findings every observers could possibly note.
The situation given by observations rendered through using particular kinds of prior knowledge have feet in both camps. A physiologist might identify a muscle necessary to whistling. The muscle is used in every instance of whistling. Yet, this prior knowledge is instituted only by the kind of observer who can employ it.
What we have here, in such a thought problem–and it’s one which could be done–is one human system observing the acts of another human system. The observations could be furthered qualified with respect to what is their subjective quotient.
There’s a paradox in all this. Let’s say the problem to be solved is this: predict the time the tune will be finished. What kind of information derived from prior observations of other whistlers would be helpful in deciding the answer? Interestingly, much of the Observer-Independent information about the human whistler is completely useless. Even if we formalize this to include specialized (in some formal sense) prior knowledge, most of that kind of information will be useless with respect to simple problems, and the simple problems out of which more complex problem are built.
Would you be able to detail the features of, for example, the heuristic you commonly employ for the sake of getting to know another person? Many dyadic, and group, procedures for inquiry are born by meshing of ‘heuristical’ tools, given differently to such procedures by the various (so-to-speak) parties. Another paradox is that these meshed procedures may be, often are, very effective means for making an inquiry, even though the underlying heuristics are not roughly the same, or similar, or commensurate with one another. In fact, parties to inquiry may not have thought through the very tools he or she employs. These tools can be said to be partly tacit to the user: they operate without the operator entirely knowing what is being operated by their self.
The formal means for understanding complex interactive inquiries use prior knowledge and formalized methods, yet these means are not precisely useful when trained on everyday–for example–interpersonal actualities. If these means can’t unravel whistling, they won’t be more powerful with many times more complex phenomena.
Yet, this situation, the basic imprecision of both informal and formal naturalistic inquiry when trained on particularized subjects, is extended to almost every natural process where knowledge is presented in particularized subjects and situations. So: a marketing idea is presented; a developmental plan is presented; an interpretation is offered; a self-report is revealed; an illustrative story is told; etc., and each of these exchanges is about something truthful, and, each is also about that which constitutes the human system, so-to-speak, of presenting its stuff, and its moment of some kind of truth.
The Reduced Bateson Set, appropriated from my interpretation of Bateson, collects six motifs, (Bateson’s term,) in an array of three positions and three orders. This array of motifs sets up the following means for interpreting a ‘presentation.’
It locates the human subject. It suggests by way of interpretation and analysis that explicit choices reveal implicit choices, and, reveal what is not chosen. It does the same for figuring out what is and is not connected to positive actuality. Then, along the other ‘side’ of the array, it qualifies these motific means with respect to how sensitive the human subject is to modifying their presentation. This latter means for interpretation and analysis holds that this sensitivity itself refers to implicit choices which argue for the human system being, roughly, flexible or not flexible.
Roughly, the suggestion is this: there are human exchanges of knowledge, and these are most often, or commonly, ‘heuristical’ on the part of both parties. What is then given by this flux of two largely informal systems are informal understandings. Embedded in such understandings are great amounts of implicit and tacit givens; threaded into this also are other systems; partialities of informal and formal prior knowledge; histories of experience; and, among many other factors, novelties and innovations given by the specific consequences granted in two or more particular human systems coming into particular participation together over the matter of an exchange of knowledge; alternately, information.
The flux in this human system is a situation of Participation-dependence, which is to say the practical description of the seeming paradox is that there are, for example discussions between two people that necessarily instantiate such an exchange, yet, in this, often widely disparate, individualized features in direct relation to the matter of exchange are not also relevant factors in the exchange. In other words, to turn the Batesonian cybernetic posit on its head, in these instances–which are everyday and ubiquitous, some differences do not make any difference.
My suggestion here is this kind of smoothing of difference allows two people, two human systems of awareness, to conduct exchanges of information without introducing what are demonstrably pertinent differences discoverable as features not shared between the two people.
Another way to put it, is that a conversation proceeds productively without negotiation of, for example, pertinent unshared assumptions.
