Montreal, September 21, 1998
Sometimes, on hot sultry nights, I dream of perfumed ebony beauties, snugged into sun-bleached jeans and white cotton tee-shirts running barefoot up the palm-fringed beach to greet me, their pointie benippled breasts jiggling and jostling in playful abandon, .... but before they reach me, I am a child again, wetting my lips in pre-orgasmic anticipation as my favorite desert of jello and whipped cream is being served me.
I'm not sure I want ALL my dreams interpreted. Some are just 'keepers' the way they are. But what seems evident, in any case, is that our minds can re-combine fragments of our experience in very creative and appealing ways which have real effects on us. In fact, the purely imaginative can often 'make my day'. As a result, my disposition, which might otherwise have been surly and judgemental, becomes jovial and tolerant. When I join others around me in this mood, I wink and laugh, pat them on the back and fetch them coffee. Imagination clearly makes a difference. And sometimes, when everyone's imaginings are rocking and rolling, we can do the greatest things together.
That's what 'I' call a 'complex system'.
It is complex in the aspect that the mere perceiving of QUALITATIVE patterns is enough to tangibly influence REAL system behaviors. This is not a CAUSAL system in the normal sense of the word, nor is it deterministic, but it is an unavoidably obvious characteristic of the REAL world we live in, and it is a characteristic which we must 'reckon' with. An essential aspect of this phenomena is that this influence on real system behaviors does not depend on the 'detailed' geometry of the qualitative pattern. For example, the qualitative pattern of the President having sex with an aide in the White House can lead to REAL spending in the millions and the modulating of worldwide media coverage, .... all on the merest suggestion of what form the qualitative pattern takes. And if an insider were to blurt, "hey man, you've never seen anything like this before", the impact of this ambiguating qualification of the pattern on REAL behavior would be to intensify rather than reduce its influence.
This general effect in complex systems' behaviors troubles the notion of 'causality', which underpins the unquestioned modes of perception and system inquiry by which science typically tries to solve complex problems. This basic 'mismatch' between the characteristics of the complex systems we are trying to manage, and the modes of perception and inquiry we are using, is a continuing irritant to me, and has of late motivated me to write several 'letters to the editor', on various topics (i.e. to the Vancouver Sun on 'borderline bureacracy', to the Dallas Morning News on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, to the Montreal Gazette on foreign exchange rates and the 'Global Casino' (formerly known as the 'Global Economy') and to the Editor of *Complexity* on the Complexity-solving prospects of 'Consilience').
Of course, I haven't spoken about the ebony beauties in my letters, but I have been speaking to the general issue, which increasingly astounds me, of our persistance in trying to get answers to complex systems problems using the simplistic tools of euclidian perception and inquiry. Rather than going into the details of what moved me to action on ALL the issues I pursued, I will focus on the letter to the editor of *Complexity* which contains the 'archetypal' notions.
The influence of symbology in our lives, long neglected or ignored in our western culture, is a theme which is rising in popularity. While many recent books deal with a wide array of archetypical symbols and what they mean in our lives, my interest is more oriented to basic scientific principles (and I use 'science' here in its broadest sense, since most of science turns a blind eye to intangible-tangible process linkages). When Erich von Daniken's book, "Chariot of the Gods" came out in the late sixties, I was really not impressed, although it amazed me that a couple of friends were 'sold' on the suggested origins of the symbols. This set me to reflecting, and when a British magazine called "Private Eye" did a feature article on the book (there was an 'unfortunate' typo and the title came out "Chariot of the Dogs"), they pointed out that a rugby scrum had a remarkably similar geometry to a spacecraft landing module. This prompted me to go to an after-game pub session to further investigate this relational linkage, however, it became obvious that long term memory retention of symbolic origins was 'not bloody likely'.
I suspect that most of us would agree that whatever differences may exist amongst interpretations of a particular symbology, symbols from the past, i.e. qualitative space-time patterns, can stir the imagination to action and lead to 'emergent behaviors', right? If you're not sure, let's wager on how long before you will be able to get through Israeli customs wearing a swastika armband. .... right, I'll see yours and double.
Let's turn for a moment to that WWII and postwar era cartoon of a little guy peeking over the fence and the associated inscription 'Kilroy was here'. It usually brings a smile to people when they see it (unlike the swastika), so here's another example of some kind of imaginary link to the past, influencing current behavior. Sure the influence may be modest, but it is there. My personal experience used to be that when I saw this pattern, the edges of my mouth would start to curl upwards, my cheek muscles would tighten and ball out my cheeks, and my outward respiration would become spasmodic so that my breath came out in little gasps making a 'heh, heh, heh, heh' sound.
