Restoring the Natural Role of the Imagined Landscape in Understanding

Pender Island, December 20, 2003

Whenever I try to share with others 'what I do' with my time, ... things get difficult quickly.   It 'sounds like' philosophy, but philosophy, or most people's impressions of it, doesn't seem to match up with my stated motivation, which is to work with others (including the four-leggeds, the crawlers and the winged and rooted ones) to help sustain community harmony on a continuing basis, ... for the little ones still in the earth that are biding their time, ... and by so doing, help sustain harmony within myself, as only makes sense coming from a 'mitakuye oyasin', 'we are all related' place of feeling.

If philosophy is, as the dictionary says; "a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means", then this is next to the antithesis of what occupies me; i.e. our experience, is, to me, the unique source of truth since everything comes to us through our collective experience.   Even such notions as God having planted ideas and understanding in our head comes to us through our imaginative experience.

Meanwhile, science has been very committed to 'seeing is believing' (observational means) and to the notion that one must reject understandings that one cannot experimentally validate.   But most of our 'feeling' experience cannot be validated by experiment, since experiment is something outside of you, that you visually observe while experience is, in its most basic manifestation, an inner-outer dynamic that is purely relational.  If I feel that my opportunities are being 'closed down' by an oppressive social regime, or if I feel that the community and place I am in is inviting and encouraging me to express myself, to unleash my authentic becoming in a safe and nurturing environment, ... these experiences are purely relational and cannot be understood on the default scientific basis of 'the causal actions and transactions of material agents acting in-their-own-'independent'-right', ... whether this be at the biogenetic or biochemical level.   My biogenetics and biochemistry are 'about me', while this over-riding 'feeling' aspect of my experience is 'about us' and cannot be meaningfully reduced to experiments 'about me'.

So, ... what I am working on is not describable by the term philosophy (speculation) but it does have in common the rejection of 'observational means' as its basis for coming to deepened understanding, since visual perception forces the splitting of our experience into 'the observer in the world' and 'the observed world'; i.e. it turns the world into a containing space that accommodates our 'independent' moving around 'within it'.

Meanwhile, our 'feelings'-based experience imposes no such splitting, and brings to us a 'somatic awareness' of the manner in which we are included in the world dynamic.  'We are the world' in our non-visual feelings-based experience, ... and whether or not we are an included and welcomed participant or an excluded and unwelcome participant is not determined by the biogenetic and biochemical makeup of ourselves and others (N.B. I hold 'bioelectrical' in reserve, for the duration of this note, since electromagnetic 'fields' permeate and are thus neither a background container nor a differentiable property of individual material agents).

There is nothing new in recalling that our 'feelings'-based experience 'goes farther than' 'observational means', as we are always surprised, for example, when our fellows concede to us the emotional stress that they are under that a cheery demeanor has failed to disclose  It is as if the space the envelopes them is somehow pressing down and in upon them, constraining where they can easily go in thought and deed..

But a couple of days ago, Richard Williams said something that helped to crystallize what it is that I am working on, that he is also working on; i.e. the delineation of an 'emotional space' that is counterpart (and the mother of) 'visual space', as one might conceive of the implicit envelope to an acoustic signal relative to the expressed signal itself and I'll leave it to Richard's words to incite the relevant imagery in the reader's mind;

" ... my current purpose, ... to assemble a conceptual framework to describe (among other things) how conceptual frameworks ('ideologies', religions, philosophies, scientific paradigms and the like) shape the imagined landscape of possibilities, fears and desires through which we navigate during our lives, and how the adoption and/or internalisation of different conceptual frameworks (such as the 'inclusional' and 'discretist' frameworks which you describe) may enhance or degrade our experience and behaviour.

My framework, therefore, attempts to address the dynamics of 'selves' moving within the 'possibility spaces' of their own imaginations. These imagined spaces are negotiated via dialogues between 'neighbouring selves'. 'Free will' operates only within the constraints imposed by this imagined landscape of possibilities, fears and desires. Whatever is not charted on the 'mental map' of the landscape is not possible; what is not charted as a 'repeller' on the map is not feared; and what is not charted as an 'attractor' is not desired.