Were we to convene a group mixed between technical experts and keen observers who are not technical experts, the answer to the question, ‘when will the whistler stop whistling?’ will not arise as a matter of differentiating between formal or informal estimates. However, this same group can productively discuss this question and do so without entertaining its individualized and specific to each member, assumptions about how to answer the question.
Any number of similar thought problems can be created. In each such problem, the suggestion is that there are a large, if not infinite, number of questions which can be discussed but not resolved by the efficacy of either formal or heuristic prior knowledge.
There are two currents given here. One is that the discussion can nevertheless evoke knowledge, and, that the discussion cannot evoke knowledge-in-the-form of an accurate prediction.
From here I would next move to support the claim that most exchanges of knowledge in everyday circumstances refers to heuristical means, is constructed from individualized heuristics, and that the differentiation of this heuristic basis does not prevent productive and efficacious exchanges.
The differences are smoothed over so that these exchanges may happen.
Separate truths It is misleading — and dangerous — to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom [excerpt Boston.com April 25, 2010] Of course, those who claim that the world’s religions are different paths up the same mountain do not deny the undeniable fact that they differ in some particulars. Obviously, Christians do not go on pilgrimage to Mecca, and Muslims do not practice baptism. Religious paths do diverge in dogma, rites, and institutions. To claim that all religions are basically the same, therefore, is not to deny the differences between a Buddhist who believes in no god, a Jew who believes in one God, and a Hindu who believes in many gods. It is to deny that those differences matter, however. From this perspective, whether God has a body (yes, say Mormons; no, say Muslims) or whether human beings have souls (yes, say Hindus; no, say Buddhists) is of no account because, as Hindu teacher Swami Sivananda writes, “The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the nonessentials.”
This is a lovely sentiment but it is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.
The gods of Hinduism are not the same as the orishas of Yoruba religion or the immortals of Daoism. To pretend that they are is to refuse to take seriously the beliefs and practices of ordinary religious folk who for centuries have had no problem distinguishing the Nicene Creed of Christianity from the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism from the Shahadah of Islam. It is also to lose sight of the unique beauty of each of the world’s religions. Stephen Prothero is a religion professor at Boston University. This article is adapted from his new book, ”God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter.”
This essay of Professor Prothero is amazing in a bad way. My criticism is simple: there’s a substantial and subtle literature concerned with the claim he’s arguing against, yet none of it enters into his argument. This huge hole swallows the glib attack he issues in this essay, an attack careless in its presentation of categories and domains, and, an attack launched against more than a few straw men.
It’s as if Prothero feels he can fool the discerning reader. Normally I would dig some and see if the author is through-and-through a charlatan. Here my guess is that he isn’t, but not from anything found in his intentionally misdirected essay.
He writes here about very intriguing questions. In comparing religions with one another, in what ways does this show similarities? What are those similarities about? Should the evidence show that some, or all, religions overlap in particular ways, are there, then, valid generalizations to be inferred from the specifics of any overlap?
Furthermore, such an inquiry about common features is itself framed by a variety of disciplines, and each brings different interpretive and discipline-bound practices to bear on the question. Outside of this there is also a worthy literature brought forth by non-academic experts, and, as well, there is also a long history of this very inquiry. One aspect of this history is that it evolved from the point where specific religions come into contact with each other, and thus was evoked by the curiosity of some religious persons about the possibility of commonality. This comes about long before the frameworks of modern academic disciplines existed.
It is also obvious: there is a fundamental issue begged by any theism, no matter how particularized a theism is in practice or by a its founding assumptions. This is simple to articulate: if there is a God of “All” is not this God then a God of all spirituality, irrespective of whether a particular spirituality is granted primacy or is heretical? In other words, if God of this sort does in fact exist, this God would ultimately be the God of religionist, heretic, and atheist alike. From this, if this is true, one would expect commonalities.
There are four modern perspectives, among many, which frame different possibilities for important, maybe crucial, inquiries into commonality. One is the Analytic Psychology, given by Carl Jung. Here spirituality is viewed as a phenomena of introspective consciousness. From this, (largely) personal religious experience and development is the nexus for an inquiry into, as-it-were, possibly like-minded objectives of self-realization. There is in this, a prospect that human consciousness, as a matter of its psychological constitution, in specific keys lights upon objectives that are similar or identical, yet only does this in the precise domains where this phenomena may exist, and this is located within these precise domains in specific religious traditions.
