“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This ninth post continues the exposition of Jungian depth psychology and archetypal emergence to my notion meaningful change or transformation.

Archetypal Emergence

In Jung’s (1966)[4] Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (written toward the beginning of the twentieth century and subsequently revised more than once), he provides a detailed exposition of the experience of the emergence into consciousness of archetypal material. And for the sake of accuracy, we need some distinctions here.

Jung hypothesizes archetypes as an explanatory term; he does not insist on their actuality. Thus, one might always put the word archetypes in quotation marks. Thus, whatever we experience as an emergence in consciousness—whether auditory, visual, tactile, or any other sense either identified or not—constitutes an embodiment of the archetype, not the archetype itself. In some cases, this archetypal material comes also with a symbolic resonance; most doesn’t. as Watts makes clear in his presentation, we may claim exactly the same and only the same about all objects: knives and forks, table and chairs, &c. We hypothesize objects, on an analogy with archetypes, because the hypothesis seems to get some helpful intellectual work done. And what appears in our consciousness, then, represents an embodiment of that object—whether as an image, a smell, a taste, a combination, and so forth.

Nothing spooky or weird obtains from this—it offers simply a garden variety phenomenology that, like all phenomenology, honestly enough admits that a description of an experience “isn’t” identical with that experience. This doesn’t stop most of us, however, from mistaking the fact that our hypothesis proves pragmatic and useful tells us nothing as to whether that hypothesis “is true”.

But however the finer points of this debate get derailed in a world addicted to objective truth and naïve realism, we might still attend to  very key moment in this process. That my consciousness experiences (archetypal) objects only in their embodiments, we would have to identify the mechanism that generates these embodiments. The unimaginative—or simply lazy—answer mounts, of course, to the mind; Jung, with characteristic attentiveness, identifies a psychoid “level” that attempts to bridge the gap between the world external to each individual’s perception, which he seems never to have denied being, and its re-presentation in the self-aware part of the psyche.[5] The psychoid level represents for Jung at least in part the biological substrate of the mind but its exact relationship to the unconscious itself cannot, of course, get determined, even if we wanted to. So the distinction between archetype, as a structure of experience, and the psychoid aspect, as a structuring of experience, remain distinct only for the sake of discussing very fine-grained details.

An especially salient point about this archetypal material, this presence in self-aware consciousness generated (by hypothesis) “from” archetypes “by” a psychoid psychic process, involves the objective character of the experience. What we encounter in our self-aware consciousness—in Sartre’s reflective consciousness—appears to us unbidden, in a form we had no hand in the creation of. This comes across obviously enough with the symbol of the solar hyena—I do not experience it as if I invented it—but the point applies just as much to all objects of experience: knives and forks, tables and chairs, &c.

So, insofar as this embodiment of archetypal material has gotten embodied at all, it therefore does not show us the archetype itself. At the same time, the representation itself has (or can have) such an enormous sense of presence that it readily seems to present the symbol. This distinction matters, because a difference prevails between (1) the structure of the experience itself, as an archetype, (2) the specific embodiment of that structure of experience, which I experience objectively, and (3) the name or label or description that I give to that specific embodiment of that structure of experience.

Typically, we overlook the middle step. Instead, we say things like, “I see the world, and I name it” when in fact the process involves three steps: (1) the experience itself, a priori, before I perceive it, (2) my self-awareness of that experience, which my consciousness constructs and presents to me, objectively, in the form of it that I encounter, and (3) the name, label, or description I give to that construction.

I dwell on these three steps only to show that Jung’s explanatory framework already encompasses these three steps. Step 1 he hypothesizes as within the unconscious; step 2 involves the manifestation of (archetypal) material to our self-awareness (in dramatic cases, as explored in this paper, as a symbol); step 3 involves our identification of the symbol, or naming of it, which gradually makes it into a sign. And, in fact, this making into a sign involves the larger process of integration Jung brings to our encounter with symbols but, again, this jumps ahead in the exposition. Still, we may see how the process runs from the unknown unknown (the unconscious), to the known unknown (the symbol), to the unknown known (as we come to grapple with the still unexplored symbol in an analytical, integrative sense), and finally the known known (as a sign, that has become a part of our psychic activity).

In the broadest sense, all material that issues out of the unconscious—more precisely, psychic material we encounter as a presence in consciousness, which we hypothesize as originating in the unconscious—runs through this four-fold process, more or less quickly. Jung found himself often concerned with archetypal material that affected the quality of life of his patients, and very often this material appeared in the form of a symbol. I want to stress, again, that symbolic material does not only appear in visual form, but my manifest as sound, smells, impulses, intuitions, words, &c. If I keep referring only to symbols—as one type of experience of archetypal material—I do so only because that provides the focus of these notes, even as it helps to have a broader context for them.

Most archetypal material seems to wash up—like dreams—only to disappear again into oblivion without a trace. Whether those operations serve some (still unknowable) purpose, when this material comes to dominate our consciousness in a problematic way—leading even to psychosis, when severe enough—then it becomes helpful to have some sense why this stuff comes from.

Although, in the present example of the solar hyena, the symbol seems to have served more as the lightning rod, the focus around which numerous incoming threads constellated. This suggests an interesting sense for the typically seen “arms” of the sun; we imagine them usually as radiating outward, but perhaps we should (also) imagine them as spiraling inward. Very often we see two kinds of arms on the sun—greater and lesser ones—and perhaps this captures the dual directionality; we may certainly take it as such. The astrophysical origin of stars, in any case, begin by a gravitational inwardness, a massive accretion of material that finally, when it reaches a sufficient mass, detonates, and finally becomes visible. And event hen, over the daily life of the star, the tension of inward and outward plays continuously, the whole shape of the sun consisting ultimately of the opposed tensions of gravitational collapse and explosive radiation. So we might—perhaps overextending the metaphor—imagine dreams like solar flares from a black sun, rising up in great arcs only to fall back into the interior again,  few wisps of its heat and some matter hurled out into the space.[6] Whether the archetypal material deranges or arranges becomes partly a matter of degree and partly a matter of how much we can accommodate in our lives. The very narrow social ambit for many of the women Jung saw may not have permitted enough “wiggle room” for archetypal material that manifested so that it expressed itself, or got taken as expressing, a neurosis. &c.

My desire here rests more to speak of why the circumstance of transformative change comes about and less to describe how in specifically Jungian terms, but it seems some amount of how must creep in. Jung ascribes, for instance, a complementary operation to the Unconscious. If we become too one-sided in our approach to daily life—Jung goes into considerable detail about varieties of this, but for this paper it suffices just to imagine that we become too much routinized in some way—then the Unconscious will (may) manifest a counterweight to offset that one-sidedness. It seems, in general, only in cases of a great deal of one-sided neglect might some sort of major (visionary) form of archetypal material manifest—so that cases Jung saw (and experienced himself) will tend to fall into this major category.

In these relatively critical experiences, Jung (1966)[7] noted the consequences of identifying one’s ego consciousness with the archetypal material (the symbol) as inflation or godlikeness; as Noll (1994)[8] puts it correctly in his dubious book, “Attempts to ‘annex’ contents of the unconscious, especially the impersonal unconscious, enlarge and bloat the individual personality, leading to a state of subjective ‘godlikeness’” (222)—except I can imagine Jung taking issue with the term subjective.[9] One of my summaries and discussion of this runs:

This notion that Christ’s passion is my passion, that Christ’s persecution is my persecution, that Christ’s suffering is my suffering, points to what Jung means by inflation or ‘godlikeness’. Jung maintains that when we become too one-sided in our psychic life, or potentially through any other type of significant psychic disequilibrium, then the unconscious may offer up compensatory imagery out of the unconscious. And like all material that issues out of the unconscious, it comes freighted with archaic elements that tend for that reason to have a charge of fascination or numinousness. Confronted by this, we may as one strategy attempt to avoid or repress the material, which tends only to reset the clock on its later manifestation, perhaps in a more virulent or neurotic form. Alternatively, the analysand may identify her ego-consciousness with this material in all of its archaisms. As a solution to disequilibrium, Jung did not see this as providing a final resolution or integration of the material, since whatever originating one-sidedness had called up such compensating material in the first place, merely to embrace this compensation takes off the table whatever was held (by one’s ego-consciousness) to be important previously.

Moreover, while possessed by this now-conscious embodiment of compensating unconscious material, we will tend to experience ego-inflation, precisely because the unconscious material is, by definition, transpersonal. Although embodied in consciously limited imagery, the significance it points to stands larger than the individual, and thus Jung refers to this inflation as godlikeness. While often certainly uplifting and visionary, Jung still insists it can’t go on forever, being simply a different disequilibrium than whatever brought it about in the first place, so that one might anticipate an eventual (ironic) compensatory puncturing—either experienced directly by the person or by his or her growing loneliness as all of the cultic followers leave in disillusioned disgust. At that point, only the truest true believers or those most capable of being cowed into submission would remain. The process of individuation, by contrast, involves incorporating this fascinating, numinous material into one’s ego-consciousness rather than allowing it dominate (to possess) one’s ego consciousness.

For Jung, identification of ego-consciousness with archetypal material provided a stop along the way to integration. Elsewhere, in books I’ve yet to read, Jung discusses the transcendent function, which (as the name implies) must somehow transcend archetypal material as it presents itself. Thus, we have three general forms of address we might make to archetypal material that impinges loudly enough on ego-consciousness that we feel forced to address it: repression (forgetting), integration, and transcendence, however that works.

Again, my object in this does not involve explicitly shoe-horning the how of this into the chaos theory mold, but to characterize the why (as an explanation of psychic activity that lays the foundation for transformative change). Of course, most people who visited Jung did so under the duress of oppressive archetypal material,[10] but might we try to poke or prod the Unconscious in some way? More precisely, can we deliberately harness or prompt these mechanisms, either for one’s own individuation or in service of the individuation of others (via Art). To ask this seriously jumps the gun, but I want to remember it as part of the broader context of these notes generally.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. As just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Jung, C. G. (1966). Two essays on analytical psychology. 2d ed., rev. and augmented. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[5] Phenomenology in general wrangles over the question of “out there” less than positivism and skepticism (i.e., naïve realism) do, but it does have its history. As far as the debate between positivism and skepticism, Korzybski’s useful remark sheds some important light. “There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking” (attributed here)

[6] Perhaps more exactly, we misunderstand the true arrangement because we do not think of the sun as “in” the unconsciousness of space, the Sun itself already embodying a massive outpouring from the limitlessness darkness of the Unconscious that provided the seed for the Sun in the first place, the fruitful chaos. Some sense of this “larger picture” may lurk a bit in the notion of the black sun, which provides a “negative image” of the astrophysical circumstance: a black sun against a limitless field of space (as light).

[7] Jung, C. G. (1966). Two essays on analytical psychology. 2d ed., rev. and augmented. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[8] Noll, R. (1994). The Jung cult: origins of a charismatic movement. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[9] That godlikeness originates in an identification with archaic (collective) material out of the Unconsciousness suggests that it may more seem “transpersonal” than “subjective”. It may miss a key element of the experience of people in mental health wards who identified with Jesus to describe it as “subjective” rather than “universal” (i.e., transpersonal).

[10] If not out and out neurosis or psychosis.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Someone should rewrite this book with more thoughtfulness in order to actually do justice to the claims made about the ideas insufficiently articulated in this book.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this already, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  Philip K. Dick’s (1962)[2] Man in the High Castle

I do not want to get into useless jeremiads about this novel. I have decided to read some Philip K. Dick, in part because a trusted source recommends him and because of Stanislaw Lem’s qualified praise for Dick as a novelist of ideas. Lem, as a novelist of ideas himself, can single out Dick as a novelist working in science fiction as a novelist of ides primarily because (at the time an previously) almost all science was worthless pulp. And most of the vehicle for Dick’s ideas in this book is similarly ineptly deployed.

I have to not read the gush that some people put out about this book, because (as also with that otherwise awful journalist-turned –author Ernest Hemingway), the sorts of things that people claim have little to no justification. To be more precise, probably at least 95% of any profundity generated out of Dick’s book comes from work done by the reader. So I feel much more inclined to credit the reader with genius, rather than Dick.

One can make unconvincing meta-arguments about the text that this is how it should be, and even less convincing arguments that this is how Dick intends it. On the flip side, I will not dismiss him as a merely sloppy pill-head who wrote too quickly and seems to have declined to edit his own book for errors, even if that is an accurate description. On yet another flip side, I will not give him some kind of a pass for a lower bar as a novelist because of a history of mental illness or drug-abuse. I’m disinterested entirely about any cult of personality surrounding his body of work, especially when it is applied retrospectively.

I have to wonder why this book won a Hugo, and the answer appears to be that it lambastes Nazis, an early edition of something like the opposite of Godwin’s Law. But there is a certain extent that even to take the book seriously already and immediately turn it into something it is not. Insofar as the book describes the book in its own world as written using the I Ching—the first book entirely composed by the I Ching—this of course suggests as much for Dick’s book as well, in which case why is he getting credit for the book? If the book is composed “randomly” to some extent.

But actually, it is disheartening and pointless to go on like this. Ultimately, the primary fault of the book for my reading is an insufficiency of deliberateness, which the randomness of using the I Ching to generate the text could be said to point to, but need not. In a creative venture, it may very often be helpful to impose external constraints on a text—to decide to write a chapter using no more than two-syllable words, &c. The use of the I Ching here seems merely to randomize the quasi-alternative history the book posits (for example: the assassination of FDR). Perhaps it played a role in the generation of the main action of the novel as well. The point would be: using the input from the (random) source, what then are the consequential effects of that input for the novel, besides merely the window-dressing o some alternative history or whatnot.

Where the lack of deliberation comes most to the fore—beside the aimlessly wandering quality of the novel that seems to be wholly clueless about how certain expectations get raised an then ick fails to address them[3]—is in the racism as addressed in the book. To put this in the bluntest terms: while ostensibly decrying the genocide(s) of National Socialism, ick permits himself an alternative future where (1) Blacks are wholly annihilated, (2) Asians—Japanese in particular—are theoretically given some due, but blasted to bits by Childan in a racist tirade, and (3) Mediterraneans (Jewish people and Italians in particular) are treated sympathetically, the former far more than the latter.[4]

To put this another way, the most offensive racial language in the book gets directed at Blacks (the German’s paragraph about pickaninnies), then Asians (Childan’s tirade and his rejection of the advice to mass-market the jewelry), and then Italians (who betrayed the national Socialist cause as cowards). Dick said that a part of his failure to write a sequel to this book involved his unwillingness to get into a National Socialist mind-frame again—apparently that’s necessary for his writing process—but he says nothing about getting into Childan’s anti-Japanese mind-set or the general mindset where the annihilation of everyone living on the continent of Africa is a given.

My point in mentioning this is not to cast aspersions on Dick’s racism or not, but to emphasize the indeliberate quality of racism as he deploys it in his book. National Socialists are simply repugnant trolls, which one “good” German mocks by claiming to be Jewish. The Japanese have all of their cultural stereotypes in place an Childan cannot help but acknowledge what is good about that. Japanese fascism has always seemed a different sort of beat to the US imagination. And, of course, in the US imagination, a world without niggers is a veritable utopia. We might as well remember that Germany does not control all of the United States, so there is no reason not to have people of African descent in the Rocky Mountains of the Japanese-controlled portions. Dick shows us how people of Jewish descent hide out in these areas, and would be subject to deportation if found out, but there’s nothing of the sociology of Black folk, certainly not in any way that constitutes a substantive element in the novel.

Adding to this is the fairly embarrassing or grotesque quasi-transcription of dialect ick provides. To put this indelicate, ick permits himself chink-speech, and he allows the text (perhaps embedded only in Childan’s point of view, to the extent that it is consistent) to use the word chink (almost invariably italicized). Gushing Dick fans would have something of a leg to stand on in making the claim that Childan’s interior monologue has been infected with chink-speech, so that (with a touch of Stockholm syndrome) he reflects the speaking pattern of his overlords, but this begs the question why the Japanese overlords have this broken speech in the first place.

What I mean: I cannot remember a Japanese character who does not speak (or, worse, does not in mid-scene lapse into) chink-speak. I suggest this is much more Dick letting (internalized) stereotypes dictate his compositional process than any sort of deliberate (artistic) choice on his part. Were it a deliberate choice, we would have a Japanese character that the text not only presents as but also deliberately underscores and emphasizes as perfectly flawless in English speech. This same issue surfaces with the would-be Italian assassin as well, although he much more inconsistently lapses into a kind of broken English, and he even at one point in the text complains that he doesn’t speak properly; a point I recall curiously, because his speech didn’t seem that broken then or before or after—not enough, I mean, to warrant his protest. In any case, Juliana assures him that he speaks just fine.

