From Flatland to Wasteland? ... Or Is There Curvature on the Horizon?

May 29, 1998

"My Lord, your own wisdom has taught me to aspire to One even more great, more beautiful, and more closely approximate to Perfection than yourself. As you yourself, superior to all Flatland forms, combine many circles into One, so doubtless there is One above you who combines many Spheres in One Supreme Existence, surpassing even the solids of Spaceland."

Edwin A. Abbott, 'Flatland'

Edwin Abbott (1838 - 1926), English writer, scholar, educator and theologian wrote 'Flatland' in 1884, which has been described as 'a magnificent work of science fiction, as prophetic as those of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells."

What Abbott was describing was how a society could be psychologically entrapped in a 'lower dimensional reality' even though there was open evidence and discussion as to the higher dimensionality of the containing reality. This was no 'joke' to Abbott who believed that the line between religion and science had been drawn in the wrong place, subordinating 'credulity' to superfluous religious mystery and miracle, and forcing everyone to think in terms of a constrained dimensionality as result. In the midst of controversy over a book in which he criticized Cardinal Newman's doctrine, Abbott declared; "And when a man feels (as I do) that he has at last attained a profound spiritual truth which will, in all probability, be generally accepted by educated Christians who are not Roman Catholics, before the twentieth century is far advanced, he can well afford to be patient of prejudice."

While Abbott clearly had profound insight into how the perceptions and inquiry of a culture could be artificially constrained to low dimensionality, he may have underestimated the extent and intricacy of this entrapment. The cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer prize winning book 'The Denial of Death', in probing this same question of a self-imposed vision-limiting psychology, noted that while we have acclaimed the works of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and others in exposing fundamental flaws and inconsistencies in our belief systems, very little change has resulted. Becker notes; "If the penetrating honesty of a few books could immediately change the world, then the five authors just mentioned would already have shaken the nations to their foundations. But since everyone is carrying on as though the vital truths about man did not yet exist, it is necessary to add still another weight in the scale of human self-exposure. For twenty-five hundred years we have hoped and believed that if mankind could reveal itself to itself, could widely come to know its own cherished motives, then somehow it would tilt the balance of things in its own favor."

Becker goes on to discuss how the hermetical seals of the euclidian flat-space paradigm remain intact in spite of the onslaught by so many and the public acceptance of their findings.

This 'flatland' note reviews a few of the more prominent reasons why we cannot break out of the limited flat-space vision which has entrapped us for 2500 years.

Space-Time Push or Pull?

The choice of either flat or curved space-time geometry has a dramatic impact on our psychological functions. In the flat, inert, rectangular and infinite space of euclid, there is a sense of bivalent perfection and closure; i.e. we have 'things' and we have 'void' and there is no blurring or bleeding, on a basic level, amongst things and the space between them. In addition, we see the collection of things in space as existing independent of time. This flat-space view leads immediately to the notion of causality whereby the future is 'pushed' out of the past in an assertive or 'yang' manner as described by LaPlace. And the flat space implication of independence between 'things' opens the door to the generalizing assumptions which underpin causal laws (Poincare); i.e. homogeneity, relative independence of remote parts, and simplicity of the elementary fact.

The flat space perspective, as pointed out by one of its most influential advocates, Parmenides, reduces everything in the world to just two simple states; 'is' or 'is not'. This fundamentally binary aspect of the flat space geometry leads to the mutually exclusive perspectives of 'black' or 'white', 'good' or 'evil' etc. As philosophers and historians have noted, this flat space world view is a 'rationalist' rather than empiricist view which needlessly constrains the higher dimensionality found in nature and leads directly to the dualist mind matter split. Moreover, it allows no room for the concept of 'latency' or 'latent order' which is necessary to explain systems which undergo metamorphosis and ontogenesis as found in nature.

Thus the flat space geometry induces us to think in terms of the future being causally pushed into being, and emphasizes the role of the general or 'average' over the specific or unique in its rule structures.