Two is the integral perspective on human development, given its most detailed elaboration by Ken Wilber; (and Wilber’s elaboration following mostly from the thoughtful work of Jean Gebser.) Integral thought expands the nexus of inquiry along a spectrum of developmental lines. Similar to Analytic Psychology, it is encumbered by fundamental assumptions about the universal nature of human aspiration. Taken as an outlook, (and “in-look,”) the Integral perspective provides a loose framework for investigating procedures for self-realization–procedures embedded in particular instrumentalities found in different spiritual and religious practices.
Third is anthropology, a modern discipline geared toward differentiation of human phenomena. Commonalities would be rigorously qualified and vigorously contested as a matter of methodology, yet, the idea that commonalities could be universal would remain a worthwhile anthropological hypothesis. This is especially so if such a hypothesis is unfolded in the context of evolutionary anthropology. Here the framing starts from the idea that religions may be dramatically different, but that human nature is not also wholly different.
Fourth, and is the argument posed by Frithhof Schuon, and echoed by a specific ilk of traditionalists and (somewhat) outsider experts, such as Mercea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Jacob Needleman, Rudolph Steiner, and others. Schuon described the over-arching aspect (and nexus for inquiry,) in the title of his book, The Transcendent Unity of Religion. I going to gloss the deep subtlety of Schuon’s argument and suggest his philosophical perspective basically holds this: where there is religion, there is also found a domain of aspirational practice where experience of the deep relationship between man and divine cosmos necessarily abides the idea that the cosmos is set up to evoke this relationship. It could be said the nexus of inquiry that necessarily follows from there being a God of All, is such–that a universality of religion in this aspirational domain is necessarily entailed by this primary assumption. Thus, given that there is a God of All and everything, we might expect to find similarities ordinated by God’s, if you will, “set up.”
(Schuon is superior to Karen Armstrong, with respect to being a source for beginning an inquiry at the abode of this nexus.)
Prothero doesn’t introduce any of these four vectors for inquiry into his didactic essay. For me, in not doing so, his argument is damaged out of the gate. If we break down the entire spectrum of human religious behavior, it could be incumbent upon an investigator to account for the behaviors oriented around the idea of the unity–in precise domains–of some/most/all religions.
But Prothero is mostly disingenuous in employing straw men and his attempt to wrangle an argument out of several category errors, the most grotesque of which is found in his silly statement, “To pretend that they are is to refuse to take seriously” (yada yada.) Since the point of finding similarity is to differentiate similarity from that which is dissimilar, there isn’t any ground to be gained by pretending that subtle arguments for similarity revolve around thinking different Gods (or theisms,) are said to be the same. This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who think this, its just that this is a definitive straw man.
(To the side of all this there is a contest of theisms. The ripe question for proponents of a distinctive theism within the context of the various Ambrahamic religions is simply enough, for example, ‘do you, as a Christian mystic pray to a different God than the God the Muslim prays to?’ In this the possibility of a negative answer holds another variation on the prime question about sameness and similarity. On the other hand, this is another way of wondering to what extent God owns a home team!)
The meta-inquiry is one concerned with a description, differentiation, and conceptualization of domains of human religious behavior and phenomena. This would work to tightly qualify the domains and then sort out apparent similarities. For me, anthropology, especially given the lens of an evolutionary framing, is the least inflicted by confirmation bias and tautological precepts. Still, Schuon and Dr. Jung opus, at a minimum, are worthwhile for their sophistication and depth, even if there is (for me) no slam dunk.