I get the impression Dick simply had more trouble trying to transcribe what an Italian might sound like as opposed to the readily available and offensive chink-speech. The generally mocking or parodying version of Italian we throw around in our culture comes out more in the delivery of the words than the syntax or grammar; if I tell you it’s Rocky Balboa from Avildsen’s (1976)[5] Rocky an type, “Yo, Adrian” or tell you it’s Joey from Friends and type, “Eh,” you can readily hear the tone. Dick did not have the Mario Brother to provide an instantaneously recognizable derogatory parody of Italians, whereas there is one for the Japanese (thanks in part to the history of racism directed toward Chinese people during the railroad era and later and World War II).

In this respect, it seems significant that Dick does not otherize the German speakers, despite all sorts of culturally available examples. In other words, the German folks (and two Jewish principal characters) speak like “white” folk.  And if the text gave me the impression of more care in its construction, then I might suspect that this was meant as a critique of (then current) US fascistic tendencies. Instead, it seems merely like the textual default, in the same way that I seem to be writing like a “white” person right now.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] Dick, P. K. (1992). The man in the high castle. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, pp. 1–259.

[3] A principal example: Dick introduces a character and his erstwhile mistress merely to introduce the idea of historicity: that one lighter has historical value (in the mind of those who would buy it) and another does not. This character gets briefly reprised for plot reasons only to plug into the forged hand-gun motif that bugs a more principal character. This narrative focus creates an expectation that something more will come of this character, and that expectation does not pan out. Dogmatic defenders of Dick might offer some kind of pretentious justification for this lapse, even though it becomes simple enough to imagine ways that this idea might have been introduced into the novel without a sloppy an gratuitous and inept invocation of two characters—one simply thrown in as a vagina for a male character. This is simply poor writing, plain and simple. Similarly, the great deal of space devote to a description of the various National Socialist successors in the book has zero narrative interest, however much dick was fascinated at the time by whatever book on Germany’s recent past he’d read.

[4] Of course, two Jewish characters, rather uncomfortably realized, come about as close as the book allows to unqualified heroes, which the would-be assassin of the man in the high castle is Italian, but given considerable back-story—suffering in the war and so forth, though he did allow himself to “become a monster”.

[5] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer., Avildsen, J. G., Winkler, I., Chartoff, R., Stallone, S., Shire, T., Young, B., Weathers, C., Meredith, B., Conti, B., MGM Home Entertainment Inc., & Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I. (2006). Rocky. 2-disc collector’s ed. Beverly Hills, Calif.: MGM Home Entertainment.

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This eighth post introduces the exposition of Jungian depth psychology and relates the distinction of symbols and signs to my notion meaningful change or transformation.

DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY

The foregoing—wrapped in chaos theory but keeping very much in mind the spirit of cybernetics—attempts to describe how transformation, or meaningful change, may come about, specifically in its abrupt or sudden variety. The explanatory framework it offers at length does not theorize about human experiences but attempts to describe events that have and do happen to people, in the same way that Jung’s empiricism did not doubt the symptoms his patients at the psychiatric asylum he worked at reported, even if occasionally he would ferret out a malingerer.

With this section, however, I venture more into why such an (abrupt) transformation, or meaningful change, comes about in the first place. In this, we have everything to do with hypothetical explanatory frameworks, and again this time in the same spirit as Jung’s theorizing about the operations of the unconscious. We have here, ultimately, Kant’s notion that the explanatory idea itself, provable neither as true or false, nevertheless offers helpful consequences if we assume it.

Symbol & Sign

Jung distinguishes symbol from sign, and Nichols (1980) provides a useful summary starting point for this:

Nichols (1980)[4] does throw down one bit of a gauntlet, when she summarizes Jung’s distinction between sign and symbol:

A sign, [Jung] said, denotes a specific object or idea which can be translated into words (e.g., a striped pole means barber shop; an X means railroad crossing). A symbol stands for something which can be presented in no other way and whose meaning transcends all specifics and includes many seeming opposites (7).

People often misunderstood Jung, and Jung had often to reiterate, that by his notion of archetypes he did not propose that “something” “existed” in the unconscious and that those “things” were archetypes; rather, following Kant’s example (and many others), he proposed that hypothesizing the notion of archetypes provided a more helpful way to describe the behavior of the psyche than other explanations. We have something similar in the distinction between symbol and sign.

One might read Jung as making symbols otherworldly or mystical, but in the first place as far as what Jung means by a symbol (1) people do experience them as such, and (2) he proposes to describe them in this way to identify this sort of experience and to distinguish it from our experience of a sign. Thus, Jung (and Nichols in her summary) provides no ooky mystification by insisted that a symbol “can be presented in no way other” (7) and presents a meaning that “transcends all specifics and includes many seeming opposites” (7). To put this another way, if bluntly, if you encounter psychic material in consciousness that one might present another way or whose meaning does not transcend specifics or that contains few if any opposites, then this means nothing more earth-shattering than that the material doesn’t reflect the symbolic.

If it seems unclear why one should even the about the distinction, the point involves adequately naming a kind of human experience. To experience the symbolic differs from experiencing the signific, and to mistake one for the other detracts from clarity for individuals and may often lay the groundwork for religious or social tyranny, believe it or not, which I will return to below.

First, I would cite my recent experience of encountering a symbol—a piece of inward visual consciousness—that consisted of a sun wheel with the face of a hyena looking straight out of it. To help to visualize this a bit more, if you imagine the typical image of a man in the moon, substitute a sun for the moon, and substitute a hyena’s face for the man’s face, then you have a general idea of what I saw and experienced. I mention my experience of this solar hyena, not simply for its interest in itself (which would amount simply to a piece of autobiography), but more broadly as characteristic of the symbolic encounter itself.

If, prior to this vision, I understood rather abstractly Jung’s and Nichols’s distinction of a symbol apart from a sign, I certainly now have a much concrete instance of experience. Elsewhere, I have detailed some of the sense of the opposites in this symbol as it appeared to me:

[in it] all of the bad parts of the hyena’s reputation (hermaphroditic, culture-threatening, death-worshipping, nemesistic, &c) merge in a union with the Sun’s reputation (cis-gendered, culture-fostering, life-worshipping, benevolentistic, &c). However, this analytical breakdown of the symbol represents of course an only partial engagement with the vision itself, especially since the hyena (and the Sun as well) do not warrant exclusively only the evil/good binaries presented above: the hyena also contributes as much to life (for instance) as the Sun contributes to our destruction, never so much as when it bloats and explodes, devouring the whole Earth in the horizon of its red giant. Jung (1956)[5] noted, “As a totality, the self is a coincidentia oppositorum; it is therefore bright and dark and yet neither” (¶108).

This self-quotation pushes along the discourse I want to describe about the experience of integration that the appearance of this symbol portends—particularly when Jung notes, “As a totality, the self is a coincidentia oppositorum; it is therefore bright and dark and yet neither” (¶108)—but I want to stick for now simply to the notion of a symbol as distinct from a sign.

When I analyze the symbol as I do in the passage above into parts—i.e., into a hyena and a sun—I begin to make a sign out of the solar hyena, and thus simultaneously begin to understand it and misinterpret it simultaneously. In my experience of the solar hyena, when I “see” it (saw it) in my mind, it presented me entirely with its own meaning, but it does not present a meaning that literally translates, in some sort of one-to-one correspondence, into a verbal description.

However, this inexpressibility (of experience) does not only apply to encounters with the symbolic. In his talk “The Totality of Being,” (available here), Alan Watts states plainly, and correctly, that “of course everything  in the world, knives and forks, tables and chair, trees and stones, are indescribable” (1’10” – 1’16”) He cites Korzybski also, who referred to the world as the unspeakable world. And nothing mysterious or strange lies at the root of this, but only the recognition that one’s experience and one’s conscious reflection on that experience differ—that our experience and our description of that experienceare” not identical, even though we continuously act as if they “are”.[6] Thus, we see the world—we experience it—and then say, “That’s a cappuccino cup” or whatnot. We experience a symbol, which embodies simply to a very specific kind of experience, and then say, “That’s a symbol”. Nothing less, nothing more. Plain and simple.[7]

Reflecting back to the previous section on chaos theory, I propose that this kind of symbol can in the right circumstances function as the order parameter, the key variable, a new focus of a strange attractor. However, as noted earlier, when we insert an order parameter, we choose its name, whereas the (objective) presence of the symbol has the organizing function of an order parameter on behavior but it feels more like ‘what it means” originates more with it than us. For some people, this kind of symbol or vision does indeed take on a possessing force—more on this follows in the next section.

But one point I want to make first concerns the role of language in this.

On the one hand, perhaps an overwhelming number of symbols of this type manifest visually, i.e., as visual phenomena that only after the fat might we provide a description (for the sake of ourselves or in order to tell others). Of course, “experience” (the symbol) needn’t appear only in visual form: we may hear things, smell things, seventh-sense things, &c. But what all of such experiences tend to have in common: they seem distinctly non-linguistic; they constitute a ‘something” that we need (or choose) to name.

We encounter a sort of ad nauseam here. In order for me to tell you about the symbol I experienced, which for brevity I will refer to as a “solar hyena,” I must represent the thing, and language will often serve as a first resort or such cases. I could draw a picture, and Jung very early on encouraged his patient to resort to visual representations along with verbal descriptions in order to come to grips with their archetypal material (the symbols). But of course, even to “describe the experience to myself” will seem to require language. I don’t need to “draw a picture” of it, since I already have the vision (or the experience) of the symbol in the first place,[8] and in some way it seems even to recognize (to re-cognize) the symbol itself “as” a “sun” and “as” a “hyena” already presupposes something very like language at least.

One might try to further tease out the details of this seemingly ultra-rapid switching from experience to description of experience and so on, but that again seems to lead to an infinite regress. Nonetheless, the dominant right brain/left brain premise most all of us know, which of course has lately started to disarticulate and come apart more and more, provides a major source of confusion here. For one, language in the twentieth century became a master metaphor for consciousness. [9] Thus we have those locutions that always irk me like the language of film, the language of dance, even body language.

When I encounter these glib phrases, I feel moved to ask, “Pardon me, but what, if film has a language, do the gerunds of film consist of? Could you, if you please, decline the plié, or conjugate the shrug.” Countering glibness with glibness, the failure of Chomsky’s universal grammar should signal (perhaps did signal, but the zombies of academic inertia weren’t about to give up just for being dead) an end to this metaphorical overgeneralization. [10]  But even if not, we may more generously understand that film, dance, and the body have their own means of expression (often not representable in language), and that language itself then constitutes just one of many means of expression.  We like to pretend it seems that other means of expression may always get (adequately) represented in language, as if an interpretive dance for the preamble of the US Constitution may never. To privilege language, of course, simply lays a foundation for the latest iteration(s) of the totalitarian state, giving rise (shall we insist) to the peculiar forms it did in the twentieth century: whether in Social Democratic Germany, Soviet Russia, Zionist Israel, or the neoliberal United States.

Recognizing this, we may understand that words must once have functioned more nearly like, if not identically like, symbols. The mystic expostulation in the beginning was the Word certainly points to a numinousness of meaning that goes beyond any banal sign. And just as any symbol might (or must) suffer the fate of turning into a (mere) sign for the pragmatic end of communication and human commerce in the better sense of the word, then we might certainly understand as well that some verbal representations in language (written or spoken) will attempt to “keep” or “honor” the numinousness of the thing described.

As an illustration, when writing poetry I tend to insist on making a kind of sense, but when attempting some poetry in light of Russian metaphysical works, I found myself writing “visually” and feeling quite certain I’d gotten it right, even if I remained not at all so certain what it might mean. I felt I could have paraphrased the poems, if asked—and even felt obligated, as the poet, to do so. To the extent that one cannot invent a symbol—one may only discover and/or represent it—I felt my project sought to represent symbolic material, but specifically in language.

In one sense, this offers up one of poetry’s oldest platitudes (or strengths), but what the project disclosed to me involved a realization of the originally symbolic numinousness of words themselves. Something like “word” could resonate just as much as my solar hyena but also just as much as “solar hyena”. Another phrase I stumbled across long ago that shimmers like this: tangible oranges.

Again, I may simply suffer from too much socialization that symbols “are” visual and words “are” only descriptive, that they speak about rather than to (or from). In any case, for all of the undeniable domination of the visual where the symbolic arises, it still seems helpful to bear in mind that the symbolic may also emerge through other perceptive organs of sense, including the linguistic sense organ.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. As just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[5] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

[6] I cannot really avoid the verb “are” here, because English only allows me to make the point exactly this way using this version of “to be”—but this denote exactly that utterly illegitimate variety of “to be” that Korzybski critiques and rejects.

[7] Alfred North Whitehead reminds us, “Seek simplicity, and distrust it.”

[8] One might say, not entirely uselessly, that my “mind” in fact has indeed already drawn the picture for me out of the unconscious.

[9] One that dovetailed—to say dovetailed suggests a far more felicitous fit than ever occurred in practice—with the metaphor of the min as a computer.

[10] Read Lakoff and Johnson’s (2003)* Metaphors We Live By for more details of how metaphors function, if you like.
* Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. [New ed.]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

The actual apparatus of Power will exploit the nihilism of a crybaby in order to extort our obedience, obsequiousness, or apathy in the face of that Power.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this opening section previous, you can skip to the next heading (or enjoy re-reading it).

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  Anonymous’s (~300BCE)[2] Kohelet [Ecclesiastes]

This does not represent my standard sort of book reply, partly because it addresses only one “book” in the larger context of the Judeo-Christian bible, but also because it originates specifically in response to the extended whining Burton (1620)[3] does in his Anatomy of Melancholy, for which Kohelet, better known as Ecclesiastes, serves as a partial model.

One of the things very self-evident in Burton’s extended rant that the world consists only of idiots involves the exploit contradiction of such a claim; if all remain hopelessly mired in idiocy, then Burton’s tract provides simply another example, which we might therefore disregard. Similarly with Kohelet; at the very outset, we get told “all is vanity”.

And, indeed, Kohelet provides a squalid example of vanity. This essential contradiction makes for a noisome and recurrent stupidness throughout the tract that, because a bazillion people have decided to hold it up as a paragon and paradigm, therefore benefits from a lot of exculpatory and apologetic scribbling about it. Thus:

There is considerable disagreement among scholars as to just what Ecclesiastes is about; is it positive and life-affirming or deeply pessimistic? Is Koheleth coherent or incoherent, insightful or confused, orthodox or heterodox? Is the ultimate message of the book to copy Koheleth, the wise man, or to avoid his errors? Some passages of Ecclesiastes seem to contradict other portions of the Old Testament, and even itself. One suggestion for resolving the contradictions is to read the book as the record of Koheleth’s quest for knowledge: opposing judgements (e.g. the dead are better off than the living (4:2) vs. a living dog is better off than a dead lion (9:4)) are therefore provisional, and it is only at the conclusion that the verdict is delivered (11–12:7). On this reading, Koheleth’s sayings are goads, designed to provoke dialogue and reflection in his readers, rather than to reach premature and self-assured conclusions (from here).

Except, of course, that all is vanity, so why bother with goads? And as far as goads or asking questions goes, the summary consists of this: “The end of the matter, everything having been heard, fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the entire man.”

I refuse to bog down in niggling details about this text. At the end of the day, it[4] purports to offer the words of the wise, someone who congratulates himself as having “applied my heart to inquire and to search with wisdom all that was done under the heaven,” who nonetheless concludes that “all is vanity” so “obey”.

The dominating obnoxiousness of this text to me involves the context that a (supposed) king writes it. We have, in brief, celebrity bitching, and much of this holds also for the famous (male) jerks that Burton elaborates at such length. I wonder if Ivan the terrible ever wrote such drivel; Genghis Khan certainly did not. And I point to a couple of “bloody men” only for the sake of emphasizing that those two monumental egotists never seemed to want for a purpose in life. If Repin’s “Ivan the Terrible and His Son” indicates anything, it certainly does not amount to “all is vanity”.

Do I flog a dead horse? Whatever the real problems of kings (or politicians) they (1) serve as no example for the rest of us, while (2) unfortunately modeling public behaviours. All those busy days, while Kohelet occupied himself with executing people, starting wars, maintaining all variety of social injustice, oppressing people, not alleviating poverty, &c, at what point did those activities become vain? Why did the pointlessness of it all go unnoticed until something like boredom in old age made him carp?

