Ownership: Where Culture and Nature Clash

November 23, 1996

" .. I, you, he, she, we... In the garden of mystic lovers these are not true distinctions."

Jawaladin Rumi, 13th Century Islamic Mystic

* * *

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

The Ballad of East and West [1889] Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

Ownership is an unnatural concept in a reality which is seen as an interconnected whole. This note explores the growing burden of maintaining a "materials and transactions" view of reality as is necessitated by the "ownership" concept, and the distorting influence of this view on language, history and psychology.

Modern science (e.g. Quantum Mechanics and Complexity) informs us that there are two ways of looking at nature; as materials which participate in causal transactions or as metamorphosing patterns of interfering waves. The keystone "uncertainty" principle of quantum physics, in its most general formulation, says that it is impossible to conceive of any equipment which can simultaneously observe nature in material-causal and wave-interference modes.

Psychologists studying the functions of the human brain similarly note that we are mentally equipped for dual types of observations. For example, we have "implicit" memory for interference patterns and we have "explicit" memory or "lookup tables" for materials definition and transaction procedures.

When we make mental models of reality, we use a "fabricative" assembly approach for the materials-transactions view, and a "bootstrapping" approach for the interference-pattern view. The fabricative approach requires our active will, to search the lookup tables for the right parts lists and assembly instructions and then painstakingly put the model together in our heads. The bootstrapping approach is primarily involuntary. In bootstrapping, our mental repository of interfering dynamical patterns gives birth to relevant mental models according to our internal need, in an involuntary manner (i.e. when our mind is free-wheeling, rather than actively searching for solutions). Bootstrapping is the only way to deal with a natural world seen as an interconnected whole (i.e. which is not fabricated from parts).

In summarizing to this point, there are two ways of modelling reality and our minds are equipped for both approaches. One approach assumes an interconnected whole and "bootstraps" a model by orchestrating a collection of dynamical interrelationships (interference patterns), and the other assumes a whole which is assembled from parts, or which can be accurately decomposed into parts. In this case, the reality model is "constructed" by building up from a knowledge of the parts.

As indicated in the opening statement of this note, the cultural requirement of specifying and managing "ownership" has been biasing our view of reality towards the material-transaction side of things. This is a "bottom -up" fabricative approach which is getting more and more cumbersome with the exponential growth of information. This is because the material-transaction modelling approach requires our deliberate effort to precisely define and manage the parts. The top-down bootstrapping approach, as mentioned, is involuntary and based on interference patterns which we store in "implicit memory". This type of memory works in "auto-pilot" mode and furnishes information to us on a "just-in-time", as-needed basis. It is the type of memory whereby you just "know" something when you experience it (re-experience it).

A schematic mathematical model may be useful to set the stage for a discussion on the interactions between the concept of ownership, the above two reality-modelling approaches and the role of language, history and the psyche.

First, we can let R(t) represent absolute reality; the reality that we suppose is out there since our individual observations seem to have a great deal of consistency with the collective observation. Reality changes as a function of time, and the reality of the past, which we know from our personal observations supplemented through shared or passed-on stories and documentation, is history, H(t).

Reality evolves partly through feedback from our (or other active natural agents) behavioral response to it. We can annotate this feedback as follows;

R(t+a) = F*R(t) where F is a nonlinear function

From the work of psychologists and as is intuitive, we can see that human behavioral response will be included within the function F. As Laing has suggested, we bootstrap our sense of self (s) from behavioral (b) interaction with others. In so doing we build our "experience" (e). Thus s is represented by a suite of behaviors which emerge from experience. This suggests a notation form of the type; s = b + z*e.

The "z" in the notation is intended to indicate that while behavior is real and tangible, experience is latent and gives rise to behavior. This dipolar aspect of nature and human behavior is discussed elsewhere on this web page.

So, the "z" is what could be termed the "zen" operator ("the sound of one hand clapping"). It arises in a similar manner to the operator "i" in complex number notation. If we ask the question what is the essential nature of behavior, the answer would be that behavior is a perturbance which changes the state of experience (of behavor and behavee). Thus we can convert experience into behavior or behavior into experience by application of the zen operator.

The point in going to a complex number structure to describe how we are involved in this nonlinear feedback loop we call "reality", or "history", is because our reaction to reality consists of both a behavioral response and a stored experience which will either trigger or modify further behavior at a later date.