As it clearly appears when considering the fundamental question of the Divine Will as with other major instances of metaphysical exposition and spiritual expression, Schuon’s esoteric perspective can be best characterized as a science and discipline of objectivity that situates each reality at its own adequate ontological level and within its overarching metaphysical or cosmological context. In doctrinal as in methodical matters, Schuon’s thrust lies in a lucid perception of realities that considers both their metaphysical and archetypical meaning as well as the specificity of their plane of manifestation. Thus, in pure metaphysics, the esoterist avoids the pitfalls of confessional, anthropomorphic, and moralist expediency and sublimity by focusing on the dimensions, modes, and degrees of the theophanic unfolding of the Real. He does not confuse metaphysical realities with their partial or distorted contours as envisaged through human biases, nor does he project the limitations of human moral categories onto the Divine Order. At the same time, he perceives the roots of all spiritual, aesthetic, and moral phenomena in the Supreme, and he accounts for their meaning on the basis of the Divine, thereby describing the multileveled and multifaceted Unity of Being. In spiritual matters alike, esoterism reaches to the essential through the veil of superimpositions and accretions, while elucidating the partial legitimacy of mystical emphases, excesses, and subjective or collective detours. As such, esoterism is nothing less than the most direct and comprehensive language of the Self. jean-Baptiste Aymard-Patrick Laude, Frithof Schuon, life and Teaching; 2004 SUNY Press)
God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven’t figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don’t believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time — life and death — stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don’t think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out. Richard Feynman
It must be obvious… that there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. Alan Watts
The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80-20 rule, first figured into my own thinking several years before someone hipped me to the origins of a conception I was using. In truth, I had developed its bastard child, also a regulation of the vital few, I called–at the time–the 10% problem. The context was artist development in the music industry and the application was as a device to thoughtfully put reverse pressure on a musician’s tendency to spend time convincing naysayers. What I saw was artists spending more time trying to market to naysayers than they spent either pullng fence sitters in, or turning their believers into evangelists. Also, it seemed at the time what promoted this was their sense everybody was supposed to be a fan and that those who weren’t yet fans were thought to be ripe targets. But, the naysayers were hardly low hanging fruit and so I offered the suggestion that they should be ignored.
Several years later a colleague on the only management team I’ve ever been a member of hipped me to The Pareto Rule in the aftermath of my attempt to apply the 10% problem to the company’s marketing philosophy. In this instance, I was advocating more product testing because it seemed to me the company was wasting resources based in the assumption that 90% of the new products would always appeal to 100% of their customers.
Since then I’ve employed variations of the 80-20 (or 90-10) principle to all sorts of situations. My innovation is with respect to transformative learning: roughly, spend a figurative 10% of your time doing wild experiments, and doing so irrespective of so-called conventional wisdom. Here, in a sense, one pays attention to the outlying possibilities.
This has led me to reflect upon how the concept of the vital few may be consequential for perspectives about systems. This follows from a hypothesis about systems, (or about how in effect the world works,) that goes like this, what aspects of the system are hidden when it is presumed seeing the entire system in fact sees only 90%? (90%, or, whatever is the presumptive portion said perspective views.
This comes back to the genesis of the 10% Problem because often the conventional wisdom, or habitual perspective, holds its conclusions about the system to be the inevitable product of seeing/understanding the system in the purportedly correct, (read into this also: normative, ‘as commonly understood,’) way. Whereas, my supposition holds that any incomplete perspective allows for, at least, inclusion of what’s absent, and, audaciously, allows for novelty–especially novel ways for viewing and analyzing the system at hand.
While I was wrestling with a problem of terminology* with respect to key definitions with respect to my concocting a Transformative Anthropology, I happened upon Serendip at Bryn Mawr College.
Here’s a few captures from this marvelous site and project.
SERENDIPITY (from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd Edition)
The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
[From the characters in the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, from Persian Sarandip, Sri Lanka, from Arabic Sarandib]
Word history: We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for coining the word serendipity. In one of his 3,000 or more letters, on which his literary reputation rests, and specifically in a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that “this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.” Perhaps the word itself came to him by serendipity. Walpole formed the world on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of a “silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip; as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of … One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description) was of my Lard Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Claredon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.”