Although all of the carping consists only to end with the thoroughly conservative injunction: “fear God and keep His commandments.” This offers a disingenuous and pathetic resort to humility, a sort of “What do I know?” that merely passes the baton to the next vain fucker on the throne. It fatuously suggests that someone—who congratulates himself as the wisest—demonstrates the folly of anyone “lower” than him working out anything coherent for herself.

What makes this such a piece of unwisdom shows in its publication. Even as a document putatively only ever meant for his son—not his daughter—the piece offers a public, therefore social, statement that offers nothing more, ultimately, than “obey”.

This from a king? Astonishing. One would never predict that. He delved into the heart of wisdom, and this represents the sum he managed to cough up.

Disgraceful. Though not as disgraceful as anyone waving this around as wisdom.

I have little patience for cynicism, which seems to come in two basic varieties. The first involves—I will not put this nicely—an infantile temper tantrum; it amounts essentially to a kind of snottiness, extremely frequently indulged by men and exemplified by Louis CK’s fat sullen eighth grader, born of some primordial disappointment and (self-fulfillingly) reiterated by bringing that shitty attitude to every bright new day. When not in an aggressive mode, this often comes out as self-pity, which one can never quote Stephen Fry enough on:

Certainly the most destructive vice if you like, that a person can have. More than pride, which is supposedly the number one of the cardinal sins – is self-pity. Self-pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive. It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred, and I think actually hatred’s a subset of self-pity and not the other way around – ‘ It destroys everything around it, except itself ‘ (from here).[5]

The other kind of cynicism has the merit of classiness—at least it avoids the squalor of the self-pitying variety—and the danger of believing itself. The fat eighth grader, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, only keeps up with the temper tantrum so long as it garners attention; offer him a cookie and his whole edifice of negativism and contrariness falls away.

With the second kind of cynic, they maintain the unpleasantness on principle. They might get paid to, like Rush Limbaugh. Or they might do it on a volunteer basis, as a sort of anti-public service, like George Zimmerman.[6] Or one could turn this around and say that the wounded cynic doesn’t believe the cynicism at all and wants only the first opportunity to shuck it off,[7] while the second, a studied jade, believes with all the certainty he or she does, which may not amount to much but usually supplies enough, that no good can come of anything, except the most fleeting of ephemeral pleasures, like an orgasm or making a bitter remark. The crybaby wants a pat on the head; the jade wants to shit in your soup, just to prove “all is vanity”.

Kohelet (as a character) falls almost entirely in the first category as a crybaby, while those who wrote down his senseless whining and held and still hold it up as wisdom constitute jades.

If my language seems disrespectful, it arises from the fundamental disrespect that Kohelet embodies, whether at the level of the character as a crybaby, whining from the pinnacle of his massive privilege, from the standpoint of someone who had an enormous apparatus of other people, de facto and de jure slaves, who labored, in his opinion apparently in vain, or from the level of the self-serving religious creeps who seek to assert–using ‘the king’ as an example (or using “Solomon” as an example)–that the only thing to do involves obeying: who? Those priests, &c.

Even amongst some African kingships, one may see that the apparatus of Power—such as a permanent (prime) minister—holds the real Power, although the figure of the King gets fetishized in hundreds of various ways. We might recall that in some places, the durations of a King’s rule got determined in advance, and upon his day of expiry would get taken into a room and unceremoniously strangled.

So the whining of the King becomes a gesture of the real apparatus of Power. The vulgar self-pity of the ruler provides a human face and ostensibly something like pity for the continuation of the real apparatus and structure of Power.

So no wonder Kohelet gets credited with expressing, at least in places, a sort of skepticism—I will not call it “radical skepticism,” because it does not really get “to the root”—because so long as the real apparatus of Power mediates and controls what he says—so long as the skepticism does not generate meaningful resistance—then it remains harmless, not entirely unlike the freedom of the man at the gallows, who could say anything and everything just prior to his execution, as Foucault’s (1977)[8] Discipline and Punish informs us. We needn’t even say that whatever uppitiness this exhibits gets “silenced” by the noose or garrote; it seems more that the duration of the protest remains sufficiently short, or the audience sufficiently circumscribed, that that “outburst of criticism” has a diffusing, rather than amplifying, effect. This does not always happen with all public executions, of course. Sometimes a death—or a suicide—ignites a revolution.

But such will not occur from Kohelet’s drooling. Though ‘all is vanity” to fear god and follow his commandments does not constitute a vanity; to obey the rules of the priests does not constitute a vanity; to submit to authority does not constitute  vanity; to act in the role of a priest does not constitute a vanity. None of these things get critically analyzed, and thus we have nothing approaching  “radical” skepticism here.

All we have offers us a picture of a pathetic crybaby being held up as an example of wisdom by those who control the discourse.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] From here

[3] Burton, R. (1620). The anatomy of melancholy, what it is: with all the kinds, causes, symptomes, prognostickes, and several cures of it. in three maine partitions with their several sections, members, and subsections. philosophically, medicinally, historically, opened and cut up . New York: New York Review of Books.

[4] —notwithstanding the textual facticity of it that the eponymous Kohelet in all likelihood did not write it, but that some crack-head after the fact composed it—

[5] The rest of the quotation runs:

Self-pity will destroy relationships, it’ll destroy anything that’s good, it will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it’s so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things. And some of them may well even be true. But, to pity oneself as a result of them is to do oneself an enormous disservice. ¶ I think it’s one of things we find unattractive about the American culture, a culture which I find mostly, extremely attractive, and I like Americans and I love being in America. But, just occasionally there will be some example of the absolutely ravening self-pity that they are capable of, and you see it in their talk shows. It’s an appalling spectacle, and it’s so self destructive. I almost once wanted to publish a self-help book saying ‘How To Be Happy by Stephen Fry : Guaranteed success’. And people buy this huge book and it’s all blank pages, and the first page would just say – ‘ Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself – And you will be happy ‘. Use the rest of the book to write down your interesting thoughts and drawings, and that’s what the book would be, and it would be true. And it sounds like ‘Oh that’s so simple’, because it’s not simple to stop feeling sorry for yourself, it’s bloody hard. Because we do feel sorry for ourselves, it’s what Genesis is all about.”

[6] Or public anti-service.

[7] Of course, being inept, these flights of optimism often follow a hair-raisingly naïve trajectory, thus setting the stage of a not-too-distant catastrophe.

[8] Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison (trans. A. Sheridan). 2d. Second Vintage Books Edition (May 1995). New York: Vintage.

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This seventh post continues the exposition of chaos theory and relates attention, distraction, and activism to my notion meaningful change or transformation. It also summarises the exposition on chaos theory.

Attention,[4] Distraction, & Activism

It is not enough to construe the effect of an order parameter or key variable or entrainment as only a change of attention, given that studies of attentional shifting show it occurs frequently. Background noise, for example, impacts attention on visual tasks;[5] such noise gets incorporated into one’s attentional spectrum, rather than persisting as merely an alien factor in the environment. Moreover, while visual distractions get more easily activated—occur more readily—auditory distractions appear as more pronounced and have more lingering effects.[6] Generally, distraction seems more difficult to achieve when we add a tactile modality, as when kinesthetic learners doodle with a pencil while a teacher lectures to help maintain attention and concentration;[7] for children with autism spectrum disorder, greater perceptual loads can also help to avoid becoming distracted.[8]

In fact, the very wealth and overload of multisensory information that bombards us moment to moment[9] appears to illuminate the origin of our selective attention in the first place.[10] And if this seems far afield of the current topic of this essay, not only does the poorly characterized mechanism or process of the interaction of attention and the integration or non-integration of multisensory inputs remain a very open question in cognitive disciplines,[11] but this issues also tracks, on a smaller scale, the moment analogous to the integration of the individual into the multiplicity of the crowd or the integration of the self into the multiplicity of society, &c, i.e., of the “I” into any “us.”

Jung (1907),[12] referring to previous work by Tarchanoff (1890)[13] and Bleuler (1906)[14], describes attention as “nothing more than a special form of affectivity. Attention, interest, expectation, are all emotional expressions” (¶1048). More recent experimental evidence suggests that multiple instances of experience rather than the strength of any one given experience tends to strengthen memory,[15] even when those multiple experience occur at different times.[16] Contrasting instance versus strength theories, Logan (1988) notes:

In instance theories, memory becomes stronger because each experience lays down a separate trace that may be recruited at the time of retrieval; in strength theories, memory becomes stronger by strengthening a connection between a generic representation of a stimulus and a generic representation of its interpretation or its response ( 494).

But let’s not either/or this. For abrupt transformative change, we might say that all sorts of antecedents have finally built up (a sort of earthquake theory of change), but whatever appeal this has, it poorly describes the experience. I didn’t experience a gradual build-up; only looking back, as I do now, can I convince myself that I see factors leading up to it. That only after the fact may we recognize how all those various seismic tremors, that meant nothing at the time, actually came together—we insist—in a catastrophic shift renders suspect any claim about those factors as “inputs”.

Either way, I will rather say that gradualist notions of change apply in some cases, while non-gradualist descriptions apply in others. Specifically, this paper describes more non-gradualist scenarios.

From the image of symmetry breaking above, we see that it does take some time to get to the state of chaos. But the difference between the effects of positive feedback (chaos) and negative feedback (homeostasis) also suggests a difference exists between at least two means or processes of change. Beyond this—ignoring that a gradualist description of my transformation or my father’s doesn’t accord very well with our experience of that transformation—the gradualist approach requires considerably more time to come about; and when I hear that kind of “wait,” I remember Faulkner’s reply to a question put to him about Civil Rights: “Yes, but not yet.” Easy for a white guy to say.

From an activist standpoint, the gradualist strategy seems untenable. Time and money already exist heavily on the side of Power and its gradualist habit of absorbing whatever change it can to maintain itself. Gradualist change (in society as in biology) operates in a deeply conservative way, and when what exists needs conserving, gradualist change (and its negative feedback) suffice. But we cannot let the current status quo persist. A non-gradualist view, by contrast, suggests that we can bring about transformative change in short order (and on a tiny budget). We need only induce a state of chaos and then provide a new order parameter into that chaos. Historically, this manifests in anarchy and revolution, and my incompetence compels me to avoid saying anything more about this as a social program. Another social variety of anarchy and revolution, however, occurs in Art, and that I can speak to.

Example. Two years ago, the ASPCA ad with the sad dogs and Sarah McLachlan song got me—now I donate. I don’t know if I already thrummed in a state of chaos when it came on TV, but I rather suspect the very piece itself broke my symmetry and provided me the new order parameter “donate, it helps”. We can critique the ASPCA, this method of fundraising, and so on. I mention the experience to illustrate how the power of Art can function to induce a change in behavior (whether a life-changing one or not).[17]

Summary

The above offers in precise detail a description of a process of abrupt (nongradualist) transformation: from an initial phase transition moment of symmetry breaking, when bifurcations articulate to the point of a state of chaos, then the introduction of a new order parameter (or key variable) into the positive feedback characteristic of chaos may lead (will lead) to a shift from one’s previous (strange) attractor to a new one. On the personal or individualistic level, from a “dislodging” shock in our life, the introduction of a new idea (from others, from counselors, from dreams, &c) during that state of chaos (if it comes about) may lead, will lead, to a meaningful change of life direction. This process seems to arise most often involuntarily and so benefits from the help of friends or others external to the situation to provide us insight. On the social level, this process proposes a hypothesis for how we might deliberately design works of art first to induce a state of chaos and then to introduce a new order parameter (or key variable) as a way to make artwork and activism rooted in it more effectively counter-hegemonic and less absorbable by the (gradualist) negative feedbacks of Power. The only or most preeminent difference between this and either advertising or reactionary propaganda: the values in its politics.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. As just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] I borrow the text here from a friend’s unpublished dissertation research.

[5] Trimmel, M., & Poelzl, G. (2006). Impact of background noise on reaction time and brain DC potential changes of VDT-based spatial attention. Ergonomics, 49(2), 202-208.

[6] Bendixen, A., Grimm, S., Deouell, L., Wetzel, N., Mädebach, A., & Schröger, E. (2010). The time-course of auditory and visual distraction effects in a new crossmodal paradigm. Neuropsychologia, 48(7), 2130-2139. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.04.004.

[7] Eimer, M., & Driver, J. (2000). An event-related brain potential study of crossmodal links in spatial attention between vision and touch. Psychophysiology, 37, 697-705. doi:10.1017/S0048577200990899

[8] Remington, A., Swettenham, J., Campbell, R., & Coleman, M. (2009). Selective attention and perceptual load in autism spectrum disorder. Psychological Science, 20(11), 1388-1393.  doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02454.x

[9] Dux, P., & Marois, R.. (2009). The attentional blink: A review of data and theory. Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, 71(8), 1683-1700.

[10] Lavie, N. (2005). Distracted and confused?: Selective attention under load. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, 9(2), 75-82. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.12.004

[11] Navarra, J., Alsius, A., Soto-Faraco, S., & Spence, C. (2010). Assessing the role of attention in the audiovisual integration of speech. Information Fusion, 11(1), 4-11. doi:10.1016/j.inffus.2009.04.001.

[12] Jung, C. G. (1981). Experimental researches. (Collected Works, vol. 2) 1st Princeton/Bollingen paperback printing, with corrections. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[13] Tarchanoff, I. (1890). Galvanic phenomena in the human skin in connection with irritation of the sensory organs and with various forms of psychic activity. Pflüger’s Achiv für Physiologie. [cited in Jung (1907 / 1981)]

[14] Bleuler, E. (1906). Affektivität, suggestibilität, paranoia. Halle: Carl Marhold.

[15] Logan, G. (1988). Toward an instance theory of automatization. Psychological Review, 95(4), 492-527. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.95.4.492.

[16] Clemons, L. K. (1989).  Degrees of implementation of multisensory reading instruction by teachers involved in naturalistic research. (Record of Study);. Ed.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States — Texas. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 9015435).

[17] I can object to this kind of manipulation. I an object that the ASPCA has  shit-ton of money and this, then, does not offer a “non-gradualist” feint for (meaningful) change. Let’s not let the example upstage the point, which emphasizes the power of Art to prompt change. One may object also that (as I noted above) interventions should not provide their own order parameters; the question remains if the order parameter provided amounts to “donate now” or meant something else to me? All of this provide grist for numerous other essays that I don’t wish to pursue here.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Since complex systems act indeterminately, and we cannot know in advance which among the possibly numerous internal fluctuations it will follow when it shirts, then systems of catalysis and feedbacks to dampen either the intensity or the tempo of any amplification that results from those shifts proposes instead how we might orient ourselves socially in light of chaos theory, rather than continuing on with the historically vapid pretense that we can predict either what will happen or what needs doing. We like our politicians to promise, “We know what is going on and are in control,” but perhaps we might opt for the less disingenuous, “We are prepared as best we know how to deal with whatever chaos arises.”

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this already, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  Ervin László’s (1991)[2] The Age of Bifurcation [Part 3]

This is a third reply to László’s book; you may find the first one here. I felt more inspired to respond further previously, mostly because his futurological proposals occur on the other side of 9/11.

A Vision of the Future

In his “Vision for 2020,” for example, he calls for an end to the recent invention of the nation-state and for limitations on the power of politicians; these become necessary toward creating a global holarchy—as opposed to an unsustainable global hierarchy—and because the national state “is an historical product, and it must pass into history when the age that produced it has passed” (60). And these two objectives, particularly to protect the rights of individuals, to “avert the evolution of the structures of society at the expense of the individual” (59)—what László identifies as freedom and autonomy—in the coming new era.

The development of individuals cannot and need not be planned: it need only be permitted. The first requirement of a humanistic evolutionary strategy is that it create space for personal growth and creativity. This means a strategy of restraints in areas where the evolution of hierarchic structures and institutions poses a threat to the freedom and autonomy of the individual. One of these areas is political by nature but is in fat more than political in everyday reality. It is the myth of the modern nation-state, with all its entailments including its controls, its structures, and its claims of sovereignty (60).

