Asilomar - White Rock, July 5, 1999
The high-tension static of seemingly irreconcilable opposition crackled up and down the spines of participants at the ISSS (International Society of Systems Scientists) during the first days of its twenty-third annual meeting, ... an ever-present threat of short-circuiting between 'relativist' and 'reductionist' views in the group. But by the end of the week, quiet smiles emerged on some faces which seemed to proclaim that further 'words' were not necessary, ... that the fresh pacific air being breathed was somehow laden with an understanding of things. And the opiners of hard reductionism seemed, at the same time, to have become quiet and contemplative as this 'knowing' tranquillity infected the habitual purveyors of ambiguous holism, ... quiet and contemplative, perhaps, because what was happening could not be construed in terms of 'win/lose', nor a rejection of 'one side' by the 'other' but seemed to manifest the transformation of the systems sciences society into a new, inclusionary organism.
Since the society's inception, stimulated by the 'wise bunch' of Von Bertalanffy, Margaret Meade, Boulding et al, members of the society had argued amongst themselves over the 'best' model for complex systems, fragmenting themselves within the ISSS microcosm, as in the cultural macrocosm, between advocacy of a binary based 'cybernetic' model and ambiguous 'holistic' models which could 'only' be qualitatively defined. At the commencement of this meeting, and through to what seemed to be a turning point on the fourth day, the clash in values was evident; ... a Harvard astrophysicist expressing his anger or disquiet at how the social quest for 'co-operation' was 'forcing' his children to endure educational standards which were referenced to the mean IQ. Voices from 'the other side' spoke about how our culture tended to assign value only to 'rational intelligence' and allocated little or no value to 'relational intelligence'. In the background, we discussed how it is the rare company which rewards on the relational basis of 'attitude' and the ability to cultivate and leave legacies of harmony, ... and in the domain of state-organized education, scoring points for the 'relational' is almost unknown, ... instead, 'exam results', ... indicators of rational achievement out of the context of 'relational intelligence' is what 'rules'.
But there was a strange, yet somehow familiar melody permeating the pine-scented sea breeze at Asilomar, the 'asylum by the sea', ... which seemed to transcend contention. The new president of the ISSS, Bela Antol Banathy, son of Bela Banathy, a respected contributor in the domain of systems who was also in attendance, had taken an 'uncompromising' stance with respect to the future direction of the organization, and had put forth his 'manifesto' on the penultimate day of the meeting, during an after-dinner speech. 'Uncompromising' was the word he used, and when he enunciated it, ... it had sounded very, ...'uncompromising'. But then, during the meeting, those attending had been looking at the notion of 'compromise' in an 'inclusionary' light, ... and not in the sense of an intermediate state, ... a linear interpolation between two end-states seen as opposites, as 'good' or 'bad' opposites, depending on which 'side' you were on. This 'linear', shades-of-gray perspective emanated from our acculturated exclusionary logic and euclidian space basis for perception and inquiry. In an inclusionary sense, ... 'compromise' did not mean to reduce something to the 'mean' ... but to choose both and achieve a balance between them, ... from an inclusionary vantage point, then, the linear notion of 'to compromise' graduated to the higher dimensional notion of 'to harmonize'.
'Uncompromising', in Banathy's context then, meant that the ISSS must not succumb to either an imperialistic domination of one rational scheme over another or a linearly weighted 'shades of gray' resolving of systems thinking differences, but it must instead keep open, always, the path of harmonic balancing. Banathy appeared to have been reiterating Giordano Bruno's comment, made prior to his burning-at-the-stake in 1600, ... 'the majority does not have a monopoly on truth', ... implying that the seeds of truths could hardly survive to grow and blossom in the toxic soil of imposed linear, exclusionary 'compromise'. Unique and historically-evolved ethnicities of thought, by this line of reasoning, must live in balance and harmony rather than as minority ideas to suffer 'assimilation' and 'co-opting' by 'melting-pot' 'compromise' which satisfied none of the needs of its constituent populations.
To make his point, Banathy used the example of the creative potential which resided (and 'around') 'maps'. A highways map was something whose symbologies were given meaning by experiences of those motivated by the purpose of going places who made the maps, ... A camping map was something whose symbologies were given meaning by experiences of those motivated by the purpose of enjoying immersion in nature. If Banathy wanted to take his son fishing, ... the information he needed was not obtainable from any manipulation of the explicit symbologies of the highways and camping maps, ... it was instead resident in the implicit experience, ... in the cognitive 'ether' which had precipitated the maps.
Seen from this angle, the ISSS was open to the evolving of whatever 'map-making' Special Interest Groups (SIGS) were felt to be contributory to understanding complex systems (aka 'reality') but the ISSS would be uncompromising in its maintaining of an 'open systems responsibility' where such map-making efforts would co-exist and the degenerate, linear 'compromising question' of 'which was better' would not be asked. The understanding of systems would, instead, by implication, come from being immersed in the higher dimensional space emanating from the inclusionary 'join' of the maps, ... from 'tuning-in' to the implicit experience and understanding which parented the explicit maps.
