Seb Henagulph


Eastern Theories of Self, Mind and Nature
Spring 2000

Science is all metaphor.
Timothy Leary

Complex problem solving environments involving many dynamic interrelationships appear to be far more demanding on communications. For example, simple word structures (noun, verb, object) are too narrow band for efficiently transferring the subtleties of complexity, without resorting to the use of metaphors. If an image is worth a thousand words, the dynamics implicit in a metaphor may equate to a thousand frames of imagery. This represents information compression of the order of one million to one. Thus, a five minute discourse containing ten metaphors could take months to deliver in simple word structures.
Ted Lumley


We have been interfering with a complex system of relationships which we do not understand, and the more we study its details, the more it eludes us by revealing still more details to study. As we try to comprehend and control the world it runs away from us.

Alan Watts1

The above insight, stated by Alan Watts in 1957, is even more relevant today than it was in his time. Under the pressures of rapid globalisation currently underway on our planet, the many interrelated geo-ecosystems that make up Lovelock's Gaia are in a distressing state indeed. A 1998 survey of over 400 biologists found that the majority agree we are currently part of/taking part in a planet-wide mass extinction event.2 Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity, speaking of this extinction event said, "The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we've seen in the past -- including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions." A meteor collision is thought most likely to have caused the last mass extinction, that of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. Almost 70% of the biologists surveyed believed that a "mass extinction" is underway, and an equal number predicted that up to one-fifth of all living species could disappear within 30 years. Nearly all attributed the losses to human activity, especially the destruction of plant and animal habitats.

Even more depressing is a fact revealed by Kirchner and Weil's just-published study on extinctions.3 They found, after studying the many extinction events that have occurred in Earth's history (both large and small), that it takes approximately ten million years for the diversity of animals and plants to recover. A sobering remark is made by one of the authors, who said "If we deplete Earth's biological diversity, we will leave a biologically impoverished planet, not only for our children and our children's children, but for all the children of our species that there will ever be." [ital. added] Later in the article they point out that this recovery time is the same, whether the extinction is large or small. "The model in which an ecosystem takes longer to recover from a larger extinction is, therefore, based on a false assumption each species is somehow isolated from every other, and recovery is a simple matter of filling the vacant ecological niches. The wider the destruction, the more vacant niches there will be, and the longer filling them will take. But if species are interdependent, species themselves are niches, so the destruction of one species removes opportunities for many others. To destroy many species simultaneously therefore makes it very hard for new, pioneer species to get started." [ital. added]

It is just this point that seems to be defective in current systems sciences. In our modelling of reality, we have been modelling only one small part of the Reality. Our focus has been on kinetic-material behaviour, out of the context of the englobing potential-field behaviour or 'niche personality'.4 It is the 'niche personality', through 'opportunity gating' that enables specific kinetics to occur. Therefore our systems inquiry should be enlarging it's perspective to include 'opportunity management'. But this cannot just be 'added on' to our current rational, kinetic-material based approachPtolemaic view of the solar system to the Copernican view. This change was not really a revolution i.e. a change from one system to another, it was more of a widening of our view. As this change of view took over one hundred years to enter the popular conscious, it is not too surprising that we have not yet fully incorporated the even larger shift in view demanded by Einstein's relativity. We need to heed Einstein's call for a field-based physics, which puts matter and kinetics into subsidiary positions: "up."5

The Rational Mind and the Relational Mind

There is much to suggest that when human beings acquired the powers of conscious attention and rational thought they became so fascinated with these new tools that they forgot all else, like chickens hypnotized with their beaks to a chalk line.

Our difficulty is not that we have developed conscious attention but that we have lost the wider style of feeling which should be its background, the feeling which would lets us know what nature is from the inside.

Alan Watts1

In the first chapter of 'Web of Life' Fritjof Capra discusses the new thinking and values emerging from the 'deep ecological paradigm'6. He identifies the two tendencies of all living systems, (which can be extended to the Universe as a whole), as the 'self-assertive' and 'integrative'. He lists several attributes of each, such as those related to thinking - rational, analytic and linear for self-assertive; intuitive, synthetic and nonlinear for integrative. Those related to values Lumley's main points, that there is a natural dipolarity, with yin or integrative or potential energy being the 'mother' of yang or self-assertive or kinetic energy. As he points out, we in the West have this dipolarity backwards and concentrate on the self-assertive with the integrative (if it happens at all) coming a poor second. It is this inversion that has produced the majority of dysfunction currently threatening the planet. The main point is that if we reverse this dipolarity and place integration or yin 'above' self-assertion or yang, the result is what might be called a 'high-performance team'. It is just this type of emergence that he has documented in many businesses and other groups that perform above average.