The curved space-time geometry, on the other hand, involves the sense of multivalency, harmony, and wave interference rather than pure matter and pure void. That is, curved space interferes with itself in a cyclical way and rather than being defined by three orthogonal flat planes stretching out to infinity, can be likened to plate tectonics on the earth where the flow of matter on a spherical surface is involved in a continuous interchange (via upwelling and subduction) with latent energy in the interior. That is, curved space-time appears to 'pull' matter into existence, or to 'precipitate' matter in an purposive-integrative, as opposed to causal-assertive manner.

In the curved space view, there is an innate blurriness between 'things' and the energy latency of (quantum field) space. In fact, general relativity reverts to expressing the contents of regions of space in terms of total energy since energy appears to be more fundamental than 'matter' whose description is bound up in relativistic observor effects.

In the curved space multivalent, mutually inclusive geometry, uniqueness is not sacrificed to generality as it is in the flat-space case. The notion of space-pull (yin-pull) as being responsible for the birth of matter and the future state (rather than yang-push in the flat-space geometry), leads to the idea of high dimensional 'attractors', regions of non-material latency around which the trajectories of material flow seem to congregate. This is a 'many-to-one' integrative or 'connective' geometry as opposed to the 'one-to-many' differentiating geometry of flat space. The connective ambiguity between energy and matter leads also to a unity which is not present in flat space, opening the door to the familiar yin-yang geometry which transcends and subsumes the bivalent geometric notions of 'black' or 'white' and 'good' or 'evil' with the notions of mutually enfolded 'black' and 'white' and 'good' and 'evil'.

Thus while the flat space assumption leads to the notion of the future being assertively 'pushed' out of the past by a generalizable collection of 'things', the curved space assumption leads to the notion of the future being integratively 'pulled' out of the past by the harmonic orchestrations of a material-and-latent-energy continuum. These 'push' and 'pull' geometries relate to organizational and management alternatives which will be discussed shortly.

Clearly, the western world has clung for 2500 years to the flat space geometry and while it is rationalist and unnaturally constraining in dimensionality (i.e. we are born with a high dimensional visioning capability reminiscent of curved space geometry) it is socio-historically etched into our psychological functions (see Vygotsky, 'Thought and Language').

Some of the reasons why we western 'flatlanders' have been unable to break out of this dimensionally restrictive paradigm are discussed as follows;

1. The Double Standard:

The fact is that while we subscribe to the 'flat-space' euclidian perception and systems inquiry in society, in business, in education, in organized religion and other culturally orchestrated aspects of our lives, in our private moments, we revert to 'curved-space' mode. Thus, it is not that we do not 'see' the higher dimensions (though our awareness of this vision may be low), it is more simply that we accept the 'flat-space' approach of our culture, perhaps because we feel that there is little that we, as individuals can do to change it, or perhaps because we are uncertain that it could be replaced with anything better on the grand scale of global society.

Once we are well invested in the flat-space paradigm, which has been described in some detail relative to its curved space counterpart in this series of essays, we may be loathe to 'rock the boat'. The same is not true of youth, as Becker points out, who are still searching for a 'heroic' path and who resist capitulation to a culturally imposed flat-space reality;

"We mentioned the meaner side of man's urge to cosmic heroism, but there is obviously the noble side as well. Man will lay down his life for his country, his society, his family. He will choose to throw himself on a grenade to save his comrades; he is capable of the highest generosity and self-sacrifice. But he has to feel and believe that what he is doing is truly heroic, timeless, and supremely meaningful. The crisis of modern society is precisely that the youth no longer feel heroic in the plan for action that their culture has set up. They don't believe it is empirically true to the problems of their lives and times. We are living a crisis of heroism that reaches into every aspect of our social life: the dropouts of university heroism, of business and career heroism, of political-action heroism, the rise of anti-heroes, those who would be heroic each in his own way or like Charles Manson with his special 'family', those whose tormented heroics lash out at the system that itself has ceased to represent agreed heroism. The great perplexity of our time, the churning of our age, is that the youth have sensed --- for better or for worse --- a great social-historical truth: that just as there are useless self-sacrifices in unjust wars, so too is there an ignoble heroics of whole societies: it can be the viciously destructive heroics of Hitler's Germany or the plain debasing and silly heroics of the acquisition and display of consumer goods, the piling up of money and privileges that now characterizes whole ways of life, capitalist and Soviet.