From its birth in 1994, Serendip has been committed to exploring and creating “less wrong” ways of making sense of the world. Itself an exploration into the potentials of relatively undirected evolutionary systems in which chance plays a significant role, Serendip necessarily changes over time. Hence what was originally a major Serendip section on “complexity” has become in 2008 one on “complexity and emergence.” This change mirrors wider changes in alternative intellectual perspectives: an increasing awareness that making sense of complexity requires not only an acknowledgment of its existence and the development of tools to analyze it but also an appreciation an important historical dimension. Complexity increasingly seems to be not “designed” but rather to emerge over time from from a relatively undirected evolutionary process beginning with simpler entities. (src)
*The term I use to title the central concept of Transformative Anthropology is strategic serendipity. Strategic serendipity: in the context of individual human development, a chance event that comes to completely alter the course of a person’s development. Among the many kinds of change such an event impacts, the common kinds result in changes in: key relationships; career; location; interests. (see notes)
draft view of some of the nodes of transformative anthropology–click for lightbox enlargement
I’m sorting out the turning point, concerned with the presentation of my main research focus in the open-source of the web.
The first step was to create a page for the work-in-progress notes about so-called Transformative Anthropology. This will be temporary in the sense that I’m will eventually shutter the Transformative Tools blog, folding it back into Explorations (here,) and then reconfiguring the SquareONE web site so it can allow ‘research subjects’ (you?) to input their personal recollections.
Those personal recollections are qualified by the parameters given by my research into life-altering serendipities; although the more meaningful term is a necessary conceptual coinage: chance strategic contingencies. This is the kind of recollection I’m interested in documenting.
I’ll track changes to the Transformative Anthropology page—as updates–here, yet, at some point in the near future, those notes will be organized by the structure of the reconfigured ‘main’ web site.
The principal objective sometime in the not-so-near future, is to beta test experiential learning tools based in the as yet un-implicated instrumental, (thus constructivist,) conceptions of Transformative Anthropology. Yet, here’s a clue: would a learner assimilate to a novel, modestly salutary, self-understanding, were he or she to go through a learning process aimed to sensitize the learner to the ingredient of chance strategic contingencies discoverable in their own life? Are life’s chance strategic events consequential as part of the terms for self-reflection?
The Integral Spiritual Center lands a come-on in my email box every week. Yesterday’s gave me a whack on the side of the head.
Modern science has given us a compelling picture of the evolution of our universe, from its first moments: quantum fluctuations—i.e. the “Big Bang”—led to a massive inflation, followed by “the dark ages,” then the formation of the first stars, at about t+400 million years. But science has been largely unable to explain what happened before—indeed, what brought about—the Big Bang. Scientific explanations have tended to end up sounding somewhat like traditional Eastern cosmology: the Earth stands upon the back of an elephant, which stands upon the back of a turtle, and from there, it’s turtles all the way down…. The world’s great spiritual traditions have long sought answers to this question, and have theorized a process reciprocal to the one that science has investigated so thoroughly: prior to evolution, there was involution.
Truth be told, I’m not aware of any spiritual tradition that has pondered what happened before the Big Bang. (This is the case if one discounts secular science enough to make of it not a spiritual tradition.) But the main thing is: the traditions didn’t know of the Big Bang.
Not so curiously, creation myths tend to be very relational and story-like! These stories have a beginning but don’t usually pose a beginning prior to their starting point. But the Big Bang doesn’t begin with the Big Bang. It’s a just-so story in the sense of ‘as far as we know’ and ‘to the degree that we know.’
The turtles all the way down trope certainly aligns with one of Ken Wilber’s oldest (surviving!) propositions, The Great Chain of Being. I’m not sure which scientific explanation was to the ISC’s blurb writer, “sounding somewhat like traditional Eastern cosmology.” (And this was stated after the same writer wrote: “science has been largely unable to explain what happened before.”)
The blurb seems to change the subject and goes on after raising Involution:
Essentially, says Ken, we begin every moment in a state of nondual Suchness. But if we have yet to stabilize that state into a state-stage, that state will be pre-conscious to us, and we will undergo the first contraction, into the causal realm of the Witness and all that is witnessed. If we have yet to stabilize that state, we will contract into the subtle realm of the soul. And if we have yet to stabilize that state, we will contract into the gross realm of the ego and our conventional self. So with every moment, we “fall down the stairs,” cascading down from suchness until the point of our state realization. Here, we recognize ourselves, in a dynamic similar to what the Tibetan Book of the Dead teaches about the Bardo and our experience after death. And this world (and with it, all “lower” worlds) arises in our experience.