A good example of the relation between these differing views can be seen in the game of pool.5 The rational approach is equivalent to the amateur pool player or 'shot-meister' who concentrates merely on each individual shot; the physicist pool player can line up the cue ball exactly and tell you precisely what the balls will do: "8 ball off the side into the corner pocket" but tends to neglect the overall shape of the ball configuration (i.e ignores 'opportunity management') and usually ends up self-snookered. This leads to extremely difficult shots being attempted. The Taoist pool player or 'shape-meister', on the other hand, also lines up the ball exactly and knows where the balls will go, but realizes that the overall shape of the configuration is in the primacy; that is, the 'shape-meister' is focussed on 'opportunity management' first, and lets the shots unfold from this background. As a result, the easiest or most obvious shot is not always taken, but through 'massaging' the configuration, all the shots become easy. While the 'shot-meister' is a crowd pleaser, the 'shape-meister' will always win in the end. Modern science, like the 'shot-meister', in relying on the purely rational approach, is infusing dysfunction into nature at an ever greater rate, requiring more and more difficult 'shots' to get out of self-induced 'snookers'.

Professor Herbert Guenther, an authority on Buddhism, recently made a similar observation.7 He said that we need to reverse our current concepts of systems that puts process over structure, and should instead have process as the denominator (in the primacy) and structure as the numerator. He points out that this is due to our use of a reductive, binary logic based on omission of the observer, whereas living systems depend on a triadic system which contains an 'inbetween'. This is basically a call for a return of the 'logic of the included middle', as is implicit in the Taoist conception of yin-yang .8

Simultaneous Mutual Arising

And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead, awake and asleep, young and old; the former are shifted and become the latter, and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former.


The Tao is a concept which proves quite difficult for most Westerners to understand. It is said to be un-nameable, beyond all dualities and the 'mother of all.' It represents the cosmic order or harmony of nature and is referred to as 'the Way' or as a path or process. It is embodied in the "serenely cyclic" properties of yin and yang, which do not represent a dualism but rather "an explicit duality expressing an implicit unity."10

Holmes Rolston, III, in discussing interpretations of the Tao that could be useful for the West's current ecological crisis11, finds problems with importing either the 'parascientific Tao' (i.e. at the level of physics or biology) or the 'transphenomenal Tao' (or metaphysical Tao). He then suggests the Tao may be taken as a prescription for human conduct at the middle-range or ecological level. That is, by maintaining a harmonious balance between ourselves and nature. "But it is difficult," he cautions, "to make this advice of Taoism operational in the West, though it functioned well enough in the climate in which it originated. It may be right to say repeatedly "More yin; more yin" in making environmental decisions, but this is a little like saying "More love; more love" in making social decisions. The advice is sound enough, but unless one has a more sophisticated model to explain what adding yin or love means in the making of nitty-gritty decisions, and unless one can work the new attitude into either policy regulations or the moral calculus, nothing comes of it."

One of the problems with his interpretation is on the fundamental principle of the relationship between yin and yang. He terms yin and yang as 'binary opposites' and imagines them to be similar to Newton's law about the conservation of mass and energy or Darwin's law about the survival of the better adapted. But as Alan Watts points out: "At the very roots of Chinese thinking and feeling there lies the principle of polarity, which is not to be confused with ideas of opposition or conflict. In the metaphors of other cultures, light is at war with darkness, life with death, good with evil, and the positive with the negative, and thus an idealism to cultivate the former and be rid of the latter flourishes throughout much of the world."10 This is a manifestation of postconquest consciousness as discussed below. Perhaps Kepler's laws would be a more appropriate comparison: they do not depend upon 'being' or the kinetic-euclidean properties of things, but only upon 'becoming' or the harmonies engendered by their inter-relationship; a 'space-over-matter' view. Lumley makes this point in relation to our dysfunctional approach to systems inquiry:

Kepler puts the harmonic 'becoming' induced by the containing space in primacy over the fixed absolute 'being' of euclidian structure. His three laws are all laws of relative geometry without mention of material explicits (i.e. elliptical orbits, equal areas swept in equal time, common ratio for all planets of the square of the orbital period to the cube of the orbital radius) This relativistic 'space-over-matter' view of natural systems, denied by the science of Newton and denied or ignored up to this day by mainstream science, provides the basic definition for 'complex systems' (i.e. a system in which the overall behaviour of the system manifests a 'deeper unity' than can be deduced from the behaviours of the components.)12

Rather than a scientific, ecological or metaphysical interpretation, the Tao and it's principle of simultaneous mutually arising opposites should be interpreted in terms of a pragmatic metaphysics. It is the creation of concepts which can be used across many different fields of human inquiry, because the dynamics, at a deep level, are the same or at least very similar; something like a transmetaphor that provides an extention of the traditional concepts into a stable, dynamic, pragmatic metaphysics. This, in essence, is what the field of Trans-disciplinarity is currently aiming to achieve.8