And the crisis of society is, of course, the crisis of organized religion too: religion is no longer valid as a hero system, and so the youth scorn it. If traditional culture is discredited as heroics, then the church that supports that culture automatically discredits itself. If the church, on the other hand, chooses to insist on its own special heroics, if might find that in crucial ways, it must work against the culture, recruit youth to be anti-heroes to the ways of life of the society they live in. This is the dilemma of religion in our time."

Becker's words are validated by many other 'cultural anthropologists' such as Jules Henry and R. D. Laing who have been frequently referenced in this series of essays. In my own 'wellsprings' with youth, these same perspectives have been articulated.

However, parents who have made their choice to capitulate to the flat-space paradigm, either out of a feeling of helplessness or a belief that it may be the best there is, will clearly encourage their children to follow in their footsteps and accept the double standard so that they will succeed in the flat-space world and not end up as casualties. As R. D. Laing says, "children do not give up their innate (curved space) imagination, curiousity, dreaminess easily. You have to love them to get them to do that. Love is the path through permissiveness to discipline; and through discipline, only too often, to betrayal of self." And as Jules Henry ('Culture Against Man') notes; "What we see in the American kindergarten and early schooling process, is the pathetic surrender of babies."

While many would admit that something is wrong in our culture and that we do indeed employ a 'double standard', most would not want to see their children risk destroying themselves by railing against it. Thus parental love is used to ensure the children's buy-in to the flat-space vision of our western culture. Since the level of dysfunction induced by flat-space vision is continually on the rise, each generation of parent is, implicitly, asking for a greater degree of betrayal of self from their children, and the incidence of children rebelling against them on cultural conformance issues is on the rise. As Laing says; "The double action of destroying ourselves with one hand, and calling this love with the other, is a sleight of hand one can marvel at. Human beings seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive themselves, and to deceive themselves into taking their own lies for truth. By such mystification, we achieve and sustain our adjustment, adaptation, socialization."

So, this first reason why we cannot break out of a 2500 year entrapment in a culture which dimensionally limits itself to 'flat-space' vision, is that generation after generation of parent, wanting their child to survive and thrive in the existing culture, use their love to elicit conformal behavior and acceptance of the flat-space paradigm.

2. Acute Systems Inquiry Deficiency Syndrome (ASIDS)

In an essay by the same name (i.e. 'ASIDS') this systemic perpetuator of flat-space vision was explored. Our dimensionally constrained flat-space vision leads us into system or problem interventions in which we are blind to the fact that we are infusing dysfunction into the system even as we are solving the perceived (local) problem. Many acclaimed treatises have been written on our myopic 'unclean' interventions; e.g. Peter Senge's 'Fifth Discipline' (the 'fifth discipline' is defined as 'systems thinking').

The fact of the matter is, that the flat-space view has us believe that we can solve complex problems by fragmenting them into parts and solving each part independently in space and time, so that these local solutions will add up to resolve the overall complex system issue. Of course, as has been discussed in all of these essays, the curved-space assumption implies that space 'conducts' or 'leaks' and that our actions taken on a given subsystem effect other subsystems in an unknown (and unpredictable) manner. In other words, our locally focused interventions have an impact on other aspects of the overall system which we fail to account for.

The 'geometry' of this 'unclean' intervention is congruent with the 'geometry' of surgical intervention in the days prior to Pasteur's discovery of a bacterial source to infection. Prior to that discovery, the prevailing theory was that infection was due to 'in-situ spontaneous generation'. The most humane, empathetic and skilled of surgeons therefore, continued to infect patients, often terminally, simply because they were unaware that the source of infection derived from the intervention. They believed instead, that complications were attributable to 'in-situ spontaneous generation'.