Subtle or not, the principle is established, the mere perception of qualitative patterns will trigger real emergent behaviors (and exactness is not a requirement; i.e. killroi wuz heer, will do fine). Ok, what was the origin of 'Kilroy was here'? The graffiti always tickled me because it seemed so 'for nothing' but I really never knew where it came from till I researched it. Perhaps it's the same for you. Anyhow, here's the official word;
"Kilroy was a 46-year old shipyard worker from Halifax, Massachusetts and during the war, worked as a checker at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. His job was to go around and check on the number of rivets completed. Riveters were on piece work and got paid by the rivet. Kilroy would count a block of rivets and put a check mark in chalk, so the rivets wouldn't be counted twice. When he went off duty, the riveters would erase the mark. Later on, another checker would come through and count the rivets a second time, resulting in double pay for the riveters.
One day Kilroy's boss called him into his office . The foreman was upset about all the wages being paid to riveters, and asked to investigate. It was then that he realized what had been going on. The tight spaces he had to crawl in to check the rivets didn't lend themselves to lugging around a paint can and brush, so Kilroy decided to stick with chalk. He continued to put his check mark on each job he inspected, but he added 'Kilroy was here" in king-size letters next to the check. Once he did that, the riveters stopped wiping away his marks.
Ordinarily the rivets & chalk marks would have been covered up with paint. With war on, however, ships were leaving the Quincy yard so fast that there wasn't time to save them. As a result, Kilroy's inspection "trademark" was seen by thousands of servicemen who boarded the troop ships the yard produced. His message apparently rang a bell with the servicemen, because they picked it up and spread it all over Europe and the South Pacific. Before the war's end, "Kilroy had been here, there and everywhere on the long haul to Berlin and Tokyo. Along the way, someone added the sketch of the chap with the long nose peering over the fence, and that became part of the Kilroy message. "
The point here is that there is no longer any notion of a 'reasoned' linkage between this original event and someone recognizing and reacting to the symbol today, because if they are like me, they would be totally unaware of its historical origins. The point is that things which are remote in space-time can effect things which are local and current in time and space. It's enough to make you start thinking that space-time is a continuum and that you can see around the corners, or that space-time is curved, so to speak.
Anyhow, in a similar vein, there is the account of psychological testing of a group of five chimpanzees, where a particular group behavior is established by real, repetitive 'cause' (they all get sprayed with icy water when they climb a certain colored ladder), and is retained even after the real cause is withdrawn (i.e. after the sprayer is removed; .. by which time no-one is climbing the ladder any more anyhow). The group behavior is retained because all the chimps have learned to prevent each other from climbing the ladder because they know, from the established PATTERN or 'symbology' what will happen if they do (they will get sprayed with icy water). One by one, the chimps are changed out, and when all five have been changed out, the new group of chimps still knows that it is a 'no-no' to allow that ladder-climbing pattern to occur and they refrain from climbing it, but there is no longer any one in the group who knows 'why' (chimps do not have a language capable of sharing concepts), ... it has become 'just the way we do things around here'. This is a phenomena which is common in most human organizations, and often termed 'the unwritten rules' or the 'corporate culture'.
While we must laugh at ourselves for such behaviors which have us persisting in certain modes of behavior having long forgotten the 'whys', there is a growing seriousness to the effects of our not questioning our underlying assumptions. Science itself is proceeding on the basis of an unquestioned 'the way we do things around here', perpetuating euclidian practice which hasn't a hope in hell of dealing with the above-mentioned type of complex systems issues. And in our everyday world, not only do we ignore our symbolic legacy, which carried the wisdom of the ancients (e.g. 'the two and the one' etc), we ignore the fact that qualitative patterns are becoming ever stronger influencers of our social behaviors (i.e. the 'political correctness' effect).
Much of the rising dysfunction in our society can be directly attributed to our denial and ignoring of the influence of qualitative patterns on tangible systems behaviors. The youth of today are growing up in the very confusing situation where qualitative patterns are having an enormous influence on real behaviors but everyone seems to deny it. As Ann said a few days ago about Clinton's telling the details of his rendezvous' with Monica Lewinsky, "We wouldn't let him tell the truth". Who could say in public that they wouldn't at all mind getting a blow-job in the office to break the tedium? In fact, who could even say in public that they have pissed in the shower? That's what Madonna asked David Letterman, and he wiggled and squirmed and wiggled and squirmed and made out like she was a very nasty girl for bringing up such unthinkable acts. We need many more people with the courage of Madonna if we are going to escape from being victimized by our own imagination, our richest gift which science continues to deny us.