The Western origin of the sequential arising view (based on excluded middle logic) being seen as superior to 'harmonious' simultaneous arising (based on included middle logic) is noted by Kirk, Raven and Schofield in The Presocratic Philosophers.12 Aristotle, on reading Plato's accounts of Heraclitus and Empedocles, erroneously equated Empedocles sequential 'periods of love and strife' with Heraclitus simultaneous 'unity and plurality of the cosmos', and decided on a 'sequential unity and plurality' model of the cosmos without serious consideration of the 'simultaneous unity and plurality'. In a sense, both can be seen to be correct, but it is the relation between them that is of utmost importance. The sequential approach is a subset or abstraction of the simultaneous approach; they are not the same, and definitely not the inverse; that is, sequential over simultaneous. This is analagous to the shots-over-shape (or matter-over-field) and shape-over-shots (or field-over-matter) approach to the game of pool (or physics).

This simultaneous mutual arising is the central principle behind the concept of yin-yang, as Alan Watts points out:10

The key to the relationship between yang and yin is called hsiang sheng, mutual arising or inseparability. As Lao-tzu puts it:

When everyone knows beauty as beautiful, there is already ugliness;
When everyone knows good as goodness, there is already evil;
"To be" and "not to be" arise mutually;
Difficult and easy are mutually realized;
Long and short are mutually contrasted;
High and low are mutually posited;
Before and after are in mutual sequence.

This mutual arising is difficult for a purely rational, mechanistic or exclusionary logic to comprehend. It calls for a more relational or organic perception to be employed because it has a 'special interest' in describing a cycle in which cause and effect are not sequential but simultaneous. Embodied in the five elements or energies (wu hsing), this relationship principle can be arranged in either 'mutually arising' order or a 'mutual conquest' order (also hsiang sheng, but with a different ideogram). The interrelation between these forces is such that no single one can exist without all of the others being simultaneously present. In essence, this is a higher level representation of the relation between yin and yang.

In later times, this cycle was elaborated to a twelve-fold cycle which is very similar to the Buddhist 'Wheel of Codependant-Origination' or pratitya samutpada, which can also be read in both directions: origination (I?XII) or dissolution (XII?I).10 Although the labels for each element are slightly different in the two systems, it is the idea of mutual causality (Macy 1991) behind them that is of most immediate relevance to the West. Regarding the dynamics inherent in both of these 'clocks' of arising/dissolution, Watts remarks, "Conscious attention scans the whole cycle sequentially, but existentially the whole clock is present while the hand moves. This is the sense of Lao-tzu's "Before and after are in mutual sequence." There cannot be any "before" unless there is an "after," and vice versa, and six o'clock has no meaning without the whole series of hours from one through twelve."10

A very similar view is put forward by Ken Holmes13 in his description of the meaning of karma, which he translates as action or activity:

Karma often appears in a fuller form in the Tibetan, as las.rgyu.'bras, which means 'action, (in terms of both) cause and effect.' This highlights the Buddhist concept of action, in which not only the initial action itself, but also its longer term consequences, are considered to be one action, one karma. It is very easy for an observer to think of causes and their consequences as two separate things rather than one on going process.

He goes on to give an example using farming as an analogy:

This is easily understood if one considers the planting and growth of a seed. From the moment of the seeds existence onwards, it is really one long story of growth. From the farmer's point of view there is a causal phase (planting the seed) and a resultant phase (a plant appearing) to him appear more like two separate things, each isolated in time, the one dependent upon the other.

Again, the main concept here is one of simultaneous mutual arising of cause and effect as opposed to a sequential arising, (which is how the term 'binary opposition' seems to be interpreted by Holmes Rolston, III and Westerners in general). Alan Watts10 is aware of the problem our usual 'excluded middle' logic has with this concept, so he quotes Lao-Tzu again:

But it is difficult in our logic to see that being and nonbeing are mutually generative and mutually supportive, for it is the great and imaginary terror of Western man that nothingness will be the permanent end of the universe. We do not easily grasp the point that the void is creative, and that being comes from nonbeing as sound from silence and light from space.

Thirty spokes unite at the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole [literally, "from their not being"] that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut out doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

When the Rational Comes to Town

One of the main problems in solving our current crisis is the fact that rational thinking, which created this mess, naturally dominates the more relational type of thought. This was made very evident recently by Christian de Quincey in an article titled Consciousness: Truth or Wisdom?14 He describes how he initially started off as a cut-throat philosopher using reason to obtain "truth at all costs"..."In debates, discussions, and arguments, I wielded saber and scalpel to slash away at incautious and 'sloppy' thinking about the nature of consciousness and its emergence from mater. I enjoyed diving into the academic fray, pursuing the 'no mercy' approach to the search for truth. If others were bemused, cornered, or offended by the sharpness of my philosopher's tongue that was an acceptable necessary to pay for truth." He then goes on to talk about his change of heart, after reading first a paper presented at Tuscon and then a book called Preconquest Consciousness by Stanford University anthropologist, E Richard Sorenson. Based on many years of field study with numerous 'isolates' or indigenous cultures, Sorenson has found that preconquest consciousness is rooted in feeling, "a form of liminal awareness hardly recognized in modern scholarship". It aims for 'what feels good' rather than abstract truth. Sorenson calls this 'sociosensual' awareness. De Quicey describes this sociosensual awareness:

What is 'real' or 'right' (we might call it 'true') is what feels good. In such cultures, the 'right' or the 'true' or the 'real' is a question of value, not a correspondence between some pattern of abstract concepts and empirical fact. Significantly, postconquest consciousness is radically different. Based on dialectical reasoning, it intrinsically involves domination or conquest: A thesis is confronted and 'conquered' by its antithesis, which in turn is overcome by a new synthesis. By its very nature, then, dialectic, rational, postconquest consciousness is confrontational. This insight alone stopped me in my tracks. But what I learned next shook me to my corepostconquest rationalism meets preconquest feeling the result is outright suppression and conquest of feeling by reason Even more disturbing to me was the realization that none of this implies malicious intent on the part of reason. Simply encountering an epistemology of feeling, reason will automatically overshadow it-- even if its intent is honorable.

A good example of the effect of this postconquest rationalism is given in Sorenson's first hand account of the disintegration of an entire way of life of a New Guinea tribe when their remote island was 'discovered' by Western tourists soon after World War II:

In the real life of these preconquest people, feeling and awareness are
focused on at-the-moment, point-blank sensory experience-- as if the nub of life lay within that complex flux of collective sentient immediacy. Into
that flux individuals thrust their inner thoughts and aspirations for all to
see, appreciate, and relate to. This unabashed open honesty is the
foundation on which their highly honed integrative empathy and rapport
become possible. When that openness gives way, empathy and rapport shrivel. Where deceit becomes a common practice, they disintegrate.

In a single crucial week a spirit that all the world would want, not just
for themselves but for all others, was lost, one that had taken millennia to
create. It was suddenly just gone.

Epidemic sleeplessness, frenzied dance throughout the night, reddening
burned-out eyes getting narrower and more vacant as the days and nights wore on, dysphasias of various sorts, sudden mini-epidemics of spontaneous estrangement, lacunae in perception, hyperkinesis, loss of sensuality, collapse of love, impotence, bewildered frantic looks like those on buffalo in India just as they're clubbed to death; 14 year olds (and others) collapsing on the beach.... Such was the general scene that week in which the subtle sociosensual glue of the island's traditional way-of-life became unstuck.

De Quicey finishes the article calling for a 'clear reason' that "knows the limits of reason are not the limits of knowledge-- and certainly not the limits of reality." Failing to recognize this limit of rationality is a major part of the dilemma currently facing the modern world in general. In the next section we will, using disease metaphors for our current condition, try to find out what affliction Gaia is actually suffering from. Once the diagnosis is firm, we can move on to discussing possible treatment options.

Indicator Diseases of Postconquest Consciousness

Although many insightful writers have pointed out this intensifying ecological calamity on our doorstep, there seems to be little consensus on what actions we are to take, in order to stabilise our Gaian 'life-support machine'. Given the critical situation, many have used the approach of medical metaphors (many psychological in nature) and attempted to 'diagnose' Gaia's problem. Ralph Metzner has recently summarised many of these approaches in his book Green Psychology.15 In a chapter called Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, he looks at the various metaphors that have been put forward "to account for the destructive imbalance in the human-nature relationship." These metaphors include:

1) Genetic-Environmental

Malignant tumour (Hern, Rozak)

Hern, commenting on the growth of London from 1800 to 1955, as viewed on a map, said it "looks like nothing so much as an expanding, invasive, metastatic, malignant tumor." Al Gore discusses this view in his book, but makes a ridiculous statement regarding the 'cure': "tumour and actually indicates Gore's internal logic rather than that of the metaphor. Prevention through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle would seem to be a more fruitful option.

2) Infectious

Disseminated primatemia (Lovelock)

Lovelock proposes disseminated primatemia is a parasitic infection with four possible outcomes: i) host's immune system kills parasite, ii) parasite kills host, ii) host and parasite partake in a long battle of attrition (i.e. chronic disease) iv) organisms form symbiotic relationship. The last would seem the only viable option. Below under Treatment, I will discuss possible methods for inducing this harmonious symbiotic relationship.