Similarly, many volumes have been written which demonstrate that flat-space problem-solving interventions into complex business and societal issues are prone to giving rise to dysfunction, however that dysfunction is almost always attributed to in-situ spontaneous generation (incompetence or malevolence amongst those involved), rather than to the nature of the intervention. Thus the dysfunction which emerges from a euclidian welfare program is blamed on the welfare recipients rather than the manner of the intervention.

This second reason why we cannot break out of the 2500 year flat-space vision-constraining trap is because our most respected social issue 'surgeons', whose dedication, commitment and human empathy is beyond reproach (because it is wholly authentic), are oblivious to the fact that their flat-space mode of intervention is 'infecting' other parts of the system even as they wreak remarkable cures on the supposedly 'independent' subsystems they are currently focusing on. For example, some remarkable solutions to challenging problems in the domain of heat insulation (fire-fighting, homes and buildings, automotive braking systems) were arrived at through the use of asbestos; insect infestations in our gardens and homes were solved through the use of DDT, refridgeration needs were solved by circulating compressed fluorocarbons and using hermetically sealing doors.

Like the pre-Pasteur doctors, the inventors of these solutions did not anticipate 'space leakage' whereby these 'interventions' could infect other systems which were peripheral to those which the solutions were targetted for; this is the nature of the flat-space assumption in that 'things' are deemed independent and space deemed a void which cannot participate in phenomena nor allow conductance between one subsystem and another. Unfortunately, asbestos, DDT, and freon have led to significant problems in intersecting systems, as did airtight refridgerator doors when their abandonment in vacant lots etc. led to the suffocation of children who unwaringly played in them. There are many other such examples (nuclear waste etc.) in which problems have arisen simply because of the flat, non-participative space assumption by the problem solvers.

But it is not only with respect to technology that our flat-space vision is prone to infuse a dysfunctional infection, but also in the domain of business, employment and investment. Today, we as investors respect and applaud those flat-space corporations maintaining the largest profit margins while we as workers attack the practice of achieving these results through investment in lowest cost operating environments; i.e. we-as-workers invest in those companies whose workers bring about their own redundancy as they share in the fruits of their successes. In other words, our flat-space investment interventions look only at the immediate problem of return on investment and not beyond it to issues of human development, employment, prosperity etc.

So the problem here (ASIDS etc.) in breaking out of the flat-space paradigm is that the most respected and well-intentioned of people are unawarely 'infecting' or 're-infecting' the culture with dysfunction as a side-effect of their impressive and 'successful' efforts in local problem-solving. As the film 'Jurassic Park' fictionally but appropriately suggests, our technology tends to be far ahead of our ability for predicting the systemic consequences of its application. For this reason, the problem of resistant strains of TB, malaria and other bacteria and viruses, 'bred' by the continued application of antibiotics may be small potatoes compared with the systemic dysfunction which could be unleashed by genetic engineering, whose oxymoronic 'title' denotes flat-space origins.

3. Transference and Heros

In addition to parental indoctrination and ASIDS 're-infection' as reasons why we cannot be cleanly 'cured' of our flat-space vision affliction, we have the problem that many have delegated their voice on paradigmatic issues to the social icons whom they most respect, and whose belief systems are likely to be aligned to the flat-space paradigm.

Becker cites William James remark that "mankind's common instinct for reality .... has always held the world to be essentially a theatre for heroism. Not only our popular mind knew, but philosophers of all ages, and in our culture especially Emerson and Nietzsche --- which is why we still thrill to them: we like to be reminded that our central calling, our main task on this planet, is the heroic."

The heroic comes into play in many ways, and one is that there is a massive 'transference' of personal power and interpretation of reality to the 'icons' of our times. Becker quotes Miss Maryland, in this regard, on her first meeting with Frank Sinatra; "He was my date. I got a massage, and I must have taken five aspirin to calm myself down. In the restaurant, I saw him from across the room, and I ot such butterflies in my stomach and such a thing that went from head to toe. He had like a halo around his head of stars to me. He projected something I have never seen in my life. . . when I'm with him, I'm in awe, and I don't know why I can't snap out of it. . . . I can't think. He's so fascinating. . ."