The landscape charted on the mental map (the internalised conceptual framework), with its 'attractors' (goal states) and 'repellers' (problem states), is what governs our experience and behaviour."

Now, you might say, ... 'oh, its psychology that you're talking about, ...the 'science of mind and behaviour' like the 'depth psychology' of Carl Jung, for example.'

But no, it is not.  Psychology focuses in on the individual and his mind and what lurks within its conscious and subconscious depths that sheds meaning-giving light on his thoughts and behaviours.  The emotional space that Richard is talking about goes beyond 'how the individual behaves' and speaks to the enveloping-including landscape, ... the invisible valleys and corridors that affectively 'gate' and 'shape' and give intangible form to the possibility space that envelopes the individual, ... whose influence comes before he exercises his 'free will' and actually 'behaves'.   The observational means are constituted by his behaviour and his conscious thoughts (i.e. from the actuality that precipitates out of the possibility space) and psychology, 'the science of mind and behaviour' seeks to work backwards from these 'observational means' to unearth their obscured causal source, using analysis and dreamwork etc. to deepen the individual's understanding of 'where he is coming from' in terms of the charted landscape rather than from the shape that forms along the boundary of what is charted by actuality and what lies uncharted and avoided.

We won't find the answer to Othello strangling Desdemona by looking deeply into the mind of Othello, ... a greater part of the understanding of Othello's behaviour has to come from inquiry into the mind of Iago, who conspired, successfully, to have Othello believe that Desdemona was unfaithful and lying to him.  Similarly, we won't find the answers to most American's warlike behaviour against Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq by inquiry into their minds alone, ... we must inquire also into the minds of those have so convincingly conspired to have us think of these 'rogue nations' as threats to ourselves and our families, cancerous regimes in the common shared landscape that must be eliminated before they work their dastardly deeds on us and our loved ones.   Understanding Othello from the actuality of where his thoughts and actions went, will not explain the manner of his being influenced by the pre-intellectual, pre-behavioural form of where his thoughts and actions did not go;

Get me some poison, Iago; this night: I'll not expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again: this night, Iago.

Do it not with poison, strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated.

Good, good: the justice of it pleases: very good.

What Iago did was to 'sample' Desdemona's behaviour sparsely and in a particular way so that as to incite a familiar 'metaphor' or 'archetypeal' image in Othello's mind, in this case the image of the deceiver and adultress.  This susceptibility is a general one in information theory and is referred to as 'aliasing'; ('messpunktabstand' is 'sampling rate') and 'aliasing', the extraction of spurious signals (spurious meaning/information), arises when the sampling interval is too sparse or too contrived to capture the full complexity of the signal.  In the diagram, the original (true) signal is more highly complex, and as is the general case when we are observing complex phenomena, we seek to capture the essential 'salient features' through a sparse sampling.   When we do this ourselves, we are in a position to 'sample fairly' but when we do not directly experience the original and rely on the sampling that others have made, the mental reconstructions may  appear less like the original and more like the archetypeal imagery that the messenger or media presenting the sampled data to us, would like us to see.   In the diagram, by sparsely sampling, one obtains two very different signals from the original, one positive and one negative; e.g. uncle sam when he is nice, and uncle sam when he is nasty;

Since we have a heavy dependency on the use of metaphor in our communications, as in the example of personifying nations as 'rogue nations' or 'benevolent nations', their is an exposure, through 'aliasing', to bring out whatever character we would like by the manner in which we sample the data. George Lakoff researches the dangers in leaning too hard on metaphor in an essay subtitled 'Metaphors can kill' ( ), wherein he notes, for example;

"In the International Community, peopled by Nation-Persons, there are Nation-adults and Nation-children, with Maturity metaphorically understood as Industrialization. The children are the "developing" nations of the Third World, in the process of industrializing, who need to be taught how to develop properly and to be disciplined (say, by the International Monetary Fund) when they fail to follow instructions. "Backward" nations are those that are "underdeveloped." Iraq, despite being the cradle of civilization, is seen via this metaphor as a kind of defiant armed teenage hoodlum who refuses to abide by the rules and must be "taught a lesson."