As Edgar Peters points out in "Chaos and Order in the Capital Markets", neo-classical economics theory is now collapsing because it was built on the concept of a "rational investor" who had only a behavioral response to his information-supported view of the market "reality". The fact is that people have memories (experience from which behavior emerges) as well as emotional thresholds. Thus, the holder of Exxon shares may or may not sell on the basis of one Valdiz spill, but three spills in two years, in spite of the strongest prospects of earnings growth, could see a huge bailout by Exxon shareholders, leading to Exxon's acquisition and the subsequent liquidation of its holdings. This is a nonlinear feedback effect.

While a new design paradigm is currently being created for economics, due to the fundamentally different requirement of incorporating nonlinear feedback effects, similar action for other disciplines is just beginning to brew. This note alludes to what may be in store for language, history and psychology.

Returning to our modelling discussion, it has been assumed that reality, R(t), evolves partly through nonlinear feedback due to our behavioral response to our perception of reality. Thus we "co-evolve" with our model of reality. We do this both as individuals and as a culture or society. Who "we" are is determined not only by our tangible behavioral responses to reality, but also by our experiential base from which these behaviors emerge. As psychologists such as Laing have noted, we tend (like the neo-classical economists) to consider only behaviors and not stored experiences. To deny our experience is to deny our consciousness and relegate ourselves to the status of machines. But that is another story.

Most people would agree that we need to collaborate to get a collective view of reality since as individuals we can only see a portion of it and we shall also make some mistakes in our interpretation. Language is the mechanism by which we develop a shared view of reality. Language can have many forms. For example, in a Startrek episode, several members of the Enterprise were kidnapped by aliens and when they made it back, they attempted to describe the strange "reality" they had seen. This was done by means of a "holographic language" whereby their statements were converted to 3D visual imagery on a "holodeck". As each individual added their statements, there was an attempt to put the imagery into an overall connecting context. In many cases, there were errors in the statements and the individuals negotiated over which information was definite and which was conjecture and so resolved differences and built a composite view of the reality they experienced while captives of the aliens.

While one of the prime uses of language is with respect to the development of a shared view of reality, language has another major role to play and this is to develop and execute transactions between people, such as commercial transactions. Language is used to define "materials" and "ownership" and to manage and account for the material transactions.

Historically, language evolved first as an oral tradition, however, by around 1300 BC, pictographic written languages were prevalent in Scandinavia ("the Runes") and in the Mediterranean (Egyptian Hieroglyphics etc.) and China etc. The pictographic language form was grounded in nature, as it was composed of symbols of men, women, animals, plants, sun, water, earth etc. While the symbols were often used in an "accounting" role e.g. to track livestock traded at a market, they were also used to record ritual events through the "interference" amongst groupings of these symbols. There would appear to be two important points to make in regard to pictographic language. The first is that since the symbols were grounded in nature, there was some consistency in symbolic meaning no matter where these languages originated, however, the difference was in how the pictographs related to the phonetic sounds of the oral tradition from whence they sprang. The second is that the process of building mental imagery (reality models) from the pictographic model appears to be a balanced mix of "bootstrapping" and fabricative assembly. Together, these two modes provided for the conveying of complex religious concepts and material transactions. In Egypt, the Persian ruler Darius I (520 - 480 BC) intended both to maintain the use of Hieroglyphics and to introduce it into Persia.

In the 1950's decipherment of the Minoan pictographic language, "Linear B", Ventris and Chadwick [1] point out the orthogonal nature of the conveying of meaning through interference patterns ("combinatory" effects) and direct syllabic values. The philosophers Heraclitus (500 BC) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1900's) both explored the nature of this dual conveyancing of meaning through language. Wittgenstein pointed out that had we been a culture of painters (instead of mercenaries), we might have focused in on intangibles interference effects such as the change between two colors, rather than a discrete tangible "line". Negative space and interference effects have been all but drummed out of consciousness by the material-transactional emphasis of our western culture. For example, when we go to the beach, we think of material things such as water, sand, air and sun. We do not think of stepping on an imaginary triple boundary which occurs at the intersection of water air and earth whose trajectory zaps around the entire continent. Yet it is this type of abstraction which underlies our natural creativity.

Returning to our historical review, a business-driven phonetic strain of language was evolving in the 1250 - 1000 BC epoch based on the Phoenician's 22 letter alphabet. The problem with pictographic language was that while there was some commonality in nature-oriented symbolics, there were no common phonetics through which to negotiate business transactions around the Mediterranean. By about 750 BC phonetic Greek appeared, based on a modified version of the Phonician alphabet. In the aftermath of the reign of Darius I, the Greek language, because of its commercial utility overtook Egyptian hieroglyphics.