Reminds me of Ibn al-Arabi, ra, and an encapsulation I wrote in 1991.
Henri Corbin commenting on the fact of ascension
(as described by Ibn’ Arabi, r.a.)
Look upon our own existance. Is it continuous ?
Or is it incessantly renewing on every breath ?
Does not being cease then come into being
with every breath, and upon His sigh of compassion?
Hexities, themselves pure possibles do not demand concrete existence.
recurrent creation manifests infinitely, essentially, divinely.
Divine being descends, is epiphanized in our individuality
such being thus ascends to return to the source.
Every being ascends with the instant
to see this is to see the multiple existing in the one.
And so the man who knows that is his “soul”,
such a man knows his Lord.
The 9.5 years that it will take a spacecraft to bust out of Earth’s gravity well and be slingshot by gas giants to Pluto, out at the edge of the Kuiper Belt, must be measured against an event barely the size of a ball-bearing out of which the entire universe detonated once into a state so protracted and sticky it continues to fulminate and distend.
Involution? This reminds me of quaint and romantic notions from the hydraulic 19th century. Of course we’ve moved through the hyper-hydraulic 20th century. And past the cusp of the 21st century it seems contemporaneously quaint to suppose involution tended to reveal (Wilber’s) suchness is another turtle. We’re all enslaved for hundred thousand story-making years to this mechanical conceit.
“Before,” then, is only a mechanical necessity. What happens before you and your dear one decide to go out and dance? What is caused to morph?
Our basis is completely mysterious. . .
Completely. It’s not that involution makes clear the origin, it’s that “pure possibles do not demand concrete existence” may require any origin to be essentially not knowable and, perhaps, origin exists beyond mere mechanics, beyond mechanical concretization of (even) original possibility.
Granted, Wilber is moved to try to explain everything. What a romantic!
What we call music in our everyday language is only a miniature, which our intelligence has grasped from that music or harmony of the whole universe which is working behind everything, and which is the source and origin of nature. It is because of this that the wise of all ages have considered music to be a sacred art. For in music the seer can see the picture of the whole universe; and the wise can interpret the secret and the nature of the working of the whole universe in the realm of music. Inayat Khan
We are only possibility, and God is no one but the background agaisnt which possibility rests.
For me, ‘completely’ and ‘only’ tear involution and sunder suchness. Mystery cannot be the ground of mechanics and also itself mechanical. Before involution and evolution? Only God knows.
From a Batesonian perspective, it is the way we classify, make distinctions, and make sense of things that is fundamental. If it is the distinctions we ourselves make that are causes, then it is how we process information and map the territory that explains. Within this framework, any explanation or scientific activity becomes fundamentally recursive. It follows that if the world of mental process is recursive, then our descriptions of it should also be recursive and address the multiple layers of mutual influence in any relationship. Once it is understood that recursiveness is fundamental to the development of a science of human interacting systems, “the focus of explanation shifts from the world of matter to the world of form” (Bochner, 1981, p. 74). There are always different orders of recursion and different ways of slicing things up. Every picture can tell a multiplicity of stories.
The world before it is perceived is an infinite collection of qualities. It is up to the perceiver to use some of these qualities to differentiate one event from another. This process of differentiation is driven by desire (relevance, need, meaning…). Note that the perceiver does not “construct” reality itself; rather the perceiver constructs an understanding of reality, a model or theory which guides perception and behavior. Neither does reality alone determine perceptions and behaviors, but rather reality as experienced “through” our understanding.
Steve Strogatz’s public lecture Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, is a good introduction to material found in detail in his very fine book of the same title. His work interests me for its possible applications to the study of the organization of learning. It doesn’t match up rigorously, yet, but there is some dovetailing between concrete concepts in his field and their metaphoric reframing in sympathy with concepts found in the work of Kurt Lewin, and, more recently, in the umbrella concept of Flow in the work of Mikhaly Csikzentmihaly.