The continuing denial of the obvious real-life property of qualitative patterns being able to induce emergent behavior in our most essential support systems is making our society very dysfunctional indeed. And the biggest and most undeserving victims are today's youth. As mentioned in previous notes, a Harvard source cited in USA Today (8/13/98) reports that suicide rates quadrupled for US children and teens over the past 45 years, and the incidence of serious depression before age 20 has risen tenfold from 2% to 23% over the past 30 years, a condition which associates, in turn, with three to four times the likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse.
Now you may associate this with God's wrathe or whatever, but even if that were the case, surely He helps those who help themselves, and the continued denial of the obvious, with respect to systems behaviors, is insane. This is what motivates me to 'write letters'. It is the imagery of scientists peering down into microscopes in a rugby scrum formation, looking at the tippy tiny end of the tail of a dragon who is standing behind them and getting mightily pissed off.
So my letter to *Complexity* was prompted by the rising notion of 'Consilience' (put forth by Edward O. Wilson in his book by the same name) as being the pathway to an understanding of complex systems. Consilience is a kind of mechanical integration of the detailed understanding coming out of diverse specialized disciplines. In an *Complexity* article entitled "Consilience and Complexity", Wilson leads off with the sentence; "The greatest challenge today, not just in cell biology and ecology but in all of science, is the accurate and complete description of complex systems."
Wilson goes on to say that; "They [researchers] foresee no need for overarching grand explanations as a prerequisite for creating artificial life. An organism is a machine, and the laws of physics and chemistry, most believe, are enough to do the job, given sufficient time and research funding."
Wilson, a Harvard professor in biology and author of two Pulitzer Prize winning books ('On Human Nature' and 'The Ants'), goes on to suggest that since "Organisms and their assemblages are the most complex systems known", that biology is the place to probe the "deep laws of complexity and emergence".
What soon becomes clear is that Wilson is talking about tangible processes which go on at the level of molecules, cells, embryos, DNA etc. In fact, science, and particularly Professor Wilson's science, doesn't deal with 'intangible' processes, such as the impact of 'imagination', through symbols, on real, tangible processes of the ilk of 'Kilroy was here', not to mention my dreams.
Guess what? This kind of reductionist thinking is where all the money is being invested, including your tax dollars, to determine the tangible causal linkages between such things as genetic structure and criminal behavior. Hey, .... what about dreams and imagination as potential influencers of criminal behavior, ... how are the dreams of today's youth shaping up?... full of Pooh bear and sugar plum images? But this misallocation of funds is not what prompted me to write the letters, what prompted me to write was the growing depression in young people, and the self-inflicted pain which is the result of this, ....which always falls on the most sensitive and the most innocent, because they are the ones who tune in to natural truths which transcend "the way we do things around here" and because this sets them apart, they think themselves wrong rather than the mad society in which they are immersed which pretends that everything is 'as good as it gets'.
Meanwhile, science continues to attack complex problems by peering down the barrel of a microscope and tinkering around with micro-objects and micro-machinery. R. D. Laing, in citing Kierkegaard's remark that one will never find consciousness by looking down a microscope at brain cells or anything else, observes that "...one will never find persons by studying persons as though they were only objects. A person is the me or you, he or she, whereby an object is experienced. Are these centers of experience and origins of actions living in entirely unrelated worlds of their own composition?"
But were not just talking about humans and consciousness here, the principle of qualitative patterns inducing real systems behaviors pervades all levels of nature. If you make a little clockwise vortex in the bath water as you pull the plug out, the water will 'learn' from this and set up a clockwise rather than counter-clockwise draining vortex. And if a sultry tropical weather condition 'perceives' a spiralling 'butterfly', it's tangible behavior can be influenced to the point it becomes a hurricane.
Ok, you say, but now you are talking about the application of tangible forces rather than mere pattern recognition. But my point is not that there are no physico-chemical sequences of actions in perception, ... human perception involves photons, electromagnetic fields, neural firings and so on, just as the butterfly effect on weather patterns has its physico-chemical goings on; ... my point is that systems behaviors can be induced by qualitative patterns in a manner that can never be MATERIALLY AND QUANTITATIVELY resolved by human beings and their microscopes and deterministic reductionist methods, ... and I am not making this up as I go along, this is the implication of deterministic chaos, a scientifically discerned, fundamental aspect of our reality.