Of course, there is much wisdom in so-called primitive societies which gets passed by when we rely on such under-sampled archetypes; for example, a rich legacy of wisdom and value in the traditions of the North American 'savages', which is very much needed by the world as a whole, was passed over (it is belatedly being recognized today) by the over-simplified and under-sampled characterization of the North American indigenous peoples as 'savages' by the colonizing Europeans. 

Understanding the world in terms of a collection of over-simplified and under-sampled metaphorical constructions that roam the common living space we all share gives rise to an imagined landscape that can appear more dark and malicious than it is and become a heavy and inappropriate modulator of our behaviour. 

That is, our living space, as we are all very aware,  is a common living space that is exposed to 'contamination' by any of us, and how we imagine that common landscape, locally and globally, is the invisible envelope of invaginating influence that guides how we do think and how we do act. It cannot be reduced to an 'agency' that either repels us or attracts us or 'causes us' to think or act in this way or that; i.e. an archetypeal image within our mind, because it is essentially 'spatial', emerging from a landscape populated by 'rogue nations' and rogue individuals and 'benevolent nations' and benevolent individuals whose relational situation relative to themselves and to ourselves sets up an 'imagined space', an imaginary landscape that guides our thoughts and actions.

'Do not go there!' is what the media and our friends tell us, and 'do not go there' is what we continue to repeat to ourselves.  So we, the white North American, do not travel to the middle east and this estrangement grows in a two-sided way, and so we, the black North American, do not go into the white clubhouse and this estrangement grows in a two-sided way.

Much of our experience is about thoughts we do not allow and actions we do not take, and the study of our thoughts and actions is not going to deepen our understanding of this over-riding, pre-observational aspect of our experience.  As Thomas Gray implies in his 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard', there is another landscape besides the visual landscape, that has us moving in riverine flows together, like cattle through the valley, ... cattle who have never learned how to stray from the madding crowd, apart from the adventurous few;

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day;

The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea;

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight

But as that visual landscape dissolves, it does not give way to nothingness, but to an imagined and 'felt' landscape within whose imagined features we submit to falling into collective patterns of thought and behaviour from which our individual thoughts and behaviours 'push off' though we take our thoughts and actions as 'ours' and 'ours alone', emerging from our 'free will', .. .yet, ... yet, .. our experience informs us of this invisible valley landscape that is pre-individual and pre-free-will, the invaginating corridor where possibility is ripe for actualization that emerges from the collective imagination;

Along the cool sequestered vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Consider the trajectory of a white man as he navigates the streets of Los Angeles and compare it with that of a black man.  Their actions, in both cases, reflect the exercising of their free will, and their psyches may both be assessed as 'normal' and 'healthy', but 'where they don't go' in their thoughts and their actions is very different.   This, ... what would be termed 'negative space' in the language of the artist, is as much, ... no, .. more a part of the experiential landscape than is the observational landscape of where we go in our thoughts and our actions.   Only the naive or uninspired artist fills his canvas with objects and leaves the 'negative space' flapping in the breeze, to come out as it might, ... leaving the imagery with a sense of disjointedness, a mechanical collage that lacks deep relational aspect of experiential meaning.   The impressionist, on the other hand, recognizes that this 'negative space' is the enveloping-including space of possibility that opens the door to actualization, ... allowing leaves to flutter, trees to sway and sailboats to pitch and roll, and with his use of colour he brings out the inclusionary nature of this common space which permeates its inclusions as water permeates the glacier and the waterflows included within its interior.  But the snapshot visualization of the realist brings us only the expression of a single possibility out of a dynamically transforming continuum of possibility.