In this mode of 'operation', ISSS would remain a 'living' form, ... never coming to, nor seeking 'closure' as to the linear notions of a 'best model' or 'final theory' of complex systems, and instead, recognizing that the understanding of such systems is induced by immersing oneself in the implicit cognitive 'ether' forming dynamically out of their 'inclusionary join'. Such induced understanding could be used experientially in 'navigating complexity', but could never be fully transformed downward in dimensionality and converted into explicit knowledge, ... voyeur understanding, ... existing in its own right. Implicit understanding exists only in co-resonant form.
Banathy seemed to imply that our cultural dependency on the explicit was causing us to abdicate our 'open systems responsibility', ... to deny our own natural cognitive ability to tune-in to the implicit and multidimensional, and to instead accept explicit 'rules' without question. It was such explicit 'rules' that we were encoding in computers and computer-chips, ... and which were becoming the 'default' basis for what was happening in the world, ... we were shunting around our own consciousness, and ignoring the evolutionary potential in the conjoined implicit, ... the cognitive ether which was precipitating the explicit maps and their innately incomplete sets of rules.
The view of a culture which was trading away its consciousness and abdicating its responsibility to 'rules' emerged on many different levels in the papers presented. In a powerful presentation entitled 'Complexity, Ethics and Justice', Paul Cilliers, philosophy professor at Stellenbosch University, SA (formerly an electrical engineer working on electronic networks, and recently the author of 'Complexity and Post-Modernism), observed that the rational ignores 'otherness', the space-time links of all things to their immersing environment, their evolutionary history. Cilliers showed how it follows naturally from what we know about the world that regulatory systems can never be 'complete' and that rule-based systems such as systems of justice are therefore necessarily 'culturally laden' with particular perspectives. As implied by Paul Cilliers, Martine Dodds and other speakers, one cannot ignore the culture-based 'encoding and decoding' which links our experiencing of 'the natural system' to our abstracted 'formal system' or 'model' but must always maintain a conscious awareness of it. We can never just 'fall back' on the rules, particularly in the context of community, as this abdication of responsibility, of 'just following the rules' is innately unethical.
Coupled with the principles of quantum entanglement (co-imprinting of things and place) and quantum computing (featuring 'qu-bits' where 'zero' and 'one' are inclusionary), the notion of remotely managed control hierarchies (global economies) become transparently inadequate. Nature manages historical quantum relational linkages at system interfaces, .such as the sea-atmosphere interface in the geologic system or the cell interface in the physiological system, while our rational systems neglect doing so, and by this ignoring of 'quantum entanglement', infuse their own unconscious tangle and knotting dissonance into the system. What physics is saying is what common sense tells us, ... that we cannot generalize 'things' out of the context of their evolutionary history, the implicit dynamics of their containing and parenting environment, .... a 'thing-and-place' interweaving which is known locally but which cannot be articulated in an explicit form so as to be shared remotely. Because of quantum entanglement, all rules must be locally mediated by local consciousness. This 'complexity navigation' principle emerges in all macroscopic domains as Cilliers points out, and as emerges in the 'inclusionary join' at the confluence of quantum physics, systems science, electrical engineering and philosophy.
And on and on goes the consistency, with Hammeroff's displays of the detailed structure inside of neurons in the human brain, ... tubules which resemble paramecium whose sense-and-respond cilia engage in recursive relationship with the environment, ... tubules which manifest the fibonacci spiral found in all living things from ammonites to the system of sun-and-planets to the galaxies. The view of the neuron as a binary switch is thus shown to be an incomplete view stressing the 'explicit' and ignoring the implicit process which precipitates the explicit 'bits', ... the 'quantum computing' process based on inclusionary logic which encodes and decodes complex information in the interfacing between sensorily perceived nature and our formal (abstract) models of nature. It is clear that wherever one looks for it, one can see beyond the limits of the 'explicit' to the presence of the parenting 'implicit' which precipitates the 'explicit', a view of reality which has long been suppressed or denied by our western culture.
Jamshid Gharajedaghi's presentation showed how the process by which we precipitate our systems understanding from the implicit itself manifests a fibonacci-like spiralling design, ... a continuing recursive re-invention of context, function, structure and process wherein the playing of the game changes the game, ... a qualitative situation akin to aesthetics and love, ... colorless and odorless and unmeasurable, ... where one can only attempt measure by means of indirect manifestations (e.g. 'if you love me, why don't you call me?'). Only consciousness and experience can allow you to 'tune-in' to this type of design wherein an experiencing of the 'rhythm' of many things in a dynamical confluence constitutes 'understanding'.
Out of the confluence of the rich spectrum of ideas presented at the meeting, ... after four and a half days of morning plenary sessions and afternoons featuring seven parallel streams of presented papers covering topics ranging from 'ethics in an age of disorder' through 'quantum vitalism' to 'cosmic evolution', ... something very powerful and convincing emerged, something that didn't seem to require detailed words and discussion, ... and was more 'felt' and implicitly 'understood' than explicitly 'known'. This 'something' was somehow encapsulated in Banathy's after-dinner speech.