Clearly, not only do these icons make people's lives more interesting, but people allow the icons to speak for them because they see them as Gods who can do no wrong. As Albert Camus asserted; " ... Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style."

The process of transference of power to the 'icons of the times' suggests that new ideas which require new cognitive mappings will not be internalized, piecemeal, by the business executive or whomever because their power for ratification of new paradigms has been delegated to others; ... and it appears that, in questions of business and organization, power has been transferred to a global web of flat-space minded icons who articulate the western worlds views and needs on behalf of the many.

This transference, according to Becker, is associated with the 'fear of death', i.e.;

"If fear of life is one aspect of transference, its companion fear is right at hand. As the growing child becomes aware of death, he has a twofold reason for taking shelter in the powers of the transference object. The castration complex makes the body an object of horror, and it is now the tranference object who carries the weight of the abandoned 'causa sui' project. The child uses him to assure his immortality. What is more natural? I can't resist quoting from another writing, Gorki's famous sentiment on Tolstoi, because it sums up so well this aspect of transference. "I am not bereft on this earth, so long as this old man is living on it." This comes from the depth of Gorki's emotion; it is not a simple wish or a comforting thought; it is more like a driving belief that the mystery and solidity of the transference object will give one shelter as long as he lives.

This use of the transference object explains the urge to deification of the other, the constant placing of certain select persons on pedestals, the reading into them of extra powers: the more they have, the more rubs off on us. We participate in their immortality, and so we create immortals. As Harrington put it graphically, 'I am making a deeper impression on the cosmos because I know this famous person. When the Ark sails I will be on it.' Man is always hungry, as Rank so well put it, for material for his own immortalization. Groups need it too, which explains the constant hunger for heroes: 'Every group, however small or great, has, as such, an 'individual' impulse for externalization, which manifests itself in the creation of and care for national, religious, and artistic heroes . . . the individual paves the way for this collective eternity impulse."

My own experience within the corporate world convinces me that such 'transference' is a force to be reckoned with and this is often acknowledged by the observation that if the CEO is not fully behind a 'cultural' initiative, it cannot succeed. And what about the CEO, is he free to change his operating paradigm when he has 'transferred' his decision-making power to Wall Street and the icons of 'success' which Wall Street create and destroy?

There is a 'double whammy' or 'catch 22' in this transference issue; i.e. the sought for immortality is typically based on the concept of 'good and evil', i.e. the bivalent flat-space view of reality which is only a special case contained within the more complete multivalent, curved-space 'beyond good and evil' view of reality. In other words, the rank and file person, first internalizes the flat-space paradigm, then delegates the decision making power he must access to break out of that paradigm, to the icons which best exemplify the flat-space paradigm.

Becker quotes Rank in regard to this bivalent basis of our heroics; "Here we come upon the age-old problem of good and evil, originally designating eligibility for immortality, in its emotional significance of being liked or disliked by the other person. On this plane, ... personality is shaped and formed according to the vital need to please the other person whom we make our 'God' and not incur his or her displeasure. All the twistings of the . . . self, with its artificial striving for perfection and the unavoidable 'relapses' into badness, are the result of these attempts to humanize the spiritual need for goodness."

Becker's statement is reminiscent of Jean Baudrillard's comments on our flat-space view of environmental issues, i.e. "In short it is not by expurgating evil that we liberate good. Worse, by liberating good, we also liberate evil. And this is only right. it is the rule of the symbolic game. It is the inseparability of good and evil which constitutes our true equilibrium, our true balance. We ought not to entertain the illusion that we might separate the two, that we might cultivate good and happiness in a pure state and expel evil and sorrow as wastes. That is the terroristic dream of the transparency of good, which very quickly ends in its opposite, the transparency of evil."