Science has been the domain of the observational, what can tangibly be expressed, and thus science is 'not playing with a full deck'.  Philosophy seeks to speculate on frameworks that go beyond the base of observational data, ... speculations that, meanwhile, are not bound by 'experience'.  Psychology seeks to understand the individual through the corridors of actuality he has penetrated, without inquiring into the shape of the linings of those corridors, the negative space of his thoughts and actions.  Impressionist art, on the other hand, seeks to capture a meld of the explicitly observable and the influence of the enveloping-including dynamics of space, ... the domain of the relational, the simultaneous mutual influencing.  There are many conferences aimed at bringing science and art together, that seek to restore the relational, the over-riding role of 'negative space', the wellspring of aesthetics, back into our conceptual framings, ... retro-indication that our science-dominated cultural ethics are ignoring and riding roughshod over an essential hyper-observational aspect of our experience.

How do we know what is out there, after the lights go out?

How do we know whether we should believe Iago's mapping of the landscape?   How do we decide which maps to accept and which to reject?

I have been surprised when renewing acquaintances from high school days, how, in their adult life, many people are so confident of their abilities to 'know what's what'.   Back in high school, because I had a knack for coming up with an understanding of how complex systems worked, my friends would be impressed and say things like, 'I would never have figured that out in a million years on my own.'.   Later on in life, in sharing my views, which have never really 'changed' but only 'morphed' and 'deepened', ... they smile when I share my worldview and are amused at what they see as 'my hyper-arrogance', in that I 'go against' the ideas of an Einstein or a Hawking without blinking an eye or being touched by self-conscious grandeur etc.   They are telling me that I am wrong and obviously so.  But on what basis are they doing so?   Has my relative strength of faculty for inciting an inside-out understanding of complex phenomena declined or gone off the rails?  No, this is not the issue.   Education is the issue, for whatever I have to share seems more easily shared with the relatively less well educated, while those who are well-educated are quick to refer me to the appropriate 'authorities' on any given subject, and thus, in their minds, to 'the truth of the matter'.

Western education is more often about the 'learning of many things' rather than being about 'learning' in the context of how to deepen our personal understanding.   Western education 'commoditizes understanding' in the form of 'knowledge' that we are asked to 'accept' rather than to assimilate in a personal inside-out way that delivers 'understanding'.   As Heraclitus said, in critique of Pythagorus and other of his contemporary philosophers; 'The learning of many things does not teach understanding'.  

Thus, there is massive dependency, on the part of the educated public, on landscapes presented to us by 'trusted authorities' such as 'political authorities'.  The uneducated public, on the other hand (and those of us as in our 'inclusionality' sharing circle who are trying to get in touch with our pre-educational understanding capacities) are not either unaware of who the authorities are, or unwilling to accept the landscape renderings of authority when they clearly clash with the local reality of their own life-experience.  How do we know if there are Iagos amongst those political authorities that are bringing to us, through the media, many of the features which help to shape our imagined landscape?

Here we find many political analysts speaking of a 'sea-change' in the public's trust of politicians (a rising distrust and transformation of who we allow to shape our imagined landscapes) where, while the politicians that form the government continue to 'drive the bus', alternative means such as 'action groups' are emerging in increasing profusion to give the public alternative forms of transport based on very different views of the landscape.  Expression of opinion in Europe show a dramatic rise in distrust in the political system and freefall in the relative respect with which politicians are held;

Thus, the traditional manner by which we have developed our imaginary landscapes is being seriously questioned, and the latest incidents involving demonization of Saddam Hussein and his purported 'weapons of mass destruction' will undoubtedly send these indices higher still.