3) Psychological

Anthropocentrism and the Human Superiority Complex

Many thinkers have commented on the anthropocentrism inherent in our view of the world. Others, in criticism, have stated that a nonanthropocentric view is impossible and unnatural. There does remain the possibility, however, that we can transcend this limited view (just as it is possible to transcend ethnocentrism). Indigenous cultures, particularly ones practicing shamanism, seem to have a much greater capacity for interspecies empathic identification. This would seem to agree with the previously discussed differences between post and preconquest awareness, and again, argue that we need to reclaim this preconquest relational mode of thought.

The idea of Human Superiority Complex is distinct from anthropocentrism, in that the HSC assumes our species is inherently superior to the other beings (human and nonhuman), and so has a right to dominate and exploit those judged as inferior. Associated conditions include racism, sexism, classism, and nationalism. These would all seem to stem from the same root pathology- that of preconquest relationalism being judged inferior by postconquest rationalism.

Developmental fixation

One of Paul Shepard's main points in his book Nature and Madness, using ideas based on Erickson's developmental model, is that with the advent of domestication, about 12,000 years ago, our species began to lose developmental practices (such as adolescent initiation rites) that we had used successfully for hundreds of thousands of years. This has resulted in developmental fixation at the adolescent level. Erickson describes adolescents at this stage as, "remarkably clannish, intolerant and cruel in their exclusion of others who are 'different,' in skin color or cultural background." As Metzner points out, this fixation "fits with the kind of boisterous, arrogant pursuit of individual self-assertion [yang] that characterizes the consumerist, exploitative model of economic growth, where short-term profits of entrepreneurs and corporate shareholders seem to be not only the dominant value but the only value under consideration." Shepard sums up our position by saying that we are suffering from "an epidemic of psychopathic mutilation of ontogeny."


Thomas Berry, a theologian-turned-geologian, has proposed our species illness as autism. Children suffering from autism do not seem to react to the presence of others, including their own mothers. The DSM calls it a "pervasive developmental disorder" characterized by "qualitative impairment in reciprocal social interaction, of social or emotional reciprocity, impairments in communication, and repetitive use of language and markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests." Just these behaviours can be observed in many 'normal' adults from industrial cultures, compared to those of indigenous societies.


i.e. "behaviour that continues in spite of the fact that the individual knows that it is destructive to family, work, and social relationships."

Dolores LaChapelle was one of the first to propose this metaphor in a chapter called 'Addiction, Capitalism and the New World', from her book Sacred Land, Sacred Sex. She examines the pursuit of addictive substances, including gold, silver, sugar and narcotics, and how "the entire development of capitalism consists in making a group of people addicted to some 'substance' and selling it to them." Lumley describes this manifestation of our addiction to 'substances', "While the individual and the nation is becoming more and more dependent on the products and processes of science and technology, and as these products and processes breed, multiply and complexify, the system itself becomes less and less rational. That is, while individuals and nations no longer understand how, themselves, to produce and sustain the products and services they depend upon, ... their system response is to safeguard their access to them; i.e. it is the same type of non-rational system response as an addict has with respect to a drug, ... motivated by the avoidance of withdrawal."5


Philip Cushman has explicitly compared narcissism with the consumerist culture. He points out that our drive to posess more and more goods is merely an attempt to hide the inner emptiness of the technologically advanced consumer. He writes, "Lumley notes the same narcissism occuring in the sciences, "From continuing dialogue, in one fashion or another, with the 'sciences' and the 'systems sciences', ... the visualization of where the sciences 'are coming from' has, for me, clarified considerably. It is easy to forget that the sciences have historically avoided the nonlinear systems aspects of natural phenomenal, .... the very essence of natural phenomena, ... and have instead focused on extending scientific knowledge 'linearly' by a deeper 'mining' of scientific subspaces; i.e. the sciences have sought to improve their understanding of the way the world works by 'focusing on themselves'. In this narcissist undertaking, ... an undertaking sustained by social recognition for scientific achievement in its own right, ... the scientist and/or 'systems scientist' generates knowledge which can be used in many different ways, ... and IS, IN FACT, used in many different ways."5


Metzner says of this comparison: "The amnesia analogy, in general, is more hopeful than some of the others, since it is clearly much easier to remember something that we once knew than it is to develop an entirely new adaptation. We can also see that the indigenous peoples of the Fourth World, whether in North or South America, Southeast Asia, or Australia, have been trying for some time to help us remember certain vital attitudes and values that 'civilized' humans appear to have forgotten." It is this Wisdom of the Fourth World which we need to urgently reclaim in the west, especially in regard to complex systems inquiry. Ted Lumley says of this mode of inquiry, "The systems inquiry implicit in indigenous traditions exemplifies a robust and natural alternative to the deficient scientific/systems inquiry of the western cultural tradition, ... an alternative which has the promise to redress the progressive dissonance and dysfunction arising from western systems management."12

Other possible metaphors include Roszak's "repression of the ecological unconscious", Leopold's analogous "repression of the ecological conscience" and dissociation resulting in "post-traumatic stress disorder" and/or "multiple personality disorder. For an exhaustive selection of metaphors, we could also use the pathologists acronym VITAMINDEC Vascular, Infective, Traumatic, Autoimmune, Metabolic/Toxic, Iatrogenic, Neoplastic, Degenerative, Electrical, Congenital/Familial. It isn't too difficult to imagine apt metaphors under each of these headings.