What we are looking at here with this transference issue is a very robust self-protecting paradigm in which our culture selects its heroes on the basis of how well they personify the paradigm, then delegate to those same heroes the decision making power for paradigm change.

4. Causal versus Purposive Organizational-Management Geometries

Emanating from the flat space and curved space-time assumptions are corresponding alternatives in the domain of organization and management schema, based on either a causal or purposive view of system behavior. That these views are distinct has been highlighted by Nietzsche in 'The WIll to Power' --- "The belief in cause collapses with the belief in purpose." As has been described elsewhere in this essay series, flat-space causal explanations of system behavior represent 'after-the-fact' analytical backfill, generalizations which assume 'homogeneity', 'relative independence of remote parts' and 'simplicity of the elementary fact' (Poincare). Purposive or goal-oriented systems, on the other hand, emerge from the unique and particular, are influenced by a confluence of factors from remote regions in space and time, and are not deducible on the basis of atomic, internal simplicities. While the flat space view envisions the system as a collection of things out of the context of time, the curved space-time view envisions the system in terms of 'attractors', regions of latent energy space whose geometries are given by the space-time dynamical patterns which envelope them and indeed appear to be induced by them.

These same geometries appear in the context of information and knowledge flow in organizations. While the flat space organization operates in causal mode where knowledge is 'pushed' forth on a 'one-to-many' basis from fountain-like experts and bosses in a Tivoli gardens operation, the curved space-time organization operates in purposive mode where knowledge is 'pulled' on a 'many-to-one' basis into the embrace of attractor-like 'customers' in a gravity-based irrigation type of operation.

In the latter operational geometry, typical to exceptionally high performant teams, there is a natural coupling between the 'attractor basin' represented by the team or company and the surrounding 'attractor basin' of the enveloping community and market. This geometry facilitates an ontogenetic development approach in which employee, company and enveloping community are part of a co-resonant co-evolution.

In the former operational geometry which has been the industrial age tradition, the 'push' or 'yang-assertive' geometry makes this schema impervious to environmental attractor pulls ("The belief in purpose collapses with the belief in cause."). In this case, alignment with natural attractor pulls is no longer an innate aspect of the system but must be mechanically or manually 'regulated'. Of course if the organization is pushing a product or service for which no natural demand exists, the flat-space organizational approach with its 'causal push' is the only alternative (i.e. here we are out of the domain of responding to ontogenetic need).

The shift from flat space to curved space organizational mode is well illustrated in the Apollo 13 experience, which begins in causal-push mode, but flips to 'purposive-pull' mode, responding to the needs of the attractor-customer astronauts. In this flip, rational, emotional and evolutionary modes of experiencing come into co-resonance.

A problem in escaping from flat-space mode arises here since once one is in causal-push mode, the ability to tune into 'purpose' collapses (e.g. knowledge flow switches to a 'one-to-many' pumped fountain operation) and the flow gradient induced naturally by the connective web of attractor basins within and external to the organization is lost.

Thus those who work within the flat-space organization are 'blocked' from tuning in directly to customer-attractors, and are instead charged with keeping the local pumps going at a pre-ordained pressure and flow. Those in curved space organizations, on the other hand, have a view of the attractor basins much like the egyptian farmer's view of his irrigated fields and can orchestrate the flow of water and nutrients so as to balance and satisfy the natural thirsts of the landscape.

5. Deconstruction of Flat-Space 'Immortalities'

As discussed in the last two essays ('The Sinking Myth of Progress: The Final Plunge' and 'Life Seen in ToeDoe') , the fifth type of 'lock-in' into the flat-space paradigm associates with our (often unaware) tendency to 'deconstruct' anthropic mortality, personal mortality and behavioral (winner) mortality.

That is, the flat-space paradigm involves 'perfect states' (perfect boundaries, perfect closure, perfect void, perfect independence of 'things') which imply eternality. As Parmenides asserts, "Indeed from the fact that what is limited or determinate, we can infer its perfection. For its determinacy excludes not just the possibility that it is subject to coming into being and change but any kind of deficiency in its reality."

