Western Man, .... Smart Feller or Fart Smeller?
Montreal, October 10, 1998
You can take this short test to discover YOUR smell-rating, and let your boss have a go as well.
The 'Interpretation' footnote will help you establish your rating, help you see 'how you got that way', and if you don't like the rating you got, how you can change it.
'Smell' is used in a figurative sense to allude to one's overall 'reasoning' capability. For example, Hamlet 'smelled' something rotten in the kingdom of Denmark. Rather than being a case of rationally 'putting two and two together', Hamlet's reasoning was the 'intuitive' type of reasoning wherein one discovers an 'ordering principle' which makes sense out of a whole lot of confusing goings-on which were previously seen as unrelated. Einstein 'sniffed out' the theory of relativity this way, as he said, by "bringing a multitude of real and imaginary experiences into connection in the mind", until, at last, the proverbial 'light bulb' incandesced.
In the views of some peoples, reasoning-smell is seen as going even further. For example, when Sioux Chief Red Fox's aboriginal views on 'The Happy Hunting Ground' were ridiculed by a Baltimore Sun reporter in 1913, as she asked him; "I want to know if Chief Hollow Horn Bear [who had just died] will wear his feathers, ride his pony, and eat his corn in the happy hunting ground.", Red Fox asked her to get out her pen and paper and record his verbatim response for publication, which was "The old chief will wear his feathers, ride his pony and eat his corn when you smell the flowers that they put on your grave."
Smell, or sensory perception, is clearly the mother of all reasoning, .... and with that brief introduction behind us, ... now's the time to find out how YOU smell; i.e. whether this most interesting of verbs is transitive or intransitive in your case.
After you read the problem scenario and question just below, and before you look at the encrypted answer at the bottom of the 'Interpretation' section, jot down a sentence or two on how you would inquire into and respond to the postulated scenario. If you send your jottings in to me (by email), i will compile and redistribute them (anonymously if you like), so that we can get a feeling for the collective approach.
The time is a few years ago. You are alone with Princess Diana and Mother Theresa, riding in an elevator, when your olfactory systems-alerts go off-chart, informing you that someone has farted (not you). You covertly cast a sideways glance to both Diana and the good Mother, and see that both are standing contemplatively and pokerfaced, intent on the display panel as it counts-down towards their floor ... probably anticipating their escape from from the smell and embarassment, awaiting them at their destination. You are uncomfortable, ... you know that you didn't do it, but who did? What if the elevator stops and picks up more passengers en route?
Using your Hamletian sense of 'smell' and without asking any questions, you quickly resolve the ambiguity. How do you do it?
DO NOT READ FURTHER. ... STOP RIGHT HERE. .... Jot down your answer and send it back to me (or not, as you choose) for compilation and redistribution with or without authorship attribution (as you choose).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
What we have here is a classic case of win/lose tension. 'YOU' do not want to be associated with this foul-smelling fart, in fact, you want to distance yourself from its authorship as quickly and as completely as you can, and most certainly before the doors open and other passengers join the three of you, but you also do not want to bluntly say something like "phhheeeeewwwww!!!, .... who's the author or that beaut?" While the statement would serve as a declaration of your disinvolvement, it could cause embarassment to the originator and to the other occupant/s; i.e. your 'win' would be their 'loss'. Nevertheless, there is ambiguity and tension in the elevator that begs to be resolved, ... how to resolve it? In the case of elevator farts, one can simply depart the scene in the most expeditious manner, but not so in many other life situations with this same 'geometry'.
How we resolve this geometry is very much tied up in our learned mode of perception and inquiry, a process which has sunk below the level of our general awareness. While it provides a modus operandum for interpreting and responding to situations like this elevator scene, it is not in itself called into question; i.e. it plays a role something like a 'systems' routine in a computer which is used to 'bootstrap' or 'cold-start' the system and which remains on a level lower than the 'applications'.
Ok, let's begin to use the response you jotted down to 'reverse engineer' or 'image' the underlying mode of perception and inquiry which you implicitly used to design your response. We'll keep the discussion as simple as possible, and for those who might be interested, elaborate on the underlying 'system's of 'complexity' theory in an appendix to this note.
One of the first significant points is how we formulate questions about the 'object' of our inquiry, as this tells us a lot about what level of subject-object relationship we are using (there are three possible levels).
While the scenario naturally brought to mind the question of the source of the fart, it did not elaborate for you on the anatomy of the ambiguity and tension, and this is where one's mode of perception and inquiry starts to automatically 'fill in the blanks'. There are two basic classes of questions one could ask here, and they associate with two different modes of perception and inquiry. We will not bother to consider questions which are solely concerned with escaping from the scene, since this exercise is about how to deal with situations rather than how to run from them.