Mr. Wilson and reductionist science, on the path they're taking, have as much chance to unravel the mysteries of complexity as a planeload of tourists have to get through Israeli customs wearing those swastika armbands and thinking 'sieg heil' is Isreaeli for 'nice to see you'. In other words, the impact of qualitative patterns which may extend well beyond the space-time region you are focusing on, may have a dominating impact on what occurs within that region of study.
Which brings me around to the subject of my letter to the Editor of *Complexity*; ... i.e. 'Kepler was here' or 'Kepler's Uncertainty Principle'.
Kepler explained all this stuff to us in a remarkable, easy-to-read little book called 'Harmonies of the World", back in 1618, but before science 'cottoned on' to what he was saying, his message was overtaken by the phenomenon of Isaac Newton. Isaac's big book (it was not best seller as it was so obscure that Voltaire, a great fan of Newton, called it 'a book that many want to have read, but few want to read'), 'The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy' takes us into a world of mathematical abstraction and is a bear to understand. Not only is this due to its working on a level of unnatural abstraction (dealing with snapshots of 'force and particles' rather than flow and resonance), but also because it's mostly 'geometrical backfill'. Newton used his own development (calculus) to develop his theory but presented it all in reverse-engineered classical geometrical argument out of fear that his peers wouldn't accept argument based on the abstract notion of a 'derivative' (fluxion).
This is, as Prigogine points out, a general problem with euclidian deterministic science, it transposes the problem into abstract mathematical domains which approximate the problem via the transposition, presenting solutions from a 'divine viewpoint' which is not accessible to human intellection. In this case, one has to 'have faith' that the solution is indeed a solution, and this is true for all euclidian solutions. This puts traditional science into the 'religion' category'.
What Kepler said is so plain and simple that it is initially very difficult for us to see, because we, in the west, are conceptualizing our thoughts via the euclidian structures we have been educated in, and which permeate our cultural media ('the medium is the message').
Here's what we Kepler had to say (in modern word usage);
The solar system is a very basic archetype for 'geometry' and 'harmony' (measurable structure and qualitative patterning) and how they come together in a unity. How we go about understanding this archetype gives us a model for human intellection and its unified duality --- 'the two and the one' or 'discursive intellection' (rational thinking) and 'intuitive intellection' (intuitive thinking).
If, from earth, we observe the sun, mercury and venus, we are looking down and in towards the center (let's call this 'center-pointing') and we see what looks like a couple of flies buzzing around a piece of fruit. We see these things as objects and in terms of their measurable structure. If we wanted to stop here in our understanding, we could say a lot and, like our friends looking down into the microscope, we might even believe that if we studied this system in enough detail, we could come up with the general organizing principles of our whole world.
But if turn around and look outward from the earth's orbit, towards Mars and Jupiter, we get a very different kind of view in which we become the center of the system, and there is no way to measure what's out there because there's no reference points (only the solar system archetype is being considered here). Though this 'center-based' view is in terms of unmeasurable qualitative space-time patterns, it is much richer than the center-pointing view, which looked like a two dimensional movie-screen view. As Kepler points out, a center-based view is a purely intuitive view; i.e. we make sense of it by bringing into connection in our mind the multitude of experiences (real and imaginary) associated with what we are looking at and what we have ever looked at. And when we do this, we realize that 'as it is above, so it is below' and that we are a part of this resonant system which extends from the sun to Jupiter (and beyond) and what we saw 'below' in our center-pointing view, as being a 'detached' system in its own right, was really just the tail of this much larger, mutually co-resonant beast.
Of course, if we started playing around with mercury and venus somehow, the results of that playing around will undoubtedly impact the entire system, including us, the observor who is a contained participant in the overall system.
There are several basic and counter-intuitive (to western culture) principles in Kepler's systems perception and inquiry 'archetype'. One is that there are no truly 'detached' objective systems as the system is the whole which contains both the observer and observed. Thus, we could not 'genetically re-engineer' a system down there, without genetically re-engineering ourselves in some way. Another principle is that we have two basic and very different modes of perception; 'center-pointing' (rational) and 'center-based' (intuitive) which come together in the overall unity we call 'intellection' or 'thought'.