ASIDS: A Unifying Diagnosis

Today's health hazards such as air pollution and drug-resistant disease, the result of an ASIDS pathology, are second phase effects. Euclidian systems management dysfunction has been with us big time, in a cultural context, since the birth of philosophical dualism (parmenides, 500 b.c.), aristotelian logic and euclidian geometry (300 b.c.). As the psychologist r. d. laing has emphasized, in the domain of culture what we call 'normality' is rife with such dysfunction, and not only do we need to come to grips with it but the opportunity to do so is 'in our face' like low hanging fruit we have to avoid if we choose not to pluck it. my own experience certainly supports laing's assertion, and this is one reason why I am inclined to share my similar perceptions on this 'euclidian' source of this dysfunction in the context of commercial organizations, drawing on years of experience as an observer and participant in both performant and dysfunctional organizational systems.

Ted Lumley12

An extremely useful metaphoric concept that includes most of the above 'illnesses' has recently been proposed by Ted Lumley.12 After many years of studying high-performance and dysfunctional social groups he has diagnosed the West's problem as 'Acute Systems Inquiry Deficiency Syndrome' or ASIDS. Similar to the syndrome of AIDS, for which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a list of 'AIDS Defining Illnesses', all of the conditions outlined above can be considered as 'ASIDS defining illnesses.' That is, they are effects of a more primary deficit, rather than causes in themselves. ASIDS is caused by a fundamental incompleteness in the rational-kinetic-euclidean approach to complex systems. The 'cure' for this root pathology demands that, similar to the Copernican change of view, we need to 'upgrade' our perception-and-inquiry to the field-over-matter view suggested by relativity. Lumley states the need for a reclamation of this indigenous wisdom:

In the western systems inquiry and management tradition, progressive 'specialization' and 'single-reality' optimization demand more and more of our attention, desensitizing us to the multi-reality nature of our environment, and thus inducing in us, an 'acquired system inquiry deficiency syndrome' (ASIDS). ASIDS is currently spreading and intensifying in step with the technological 'linearization' of society, infecting the upcoming generation through the educational system and as youth 'model' the ASIDS-infected behaviours of authority figures. Transcending the dissonance, dysfunction and ASIDS infection induced by western inquiry, management and regulatory traditions is seen to require a response similar to that used to deal with rampant phylloxera in the vineyards of Europe in the 1880's; i.e. the grafting of western community initiatives onto the more robust 'systems rootstock' of indigenous tradition.5

But which of the many 'systems rootstocks' do we need for the West ? As our current problem is predominantly ecological, we need concepts that are firstly ecologically or systems friendly. Shamanism, Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism would seem to contain the required concepts of simultaneous mutual interdependence. As Shamanism and Buddhism are more oriented toward the transcendent, Taoism with its more immanent orientation would seem to be of the most immediate relevance. Having said this, Rolston's suggestion that, "The yang and yin of the Tao can be superposed on the emptiness of sunyata,"11 could also prove to be a beneficial concept.


If each thing follows its own li [principles] it will harmonize with all other things following theirs, not by reason of rule imposed from above but from their mutual resonance (ying) and interdependence.

Alan Watts10

How then, are we to 'cure' ourselves of this ASIDS infection ? As prevention is easier than cure, perhaps a public health campaign promoting harmony is required. This might not seem a very concrete suggestion for people wanting to engage in action, but the only way to not infuse further dysfunction into complex systems is to act in mutual resonance or ying with these mutually causal interdependent systems. This would suggest that our primary or even primordial value should be 'harmony' as embodied in the idea of 'opportunity management.' As a first step, we should follow Rolston's suggestion that the Taoist understanding of a life of balance could function more like a symbol or slogan, such as "Less is more!" or "Nothing in excess!", which "will set a mood or tone with which we approach life in the world, challenging the value matrix of competing maximizers that characterizes so much of the biology, economics, and politics within which Western decisions are made."11 Having shown how these 'pragmatic metaphysical beliefs' can "trickle down to affect practical decisions," our slogan shall be somewhat more useful than "Nothing in excess!"; "Opportunity Management" should be our preventative healing mantra or even more crudely, "Shape-over-shots not shots-over-shape !"

Supporting this view, Chenyang Li indicates that the most important of Chinese values is harmony (he/ho)16. "The Chinese believe that harmony is a value in itself and is preferable to conflict. In the Chinese view of dialectic harmonization, the Tao or Way is a process of harmonizing differences of things Chinese pragmatic minds tend to take principles, particularly theoretical principles, not so rigidly. Between the option of 'harmonizing differences' and 'fighting it out' they tend to choose harmonization."