Class I: Causality-based Questions
The causal type of question deals with 'how did it happen?', ... 'what or who caused it', .... 'who is responsible for this', .... 'how should we reward whoever caused this?', ... 'how will compensation be made for the damage?', etc.
The notion of causality emanates from the lower two (of three) modes of perception and inquiry which see subject and object as being independent of one another. The causal view stems from the euclidian view of space, as being an ensemble of independent 'things' separated by void. Phenomena are then seen as emanating from the causal interplay amongst these independent 'things'. Where the understanding which comes from this mode is insufficient, the procedure is to descend to ever greater detail in the specification of 'things' (down to the atomic level and below, if necessary) until a 'satisfactory' level of explanation is discovered.
This causal approach was the approach of all of science up until the twentieth century (and 95% of today's 'science' and organizational theory) when the discoveries of deterministic chaos, relativity and quantum mechanics all showed that all understanding of phenomena which did not consider 'the observer effect' or 'subject-object interdependence' was 'incomplete'.
Thus you would be in an atypical five percentile 'smart feller' group if questions of this type were not in PRIMACY in your deliberations on resolving ambiguity. The odds are, however, that you (and I when I am not designing the test) typically formulate our problem-solving or 'ambiguity-resolving' questions in class I 'causal' manner which is implicitly forms out of the assumption of full independence between subject and object.
At this point then, if your primary questions fell into this class, you can start pencilling in the letters 'F' and 'A' in the first two positions of your rating (i.e. F A _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _).
Class II: Purpose-based Questions
Nietzsche, who anticipated the 'observer effect' (as did Johannes Kepler) observed that that nature was all about 'attraction' and 'repulsion' and this just didn't jive with the notion of 'causality', .... i.e. the notion that everything just sits around unless someone or something gives it the old 'causal' push. In fact, it seemed to Nietzsche as if we, the local collective are often caught in a vortex which appears to have a purpose of its own, and not always a good one, ... like the kind of social hurricane-like vortex that drags us into a war or into a recession or depression. Relativistically then, we cannot say that two elements within this common vortex; i.e. a subject and object within the vortex, are fully 'independent'. They are in fact 'connected' via the space-time flux which contains them and of which they are part. Or as Einstein put it, 'space is a participant in phenomena' (i.e. the general case in our relativistic world is where subject and object are connected since they are innate aspects of a shared enveloping 'ether' whole.)
In recognition of this empirical reality, and also because this empirical reality does not jive with 'causality', Nietzsche said; "The belief in cause collapses with the belief in purpose". Of course, it is not necessary to think in terms of a grey-bearded orchestra conductor-in-the-sky when we hear the word 'purpose', .... we can think in terms of the satellite photos of a hurricane forming in the gulf of mexico or historical films showing evolving Nazi (socio-economic coupled) movements in Europe if we prefer, but the point is that we cannot hold these two 'views' (causal and purposive) in our mind at the same time (see appendix for further discussion, including the fact that 'purpose' CONTAINS 'cause' as the special case where space-time curvature = zero and that this immiscibility of 'cause' and 'purpose' is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in different upholstery).
So in the case where a 'gap' is set up between the current state and where we'd like to be (as in the ambiguity and tension in the elevator) the questions which form in our mind can emanate from either 'cause' (independence of subject and object) or 'purpose' (interdependence of subject and object) and only one or the other (i.e. only 'cause' or 'purpose') can be in the primacy (dominate our thinking) at any one time.
We just examined the case where the prime questions fell into the 'causal' camp, and now we can look at what kind of questions emerge from the 'purposive' camp. The major difference in the questions is with respect ot the 'use' of 'time'. In aboriginal myth, this choice of how we see ourselves relative to what we are observing is referred to as 'the magic mirror' (purposive view which is forward looking includes us in dynamic) and 'the tragic mirror' (causal view which is backward looking and excludes us). That is, these class II 'purposive' questions will be oriented towards what we want the situation to 'become' rather than to 'what happened' with its backward-looking emphasis on mechanical repairs and disciplining of the causal 'agents', i.e.; 'What sort of state do the three of us want to move into, as we distance ourselves from this tension?' ... 'How can we transcend our current state or subordinate our current fart-focus?' 'How can we join together as a team and present a resolved and united front as more passengers join us?', ... 'Is there a way we can work together to overcome this 'atmospheric pollution' problem?' etc.
The purposive question formulation is 'inclusionary' in that there is no exclusionary focus on certain precise and detailed logic trees, but instead, the possibility space for resolution opens up to the whole universe and 'anything goes' which can help move the state of things towards a more desirable or harmonious state (this corresponds to the principle of 'equifinality' in complex systems). The greater diversity of ideas brought into connection in the purposive approach, the more highly resolved the insights on the phenomena and the more creative the solution possibilities.