We may contrast, then, the advancing paranoia that accompanied the post-9/11 reaction along with the growth of the Internet, as the two major “symbols” of hierarchical globalization on the one hand and the sort of holarchic organization potential László enthusiastically propounds; hence also then the assaults on the freedom of the Internet, the various secret and invisible processes of monitoring that corporations allow (in laptops, CPU chips, phones, &c). László blithely weighs in on the cosmopolitanism versus patriotism  question—which had a dust-up in Nussbaum & Cohen’s (1994/2002)[3] debate (replied to here, here, and here)—coming down on the side of cosmopolitanism, and ignoring how the Internet and cosmopolitanism in general contribute to political neutralization: or, to put it in a less dire-sounding way, that the potential for organized protest and bringing voices to bear on the actual faces of Power that the Internet permits, have yet to show whether they truly affect change or provide merely window-dressing for protest, an ersatz substitute that therefore undermines any real political resistance. László also writes at a time pre-NAFTA, and other things like that.

As another key factor necessary to protect the individual against hierarchical institutions, László calls for the limiting of the power of politicians. Direct democracy characterizes the essence of his proposal and his comments about the excess of Power concentrated in the hands of the US executive seem understated in the wake of Cheney’s shadow government, &c., and the several (and still continuing) arrogations of power to the US Executive using 9/11 as an excuse.

He further calls for concords on defense and environmental issues.

That national security calls for a powerful national defense force is a fiction; it derives from the illusion of the sovereignty of nation-states. If a country does not claim unconditional sovereignty over its territory it would have every reason to entrust the defense of its borders to join peacekeeping forces (66).

As he notes, in the attempt to form a paneuropean defense force, England and France in particular have resisted giving up their national armies: both countries represent major (ex-)colonists. And one hardly has to mention that fully half of the world’s total defense budget—well over 750 billion dollars per year—gets spent by the United States along. As the Johnny-Come-Latelies of imperialism, the United  States and Soviet Russia vied until the international game of arm-wrestling prevailed in the US’s favor. This leaves us to carry on with essentially unchecked aspirations and conceits for Empire, in conjunction with our little slave Israel, desperately trying to fully join the “white” club.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world keeps moving further and further from the notion of war at all. We might take the instructive example of Japan, “liberated” (as an unintended consequence) from any necessity of defense, and thus able to devote its money to better things—or, at least, rampant capitalization. Nonetheless, even in 1991 László could remark, “More and more people are coming to the realization that running up major defense bills to maintain a vast military apparatus is futile” (66). This describes a world trend, but one that reaches US ears in a muted way, because we remain locked in a heavy, heavy bondage scene with militarism an little sign of climax any time soon. The closest thing to a hopeful sign here involved (1) that the involuntary military cuts to Defense due to the sequester were, in fact, not frightening enough to prevent the sequester from happening, and (2) when the military itself says, “We don’t want those tanks” and congress refuses not to not buy them anyway, the (schizophrenic) split this represents seems like a potentially positive step as well. Certainly the post-9/11 paranoia has provided further pretexts for militarism but also likely induced a bifurcation (in László’s sense) that took us down a less desirable evolutionary pathway, as the deliberate and willful act of financial terrorism of 2008 suggests also.

In addition, László calls for concords on environmental issues, many international varieties of which have begun to come about and which the US has generally refused to sign on to. No surprise, although just as a community does not let a sick and rabid dog continue to run around and harm people, the malignant narcissism of US behavior on the world stage (1) must finally meet its end, or (2) will blithely carry on in nave ignorance while everyone else carefully avoids the nut-case. The latter seems current, with South America (for example) emerging out of decades of Northern abuse. László notes, with regard to the environment:

Roman law specified jus utendi et abutendi—that the right to use is at the same time the right to abuse. But if the communities of the next century would not claim unconditional sovereignty over their territories, they would not regard any part of the environment as their exclusive property. They would view all the environment as a precious resource handed to humanity on trust. The human right to use would not include the right to abuse (69).

In point of fact, we may well already see in some way signs of the senescence of the nation-state, in the greater and greater independence of corporations. As far as László argument goes, particular against his critique of the nation-state, the problem of no check on the use and abuse of property becomes more worrisome in the corporate sector, because of profit maximization as the sole bottom-line criteria. Other criticisms aside, nation-states still possess the dominant monopoly on military force and this stuns as the only final check against unchecked corporate oligarchies.

Of course, corporations don’t want the messy task of ruling, much less policing. They much prefer to demand nation-states leave them alone to rape, pillage, and plunder unhindered. The rise of private security n private prisons occurs, it seems, more to the inability or unwillingness of nation-states to continue to foot that bill—an unnecessary bill in the first place, of course, but they still don’t want to honor it. We can question whether the sort of nation-state we now have can resist the blandishments of capital, but László does not call for anarchy in any case; whatever holarchy means to him, it involves some form of governmental apparatus. Just absolutely not anything like a nation-state.

The issue of environmental concords—even when unfortunately negotiated on rather disingenuous terms by current nation-states—points to a fruitful leverage point where people (and nation-states) get forced to face one another. Besides that pollution knows no borders, except where colonializing coziness buys the complicity of local forces, most nation-states don’t appreciate corporate raiders coming in an divesting them of the resources and wealth they claim as their own. But, inasmuch as such riding might get dealt with, anachronistically or not, through analogues to hundreds of years of international law, environmental degradation offers a completely new problem. What claim, for instance, does san Francisco have against Fukushima, &c. The very mobility of environmental degradation, the destruction of “my” way of living due to “your” behavior, the drowning of 60 to 80 percent of the world’s population under rising sea levels so that “you” can have an iPhone, &c—these things prompt powers to have to confront one another face to face in  more collective way. And so, indeed, environmental concords seem to represent a very significant political moment.

A Vision of the Future Human

László summarizes homo modernus in the following way:

He lives in a jungle [“the law of the jungle”], benefits mankind by his pursuit of material gain [“a rising tide lifts all boats”], trusts invisible forces to right wrongs [trickledown economics and “the invisible hand”], worships efficiency, is ready to make, sell and consume practically anything (especially if it is new) [“the self-regulating economy, the cult of efficiency, the technological imperative, the newer the better”], loves children but is indifferent to the fate of the next generation [“the future is none of our business”], dismisses things that do not have immediate payoffs or are not calculable in money [“economic ‘rationality’”], and is ready to go and fight for his country, because his country, too, must fight for survival in the international jungle (77, material in square brackets interpolated from pp. 76–7).

Belief in the law of the jungle encourages tooth-and-claw competitiveness which fails to make use of the benefits of cooperation—especially crucial in a period of reduced growth opportunities and frequent squeezes. Holding to the dogmas of the rising tide, the trickle-down effect and the invisible hand promotes selfish behavior in the comforting—but sadly no longer warranted—belief that this is bound to benefit others. Faith in a perfectly self-regulating free-market system ignores the fat that in a laissez-faire situation those who hold the power and control the strings distort the operation of the market in their own favor, and push the less powerful and clever partners into bankruptcy. Efficiency, without regard to what is produced, by whom it is produced, an whom it will benefit leads to mounting unemployment, a catering to the demands of the rich without regard to the needs of the poor, and a polarization of society in the “modern” (“efficient”) an the “traditional” (“inefficient”) sectors (78).

We may contrast the view of homo modernus with the emerging homo novus:

Instead of an atomistic, fragmented physical world where objects are independent and free-standing and people are individuated and discrete, we see rather a holistic, interconnected world where objects and people are interwoven into a community. Instead of seeing physical processes as materialistic, deterministic, and mechanistic, we understand them as organic, interactive, and holistic. Rather than discrete and separate organic function, where the parts are exchangeable, we find interwoven and interdependent parts that are not interchangeable or exchangeable. Rather than a social ethos that is technology oriented, interventionist, and goods-based, we have one that is communication oriented and service based. Where social progress gets conceived in consumption dependent terms involving resource conversion, we see instead an adaptation orientation with a balanced view of resources. Where our economics were competition- and profit-driven and exploitative, we now have cooperative and information driven economics. Where humankind fantasized anthropocentrically about mastery over nature, in the next age we gaiacentrically see ourselves integrated into nature. Where culture has been eurocentric and colonial, it becomes pluralistic, and where politics were hierarchical and power-based, they become holarchic and harmony-based.[4] And generally, “while it would be a tragic mistake to interpret the challenge of the age of bifurcation as a call to use science, art, religion, and education to achieve a preconceived end, the response to the challenge can be more modest; it can rely on spontaneous culture evolution. It can demand that scientists, artists, religious leaders, and educators cultivate their social consciousness” (81).

Noting that “the idea of scientific neutrality and disinterestedness must be relegated to history” (82), in the same section László asks, “Is there a way to satisfy people’s needs for privacy and personal space despite high levels of communication and large numbers of people sharing the same physically limited planet” (83). One might take the cramped cells of (1999)[5] The Matrix, prefigured in Lem’s (1974)[6] The Futurological Congress as one way the future might satisfy people’s needs for privacy and personal space. However, I would sooner object to the characterization that we have a need for privacy or personal space at all.

Of Needs and Alternative Necessities

A need denotes that without which we will case to live—and by “live” I do not men only biologically, or even biologically at all. When you give me bread to eat, my “life” in that moment consists in the fellowship of the giving, not the maintenance of the biological substrate of that life. People nobly commit suicide; prisoners (and others) go on hunger strikes; parents refuse themselves food for the sake of their children—in these ways we see that “man does not live by bread at all”.

As a part of the maintenance of the biological substrate of my life, of course, I do need nutritive inputs, rest, and hydration—just to refer to some basics; László refers later to “the availability and retention of water, the ongoing procurement of free energies, and the maintenance of constant temperatures [as] essential to the running of complex biochemical reactions” (96). And so by necessities, then, I mean those things that meet such needs: for the previous examples, the necessities may consist of food, sleep, and water.

So I do not need food, sleep, or water—those constitute the necessities that meet the needs (of energy inputs, rest, and proper fluid levels). Invent a pill that has all the energy nutrients I need, and I no longer must acquire the necessity of food; elaborate some way to artificially induce somatic restfulness—whatever the body does when we sleep—and I will no longer require the necessity of sleep, &c.

I use biological examples to make the point even more vividly. But in the social sphere, we say, “I need a job.” No: a job represents the necessity that meets something more like a need: a need to support one’s family for instance. In point of fact, sticking with the framing of this example, one “needs” an income, and one may imagine many necessities that meet that need other than a job: marry someone rich, steal money, play the stock market (with other people’s money), go into business for yourself (i.e., be an entrepreneur, rather than an employee), win the lottery, &c. Various objections of practicality do not apply here—for the lucky bustard who wins the lottery, the “need” of an income gets perfectly well-met by the necessity of lottery winnings, &c.

When we recognize this distinction between needs and (a plurality of) necessities, we then further see how people come to mistake their necessities for needs. We say, “I need a job,” and then having obtained a job, which represents simply one necessity amongst many for meeting the “need” of supporting my family, I then become possessive, protective, and even selfish and violent in terms of maintaining the presence of that necessity in my life. Besides the anti-social aspects of this, this also impacts our sense of satisfaction in life, because I start to feel trapped: because I mistake my necessity (the means to an end) for a need (that which I cannot do without), I lose sight of the fat that I might find alternative necessities to meet my need.

So then, to speak of our need for privacy and personal space obviously mistakes “privacy” and “personal space” as needs, when in fact they represent necessities that meet a need. I care less to identify which need this might point to and more to emphasize the obvious presence of property in this claim of  need. This so-called need for privacy and personal space substitutes the necessity of these things in the system of capitalism for whatever actual human needs these thing meet. Calling privacy and personal space a need essentially cements in place a major premise of the very system that László desires to replace.

A defining feature of traditional culture involves how everyone gets into everyone’s business; in patriarchal configurations of culture, males berate females for this under the name gossip, but gossip provides the original form of the evening news. Men have their own forms of gossip in any case, as no shortage of touchiness about “face” and “reputation” show. In essence, the notion of  private sphere becomes virtually alien, but capitalism especially—in the monetization of social relationships—proposes to sever any sense of social obligation (except those specifically associated with money debt). This ‘solution” by capitalism to the problem of perpetual public life thus offers the necessities of privacy and personal space to meet whatever need(s) traditional cultures had met through their own (traditional) means.

I must speak essentially anachronistically. These days, we sharply distinguish the public and private domain: hence the Roman law, the right of use accords the right of abuse as well. I’d venture that this distinction begins to appear in earnest with non-tribal political structures, but leave that side. When we try to look at traditional cultures, the distinction of the private and public sphere becomes muddled. Occidental commentators frequently cannot help themselves an start talking about participation mystique or the superstition of primitives and the like. Even if we try to shuck such stuff off, it might seem untenable to insist that privacy and personal space denote necessities, because we can’t even imagine what actual need gets met by a different necessity in a traditional culture.

I suspect that dreaming represents one such necessity. Although one’s body remains in the public sphere—everyone can still see it—one’s affective consciousness stops becoming accessible. This does not men  culture cannot assert some collective dream-world, because after all, once we wake an begin to relate our (private) experiences that occurred in  (personal) space, these become public holdings. Thus, the privacy and personal space involve the experiences of sleep, even as we publicly report them to others, and share (collectively) in whatever cultural myth-space our culture supports.

Thus, while privacy and personal space as ensconced in property law provides for whatever need these passages refer to, we may imagine in traditional cultures that the experiences of sleep—more precisely, dreaming—represent the necessity that meets that self-same need.

Were I to assign this to a human need, I would say it involves outstandingness. By this, I mean that one (momentarily, or for a while) literally becomes outstanding in a group. The beginning of eldership resides here, and a less obscure way of describing this would point to recognition on the part of one’s culture. In other words, humans need recognition (from others) to live existentially. And the experiences of dreams provide a pretext for expressing that which these days we ensconce in an experience of privacy and personal space.

Notwithstanding going so far as to actually embody this notion in law, it seems a curious and mistaken fundamentalism—a literalism as benighted as religiously fundamentalist readings of so-called scripture—to manifest this experience of private space in the form of rooms and buildings others generally must acquire permission to enter. One may wonder what neuroticism drove people not to remain satisfied with the actual experience of sleeping that they had to create (legal) barriers to outwardly manifest the protection of this private space. Apparently, folks would literally “get in folks’s heads” so that further and further isolation, further and further diminution of inputs from other people, seemed necessary in order to assure no violations of the private space of sleep.

Of course, males also socially articulated their secret societies and huts, and we may bless what historical record we’ve managed to argue that it shows us sometimes the almost desperate extent of men to keep at bay Woman—as for example when Chambri male lodges get referred to in terms of the creator-Goddess. I suspect that “women” getting into men’s heads may actually provide an important link in the literal, outward manifestation of prohibited zones, places where “you” may not enter.

In other words, if we imagine a world where everything exists publicly, then where does that part that I call “me” exist. If my culture places the most emphasis on who I represent with respect to the (many) social interrelatednesses that define me, then where does that specifically individual part of me reside? How do I manifest a recognition of “my” individually specifically and not just my social self as constituted by my whole culture. Here I locate the human need for recognition, for outstandingness, and see dreams (the experiences of sleep) as a major source of such individuality. This individuality further articulates as reputation or face, &c, and so attaché to traditions of male secret societies, &c.

However this all goes, for László to invoke as a need the necessities of privacy and personal space simply recapitulate, unintentionally, one of the major tenets of the sociocapitalist technocracy he desires to replace. But it means also a problem for his exposition. Specifically, one my readily discern manifold threads of a kind of neo-tribalism (on a large scale) implied in his various future social structures. He does not propose going backward, of course, but if we strip away the sociocapitalist doxa—the one that holds, for instance, privacy and personal space as a need—then that very stripping raises alarms in people of “enforced collective life” or ‘the hazards of non-property ownership” and other panicked statements.

Because a need genuinely warrants the term need—because it genuinely denotes that which we cannot do without—to threaten to remove a necessity meets with (sometimes violent, certainly psychologically violent) opposition. If the human need for recognition has attached itself to privy and personal space, then to threaten those domains with a public rushing in obviously represents a major threat. Part of the psychological value of direct democracy—though it rarely sounds sexy—involves precisely the recognition it promises: you will participate, you will get seen! However, this often seems to resonate simply with a bunch of meddling and nagging: “did you go to the meeting tonight” &c.[7]

But this points some to my nagging intuition that outstandingness in some sense represents a better term than recognition. The latter more lends itself to ready understanding, but the human need to “stand out” does not so clearly come across. One does not simply want recognition at a meeting; one wants to make a difference, even if that difference only amounts to having had one’s ideas given consideration. Hence I say, “Freedom of speech without freedom of listening doesn’t amount to much.” One doesn’t want only to serve society, but also wants that service wanted. If, as capitalism does, the public sphere more and more rejects or has no support for recognition, then the private and personal space (particularly of the family) becomes the place where that need (yes, here, “need” for recognition) gets met. Thus, László may understate things when he says, “the development of individuals cannot and need not be planned: it need only be permitted” (60). Merely to set loose a panoply of “self-expression” (as the Internet shows) does not necessarily foster the sort of development of individuals he calls for; it requires also social structures that recognize one’s attempts at developing outstandingness. Social media provides this in a very dim way, though its structures still fall along the hierarchical lines of “popularity” more than holarchy. The accessibility to a sort of (artificial) public sphere provides an intrastructure that might support what Lázló calls for, but we still need to further refine the form (or use it against itself) to incorporate feedback loops that make “mere” recognition into “actual’ outstandingness, that adds freedom of listening to freedom of speech, one might say.