Educated people are quickly trading out prior trusted authorities that have fallen out of favour for new ones without questioning the process of how we arrive at our imaginary landscapes.   One alternative is, of course, to focus in on the character of the various individuals and seek to assess their trustworthiness psychologically.  But each of them, in turn, is dependent for their imagined landscape, on trusted others.   Thus, the trust-based imagined landscapes of the educated public depend upon an interdependent network of trust-based relationships that is prone to being infiltrated by Iagos and thus detached from sentient experience.   Through our situation within the trust-based network, we too can become unwitting Iagos.

The 'rogue nation' of Libya that I lived and worked in for three and a half years bore no resemblance to its portrayal in the media and by western politicians.  In fact, how could any nation be personified as 'rogue' when there is rich diversity and opposing views within it, ... where what is currently manifest is a snapshot of one of a continuum of dynamical balancing possibilities like the realist painting rendition that ignores the rich potentiality of its possibility space, ... a possibility space that can, in the continuing moment, bring forth radically new manifestations, given encouragement from its enveloping-including environmental dynamic.   And, similarly, how could any nation be personified as 'good' when there is such diversity and opposition residing within it?   Such personifications 'freeze' the shape of our imagined landscape and, in their expression and declaration, silently and absolutely inform us of 'where not to think' and 'where not to go'.

But if we do learn how to 'stray from the madding crowd', if we come to understand more deeply the origins of our imagined landscape, ... we may discover through our real life experience that the boundaries of the Iagonian 'rogue nation' are permeable and that we can walk right through them and meet loving, caring people who have been wanting to reach out and befriend us as we have been wanting to reach out and befriend them, in the spirit of mitakuye oyasin.

In order to permeate these unspoken, unexpressed boundaries, we have to 'let go of ' (not 'abandon' but 'let flex and float') the imagined landscape-features that are 'taught to us' in our educational institutes and by our political authorities.  We have to reject the unnatural primacy given to the commoditization of understanding as shrink-wrapped, off-the-shelf products of a 'knowledge economy' stewarded by 'the experts' and 'the authorities'.  And we have to restore our feeling-experience to its natural primacy, ... not limiting ourselves to the 'observational' that is foundational to reductionist science that splits the observer off from what he is observing, ... but instead honouring firstly our natural 'inclusionality' with its inner-outer relational sentience that influences us in a pre-behavioural manner, through the invaginating shapes of the enveloping-including possibility space, whose formful guiding valleys and corridors are the imagined boundaries of  'what not to think' and 'where not to go'.    Like the impressionist artist, we must restore coherent, simultaneously reciprocal meaning to this 'negative space' in order that aesthetics and harmony be restored to our interpretations of experiencing the world dynamic.

So, what I am working on, as Richard's comments have triggered a greater illumination of, is neither science per se, nor philosophy per se, nor psychology per se, nor art, per se, ... but the co-drafting of self-help course notes for "Imagined Landscapes 101", ... the origin and nature of our sentient-experience-accessed, pre-cultural, pre-behavioural, pre-expression-of-free-will, space-based guidance system.

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Technical Note: In the information theory of Shannon, we concern ourselves only with the 'expression' of information, but in the information theory of Gabor which incorporates the uncertainty principle (the interdependence of time (the local) and frequency (the global)) the 'real signal' is augmented by an imaginary component (the 'quadrature' or 'Hilbert transform') to give the 'complex signal'.  The complex signal gives context to the 'real' or 'expressed' signal in terms of what it is not expressing; i.e. the complex signal comprehends the imaginary boundaries from which the signal self-reflects. This augmented information theory includes the 'hooks' by which complex signal is able to infer the holographic impression of its enveloping-including space.  In real world acoustic wave propagation where the gabor theory is implicitly used in imaging space, the theory accommodates the fact that 'the medium is the message'; i.e. the vibrating medium is, at the same time, the source, receiver and propagating medium of the informational wave dynamic.  The analogy with 'imagined landscapes' follows, that our communications cannot be taken 'literally' in an observational sense, but must be construed as implying imaginary boundaries where the expressive information does not go.  By restoring this imaginary informational component, we are able to holographically image our conception of the world in an 'inclusional' manner where both the speaker and listener are the enveloping-including medium 'are one'.  This, in fact, is the implicit 'theory' in the 'sharing circles' or 'learning circles' of the aboriginal tradition.