What was lost in the west, with the demise of pictographic language, 2500 years ago, was a balanced and creative way of modelling reality (what was gained was a super business-efficient transactional capability). While the phonetic language did away with the need for hundreds of complex glyphs or "ideograms" associated with complex archetypal idea-concepts, the phonetic approach required look-up tables of hundreds of definitions which were no longer grounded in nature, but in abstract sounds. This change-out was contemporaneous, in Greece, with a marked shift in philosophy from the "nonlinear dynamic" views of Heraclitus, to the linear syllogistic logical views of Aristotle. It is clear that the bottom-up fabricative approach of the phonetic language was very much of a "fit" with the bottom-up fabricative mental modelling approach of Aristotle. Since the phonetic language came first, it may be that Aristotle's linear view of things was itself a manifestation of "the medium is the message" (McLuhan)

Today's text and reference books, consistently praise the superseding of the cumbersome pictographic languages by the compact and practical phonetic language we now use. They also praise the "golden age of Aristotelian [and Cartesian] rationality" the eradication of myth and magic, and for the immense value of written language as a base for educating and socialization (culture). What there is no mention of, is that we have through phonetic language and Aristotelian logic built tremendously powerful machinery for material-transactional modelling, which has made the west a commercial power to be reckoned with, but it has been at the expense of a fuller, more natural modelling of reality as must include visual symbology in language and high dimensional hyper-causal rational thinking (ref. Bohm's "Implicate Order").

It is very much a one-sided story with which today's youth are still being indoctrinated. Because of its deficiencies in reality modelling, Laing's observation that one had, in the UK a ten times better chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to University probably needs significant upwards revision.

The fact of the matter is, modern nonlinear science is telling us that there is hidden order in nature that we are denying since it is not "covered" by Aristotelian logic, and this distorts our view of reality and inhibits our ability to solve complex problems. The use of a bottom-up phonetic language has arguably dulled our creative modelling skills (there is a current global concern over "renewal"), disconnected us from nature so as to engender environmental problems, and contributed to rising "information overload" (too much specialization, too many definitions, too many lookup tables).

To summarize, the cultural concept of private ownership appears to have been the catalyst which tilted the scales towards a materials-transactions oriented reality modelling approach. This has in turn influenced the evolution of an abstract phonetics based language which further stresses a materials-transactions approach to reality modelling.

With the demise of influence of Heraclitus, a nonlinear, interference pattern-oriented thinker and nonlinear, pictographic language tools, and in the wake of the adoption of linear Aristotelian logic and linear phonetic language based reality modelling, western society has developed a number of world class problems in the domain of commerce, education, psychology and the environment. These problems appear to be the outgrowth of a flawed, unnatural and incomplete reality-modelling approach.

In discussion elsewhere on this web page, the importance of considering systems in a "dipolar" versus "unipolar" context has been discussed. Nature as a whole appears to be "complex" in terms of possessing "experience" out of which behavior emerges. Thus in the quantum electron slit experiment, the fact that electrons behave as if they have an inherent phase and frequency equates to having "experience" (i.e. they know what relative phase they're in when called upon to exhibit behavior through some kind of interaction). In the case of humans, how we behave is the result of our experiential history. As Laing has noted, we tend to deny our experiential dimension and "manage" things on the sole basis of behavior. Since it is through experience that we "connect" with the interconnected whole of nature, a view of reality by mechanically accounting for behavior alienates us from ourselves (our consciousness) and the world (collective consciousness) within which we live.

The question would appear to be; how do we add the experiential dimension into language, so that we might build more complete models of reality? While poetry and nonlinear oral traditions are mechanisms for correcting the distortions and omissions, in a phonetic language, they are achieved in the form of overlays rather than being interwoven in the medium itself. As a result, they are often filtered out of communications where they are most needed (e.g. in commerce). Visualization and experiential training appear to be two promising mechanisms, however, they are distinct from language and come very late in the educational sequence.

Perhaps the most influential factor in the continued dominance of linear material-transactional thinking is in the monetary feedback systems. This seems a reasonable assumption since it was the pursuit of wealth which engendered the phonetic language and which intensified linear logic in the feudal and industrial eras. In the study of high performance creative teams, the concept of "ownership" appears to have been superseded, in rewards systems, by "supportive behavior". The migration towards purpose and behavior oriented evolutionary systems is characterized by the evolution of new visual "language" and experiential communications concepts.

[1] Chadwick, John, "The Decipherment of Linear B", 1958, Cambridge University Press