One can recognize many of the worlds major problems in this dual mode of perception scenario; i.e. on native american or afro-american issues, one can either focus on 'past damage, establishment of causal responsibility, punishment and compensation', or on 'desired future state, solutions which are 'larger than our judgements', subject-object collaboration (acknowledgement of interdependence) and so on. But Nietzsche's and Heisenberg's principles always apply; i.e. one cannot put both approaches into primacy because the one collapses with the focus on the other.
If the prime questions you jotted down, or the prime question as implied by the solution you jotted down, falls into this class II 'purposive' category, then you are within the atypical five percentile group (or perception and inquiry MODE, rather than group since everyone always has a choice on this). You can begin pencilling in S, M and A in your 'smell rating' (i.e. S M A _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _).
Interestingly, the dwindling minority of traditionalist practitioners amongst the aboriginal peoples, which seems to have become a small minority in the case of native north americans, inevitably approach problem resolution from this 'purposive' perception mode, and they see clearly the dysfunction that results from falling into a proclivity for class I causal thinking. The following two quotes attributed to 'Chief Seattle' are illustrative in this regard;
Chief Seattle says, with respect to the 'observer effect' and subject-object interdependency; "This we know: All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself."
Chief Seattle similarly says, with respect to our 'shared space' destiny; "Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste." Of course, to Seattle, a fart was natural whereas 'contamination' had to do with malicious injury to nature (e.g. doing. injury to your brothers or to nature in the process of furthering your own cause).
FINALIZING your Smell-Rating:
At this point, you should be familiar with the 'geometry' of the evaluation approach and from your initial pencillings and their reconciliation with Class I and Class II questioning, you will have some early 'returns' in your election to either the transitive or intransitive Smell-Club.
To finalize your Smell-Rating, ... and of course, you can change it tomorrow if you so desire, do the following; Write down five to ten of the life issues which bug you the most, and these can range from conflict between regional and national economic policy, to what shape your partner leaves the bathroom in in the morning. Specify these conflicts or tensions in a manner similar to the 'elevator scenario' without letting your mind get into the 'resolution' aspect of things. Once you've got this list together, go down the list and jot down YOUR major questions and solutions which come to mind in regard to each of the listed issues.
After you've jotted these down, review them with respect to their 'class I' causal versus class II purposive essence. Estimate, on a percentage basis, how your question formulation 'splits' between 'cause' and 'purpose' for each issue (e.g. 60/40, 80/20 etc.). Finally average your marks over all five - ten issues. At this point, if you like, you can pick fonts of sizes corresponding to your respective Smell-Scores, and use them to print out the 'smart feller' and 'fart smeller' on a piece of paper which can serve as your current report card. Put the largest font at the top (i.e. your dominant mode) and put the smaller one (your subdominant mode) in brackets beneath it.
Now you have your current Smell-Rating. You can retake the test at any time and plot these 'word-reports' horizontally to see how they're fluctuating. The real test is going to be how the pattern of shinking and swelling varies, and that test, as applied to the social collective, will determine just how painful or fulfilling our entry into the new millenium is going to be.
end of test...... encrypted 'answer' and technical appendix follows
Answer (read backwards and from bottom).
**Note in regard to Answer: ...In purposive mode, the principle of 'equifinality' applies which means that there is no 'definitive' solution to the problem and that any solution is equally acceptable which morphs the system state away from dissonance towards greater harmony. This equality of acceptability stems from the fact that deterministic chaos implies that there will be an unpredictable 'chemistry' between whatever solution path is taken and the continuing evolution of the overall system. This harmonic form of solution is not dependent on fixed rules or laws and is therefore a means of co-evolving with systems which are in a continual state of evolution, such as our natural reality.**
id neeb evah tsum rotanigiro eht ,(gnitsaf ot eud wol ylbaborp erew seilppus enahtem reh) elba neeb ehs dah emas eht enod evah dluow asereht rehtom ecniS .ygolopa eht taeper uoy ,sregnessap erom no sekat dna spots rotavele eth nehW .ezigolopa dna ti rof ytilibisnopser ekat ouy dna ,traf gnitsixe eht semusbus ylluf hcihw flesruoy eno gib a fo og gnittel ylbidua yb ytiugibma eht evloser uoY . "noituloS traF-tnednescnarT"
Appendix: Technical Background from a 'Systems' and 'Complexity' Perspective
While we could look at this problem from a variety of perspectives including 'complex systems', 'information theory', 'poetry', or 'politics, history and diplomacy', I shall make a few comments from an astronomical and information theory perspective, and leave any additional observations for 'the experts'.
Just as Johannes Kepler observed that the celestial system of sun and planets provided an archetype for 'reasoning' which involved two basic types of perception, Denis Gabor (Nobel laureate for discovering holography) observed that information theory could also be formulated on the basis of two basic and parallel types of perception.