That there is 'additional information' that we can use coming from the shape of 'where information does not go', ... consider the shape of the 'envelope' to an acoustic signal.   In Gabor's extension from purely 'real' to 'complex signal', the oscillating signal (moving up and down) is transformed (by the addition of its 90 degree phase-shifted imaginary component) into a rotating signal.   Imagine this rotating signal as rendered in the form of twisted coathanger wire, and imagine that you heated this wire and put it into a bucket of water that you were freezing into a block of ice, meanwhile keeping the wire rotating so that its 'envelope' was icy space while the inner space of the expressive signal remained liquid.   Do you think you could be informed by the 'shape of space' itself?

The following two diagrams show (a) the signal with the implied 'I don't go there' envelope, (b) the envelope space 'coloured in' so that the 'what it is not' looks like a 'something that is';

Fig (a): The wave form with the implied 'I don't go there' envelope


Fig.(b): : The wave form emphasizing the two spaces, where the signal goes and where it doesn't.

[These data are taken from 'Experiments in Psycho-Acoustics' by Fred Nachbaur at ]

Now, what does the shape of space sound like?   ... click on the moving text, ...


  Is my mind moving or is it the mindspace I am included in that moves?


Pauli's formulation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle shows that time and frequency are interdependent.  Gabor's 'Theory of Communications' reformulated the elemental informational signal of communications theory into 'information quanta' which were simultaneously dependent on time and frequency.   As this 'beat frequency' (interfering 440 Hz. and 443 Hz. signals) shows,, ... informs, ... and as is demonstrated in the psycho-acoustic experiments on the referenced website, there is an audible 'phantom' reflection emerging from the shape of the containing space of the signal, ... from where the signal doesn't go. And as Gabor implied, the complex signal enables us to bridge between 'time language' and 'frequency language' and thus while we hear the expressed signal itself as 'tonal' (in terms of frequency or indefinite global information), we hear the shape of the space where the signal doesn't go in terms of 'stopping and starting action' (in terms of time or 'right-here-and-now' local information)..

Psycho-acoustics thus deliver guiding information from 'negative space' that is 'phantom information' that our mind produces 'by inference'.  As Nachbaur says, in speaking of another case of 'phantom information' where one can hear 'phantom bass' an octave lower than anything that is physically contributing to the music;

"As you see in the sonogram, there is not even a hint of any lower octave as the perfect fifth starts playing. Verification once again that what you hear (if you hear it) is your marvellous human brain at work, and is not a "physical" phenomenon."  [for 'your brain', we might want to substitute 'our sentience']

Our 'awareness' thus seems more like a property of space than a property of the individual; i.e. individual consciousness appears like the intervention into the substance of awareness, hence the 'reflections' from the co-creatively shaped 'lining' that emerges from where our thought 'does not go'.  This 'inversion' recalls the inversion in thinking that comes in playing pool or in driving 'friendly' on the crowded freeway; i.e. our 'assertive statement' is seen as being made relative to the simultaneous mutually influencing dynamical space the individual is immersed and included in.   When we make this 'flip' in our framing (which is equivalent to imposing spherical space rather than euclidian space), our 'action' seems more like a property of space than a property of the individual (i.e. the actions of the individuals reflect back from the enveloping-including dynamic of the collective).

All the supporting inferences are in place and it is not a large jump to suggest that we are guided in the realm of thinking and acting, similarly to the psycho-acoustic example, by 'phantom' impressions and influence ('reflections') coming from 'negative space', that inform us on the basis of the shape of where our thoughts 'do not go' and where our movements 'do not go'.   As children, these are just the boundaries that we want to permeate, and as adults, these are the boundaries we urgently need to relearn how to permeate.

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