Here we have the vision of homo sapiens, the self, heroic behavior as eternal fountains and not as water seeking to satisfy the attractor basins in which it is enveloped and in so doing, reunify with and enrich the whole which originally pulled us into being.

Of course, the rational mind which accepts such abstractions as infinitely extended flat-space butts heads so-to-speak with our sensory experience which informs us that nothing can be infinitely extended unless it is continuously recycled, in a 'circle of life' or spherical space etc. This unresolvable internal conflict or inconsistency gives rise to a 'fear of mortality' in many aspects of our lives (instead of an embrace of our ontogenetic reunification with the whole). And this fear-driven denial of death causes us to deconstruct these mortalities into the tiniest components possible; thus, as shown by Jean Baudrillard, we deconstruct our anthropic mortality into numerous environmental issues which speak to keeping the earth a fit place for homo sapiens (rather than seeing homo sapiens as transient aspects of nature). This is a tack which converts our fear of extinction into a strategy for anthropic immortality. Similarly, as shown by Bauman, we deconstruct our personal mortality into a growing number of 'health' issues which, again, converts our fear of death into a strategy for personal immortality. And, as well described by the cultural anthropologist Jules Henry and the psychiatrist Ronald Laing, we deconstruct our fear of 'being a loser' into innumerable win-lose games or 'competitions' which, because they are introduced into our early education, become part of our strategy for living/behaving.

This fifth means of entrapment in the flat-space paradigm derives from the fact that we have sublimated this whole vicious circle of fear of mortality, deconstruction and consequent engendering of an immortality-seeking strategy for living. Thus while we may openly discuss the appeal of the Native North American or eastern curved space-time philosophies of 'the circle of life' and the embrace of one's own ontogeny which leads back to reunification with nature, we are unlikely to admit to the true extent we are burdened with this internal dysfunction-inducing conflict between our rationality and our sensory experience.

Is There Curvature on the Horizon?

While Abbott, who anticipated relativity, thought we'd have things all straightened out (all nicely curved in the terms of the new paradigm) early on in the twentieth century, and Minkowski enthusiastically proclaimed in 1908 "Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of unity [a yin-yang unity in Neils Bohr's view] between the two will preserve an independent reality.", the progress has been somewhat slower than anticipated. Thomas Kuhn's observation that it took more than a century for the Copernican geometry to subsume the Ptolemaic geometry is perhaps a better yardstick. As Kuhn observes; "Fundamental astronomical concepts had become strands in a far larger fabric of thought, ... The story of the Copernican Revolution is not, therefore, simply a story of astronomers and the skies."

And so it goes, with our even more fundamental conceptualizing of space itself, as this essay has tried to illustrate by discussing five selected 'strands' with which flat-space has been woven into the fabric of our western thought.

The first strand which needs to be unravelled, the double standard, is a strong and natural strand; i.e. it is natural for parents to want their children to fit into the culture and to be successful. In view of both the monumental task of paradigmatic change and typical underestimation of damage attributable to the flat-space paradigm, it is only to be expected that parents will use their love to induce their children to conform to the current dysfunctional system. On the other hand, it is youth itself which is increasingly rejecting the implicit values and beliefs of the flat-space culture, and this may be reaching a crisis point, as suggested by Becker.

The second strand which needs to be unravelled, the 'acute systems inquiry deficiency syndrome' is undoubtedly the most resistant of all. The specialized problem solvers of all disciplines who go on to become the high priests and keepers of the current paradigm are committed people of good will even though they are 'infecting' the society with dysfunction through the 'dirtiness' of their flat-space system interventions. They are like the pre-Pasteur doctors who were unaware of the possibility of a 'contaminating intervention' believing that infection arose through 'in situ spontaneous generation'. The rewards systems in our culture are very much tied to the local (in space-time) problem-solving activities of specialists and as specialization continues to intensify, the vision of these high priests with respect to attractor basins in the social system can be expected to progressively weaken. On a brighter note, the emergence of institutions focused on 'understanding' complexity rather than developing scientific 'knowledge' represent good potential for unravelling this rather robust thread.