One of the difficulties with this 'opportunity management' approach is that to understand it adequately requires 'immersed perception' rather than 'voyeur perception.' Ted Lumley explains this difficult concept:

This 'immersed' inquiry is the 'way' of natural systems and it is the way of 'exceptional teams', the indigenous peoples' traditions, Zen and Taoism. It is the 'simultaneous unity and plurality' based 'way' of Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, Gotama Buddha and the 'Zero Chiefs', and it is the 'way' of the general theory of relativity. It is a mode of perception, inquiry and response, wherein every material-causal 'event' or 'movement' is seen as having a reciprocal effect on the potential energy configuration or 'possibility space' of its containing environment. Immersed inquiry goes beyond 'kinetics' and comprehends the 'multi-reality' nature of our containing environment, ... each rock, sandgrain, plant, animal, drop of water finding itself immersed in a tensioned, potential field and 'wanting to go somewhere', ... but being blocked by others wanting to go elsewhere. To the degree that we can tap into the multi-tensioned potential field configuration, ... the 'collective conscious' of our multi-reality containing environment, ... and move in harmony with it, ... we can feel joy and love. That is the personal experiencing which is spoken of in the context with 'being in the Tao'.5

Our reliance, in the West, on the 'voyeur approach' has left us ignorant of the relational harmony that we used to enjoy with our interactions with Nature. In the Buddhist tradition, Lama Govinda defines ignorance or avidya as "the not knowing or non-recognition of reality, not a metaphysical cause of existence or a cosmogenic principle, a condition that is responsible for our present state of consciousness."17 A more similar definition which relates to 'opportunity management' is given be Herbert Guenther, as described by Sangharakshita:18

Vidyâ is the opposite of avidyâ, 'ignorance', and is usually translated as 'knowledge'. However, Dr Guenther renders it as 'aesthetic appreciation', which comes much closer to its true meaning. Vidyâ is a sort of relishing of things, a harmony with the world; and its opposite, avidyâ, conveys a sense of alienation and conflict not an absence of knowledge in the usual sense of the word.

He gives an example of the difference between the two attitudes, 'appreciative' versus 'utilitarian'. He was out for a walk one day when he came across a large, tall pine tree and was standing there admiring it. A friend walked by and he pointed out the tree to him, "Look at that tree, isn't it magnificent!", to which his friend replied, "Yes, there must be at least twenty maunds of firewood there for the whole winter!" This utilitarian view relates to things in terms of need, which becomes desire, which turns to craving. He suggests that the way of the Bodhisattva (a person training to achieve enlightenment for all beings) is almost purely aesthetic appreciation

We usually think of 'aesthetic appreciation' as a little separate part of life within a much larger area that is utilitarian and 'practical', but really it needs to be the other way around. Our overall attitude, our overall response to life, should be purely aesthetic.

The Bodhisattva has resolved this opposition or antithesis between aesthetic contemplation on the one hand and practical activity on the other, and feels no conflict. But so long as we have to switch over from the one to the other, and so long as the presence or experience of the one implies the absence or non-experience of the other, there will always be some difficulty in the transition. All we can do is somehow try to carry the aesthetic experience into the practical activity is exactly what the Bodhisattva does, as represented in the Perfection of Wisdom very difficult process.

This is, especially in today's fast-pace superficial world, an even more difficult process than it would have been in earlier times, but it is required even more so today. In the West we need some form of training in 'aesthetic appreciation' similar to the highly sophisticated methods of Buddhism. The upgrade of our perception to 'aesthetic' over 'utilitarian' will result in an upgrade of our systems management in general, allowing for effortless induction of harmony. Yet again, it is not a choice of one or the other, rather it is a question of the utilitarian view being seen as a smaller contained feature of the broader landscape of vidyâ and the natural harmony that inevitably follows.

'Upgrading' to the management of possibility space (potential field interference patterns) rather than basing one's 'primary' management approach on material-causal transactions, does not alter anything with respect to the theory and applications of the 'actuality subspace' of material-causality, ... it simply 'lifts up' the systems' perception, inquiry and management focus to the broader possibility landscape or 'shape of space' view within which the material-causal 'shot-making' view is a smaller, contained feature. This 'immersed scientific observer' mode of systems inquiry is not only practiced by skilled pool players, ... it is practiced within exceptional teams and within those indigenous peoples' communities which continue to embrace their ancestral traditions.5

While the individual can improve this balance with proper training, these values of natural harmony or opportunity management can be practiced at the group level also; it requires an 'opening up' of our views to others perceptions of reality so that the whole-and-part harmony can be satisfied. Ted Lumley relates this to the indigenous 'sharing circles', which can be scaled up to greater levels of inclusion:

This 'opening up' of consciousness is achieved through dialogueing across multiple realities, as in the 'sharing circles' of indigenous tradition, ... trusting in the perspectives of those occupying other realities so that the relativistic 'shape of space', the implicit, multi-reality interference pattern, is brought into connection in the mind. Equipped with this broader landscape of possibility understanding, and an implicit understanding of how the kinetics in one's own reality 'interferes' with the 'opportunity landscape' seen by multiple other realities, ... one is in a position to manage the kinetics of one's own reality in such a manner as simultaneously cultivates opportunity in multiple other realities. This type of management, though implicit, approximate and 'imperfect', employs an inclusive geometry without mechanical dependency on explicit 'things' and their causal kinetics, ... which 'scales up' 'ecologically', from individual to community to global society to environment to cosmos, satisfying the whole-and-part harmony needs of a multiple-reality containing environment as it does so.5


Hopefully the above discussion has come some way to satisfying Rolston's call for a "stable metaphysics to match the realities of the carrying capacities of the ecosystems that support culture," and also showed how "these metaphysical beliefs trickle down to affect practical descisions."11 Although this view of things is difficult to achieve, especially in all situations of daily life, a little training (especially of the youth) will go a long way in improving the rapidly worsening situation on our planet. It will take time and practice, but with ying or harmony as our primal value and "Opportunity Management" as our mantra, we will become 'warriors for evolution' and induce a revolution in our world view, as suggested by Thomas Khun in Revolutions as Changes of World View:19

Looking at a contour map, the student sees lines on paper, the cartographer a picture of a terrain. Looking at a bubble-chamber photograph, the student sees confused and broken lines, the physicist a record of familiar subnuclear events.

Only after a number of such transformations of vision does the student become an inhabitant of the scientist's world, seeing what the scientist sees and responding as the scientist does. The world that the student then enters is not, however, fixed once and for all by the nature of the environment, on the one hand, and of science, on the other. Rather, it is determined jointly by the environment and the particular normal-scientific tradition that the student has been trained to pursue.

Therefore, at times of revolution, when the normal-scientific tradition changes, the scientist's perception of his environment must be re-educated in some familiar situations he must learn to see a new gestalt. After he has done so, the world of his research will seem, here and there, incommensurable with the one he had inhabited before.

1. Alan W Watts (1957) Nature, Man and Woman. Pantheon Books, New York

2. Joby Warrick. Mass Extinction Underway, Majority of Biologists Say. Washington Post, Tuesday, April 21, 1998, Page A-4

3. James W. Kirchner and Anne Weil. New Study Suggests Humans Will Not Live Long Enough To See Earth Recover From A Mass Extinction.Source: University Of California At Berkeley http://www.berkeley.edu

4. Ted Lumley. Niche Persona - Healing the Twisted Arrogance of Responsibility http://www.goodshare.org/persona.htm

5. Ted Lumley. Indigenous Wisdom and its Lessons for the Systems Sciences. Upcoming talk for ISSS 2000, Toronto. http://www.goodshare.org/toronto.htm

6. Fritjof Capra.(1996) The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. Anchor Books, New York

7. Herbert Guenther. Cross-Cultural Communication in the Context of Tibetan Buddhism. Talk given at CIIS, San Francisco, 3rd April 2000. Recordings available.

8. Seb Henagulph. Three Pillars of Transdisciplinarity http://www.goodshare.org/pillars.htm

9. John Burnet. The Fragments of Heraclitus. Early Greek Philosophy. 2nd Ed. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1908, 146-156. http://plato.evansville.edu/

10. Alan W Watts (1975) Tao: The Watercourse Way. Pantheon Books, New York.

11. Holmes Rolston, III. Can the East help the West to value nature ? Philosophy East and West 37, no. 2 (April 1987), University of Hawaii Press

12. Ted Lumley. ASIDS in Collaborative Structures. http://www.goodshare.org/asids.htm

13. Kenneth Holmes (1995) Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom. Jé Gampopa's Dagpo Tarjen. Altea Publishing, Scotland

14. Christian de Quincey. Consciousness: Truth or Wisdom? IONS Noetic Sciences Review. March - June 2000. Quoting: E R Sorenson "Preconquest Consciousness" in Tribal Epistemologies, ed. Helmut Wautischer. Ashgate (1998)

15. Ralph Metzner (1999) Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth. Park Street Press, Vermont

16. Chenyang Li. How Can One Be A Taoist-Buddhist Confucian? pp.29-66

17. Ralph Metzner. The Buddhist Six-Worlds Model of consciousness and Reality. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1996, Vol. 28, No. 2

18. Sangharakshita (1993) Wisdom Beyond Words: Sense and Non-Sense in the Buddhist Prajnaparamita Tradition. Windhorse Publications, Glasgow

19. Thomas S Kuhn (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

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