A Vision of the Future Big Picture

As a note, typos may sometimes read adorably. “Intelligence in  species is not unique to [humans] —other animals have developed form of it … Wales and dolphins have intelligence” (95), for example.

Meanwhile, evidence for human-made fires some 500,000 remains uncontroversial;[8] “there were humanly laid fires at such diverse sites as Zhoukoudian near Beijing, Aragon in the south of France, and Vértesszöllös in Hungary. A number of hominid bands seem to have arrived at the insight almost simultaneously, without learning from, or probably even knowing of, each other” (98). This echoes Prigogine’s (1991)[9] remark: “I have always been struck by what we might call a kind of synchronicity in history: great innovations such as pottery or plant cultivation seem to have appeared more or less at the same time all over the world” (x–xi).[10]

Not to make overly much of this, but the heading matters here, László’s “almost simultaneously” and Prigogine’s “more or less”. On a pragmatic argument, these hedges simply acknowledge that our record of such  distant past remains egregiously imprecise. But for that very reason, then, the claim of simultaneity more or less an only have heuristic value; it cannot (and could never) represent  statement of fact. And, of course, I don’t position myself as any enemy of heuristic approaches, but this sort of argument—that humanity all over the globe more or less simultaneously invented fire[11]—provides a kind of quasi-rational background for retain arguments about technological competition: if we don’t develop the Bomb, someone (meaning the bad guys) will. In the process of developing, and detonating, the bomb, we actually become then the bad guys, which Tolstoy’s (1894)[12] The Kingdom of God Is Within You anticipates in his arguments for nonviolence.

On a heuristic analysis, we may dismiss any citation of more or less simultaneity (in the evolution of intelligence) as justifiable grounds for enveloping a technology—particular weapons of mass destruction—because that evolving intelligence guarantees that the Chinese, the Russians, or the terrorists will absolutely an certainly develop it as well, if not first. Again, as an explanatory hypothesis, it may do more and better intellectual work to explain this apparent mastery of fire in many places in terms of more or less simultaneous developments, because the alternative explanation requires a seemingly irrational degree of diffusion or contact between people in the south of France and at Zhoudoukian, &c. But the relative inadequacy, the seemingly not compelling  assertion of diffusion in this sort of situation, does not rationalize an argument that “if we don’t do it, it will happen somewhere else”. The paranoia of this Said (1978)[13] rightly links with orientalism in his book.

Moreover, this assertion in an important way runs contrary to the main thrust of Lázló’s book. We recall that nonlinear time (and chaos theory), “unless we are comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny” (51), appeals to those who do not have a craving for predestination, but if humanity spontaneously, simultaneously, and in multiple environmentally very different location all generated the same innovation, then this betokens almost diametrically an opposite circumstance than chaos theory emphasizes. Here, we see that sensitivity to initial conditions—whatever prevailed in the environmentally diverse circumstances of humans scattered over the planet—made no difference at all; we all invented fire. One would have to very fancifully construe the entire planet as a single system—I say fancifully, because while we may readily suggest such a concept, to provide it any grounding in fat remains beyond our ability even to model models of as of yet—in which system, the invention of fire rose in multiple locations because the system as a whole supported it. In this respect, László’s remark “an intelligent species is not necessarily an evolutionary success, reproducing and enhancing its environment” (100) seems pertinent. I take him to mean, precisely, that an evolutionary success reproduces an enhances its environment.

This also, however, detaches a large part of László’s exposition from its bases, although not necessarily so seriously as just above. I mean, if we have taken the path of an intelligent species, then we no longer must follow or do follow the “laws” of evolution; we have become detached from that, even if our biology continues to mutate, &c. It means that all talk of evolution in the book, as a basis for any present or future public policy, becomes moot, and I think László would not object to that; when he declares that the path of genetically engineering ourselves holds too many unforeseeable dangers, this seems like forestalling any urge to intervene in our biological evolution as a species. Avoiding such reductionism, he prefers to focus instead on our social “evolution”. I agree. Hence, “rather than devolving into extinction, sapiens could evolve with distinction” (102). *rimshot*.

Even so, László finds it difficult to avoid reductionist temptations.

The next generation of humans could make a major evolutionary leap. Here is an intriguing fact: in terms of human population, we are approaching a magic number: 1010—ten billion. This is how many humans will live on this planet by the time the curve of the world population growth finally levels off. The number 1010 is closely associated with major evolutionary leaps. As Peter Russell pointed out, it takes some 10 billion atoms to make a basic living cell, and about 10 billion cells to make an autonomous multicellular organism. It also takes 10 billion neurons to relate consciousness in the neocortex of the human brain. If life emerges from the physical and chemical processes when this threshold is reached, and if consciousness emerges in living beings, significant novelty could also emerge when this many conscious beings congregate within living societies.

Of course numbers alone provide merely a quantitative parameter and not the full set of conditions to be satisfied if an evolutionary breakthrough is actually to occur. An amalgamous mass of 10 billion atoms could no more create a living cell than a mass of 10 billion cells could create an organism—or a conscious brain. There must be precise connections among the components, cycles within cycles, feedbacks within feedbacks, and coherent integration on the level of the whole. Only [then] can cellular life emerge in a system of atoms and molecules, and autonomous life and consciousness come about in a system of living cells (102).

The seductiveness of this warrant remembering whiteheads, “Seek simplicity and mistrust it” if László’s resort to the word “magic”—“we are approaching a magic number” didn’t lead fly the red warning flag. Since this merely magical argument provides no basis, it doesn’t do to follow László when he next immediately asks, “What are the chances that the kinds of cycles and feedbacks that in nature make for a leap to a new evolutionary level would also occur within the human population of this planet?” (102), which he answers, “The chances seem rather good” (102). Religion lives alive and well in pseudoscience.

But let’s try to take this more seriously than László seems to. He simply wants to argue for chaos theory with regard for the basis of his argument. One has to proceed circumspectly with this Russell character, whose (1982)[14] book that Lázló refers to has the title The Awakening Earth: the Global Brain. The most serious objection concerns whatever “about 10 billion cells to make an autonomous multicellular organism” refers to. Not only do umpty-thousand multicellular organisms consist of less (or more) than 10 billion cells, if my brain has 10 billion neurons, then the total count of cells in my body already goes orders of magnitude beyond the 10 bill for multicellular organism level.

It seems as if Russell has, rather, started from the notion of 1010 neurons in the human brain, and then rather loosely extrapolated that number backward through the cellular and atomic levels. But even if we could make this all make sense somehow, we have no grounds to pretend that 1010 minds (or brains) represents the next evolutionary threshold. Not because such a ‘fact” seems wildly unknowable or because “mind” and “brain” do not at all denote commensurable things, but rather because the atomic and cellular 1010 already represents an extraordinary degree of redundancy. By analogy, this suggest that 1010 minds on the planet would also already represent an extreme redundancy as well; in other words, we stand already far beyond whatever level we should need if something “magic” were going to happen. And so the point that a mere heap of toms or cells never suffices but only an organization of them puts the emphasis in the right spot, and nothing even in the vaguest way like such precise interconnection does or will prevail for the 1010 minds on our human planet—if we could even keep up the conceit of a merely mechanical or informational organization in the human social sphere that resembles the atomic and cellular spheres.

The magical thinking continues: “information always structures, and not merely agglomerates, in the system into which it flows” (103). He makes this unlikely claim (in the human domain of information) based on research from the domain of the physical world; specifically, that “a flow of energy passing through a nonequilibrium system in the third state organizes its structures and components and enables it to access, use, and store increasing quantities of free energy” (110). The empirical veracity of this does nothing to inform the claim in the human domain. Nonetheless, he immediately follows the above with, “If this process [of organizing energy flow] were to continue, the kind of developmental rhythm that is typical of the growth of the embryo in the womb would be re-played on the level of the entire human populations” (103). Thus László’s argument runs off the rail—notice also that he drops the subjunctive construction here—offering goop of mixed domains that would likely make Oyama (2000)[15] twitch and want to write another refutation of the conceits of information in our day and age. Much as I like associative thinking and (sometimes) so-called fuzzy logic, this sort of blunt analogizing, which crucially relies on abusing the notion of information (as Oyama patiently demonstrates at length), strikes me as ultimately irresponsible and misguided. Its only saving grace comes from its desire to wallow more positively in the sort of terrain that the scientific racists and the social eugenicists of IQ on display extensively in Herrnstein and Murray’s (1994)[16] The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life use in pursuit of promoting social injustice and anti-human vileness. Its positive spin, however, doesn’t make it more desirable.

László notes:

The growth of brain cells [in the human embryo]  accelerates from about the eighth week of gestation; by the tenth week it becomes explosive. A million cells are added to the fetal brain each and every minute. Then, at the thirteenth week, extensive growth stops and development turns inward. Instead of growing in numbers, the embryo’s brain grows in connection. In a matter of months, the complex structure of the spaiens [sic] brain, the product of some 50 million years of evolution, is precisely reconstructed.

The possibility that a similar process could take place on the level of human populations cannot be lightly dismissed (103).

Sure it can. The foamy effervescence of explosive cellular growth has no viable analog in the human domain. Over the course of three weeks—which comprises 21 days of 24 hours each of 60 minutes per hour—the number of cells rises to 30,240 million cells (note that this stands fully three times more than Russell’s 1010 neurons; something has gone wonky with someone’s math). To try to correlate that to the “explosion” of human population depends entirely upon what scale we imagine fancifully. Either it has taken well-nigh infinitely longer to arrive at 1010 humans (literally millions of years) or, in geological terms, it has taken an unimaginably tiny fraction of  second. Only by the most artificial manipulation does the period of “three weeks” get aligned up with some duration in human evolution.

But even beyond this quantitative flay, László’s attempt to analogize the articulated interconnections of neuron in the brain with things like “the number of computer networks is doubling every few years; and radio, television, telex and fax penetrate every corner of the planet. The world population is becoming both extensively and intensively interconnect” (103) imply can’t bear scrutiny. He doesn’t even acknowledge what various social justice activists might point out in this argument: that it assumes access to technology. Even in our highly digitized culture, vast portions of the population have limited access to the Internet, &c. And to the extent that László would acknowledge this (if he did), it would likely only consist of advocating programs to extend access to all corners of the globe—exactly already the rapacious technocratic intention of global capitalism.

László returns to something like this possibility when he says, “having become conscious of evolution, we must now make evolution itself conscious” (104). Certain varieties of ecofeminism such as Murphy (1991)[17] describes would suggest that we may again reinscribe teleology back into the operations of nature, which seems partly to resonate with László’s claim here, even if he still more or less maintains an emphasis on (rational) human intervention. One might also point to the “message” locatable in interpretations of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, where the sequence of ten cards from the Magician to the Wheel of Fortune denote an unconscious but developing approach to consciousness and understanding, while the second sequence from card 11 (Strength) through card 20 (Judgment) represents the same “journey” but made consciously.

Conclusion

László closes his book with a final section on the basic concepts of evolutionary system theory, which has largely seemed lacking. I expected more nut and bolts regarding chaos theory and bifurcation rather than the very largely diffuse or detailed but unfortunately empty analogizing with evolutionary processes. But before covering his last section, I’d offer  sort of conclusion I draw from the above.

One might exploratorily deconstruct László’s discourse as constantly espousing rationality while dwelling in an irrationalist domain (chaos theory). His disingenuous swapping of mathematical models (rationalist) for physical (irrationalist models) betokens this; and if it seems unfair to describe physical modeling as “irrational”, I rely on Jung’s (1921)[18] observation, where he usefully described thinking and feeling as rational human functions, and intuiting and sensing as irrational ones. I find considerable merit in his distinction.

But besides this scientistic conceit, his approach to the (limits of) knowledge seems the most problematic. With linear positivists, they blithely assume everything becomes knowable, at least quantitatively, and they proceed from that blunt assumption to steamroll everything into an unrecognizable goo. With the nonlinear point of view, the critique of that conceit doesn’t necessarily prompt an avoidance of the same, as many places in László’s exposition shows. In effect, he maintains that we may somehow plumb chaos and come up with an intentional outcome. He seems to write as if one my confront the chaos of information and divine a truth within it.

In other words, he would prove a very naïve reader of Faulkner’s work—or specifically, just to pick one example, Faulkner’s (1932)[19] The Sound and the Fury. What seems one of the most significant feature of Faulkner’s writing, especially in this book, concerns what I would call its saturation of meaning. Again and again, Faulkner opposes sentences that describe how a thing “is not”, stringing these phrases together and usually (at the end) providing a description of what it “is”.[20]

All of these negations leave their traces in the reader’s reading. He does not merely, like a masterful realist like Tolstoy, paint a picture of the world but rather also all of the other worlds that might have existed or even, in some ghostly sense, do exist, as hauntings of what never happened. It would seem kitschy to say Faulkner writes quantum fiction, but one may still make links with the reader’s experience in terms of probabilities. He relentlessly makes narratives of his books; they comprise tales put explicitly in the mouths of human consciousnesses, and therefore explicitly represent only one of manifold possible tellings. He makes this explicitly so in The Sound and The Fury by telling more or less the same story from four points of view. In this welter of very literal literary bifurcations, what the text “means” disappears seemingly unreachably over the horizon. Only a fool—including even the fool of Faulkner himself—at that point might dare, with László’s confidence, to pronounce on what the text does mean. At a minimum, we would have to resort to probabilistic decryptions, but the almost explicitly literal chaos of the text, which opens by plunging us directly into the min of a developmentally disabled adult who makes almost no distinctions about past and present invites us from the very opening of the book not to get too cocky about what happens when we confront chaos. One can, rather dishearteningly, imagining László trying to insist he finds some embodiment of something like phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny in Faulkner’s book[21] as it proceeds from the points of view of an idiot man-child, a suicidally depressed college student, a brutally pragmatic householder, and finally a compassionate and stereoptypicalized maternal figure more than farfetched, especially as the embryogenesis here ends with “the mother” (Dilsey).

What Faulkner’s fiction embodies in terms of information—its rampant overdetermination, its saturation of invoked and negated images, its relentlessly embodied and multiple points of view—makes for much more than the sort of narrative play of literary uncertainty. The kind of uncertainty one experiences in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury—besides sheer confusion over the meaning of individual sentences often enough—does not arise from knowing too little, but rather from knowing too much. one fins no sparseness of words on Faulkner’s page; he represents an anti-thesis of Hemingway in this respect, but also of Joyce—at least up to his (1939) Finnegans Wake—because Joyce (like many modernist males) typically assembles puzzles the literarily competent may decode. In this respect, even Finnegans Wake continues this tendency, although in function the work offers something more like the irresolvable degree of overdetermination that Faulkner provides as a matter of course. We can split hairs over what Faulkner means, and he remained gentlemanly enough to lie on different occasions about what he meant—only adding one more (quantum) layer of interpretive uncertainty to each work and his entire oeuvre.

A thoughtful reader of Joyce assures me that his writing invites the reader to recognize her own modes of reading. One certainly may read this way; I recall also how Joyce, responding to someone who mildly praised Ulysses and averred that he’d only spent about two weeks reading it, declared, “I spent twelve years writing it; you should spend twelve years reading it.

Artists crate works for reasons and will likely at least hope to have that work recognized in light of the intended effect. This makes reading Joyce simply to discover one’s reading seem contrary at least to Joyce’s aim. Notwithstanding that he hoped to awake the consciousness of the Irish—if one can put it that way—then only to become aware of ones’ reading as a reader might miss that mark.

Whatever. The dominating take-away I get from this involves a very serious effort on Joyce’s part to construct literary artifacts that one may decode (that he means for one to decode), whether by simple attentive reading or with the assistance of Joseph Campbell, Noam Chomsky, and a Finnish language expert in the room with you. Faulkner too very deliberately, sometimes too earnestly some would say, aspires to create an aesthetic object as well, but it never seems one that becomes decodable in the sense that Joyce’s text (and other stereotypically modernist texts) intend. Whereas something essential seems lost if you don’t follow the allegory of the Odyssey in Joyce’s text, much less gets lost if you don’t know where Faulkner got the title for The Sound and the Fury or the background references in Absalom, Absalom—and this fact tends to operate continuously in his texts.