In Kepler's case, he pointed out that looking 'down and in' on mercury, venus and the sun, in what might be called 'voyeur space' mode, while it opened the door to quantitative measurement (by 'ratiocination') of geometric structure which excluded the observer, differed fundamentally from looking 'up and out' towards mars and jupiter, in what might be called 'shared space' mode which opened the door to qualitative intuiting of harmonies which included the observer. He further pointed out that the 'shared space' intuitive, inclusionary-logic mode of perception, 'contains' the 'voyeur space' rational (ratiocinating) exclusionary-logic mode of perception as a 'special case' (the case where the observer's view does not emanate from the 'virtual' center of the system.).
In simpler terms, we always have the perceptual option of looking at phenomena in the observer-excluding 'voyeur space' terms of 'things' and 'cause', as well as the perceptual option of looking at phenomena in the observer-including 'shared space' terms of system harmony and purpose. And as Nietzsche says, "the belief in cause collapses with the belief in purpose".
In the case of our elevator anecdote, the choice was there from the beginning, to reason in the distinctly different terms of 'cause' (who caused what to happen and how can we repair it ?) or 'purpose' (how can we move from dissonance towards purposive harmony?). This choice is an archetypical choice which associates with our alternative space and time models ---'euclidian space' (exclusionary, detached 'thing' and void based) which is independent of timej, and; 'non-euclidian' space-time flow (inclusionary, thingless and connected). For example, as Trudeau points out ("The Essential Trudeau", just published) on the issue of French and English language usage, there are two alternatives and the preferred alternative is to cultivate pride in French usage (inclusionary or 'shared space' harmony-cultivating view) rather than 'closing doors and coercing people' (causally legislating against the use of English on an exclusionary basis).
Gabor, in his 1946 'Theory of Communications', reformulated information theory in terms of elementary signal which possessed both a 'real' and 'imaginary' component (It is well recognized that information theory provides a general means of viewing, understanding and engaging with natural phenomena). This corresponds with Kepler's formulation above, with the 'real' component corresponding to the quantitatively measurable 'voyeur space' view and the 'imaginary' component corresponding to qualitatively assessed harmonic patterns of the 'shared space' view.
As Gabor pointed out, the standard theory (which we persist in using today), based on approximating the information-carrying signal as purely 'real', is a physically unrealizeable theory which incorporates the abstract notions of 'negative frequency' and oscillations of eternal duration. The ignoring of intangible signal, as Gabor observes, is at the expense of having to postulate an abstract and unnatural theoretical base. And this appears to be the overall 'archetypical story' of the western culture, at least in terms of its approach to science, education, organization and management.
What the standard information theory does is to incorporate the notion of causality and exclusionary judgement --- 'good OR bad' --- at its most fundamental level. Thus, the smell of a fart in the elevator tends to be seen in the backward looking terms of a 'good' or 'bad' event, and the questions of 'cause' and responsibilty are automatically raised. There is a similar perception in the case of french/english language usage in quebec, to give one more from a countless number of exemplar, in which the encroachment of english in quebec is seen as a 'cause' of the erosion social and economic harmonies within the french culture oriented quebecois 'regional ecology'.
The alternative to putting causal reasoning in the primacy is to reason firstly in terms of 'purpose' and inclusionary logic --- 'good AND bad', and only secondarily in terms of causal logic. By this alternative, one views things in terms of 'shared space' and one's actions are guided by the 'purpose' of continually re-cultivating harmony in that shared space. As Gabor points out, the notion of causality is the outgrowth of abstract, non-physically realizeable theorizing (Prigogine refers to the causal view as the 'divine viewpoint' since it is beyond the sensory capability of humans).
Science, and western organizational thinking, for some reason, insists on keeping abstract, non-physically realizeable theoretical models in the primacy, in spite of the obvious dysfunction this engenders via high level binary judgements and failure to consider the impact of this theory-based approach on the shared container which is itself constituted by theory, theoreticians and we, the collective guinea piggery, along with the rest of nature.
However, one is not obliged to pursue problem resolution by reasoning which looks back in time, into the 'tragic mirror' as they say, to determine 'cause' and establish 'blame' and think in the exclusionary mechanical terms of amends and damage repair. One can instead use reasoning which looks forward in time, into the 'magic mirror' as they say, to determine collective 'purpose', re-establishing of 'harmony' and thinking in the organic terms of differentially cultivating flowers in a garden. The latter subsumes and contains the former; i.e. the former is essentially the special case where purpose goes to zero ("The belief in purpose collapses with the belief in cause." , Nietzsche, 'Der Wille Zur Macht'). The point where 'purpose goes to zero' corresponds to the point where 'curvature goes to zero' at which point the 'euclidian' space framework emerges from the more general framework of non-euclidian space-time.
* * *
Return to Index of Essays