The third strand which needs to be unravelled, the 'transference and heros' strand, stands in the way of catalyzing paradigm change in the 'middle aged' part of the population. As Becker points out, there are several reasons why we tend to delegate our proxy votes on paradigmatic issues to the cultural icons of the times. When it comes to rational issues, in fact, many of the icons to whom our proxies are forwarded are the highly esteemed ASIDS infected specialists who are adeptly solving local problems in a way which infuses dysfunction into the system at large. Thus the second and third strands entwine together in a synergistically powerful combination.

The fourth strand which needs to be unravelled, the 'causal versus purposive organizational orientation' is continually being strengthened by technological growth and the separation of new product offerings from ontogenetic need (i.e. technological solutions looking for problems). As David Abram says in 'The Spell of the Sensuous', "Today we participate almost exclusively with other humans and with our own human-made technologies. It is a precarious situation, given our age-old reciprocity with the many-voiced landscape. We still 'need' that which is other than ourselves and our own creations." That is, rather than 'playing to' natural ontogenetic attractors, we are 'playing to' technological attractors in their own right and this is derailing us from our natural ontogenetic mission. If there is no natural need for a product or service, we fabricate one with advertising and then 'causally' pump solutions out there.

Given the rate of growth of new technologies, genetic engineering possibilities and other specialized findings which are unrelated to our ontogenetic needs and the enveloping ontogenetic needs of community and nature, all other things being equal, we can expect to see a rise rather than decline in causal as opposed to purposive organization and management styles. Again, a factor which is working against this regressive trend is the rejection by youth of non purposive business enterprise as is pointed out by Becker.

The fifth strand which needs to be unravelled, the 'deconstruction of flat-space immortalities' is subtle indeed and while the arguments of Baudrillard, Bauman and Henry are clear and forcefully expressed, we have lived so long with this tension between our dualist rationality and sensory experience that it is difficult to reach down and get in touch with it. One small data point of interest to me has been the extraordinary popularity of the animist native north american poem on the 'circle of birth and death' amongst berieved Christians (as evidenced on the Web and elsewhere), i.e.;

The Circle Again: Birth and Death

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow;

I am the diamond glimpse in the snow;

I am the gentle autumn rain;

I am the sunripe golden grain.

And when you wake in the morning, hush.

I am the swift uplifting rush

of circling birds and circling flight;

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there; I do not sleep.

That is, the appeal of a curved space-time view of life and death seems to be running high in today's culture, which may signify a readiness for unravelling the deconstructionist stand. In addition, many people, particularly youth, are refusing to be fear-mongered into quitting smoking or maintaining finely tuned dietary habits because of a perceived rising imbalance between the concern for longevity relative to the quality of life. There is also a growing segment of youth which is rejecting the zero sum win-lose philosophy, embodied in competition, which permeates both the educational and commercial sectors. However, fewer youths, it seems, are likely to absorb Baudrillard's point concerning the deconstruction of anthropic mortality which is converting nature into humanity's waste product through the legislative process.

Overall, the unravelling of these five strands appears to have plenty of resistive potential in reserve. While a growing proportion of today's youth is rejecting both the abstract rationalist flat-space approach to perceiving and inquiring and eschewing establishment icons, alternative pathways for them are few and difficult; i.e. curved-space educational alternatives are for all practical purposes unavailable in the west and financial rewards systems are strongly geared to the exacting of flat-space compliance.

As indicated in the last essay, 'The Sinking Myth of Progress', however, and in the comments of philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard, the tide of flat-space dysfunction can be expected to continue to rise at an accelerating pace due to increasing technological fragmentation and specialization-leveraged ASIDS infectation. The flat-space paradigm seems poised, like Titanic, to take the final plunge, and it remains to be seen how effectively curved space-time lifeboats will be launched in the interim.

* * *

Return to 1998 UPDATE Page