But whether one does or does not “get” these allusions, with Faulkner’s work, they occur in  miasma of embodied narratives in the first place. In Absalom, Absalom, at some point the narrative gets something like eight storytellers deep—some ridiculous degree of Quentin said Mr. Compson said someone said, &c. In such a context, it becomes untenable to believe that “Faulkner said” offers a window on historical fact. And in his last book, he gets this up to such a reflexive literary habit, that he begins his (1962)[22] The Reivers with “Grandfather said:” an all of the rest of the book follows from that compulsively necessary Faulknerian frame.

Take this distinction, between modernist works that rely on a positivist epistemology in presenting a  decodable narrative reality and others that embody something more like a phenomenological epistemology to present a quantum reality we may only offer commentaries on, and you will find my central objection to László’s covert or unintentional positivism despite presenting ideas in a field better served by a phenomenological an quantum description. In any case, he does know better:

At the critical junctures, when they are critically destabilized and in chaos, complex systems act indeterminately: one among their possibly numerous internal fluctuations is amplified, and the amplified fluctuation spreads with great rapidity within the system. The amplified or “nucleated” fluctuation dominates the system’s new dynamic regime and determines its new steady state” (113–4, italics added).

Moreover, this outcome “is not a function of initial conditions, nor of changes in the control parameters” (116). Whatever strategy we might as humans develop in the face of this, we must—to use László’s phrase—relegate to history the conceit of making deliberate interventions, particularly if we would involve complexity or chaos theory.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] László, E. (1991). The age of bifurcation: understanding the changing world. (World Futures General Evolution Studies Vol. 3). Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach, pp. i–xvii, 1–126.

[3] Nussbaum, MC, and Cohen, J (ed.) (2002). For love of country? (A New Democracy Forum On The Limits Of Patriotism) Boston: Beacon Press

[4] His summarizes László’s chart on page 79.

[5] Warner Bros., Reeves, K., Fishburne, L., Village Roadshow Pictures., & Silver Pictures. (1999). The Matrix. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Home Video.

[6] Lem, S. (1974). The Futurological Congress (from the memoirs of Ijon Tichy). New York: Seabury Press.

[7] The counterobjection here runs (1) those who don’t want to go don’t have to; () much meetings would not represent dread necessities but actually exciting opportunities to directly benefit the course of one’s life and community. One would actively want to go.

[8] As opposed to 1.5 million years ago.

[9] Prigogine, I. (1991). Foreword. In E. László (1991). The age of bifurcation: understanding the changing world. (World Futures General Evolution Studies Vol. 3), pp. ix–xi. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach

[10] He continues, “But this synchronicity was broken in the nineteenth century with the advent of cultural destabilization, of inequality, of an epoch when humanity divided into savages and civilized people. In the present day, we try to go beyond this dichotomy to attain a more universal vision of human dignity” (xi). It seems unclear who represents the savage and the civilized in this claim.

[11] We might remember that the etymological root of “invent” means “to discover”:

late 15c., “find, discover,” a back-formation from invention or else from Latin inventus, past participle of invenire “to come upon; devise, discover” (see invention). Meaning “make up, think up” is from 1530s, as is that of “produce by original thought.” Related: Invented; inventing.

[12] Tolstoy, L. (2006). The kingdom of God is within you: Christianity not as a mystic religion but as a new theory of life (trans. CB Garnett). [Rockville, MD]: Wildside Press. (complete text here)

[13] Said, E. W. (1979). Orientalism. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books.

[14] Russell, P. (1982). The awakening earth: the global brain. London: Routledge.

[15] Oyama, S. (2000). The ontogeny of information: developmental systems and evolution. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

[16] Herrnstein, R. J., & Murray, C. A. (1994). The bell curve: intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Free Press.

[17] Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[18] Jung, C. G. (1976). Psychological types. A revision / Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[19] Faulkner, W. (2012). The sound and the fury. Modern Library ed. New York: Modern Library.

[20] Arguably, Faulkner rises this to its most orgiastic display in his (1936)* Absalom, Absalom.

* Faulkner, W. (1993). Absalom, Absalom!: the corrected text. 1993 Modern Library ed. New York: Modern Library.

[21] You mean Joyce’s Ulysses, Ervin!

[22] Faulkner, W. (1992). The reivers: a reminiscence. 1st Vintage International ed. New York: Vintage Books.

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This sixth post continues the exposition of chaos theory and relates entrainment to my notion meaningful change or transformation.

Entrainment

If in a strictly biophysical interpretation order parameters provide a placeholder for continuing to understand the future iterations of a dynamic system—if, like a key variable, they come to govern the ongoing dynamics of a system—then we my further investigate how they affect that control or influence that dynamic activity. This seems to involve entrainment and I apologize in advance for not better or more fully understanding the following, which talks about order parameters and entrainment as a determinative function. Knyazeva (2004)[4] suggests:

There is a principle of circular causality that describes the relationship between the order parameters and the parts that are enslaved by the former: the individual parts of a system generate the order parameters that in turn determine the behavior of the individual parts. … [Moreover,] even if some configurations are generated artificially from the outside only a few of them are really viable (Knyazeva and Haken, 1997, 2000)[5]

The future states of complex systems escape our control and prediction. The future is open, not unequivocal. But at the same time, there is a definite spectrum of “purposes” or “aims” of development available in any given open nonlinear medium. If we choose an arbitrary path of evolution, we have to be aware that this particular path may not be feasible in a given medium. Only a definite set of evolutionary pathways are open; only certain kinds of structures can emerge. These spectra of evolutionary structure-attractors look much like spectra of purposes of evolution. There is, so to speak, “a tacit knowledge” on the part of medium itself. The spectra are determined exclusively by properties of open nonlinear systems themselves. The future turns out to be open in the form of spectra of pre-determined possibilities (Knyazeva, 1997).[6] In spite of the existence of a whole set of possible evolutionary paths, many structure-attractors remain hidden. Many possibilities will not be actualized. Many inner purposes cannot be achieved within given parameters of the medium. It looks as if a lot of things exist in a latent world.

The attractors as future states are pre-determined (they are determined by their own properties of a given open nonlinear medium). Patterns precede processes. They can be interpreted as a memory of the future, a “remembrance of future activities.” All the attempts that go beyond one of the basins of attraction (the “cones” of attractors) are the “infernal attempts.” Everything that is not in accordance with the structure-attractors will be wiped out, annihilated. For example, a human can fight unconsciously against those forces (some of his attitudes and plans as structure-attractors) that “pull him” from the future, but all these attempts are doomed to failure. (400–1).

Summarizing the metaphor here, if it may in fact only be taken as a metaphor—as an “as if”—then the notion involves how from a state of relative equilibrium or stability, a perturbation (as a change of state) occurs that gets addressed not in the usual way (by negative feedback to restore the stability or equilibrium) but rather becomes an amplifying cascade that switches the orientation of our attention and thus the being of the person, which then becomes the new “center” that generates a new dynamics, traced out (or recognizable in) the form of the new attractor, the new organization of one’s here-and-now.

In one respect, this means nothing more than if you choose X you do not choose Y and all else besides, but it goes beyond this. As a constraint on behavior, the order parameters, the key variables, bring only certain things to one’s attention while ignoring, eliding, or simply not even seeing others. And once we get “in” that, this provides the fore-doom for unfit alternatives. On the biological level, this prevents us from dying; cognitively, it sorts the billions of gigabytes of information per second into sensible experiences. But it traps us also in those and rules out possibilities we might benefit from, especially when we find ourselves in dire situations, when we have (inadvertently or not) baked ourselves into corners. Thus, we have again a background echo of “be open to experience” and “always keep learning” as two sorts of correctives to the “tunnel vision” that order parameters bring about. I won’t reiterate my concerns (from above) about “be open to experience” or “always keep learning” or my alternative “imagine oneself dwelling in an us”.

I think the particular idea to emphasize from Knyazeva comes with “Patterns precede processes. They can be interpreted as a memory of the future, a ‘remembrance of future activities’”. These memories of the future specifically condition the present. This idea at the atomic level seems somewhat spooky but at the human cognitive level seems almost a platitude; nonetheless, the ways that our future preoccupy us—i.e., occupy us in advance—seems important as far as meaningful change goes. At the most banal level, pundits identify a strong commitment to a future goal as the most essential factor in success (i.e., more than talent or skill). I have big problems with this as a social theory, but it still points to the kind of related role that entrainment plays from Knyazeva’s description. That future memory as entrainment or strong commitment to goal both focus attention and eliminate alternatives; it may serve to reduce distraction as well, distraction serving as one of the great tools of the status quo (at the level of the political and the personal) for the inhibition or extinction of transformative change.

It does not seem entirely a digression then to survey briefly some of the factors involved in cognitive attention and distraction.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. AS just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Knyazeva, H. (2004). The complex nonlinear thinking: Edgar Morin’s demand of a reform of thinking and the contribution of synergetics. The Journal of General Evolution, 60(5/6), 389-405.

[5] The two papers Knyazeva references here are: Knyazeva H, and Haken H (1997). Perché l’Impossible è impossible. Pluriverso. 2(4): 62–66, and Knyazeva H, and Haken H (2000). Arbitrariness in nature: Synergetics and evolutionary laws of prohibition. Journal for General Philosophy of Sciences. 31(1): 57–73

[6] This refers to: Knyazeva, H (1997). Téléologie, coévolution et complexité. In ER Larreta (ed.) Représentation et complexité, pp. 183–205. Paris: Educam/UNESCO/ISSC.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Once we recognize that capitalism and communism—and its illegitimate love-child socialism that aspires to avoid the worst of both of those worlds—all rest on technocratic, linear concepts of time, differing in opinion only fundamentally on how much weight to give to the past as a determinant of the present and thus the future, then we see that we must indeed discover a third alternative, because such linear progress cannot, in a world of finite resources, extend indefinitely. And if we accept that sustainability acknowledges not just technological capacities and management of resources but the implementation of social justice as well for all on the planet, then sociocapitalist technocracy must end. Chaos theory offers an alternative, which begins with a change in how we conceptualize time.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this already, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  Ervin László’s (1991)[2] The Age of Bifurcation [Part 2]

This is a second reply to László’s book; you may find the first one here. While worrying László’s use of the word ‘predict’ and exploring his analysis of conception of time, a third posting on this book will get more into the specifics of what László proposes, but understanding this change in the conception of time marks a necessary step for rightly understanding (I think) his proposal, especially as he wrote in 1991, prior to 9/11.

Here we go with the “we can predict the predictable” argument. The first hedge we get, “the nonequilibrium crystal ball does not foretell a ready-made future. It tells only of what one can predict—which is important, even if it is not everything” (37). I’ll reserve judgment on this, but if all nonequilibrium conjectures can tell us involves, “We could predict that or not” does not cut the mustard. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we can. In the next chapter, László les disingenuously states bluntly, “”Unpredictability is a generic characteristic of trajectories defined by chaotic attractors” (53).[3]

Disingenuously, László admits, “The limits of predictability in the human sphere may not be the same as those that apply to simpler systems” (38). The glaring obviousness of this claims distracts from the fact that it makes no attempt to say whether nonequilibrium—I will just say chaos theory from here on out—applies either in simpler or non-simpler cases.

To illustrate his point, László notes the reliable predictability of a well-wound clock. I want to pick on his specific claim even: “If we know where the hands are now, we shall know where they will be in five minutes” (38). Only if we know either (1) that the clock operates exactly accurately, or (2) if we know in what ways it operates defectively—both necessary conditions assuming that the operation of the clock remains consistent.

But the more significant defect of this example concerns that we make clocks. In my previous post, I distinguished between mathematical explorations of chaotic dynamics, which have the two advantages of (1) rationally permitting an assumption of determinism in the operation of the (mathematical) system, and (2) the plausibility of cause and effect descriptions, even within the context of chaotically unpredictable (mathematical) dynamics. When we talk about physical phenomena in the actual world, however, the assumption of determinism and the claim to “know” what factors impinge upon the actual chaotic dynamics we observe do not have the same grounding as in the mathematical case.

To substitute the mathematical approach where the physical approach more accurately applies denotes a fundamental piece of sleight-of-hand.

So picking a well-wound clock to describe a “simpler” case involves an article of bad faith. We know this makes a simpler se because we made it, we built it. Cybernetics encounters this same issue—when we design a machine that appears to behave chaotically (or, in fact, does), the assumption of determinism and our claim to “understand” the operation of the machine has a more rational basis compared to when we construe something like a crowd as a “machine” and then assume determinism and a knowledge for how it behaves.

So a more pertinent simpler case consists more of water running over a waterfall, such as at Iguazú Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We might model[4] all kinds of details of this dynamic system—the volume of water going over the walls, the force of the water striking at the base, the temperature of the mist above and below the falls, &c—and this would involve taking account as much as possible of variations in the water flow from season to season and according to changes in weather, &c. I use this as an example, because accurately modeling this simpler case precisely requires keeping track of variations in the “operation” of the water in a way that László (sloppily) disregards when offering the example of a (man-made) clock. But, again, the greater error consists in pretending that a system we design and build makes for an adequate illustration of a phenomenon in the physical world; in this substitution of the mathematical approach where the physical approach more applies we clearly see László’s (intentional or unintentional) error.

He then compounds the error. He notes that, “the ‘movement’ of humanity through history may not be as predictable as [a well-wound clock]. One can even doubt that it is predictable at all” (38). And then he proposes, “The human future is predictable if the past is, that is, if there are laws or factors that have determined the course of history” (38).

This offers a very aberrant notion of “predict”. Todorov (1973)[5] once remarked to the effect that the weakest possible hypothesis about any phenomenon involves that we may categorize it; one might add, in light of László assertion, that an equally weak hypothesis about events of the post involves that we can ascribe factors that account for its occurrence. But at the very least, this amounts to prediction after the fact, which doesn’t warrant the name prediction at all.

If only the matter stopped there. When one deals with (claims for) linear dynamics, as in the sort of “simpler cases” László invokes, the consistency of operation makes examining a past behavior for future behavior a relevant endeavor. If we study the well-wound clock, we come to understand the factors that impinge upon its otherwise consistent operation and knowing those factors allow us to adjust our predictions in light of them.

With chaotic dynamics, however, this kind of cause and effect become detached; we do not, in fact, understand a chaotic dynamic’s “consistent operation” in the first place. This remains true even in those chaotic (mathematical) systems or dynamics we ourselves build and investigate. He disingenuously or inappropriately asks, “Could there be such laws [of human history], and if there could, what would they be like?” (38). They would say this (I answer): sometimes chaotic dynamics prevail, and when they do, they will persist until they cease. Beyond that, we can predict nothing in either the strong or weak sense of the word. And anything we might guess at will not have chaos as an authentic root. Undeterred by this, László merrily continues:

Two kinds [of laws] could possibly enter into play. One pertains to the nature of the human organism, the other to the nature of societies. The former set of laws or factors are biological, and if they are determinant they would create a kind of biological (more precisely, genetic) determinism. The latter set are sociological, and they in turn would spell a social (that is, socio-cultural) determinism (38).

I cannot stress enough once again how this invalidly substitutes a mathematical notion of chaos fist at one level, to the physical world of human organisms, and then at a second level of remove, to non-physical phenomena like human societies.

I think László even knows this, or tries to work against it; notice how he couches his claims in highly subjunctive phrases: “two kinds [of laws] could possibly enter into play”; “could there be such laws, and if there could, what would they be like?” Having begged all these questions, László then invites us to “look at each [kind of law] in turn” (38). Later in the book, he states unambiguously, “The laws of evolution, in nature as well as in history, are probabilistic and not deterministic” (58); this effectively reverses much of what he claims here. In practical terms, he wants to state, “we cannot halt the evolutionary process or regress it to some prior stage. We must ‘go with the flow’ but can choose which way we go” (57). Besides that this begs the question, it at least drops the conceit of predicting the unpredictable.

To jump back to analyzing a previous chapter, however: his first sentence for biological evolution reads, “If biological factors determined the course of history, they will also determine the future” (38). It really does not involve splitting a semantic hair to object that the “determinants of history” need not axiomatically get assumed as the “determinants of the future”. We have a mixing of domains here that not only makes little sense but also contradicts human experience.