Another fundamental principle which emerges, which I have been calling "Kepler's Uncertainty Principle" appears to be another form of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, but one which speaks to qualitative pattern issues as well as to quantitative objective issues. This is that we can't be looking both up (center-basing) and down (center-pointing) at the same time, and the more we emphasize the upward qualitative view, the less accurately we can describe the structural details and the more accurately we describe structural details, the less able we are to perceive the overall qualitative patterns. That is, as the observer shifts position from Jupiter towards the sun, he trades away structural detail from all the ratiocinating which is possible from all the planets being in the center-pointing viewplane, in favor of a center-based view which shows him more and more of the harmonically interweaving orbital patterns. By the time he gets to the position of the sun and looks out, he 'understands' the whole system in a qualitative sense, but he no longer has a quantitative structural picture. By the reversed process, it is clear that the reverse occurs. It is our practice, in perceiving and inquiring into systems, however, to assume that that which we are 'center-pointing' in on, can be approximated as a complete and independent system in its own right.
In the limit, as we seek ever more structural detail, as is advocated by Wilson, we are sacrificing our view of qualitative patterns which extend on out beyond the space-time bounds of the system we are studying; i.e. we are sacrificing our intuition, and there will be no way we can get to a view of the whole system from this pursuit of structural detail. In fact, in the limit of pursuing ever finer detail, as Wittgenstein has said, when we reach the 'crystalline purity of logic' (when we know every grain of sand and every molecule on mercury and venus and what they do, then the whole house of cards will collapse, since this euclidian, thing-based view is an abstraction of our reality which, pushed to its limit, falls apart. It falls apart because it no longer has any of the whole-and-part relativity of our reality as we experience it. There is nothing in these grains of sand or molecules of mercury and venus, .... which can inform us as to the participatory aspects of earth, mars and jupiter.
Kepler's Uncertainty Principle would say that we must maintain a balance between intuition and rational intellection and he points out how convenient it was that we (earth) is situated at an intermediate position in the solar system, for if we had have been at the center, we would have never had a quantitative structural picture of the orbits and our conception would have been entirely intuitive, whereas, if we had been at the very periphery, we would have had all structure and no intuitive understanding (i.e. understanding based on qualitative space-time patterns). Of course, one can equally assume that life forms such as ours would not evolve at either the extreme periphery or the ultimate center of the system.
Finally, there is another important point which Kepler makes regarding the relationship between the intuitive, center-based perception and the rational center-pointing view. This is that while the rational, center-pointing view is one of many perspectives, depending upon the extent of space-time sphere and how the center is situated, the intuitive, center-based perception, coming from the natural center of resonance, incorporates all possible rational perspectives, thus, the intuitive center-based view CONTAINS the rational, center-pointing view and this sets up a natural primacy for the intuitive-over-the-rational.
To invert this primacy is to infuse dysfunction into the overall system and this is where our culture appears to be going. This is what 'literalism' and political correctness are; .... inverted geometries by which our intuition-based experience is being enslaved by incomplete rational views; i.e. 'rationality', the child of 'intuition', is believing that it can be the parent of itself. This is not a good way to evolve, ... in fact, this is madness.
The way out of this unnatural inversion is relatively painless, particularly for artists, musicians and youth whose feet are still on natural uninverted ground. It can be relatively painless for the heavy investors in euclidian rationality, as well, provided that they do not panic when they start seeing their thirty-fourth floor euclidian reality as pure abstraction.. One must treat the discovery as one might treat a skunk one finds before him on opening a closet door; i.e. one must embrace the new reality and, acting as if nothing has happened, ever so smoothly and surely take the necessary steps to taper into the new reality.
Edward Wilson did contribute to our understanding of complexity in one important way, in his article "Consiliency and Complexity", however, and this was with his reflecting on the primary driver behind our scientific research directions. He said; "Scientists have been charged with conquering cancer, genetic disease, and viral infections, all of which are cellular disorders, and they are massively funded to accomplish these tasks. They know roughly the way to reach the goals demanded by the public, and they will not fail. Science, like art, and as always through history, follows patronage."
Sounds like 'we have seen the enemy and it is us', right? And since Jeff Gates ("The Ownership Solution") shows how the 'haves' and 'have-nots' are rapidly diverging due to the euclidian way, we may end up by consuming the many in order to perpetuate the lives of the few.
But it's not just the money going into scientific research which is heavily tilted to the 'center-pointing' side, it is also the money which goes into education, where these same insane ideas of understanding life via reductionist objectivity are deeply imbued in the medium of education and its content, as has been noted by Vygotsky, Montessor, A.S. Neill, R.D. Laing et al. It's a crazy-maker folks, and the show is getting curiouser and curiouser.
Kepler was here. Take a look at the patterns, ... see if there's anything that fits.
* * *
Return to '98 Update Page and Essay Index