Consider the moment when you must make a decision: steak or seafood (or anything else). From the standpoint after the decision, looking back on it, after we choose “seafood” for example, it may seem blindingly obvious in retrospect that no other choice ever would have come about. But that falsifies our experience on the side before the decision, when we quite sincerely dithered and played with different possible outcomes—including saying, “Fuck it all” and going out to pizza.

From the standpoint after the decision, all of the factors that previously (before the decision) seemed to have all equal (or at least equally confounding) desire-value now show in a (very) different light. It hardly suffices to say “hindsight is 20/20,” because this doesn’t explain at all why, simply by passing some “magic” moment of the decision itself, suddenly our eyesight snap into such clearer focus.

It may not fall wide of the mark, in fact, to suggest that the determinants of the past do not exist until we pass the moment of decision. This means that my hunger before the decision (and what it makes of my choices, steak or seafood) and after the decision (in light of my choice of steak) do not constitute the same thing, even though I use the same word to refer to both. Certainly what “steak” means before and after I chose it points to two different things.

Consequently, László’s bland assumption that the phrase “determinants of the past” must synonymize with “determinants of the future” falls short of tenable, never mind the other objections to the claim. That László immediately after favorably cites sociobiology shows how quickly and undesirably this sort of question begging goes. Rhetorically, by which we may understand desperately, he refers to sociobiology as a “reputable school of thought” (38), on that otherwise has gotten linked to eugenics, racism, and misogyny.

I refuse to engage the sort of vapid twaddle these premises generate, even if László seems to do so only for rhetorical purposes, i.e., to dismiss the notion later. One really can’t seriously address such a heap of insensibility as, “Our genes make us aggressive: the history of societies is the history of wars, only interspersed by the cessation of hostilities because periodically there is  need to recoup one’s strength and regroup one’s forces” (39). The history of the world refutes this then and now, even without silly invocations of genes to explain wars—László, in any case, only offers technical objections (see below).

The realm of politics has indeed been a bloody mess, as Eagleton (1989)[6] fairly observes, but politics constitutes a very narrow part of human civilization, which consists preeminently and in the largest part of people getting along—just as we all do right now, in this café. As the robot messiah in Lem’s (1980)[7] Return from the Stars puts it,

The planetary bioplasm, its decaying mud, is the dawn of existence, and lo! from the bloody, dough-brained cometh copper….” [….] “Behold the last efforts of the strutting croaking master of quartering and incarceration, for yea it riseth, thrice riseth the coming kingdom of the nonliving….” [….] “And the dough-headed took their acid fermentation for a soul, the stabbing of meat for history, the means of postponing their decay for civilization….” [….] (135–6, italics added).

When we understand history as only the stabbing of meat, by a very narrow and elect few of sociopaths, then doubtless history—also as Canetti (1960)[8] delusively and deludingly believed—looks like a bloodbath, but such traumatized whining about the course of human history need not provide our starting or our ending point. In fat, as seems the case here, even to argue this amounts to a justification for further bloodshed—this much becomes obvious in Canetti, most assuredly—or at the very least, a merely rhetorical howling in order to justify some change in policy direction, just as László seems to have stressed various environmental catastrophes in previous chapters just to make his proposal seem palatable or necessary.

And since human genes dispose them to aggressiveness, selfishness, and power-seeking, “through careful genetic manipulation, controlled interbreeding, and the selective diffusion of the new stock we could mutate sapiens to a higher form” (40). Putting it like this, László finally blinks and declares such a project “hopelessly unrealistic” (40), though primarily on technological grounds; he doesn’t touch the moral argument at all, and the fact that he doesn’t does not merely offer testimony to who he thinks his audience consists of (technocrats) but also (I suspect) because his standpoint fails ultimately to have a moral ground, but we’ll see. In any case, he assures us “there is no need to grieve over this” (41); “for it is not genes that determine the nature of an age” (41).[9] Nonetheless, it seems an irony of his book that he volubly invokes the unpredictable dangers of deliberately mutating our genetic code as part of his larger exposition that we can make “predictable” interventions into chaotic dynamics.[10]

László then surveys four views of time or history: the circular, the helical, the linear, and the nonlinear, remarking at the end of the third section, “There does not seem to be much sense in viewing the path to the future as a linear process” (48). In the last section of the chapter—after a startlingly brief exposition on nonlinear evolution and history—he addresses to some extent various cognitive advantage to each point of view, an specifically says, “Unless we are comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny, we will be pleased that [the nonlinear] scenario harbors more freedom for human action than a deterministic unfolding of history” (51).

This appeal, which echoes Pascal’s wager, seems very strange, since he suggests that a nonlinear view of evolution and history (suddenly) does not have as much determinism in it as a linear or circular conception of time (evolution and history). In terms of appealing cognitive ideas, he continues:

Unless we are adventuresome to the point of foolhardiness, we shall be content that the scenario is more determinant than the fully random sequence of historical events of the positivists. And unless we are afraid of novelty, we will find this scenario more interesting than a mere cyclic recurrence of past phenomena (51).

I appreciate this attempt to identify various merits of a given myth or narrative we might tell ourselves about time (i.e., evolutionary biology and historical socialization) but not the non-plural approach to it that wants to make the nonlinear narrative the most desirable one. In the next chapter, he similarly asserts, “In the final analysis, chaos in society spells human freedom—freedom to change the structures and institutions in which people live their lives” (53).[11]

What follows consists of a very focused-in examination of this passage in László’s book. It may seem overly focused, in fact, but it involves (literally) how we view the progression of time, understood as evolution (biology) and history (sociology). Due to the consequences involved in how we conceive of time, it doesn’t seem gratuitous to spend the effort to grapple with it, especially since we live in an Occidental culture where we simultaneously insist that history (an evolution) occur randomly while yet having some forever (linearly) increasing or decreasing direction. Lázló’s exposition, in fact, ably exhibits this basic contradiction or confusion.

One may infer László does not favorably describe those “comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny” (the linear view), those “adventuresome to the point of foolhardiness” (the stochastic view), and those “afraid of novelty” (the closed-circular view) of time, preferring (of course) the human freedom suggested by chaos (the nonlinear view). A bit of a wrinkle occurs here, however, in that Lázló’s parallelism breaks down.

He has provided four views of time, whether in evolutionary or historical terms—the circular (closed, eternally repeating favored by those), helical (cyclically repeating but progressive), linear (non-repeating increases or decreases), and nonlinear (chaotic but fruitful), but slips the random view (of the positivists) into his rhetoric here and leaves out whatever objection one might make to the helical view.

One might assign these fears of novelty, foolhardy adventuresomeness, and comfort in predestination in different ways to the views of time, as history and evolution, that László offers.[12] To offer just one assignment, and following a path of least resistance, the “fear of novelty” aligns itself most readily with the closed/circular notion of time—the one that Lázló admits held the Chinese dynasties together and in good stead for thousands of years, and of course countless thousands of other cultures as well. With the notion of  preference for predestination, a preordained destiny, we get on slipperier ground, because the conceit of the linear view of time, whether advancing or declining, involves its predictability, but this doesn’t quite seem the target of Lazló’s objection. The helical view—namely, that history recurs but manifests in different forms each time, rather in the same way that each human body more or less reprises from birth to death the same pattern of biology but with individualized variations—contains novelty and does not necessarily threaten preordination. And of these four views of time, none explicitly claim randomness.

In point of fact, the helical and linear view do not unresemble one another that much; if one straightened out the curve of the recurrent helical form, it would readily turn into the sort of line that the present dominant discourse in Occidental culture construes in forever progressive (or regressive) ways as “linear”. The primary difference of opinion involves to what extent one gets to call or describe a new event now in terms of past events. Whether a father’s son reaches puberty, does the boy reprise his father’s own puberty or does this event constitute something fundamentally or essentially new. The linear view wants to take no cognizance of past events as determining anything; nothing “shapes” the course of history’s unspooling, and against this notion of shaping, i.e., as an implied critique against those who have a taste for predestination, then each next historical instance appears essentially in a vacuum, and thus (in that way) randomly. Thus, any event that appears (in biology and history) does not, cannot, refer back to any previous event. Obviously, such a position represents an ideology, since nothing compels we must take account of the past or not. And the linear view does not adamantly and dogmatically insist that history plays no part—it simply matters that the past, whatever its influences, does not determine the present, that we must look at events now as independently appearing things, more than inevitable consequences of other events (equally independent) in the past.

Having said all of this, this teases out how the phrase “unless we are comforted by the notion of a preordained destiny” critiques the recurrent helical view, while the phrase “unless we are adventuresome to the point of foolhardiness” critiques the linear view, referring to it in positivist and stochastic terms.

If this alignment of László’s objections to circular, helical, and linear notions of time, as biology and history, holds water, then of course his advocacy of a nonlinear view follows as an alternative to those. But in particular, his critique of the helical view—particularly that it rests on a “taste for predestination”—marks a dubious moment. Mathematically, chaos itself arises in near-recurrence, exactly as the helical view of time would assert. Moreover, these recurrences—both in the helical an nonlinear scheme—remain (by assumption) fully determined, and both due to the influence of attractors. In the nonlinear view, these attractors comprise a visible and preeminent part of chaos theory. In the helical view, which you might visualize as an ever out-sweeping arm of a spiral, the “attractor” occurs elementarily as the center around which the spiral turns.

So, the primary difference—at least as László’s appears to want to make it here—does not involve a contrast between the repeating circular dynamic of the helical model—imagine how the hands on a clock continuously move in the same pattern exactly, even as the spiral itself traced out by those hands gets bigger and bigger—compared to some repeating non-circular dynamic in the nonlinear model—because ultimately the “shape” of the repeating dynamic makes no difference in kind. Rather, the difference lies in the never-changing quality of the helical dynamic—over and over, the sweep of its hands pass forever through the same four quadrants of the circle in the same order always—as compared to the nonlinear model, which (by theory) has an in-built acknowledgment that the dynamic (non-circular, non-repeating or not) may change. If currently, every human being goes from birth to youth to maturity to old age, traversing time and again past the moment known as their birthday (as the earth circles round the Sun), each time subtly different yet the same, then the nonlinear conception (if surreally) allows us to imagine that we might go from birth to maturity to old age to youth or, even more radically, through different current states we do not even have names for yet: perhaps an (1) age of insociation, where we invent language all on our own, then an age of (2) pansociation where our psyches acknowledgment no object distinctions but rather a unity of them, and so forth.[13]

This does, in fact, represent an authentic alternative to the closed, helical, and linear/stochastic views of time, as history and evolution, but when László pitches it in terms of freedom—“in the final analysis, chaos in society spells human freedom—freedom to change the structures and institutions in which people live their lives” (53)—then we must exercise great caution. In the first place, our freedom to change the structures and institutions in which we live requires human action, not chaos. This notion that we can change our structures has its great home in historical materialism, as Eagleton (1989)6 makes clear, and it stands in marked contrast to any notion of unchangeable human nature (whether religious or psychological). László, in fact, argues that we should not try to change human nature at a biological level, we should not tinker with our genetics. As for other ways of changing human nature—through religion, or through Marx’s desire to make a new person—Lázló objects to these under his critique of “positivist” or “stochastic” view of time.[14]

But, as I have shown, the technocratic optimism in Occidental culture remains just as certain (if contradictorily) about the randomness of evolution and history. Capitalism too promises to change structures and institutions—or at least claims the capacity to. So that if László implicitly rejects Marxist linearity, he must also reject Capitalist linearity as well. He won’t say so outright, since his dominant audience consists of capitalists.[15]

So whatever “freedom to change the structures and institutions in which people live their lives” we already possess—or find ourselves prevented from accessing due to the consolidation of capital and Power—that makes for a non sequitur as far as the shape of evolution or history; more precisely, the prevailing discourse describes evolution an history in a linear/stochastic way to maintain the status quo. László proposes an alternative, particularly in the observation that sufficient system stress will lead to bifurcations, whatever the marxocapitalist technocrats otherwise believe. We may take heart from this fact. Human history and evolution were not always like this; chaos jumped us into this attractor, and if we now stand in a truly different era, we see this in the notion that we may (for the first time) actually stand capable of intervening into whatever next evolutionary/historical bifurcation we find ourselves facing down. We should not act so naïve, however, as to imagine that our world’s marxocapitalist technocrats, who now together wish to globalize the world, will not delight in taking up this new “nonlinear” trick and turning it against us. Perhaps Lazló’s secret consolation over this possibility arises from the fact that any technocrat so naïve will get his for such hubris when it all blows up in his hands.

If the Bomb once represented the (unfortunately) literal symbol of world-destruction and the mutagenic potentials of radiation at the physical (biological) level, then chaos theory in the hands of technocrats may prove the (non-literal) symbol that promises world transformation through the radioactive potentials of (social) mutation.

László constructively asserts the inadequacy of Communism or Capitalism—and by extension implies the only marginally corrected variety of socialism that tries to mitigate the worst of both worlds[16]—and insofar as this all seems rather breezy, if apt, I want instead to reject the sentence “individual freedom and autonomy, the same as social and economic justice and equity, are perennial values of human life” (56).

Since László does not define what he means by freedom, autonomy, social justice, economic justice, or equity, this appeal to the obvious becomes treacherous. But especially the desire for freedom and autonomy as universal; this certainly denotes an anachronism, and clearly enough that Occidental discourse has long enjoyed denigrating First Peoples of the world (and their cultures) as having no desire for freedom or autonomy. I have visited Việt Nam; a great deal of conformity of dress occurs, but I heard no one there expressing the emptiness of their life because they lacked a freedom to wear something other than chambray shirts and khaki pants. In the US, H. G. Wells’s thoughts on the distinction between freedom and liberty might go over most people’s heads. In Turk’s (2013) play Behind the Badge: A Theatrical Examination of Police and Prison in America, the narrator asserts that with all of the manifold forms of surveillance and restrictions on behavior we now experience—to say nothing of the 2.3 million people, mostly of color, overwhelmingly poor—that we live in the least free country in the world; no wonder we howl about freedom so much as a necessity. Perhaps this explains why Việt Nam ranks #2 in the world on the Happy Planet Index 2012 and the United States #105.

I suggest instead that “perennial human value” consist in the values of cooperation, fairness, empathy (or compassion), and recognition (which includes the social allowance to become outstanding). On this view, freedom becomes freedom for what and autonomy becomes autonomy to what end and for whom? If we honored these four values—as for example in the principles of the Egyptian goddess Ma’at, who describes how the spirit of justice should occur socially—then social justice (economic justice represents an unnecessary redundancy to stress) begins to occur ‘automatically”. Socioeconomic injustice arises as a function of betraying some principle of fairness, cooperation, empathy, or recognition. I would keep this in mind as we proceed because László specifically says, as distinct from the now obsolete “classical strategies of liberalism and communism” (57), that the “new strategy [must be] to optimize individual freedom and autonomy at the same time as ensuring social justice and equity” (57).

To begin with, as opposed to organizing “a dynamic, technologically advanced, integrated and diversified multilevel society” (57) hierarchically, i.e., “commanded from the top and forcing its many parts and elements into a pre-designed unity” (57), we might opt instead for a “holarchy, where the diverse parts and elements participate in setting goals and objectives and cooperate in carrying them out” (57, italics in original). He notes that we possess the various wherewithals to create a “society based on voluntary cooperation born of understanding and solidarity” (58); I would point in this claim to some of his terminology and my emphasis on cooperation, empathy (understanding), and fairness.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] László, E. (1991). The age of bifurcation: understanding the changing world. (World Futures General Evolution Studies Vol. 3). Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach, pp. i–xvii, 1–126.

[3] I can imagine that László would respond, “I do not claim that we can make predictable interventions, but that we might intervene to soften the effects of disastrous changes.” This sounds reasonable, but if one deals with unpredictability, then any sort of intervention must fall in the unpredictable zone regardless. On the other hand, we live in chaotic and non-chaotic times, and we must do something, so whether the results seem predictable or not, we will act; as human beings, we must. And precisely due to chaos, sometimes our sensible intervention have wholly disastrous outcomes. So the most salient objection to László’s exposition arises in how he advances his argument; he resorts to the term predictability, even though it makes his point incoherent, because he lobbies for the implementation of chaos and bifurcation theory on the social scale. He misrepresents the actual stet of human affairs (where chaos recurs) in order to appeal to a linearly technocratic (Occidental) discourse. And the final outcome of that would seem more like co-optation and distortion (of the chaos theory approach),c rammed into a Procrustean linearity, in order to (all over again) maintain the status quo. László will wind up with a comfy sinecure as “Chaositician Prime”, and the rest of the world will continue in its handbasket on the way to oblivion.

[4] To whatever degree of precision we can stand.

[5] Todorov, T (1973). The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre (trans. Richard Howard). Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University Press.

[6] Eagleton, T. (1989). Bakhtin, Schopenhauer, Kundera. In K Hirschkop and DG Shepherd, DG (eds.). Bakhtin and cultural theory, pp. 178–88. New York: Manchester University Press.

[7] Lem, S. (1980). Return from the stars. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[8] Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback)

[9] I frankly think he gives too much credit to sociobiology to sufficiently ground his breezy dismissal of it here. His technocratic objections simply demand technocratic rebuttals, and the heirs of Laughlin’s eugenics do not hesitate to enthusiastically masturbate to fantasies of such technocratic solutions. All of this amounts on my part to a questioning of László’s strategy in writing his book.

[10] Once again, the direness of his argument returns in subjunctive form: “If accidental mutations occurred in large numbers, the gene pool would soon be severely contaminated” (42).

[11] As an aside, I get very sketchy when someone brings up the notion of ‘freedom” in a US (or an Occidental) context; let us remember that inhuman atrocity called neoliberalism that lead to anti-democratic coups, the murder and disappearance of people, the betrayal of human social progress in South Africa and Poland, the despoliation of modern Russia, to say nothing of the degradation and atomization of society in the United States and England especially beginning from the advent of Reagan an thatcher that took its cues from Friedman’s (1962)*—may his name never come from people’s lips except as an epithet—Capitalism and Freedom.

*Friedman, M., & Friedman, R. D. (2002). Capitalism and freedom. 40th anniversary ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[12] And it might prove interesting as well to hazard in what way and how he came to make such assignments himself, if one could determine that. He accuses the positivists of viewing evolution and history as random, but most who view biology and economics in “scientific” terms do so as empiricists (more or less positivists) an thus less as proponents of a stochastic “model” of time, but (in fact) a linear one. In other words, László seems to have passed on raising the dominant view of time currently in vogue: the progressively linear one. World War I did a great deal of damage to this view, and the rest of the twentieth century added fuel to the fire, but this seems more to make people less sanguine about what “progress” means without destroying the notion that we still, in some sense still more or less progress.. So the adventuresome foolhardiness of the positivists points, I suggest, to the technocratic optimists and pessimists, who see their interventions (into biology or society) in linear, one-to-one terms. But, since László’s target audience consists of Occidental rulers, it seems unlikely he would bluntly accuse them of stupidity.  Thus, he counterpoises notions of freedom—a major neoliberal buzzword—against regressive preference for predestination and scants the “fear of novelty” as undesirable as well. But all of this, ostensibly not to support further neoliberalism but to offer a (nonlinear) articulation (of it, or something else). This simply points to László’s already neoliberalized soul or to his (fawning) attempt to ingratiate his notion to the dominant discourse.

[13] Whatever in the world “and so forth” might mean in such a sentence.

[14] I have resisted the temptation to bring up Eliade’s (1965)* Myth of the eternal return in the main body of this post, not for its want of relevance but to stay focused on László’s main points. László himself acknowledges the value of the closed/circular conception of time, as supporting China for thousands of years, and Eliade too here notes the intense relevance, even up to the day of modern Europe while he wrote his book, for the “archaic” mentality. Even to call this conception of time “closed” represents already an Occidental misprision; one should speak, rather, of the helical notion (as described above), which Eliade’s description supports. Accusing people of a closed conception of time represents little more than racist ethnocentrism, as Occidental culture congratulates itself with its doctrine of liner time an history. A main advantage, as Eliade sees it, of the “archaic mentality” involves its abolition of the terror of history, something that (our) linear conception of history cannot offer save by promises of future technocratic solutions or, as we see more and more (especially in the news), simple amnesia. If the archaic mentality represents a deliberate abolishment of history, the linear conception, as it plays out these days, activates an unconscious abolishment. And the problem less becomes that those who forget history get doomed to repeat it, as that ignorance of events in general makes people more readily manipulated by events “of the moment”. The destruction and atomization of the relationships of the fabric of the social world have extended into the temporal fabric of things as well; we have a billion threads on Facebook, for example, that go nowhere in time and offer an illusion of connection, in place of the (longing for) connection we now experience due to the destruction of—our detachment from—the past. As capitalism promised the individual, “You can live as if you owe no one anything,” so that now extends to ourselves as well, by severing any debt to ourselves to our pasts. The giddy liberation of this comes merely with an annihilation of all significance in our lives; we approach the condition of the animal (as we imagine it), which does nothing but react mechanically and instinctively to what gives it pleasure or pain in the moment. If we could never pause to reflect on this, it might work over the course of a lifetime, but even the dullest amongst us who has a standard issue ration of self-reflection can’t keep this moment forever at by. They can only hope that the vertiginous terror or annihilation it exposes turns out as just one more detached moment in a wholly detached life. The so-called archaic mentality Eliade speaks on behalf of offers an alternative to this degrading and politically eviscerating state of affairs.

* Eliade, M. (1965). The myth of the eternal return: or, Cosmos and history. [Rev.] Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.

[15] And in this, again, we find the main danger in László’s exposition; whether or not his nonlinearity will not become simply the next (linearly plied) technocratic “trick” of neoliberal disaster capitalism. &c.

[16] I have sympathy for the view that argues communism has yet to appear on the human scene, that what we have seen so far (in Soviet Russia, China, &c) represented socialism, not communism, so that if I place capitalism and communism as bookends in my argument, this view says I err; that I should say, rather, capitalism and socialism, and perhaps refer to sociocapitalist technocrats, rather than marxocapitlist technocrats.

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This fifth post continues the exposition of chaos theory and relates phase transitions and order parameters to my notion meaningful change or transformation.

Phase Transitions, Order Parameters, & the Us

Some more physics. From the notion of a phase transition (such as when water turns to ice or ice to water), “when symmetry is broken, one needs to introduce one or more extra variables to describe the state of the system” (¶2); this variable may be an order parameter, which “is normally a quantity which is zero in one phase (usually above the critical point), and non-zero in the other” (¶1). I don’t claim to understand all of this exactly; what I do understand involves that when a phase transition takes place following a symmetry breaking then in order to continue to model the system, we need a new placeholder (here called an order parameter).

I propose that the counselor’s intervention represents this new variable or order parameter—expressed in human life (literally) as a new value, without itself supplying new attractor itself “around” which one’s life comes to be organized rather than whatever previous attractor prevailed. It may become the “center” of a new attractor; it becomes the order parameter by which we continue to model (to understand) the dynamic system of our lives, but the tracing out of the (strange) attractor itself has yet to occur. My father’s civilian advisor suggested he should go to medical school; my father went o dental school instead.

So a very subtle but important distinction holds here. I could put it this way: what the counselor suggests and what the student hears do not equal one another. Of course, this prevails always in everything we say, but the difference matter here (1) so that the counselor doesn’t become full of himself about the effectiveness of his suggestions, but also (2) so that we understand (if vaguely) how the counselor’s suggestion, the intervention in general, “germinates” in the fruitful generativity of a person’s chaos. We might speak in terms of metaphors like “plant a seed” rather than “give advice”. In cybernetic terms, we might speak of “triggering a response” rather than “providing an input”. We might speak of “showing a possibility” rather than “describing a course of action”.

In my father’s case, the starling moment—the showing of a possibility—came when his supervisor expressed that he “should” go to medical school. My father expressed a number of objections to this idea, but his supervisor assured him he had the ability, the intelligence, and the like. Again, he made a possibility visible that had remained not just invisible but not even possible to my father, and then answered his objections with evidence that further supported that possibility.

Of course, on the one hand, this smacks of platitude. If people will change when ready, then of course no one can force them, and so of course the only sensible course of action must involve showing possibilities, suggesting alternatives, rather than declaring, “you need to do this” or “you should do that.” However, besides that advice-givers may gradually grow impatient with “showing possibilities” that never result in any change—when it begins to seem like “coddling” people by “showing opportunities” becomes enabling and destructive rather than (hopefully someday!) helpful—then we might further and deeply peer at how this “showing possibility” business works.

Because, just as most heavy-handed advice gets absorbed (via negative feedback) as inessential an negligible, most “showing possibility” will similar get dismissed. And this shows, at least a little, how both possibilities—heavy-handed or gentle-handed—involve a vanity or egotism on the part of the advisor and a non-attention or inattention to the “needs” of the one we would advise. This does not mean we must necessarily ask what the other wants, because they may literally not he the capacity to see it at that moment. It may not hut to ask (“well, what do you really want?”) but in situations made complicated by psychic complexes, as Jung describes them, we (an outsider to the circumstance) may have a privileged view of the matter that the one suffering cannot access.

Thus, rather than attempting to make an intervention, by inserting something into the psyche of another, we might also change the dynamics of the situation. We have all been in the room where a discussion should occur, crosstalk and sidetalk start to build up around the room, and somebody finally lets out a high, loud bellow—and all the crosstalk stops. As an “intervention,” this represents more an intrusion into the dynamics of the (ongoing) conversations rather than a specific, “Hey, shut up” type of intervention.

Regardless, in the case of my father’s supervisor saying “you should go to medical school,” we might debate till the end of time whether that amounts to “the insertion of a notion” or a “change in the dynamics of my father’s thinking” or both or neither. It seems enough simply to keep in mind that such a type of intervention—a change of dynamics—remains available to us. If we imagine a water tank filling up with water and threatening to burst, does opening a valve on the side to let some water out constitute an “inserted idea” or a “change of dynamics”? From a pragmatic standpoint, the distinction might not matter. Again, it seems enough to know we have at least two different kinds of intervention.

This matters also because it means we cannot feel certain about what “our” intervention will do. Discussing a preoccupying problem with a friend very prone to preoccupation, none of my specific analysis of his predicament proved of any use on his situation but our discussion made clear to him a solution to his problem nonetheless. Or countless times when writing a story, if I get stuck I solicit others for help, and very often end up simply talking out loud about the problem of the story and solve it without any specific input from the other person.

We can’t know in advance what will grow in the chaos of the person whose symmetry has broken. What we think might ideally solve the situation goes nowhere—as we have experienced no doubt any number of times with others, plainly stating the most obvious solutions to problems, that nevertheless the other person has no interest in following. At other times, some seemingly random remark sparks a sudden breakthrough, and we have no idea why—except to recognize that what we ‘mean” by our input and what gets “meant” by the chaos of the other will rarely, if ever, agree. It means—without becoming completely cavalier about the ethical issues involved—we might worry less about “fucking someone up” with “our” interventions but it means also we may drop some of the vanity in thinking we have the smarts to divine “really” what someone else needs.

So if I speak above of an order parameter as a new placeholder that allows a person to continue to describe their dynamic living system—their life—then I would want to emphasize that we may better trigger the space for that placeholder but that the individual will provide the specific order parameter herself. My father’s supervisor proposed “go to medical school” but from my father’s description the faith that this man expressed in his ability may have played the most substantial part—less that my father “should’ go to medical school but that anyone thought he “could” for instance.

Cybernetics sometimes speaks, in living systems, of key variables that a system must maintain within certain ranges in order to permit the ongoing operation (life) of the system. I want to resist the notion of speaking of any “center” to (strange) attractors, both on principle and because one may clearly see that any notion of ‘center” in the strange attractors above has an only abstract value, and not a very explanatory one at that. Part of the power of the notion of an attractor resides precisely in this eccentric understanding; it focuses, principally, on the description of the dynamics. In a similar way, the key variables of living systems do not form centers, but elucidate values that govern the dynamics of the living system.

Similarly, I would use this notion of key variable as something like an order parameter, as a value in daily life that we hold as human beings. These values—I mean “values” in their moral sense—do not form “centers” but they do point to factors that govern the dynamics of our daily life, i.e., how we act. Colloquially, we speak of these values “at our center” by which we emphasize their essential necessity, but the “self” in which these values reside still differs from the values themselves, just as the organism governed by its key variables differs from those key variables also.[4] Whether the suggestion comes from ourselves or from someone else, this suggests how it can trigger a new key variable (rather than only an expansion of an old one perhaps), which subsequently changes the dynamics in how we go about our life.

This may seem unduly murky or overcomplicated. In the case of my father, in my reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict, in how I quit smoking, and in my recent visionary transformation, these inputs were not solicited, and what they meant in each case, what they triggered, few could have seen, if at all. I say this to emphasize to the counselors and advice-givers in the world (1) that a state of chaos seems a necessary prerequisite but also (2) that the quality of an intervention might differ considerably from the sort of “let me give you a piece of my mind” type. In circumstances where chaos does not prevail, advice may enable, rather than help, for instance.

This doesn’t propose, “give up, don’t help,” but changes the dynamics of what helping might look like. It almost certainly proves the case that the person you would help cannot see even the problem; only an outsider can, so we must help. It means giving up the vanity of not acting in order to avoid giving bad advice. &c. In the state of chaos, we need a new order parameter, new key variable, a new governor on the dynamics of our behavior in life—but we have to grab onto that golden ring ourselves, though only others may make it visible to us.

As a final note on this, how they make it visible need not always occur directly (i.e., through advice). In my recent breakthrough, I didn’t know I’d entered a state of chaos, though at one point I explicitly asked a roomful of people to help me. The specific breakthrough itself occurred during a guided meditation, one that annoyed me in the content guided even, but I experienced the prompt to my vision explicitly from the sound of the leader’s voice (not his words). I’d filled my whole weekend, no doubt, with hundreds of sentences from other people, all of which did or did not in various ways add to the bubbling cauldron, which finally boiled over during the guided meditation.

So, whatever insight this provides advice-givers, for those who seek transformation, a major factor here (even as I didn’t realize exactly I’d entered a state of chaos) involved my deliberate “seeking of inputs”. I could say I let myself get open to experience, but that only partly gets at it, if at all. In the various “spirituality panels” I participated in, I often spoke up on behalf of ideas contrary to those presented. I think maybe the most explicit “thing” I did: I continuously insisted that the room I sat in with other people provided an “us” a “we”. I adamantly asserted our connectedness and our obligations to one another—thus I wound up, to my surprise some, speaking up in defense of religion, meaning religion as simply the shared values of a community—the community of people I sat in the room with. And because I asserted my identity in terms of that “us” this effectively made (I will say in retrospect) everything anyone said actually a form of “advice”; it made their statements into potential triggers, rather than “personal statements”—and that those triggers were another accumulated mass that eventually contributed to the breakthrough.

To assert myself as dwelling in an “u” in those rooms does not mean the same thing as being “open to experience”. Of course, if “we” constitute an “us” then who I enact in the room becomes subject, to some extent, to the will and desires of others in the room. If I remain “open” to that, this does not mean I would simply “accept” all experience. Even in the context of an “us” we may still draw boundaries; we still have (social) behaviors we shall not an should not do to one another. And it never hurt to get explicit about what those consist of. When I hear the phrase “be open to experience” I hear, in part, an assertion of a desire to act without limits and that I should not object to any of it. By contrast, to “dwell” in the “us” of a room demands of no one simply “to take it”.

And I say all of this, describing the attitude I took toward the “us” the rooms I occupied, as perhaps a most salient feature for how my transformation came about when and where it did. Perhaps even the fact that I turned to that, that I started asking for help from strangers, denotes a sign of the (fruitful) state of chaos; certainly the person who shows up at an AA meeting has come to some kind of a point that recognizes an agonized “help” into the “us” of a room of strangers may offer something that whatever else we have tried has not delivered.

I say this because, even if we find ourselves alone, even when we don’t recognize we have entered a state of chaos, we can take on this sense of “us”. In the psychotherapeutic setting—I poach slightly into the next major portion of this paper—the analyst often has to find her way around the complex resistances of the analysand, even though the analysand has come to the therapist for help. Jungian analysis, at least, frequently and on principle invokes an us—a collaboration between analyst and analysand that (I will say) continues to trigger responses in the analysand, even in the face of resistance. I didn’t agree with everything in the spirituality panels; I deliberately argued counter-ideas to shoot down what I saw as hopeless egotism, but the whole while I remained in a state of “us”ness. By which I mean, that thing that gets created in the presence of two or more people that only those two or more people can create, by coming together.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. AS just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Yes, technically, per second order cybernetics, key variables describe an element of the living system from the observer’s standpoint. A breakdown of metaphor occurs here to the extent that non-sapient living systems do not observe themselves as systems, while we (as observing systems) can only view the system of our biology through our observational lens. In practice, this means that we readily (perhaps even necessarily) reify our observed self-values as ontologically real.