The 'something' concerns the dominant role of the 'implicit' in our reality, ... the recognition of the evolutionary space-time containing field which breeds the explicit, and which never 'lets go' of it. Quantum physics refers to it as 'quantum entanglement' and it characterizes all of space-time and matter, ... the co-imprinting of the 'container' and the 'contained', ... the view of 'events' and 'place' as being interwoven, as the aboriginals have always believed, ... and the denial of which by the western culture seems to be leading to a deepening dysfunction.
From all we know from the physics of the world we live in, we cannot separate time from place (space), ... space-time is a continuum. Both relativity and quantum physics tells us this and more, ... that there is no 'outside' to the system (nature) and thus the observer, to understand the world, must see himself as being immersed in it, and what he observes and how that changes his actions as being a part of what he is observing, ... an infinite spiralling recursion which can never be brought to closure, .... a recursion which says that 'all' is 'one', ... that the time is 'now' and that 'tomorrow never happens', .... as Janis Joplin says, ... 'it's all the same fucking day'.
It appears that 'time', ... the linear, independent notion of 'time' that our culture embraces, is an artifact of our abstract thinking, ... and that isolating 'time' from 'space-time' is what gives rise to 'things' and 'facts', ... frozen snapshots of categorized parts of our reality, ... but 'things' and 'facts' simply mark the point where our investigations cease. 'Things' and 'time' represent a tautological, mutual self-defining, and once we teach ourselves to see them as independent notions, the door is opened to our visualizing and studying of material structure in the context of how it changes with time, ... and once we are into this mode of inquiry, we have supplanted natural reality with 'abstraction', ... we have installed a 'formal system' 'out there' as an approximate 'stand-in' for the 'natural system' within which we are immersed constituent-participants.
The euclidian-forced notion of time was exposed for the imposter it is in both implicit and explicit terms during this ISSS meeting. In a paper by Don Mickulecky which featured the work of Robert Rosen, ... we saw a revival of the ideas of Poincare, ... telling us that when we make 'formal systems' models of the world, there is an implicit encoding and decoding process which takes us from our sensory perceptions to the formal model and back again (via our response). We normally ignore the existence of this 'encoding and decoding' and mistake the 'formal model' for the 'real world'. But to get to a formal model of the world, we will always have to go through an encoding and decoding process which we can never fully formalize (because it is a process which LIES BETWEEN our experiencing of the world and any and all formalized models of the world we come up with). Thus, our modeling of the world will always be an art, as Mikulecky, a professor of physiology, observes.
Complexity, rather than being a characteristic of sensory perception of nature, is something we 'discover' by means of our formal, abstract model. In other words, our notion of 'complexity' is a function of our 'formal system' model, as is our linear notion of time. This dependency between our models and the notion of 'complexity' and 'time' was also pointed out by the physicist Igor Rojdestvenski. We base our notion of time on the changes we detect in the state of the system we are observing, and we compare these 'externally measured' changes to our 'internal clock'. If the functioning of the system 'out there' continues in the same state (e.g. if we toss a coin and it keeps coming up heads for five times before it switches to tails), the clock 'out there' does not tick. Our sense of the passage of time relates to this 'time-rescaling' effect, which relates to the number of states of the system we are observing (entropy is a measure of system states). But this is a euclidian 'voyeur view' and if we include ourselves in the view of the system, as quantum physics says we must, the non-euclidian 'immersed view' leads to an infinite recursion, and time appears to slow.
Using Kepler's 'harmony and structure' archetype, ... looking downward and inward into the system presents us with a 'ratiocinative' (rational) view, such as when we visualize the structural movements of the planets relative to the sun (center), and we perceive many discrete system state changes as the planets orbit the sun, ... increasingly so as we imagine ourselves as being more and more remote from the sun (e.g. moving our 'voyeur' vantage-point from the revolutionary sphere of the earth to that of saturn. Meanwhile, if we visualize ourselves as 'within' the system, ... looking outward as if from the sun, our view becomes intuitive and there can be no discrete 'ticks' of the clock. In this state, the external time scaling equilibrizes with our internal time scaling, and we experience evolution itself, out of the abstract context of the linear passage of time. Rojdestvenski suggests that the process of 'equilibration', as when a hot substance meets a cold substance, can be thought of in terms of the 'matching' of their time scales.
By this view, we can explain the perceived rise of complexity and the apparent 'speeding up' of the pace of change, as the result of our increasing detachment from, and loss of equilibrium with nature. And as we continue to impose our science on nature, ignoring the co-imprinting of things and place (i.e. the 'evolutionary history' of 'things'), we take the natural weave of 'all things steered through all', the ordering schema described by Heraclitus as well as by quantum physics, and involuntarily tangle and knot it (e.g. as in 'genetic engineering').
Our basic perceptions and encoding/decoding processes were challenged on many levels at this meeting, and the geometry of the argument was so consistent, that it permeated the ether of the meeting and began to induce smiles and pleasure amongst some, and a decline in the need to 'argue' any point. To me, it was reminiscent of the feeling expressed by Thomas Merton in a diary entry during his visit to Sri Lanka, on walking barefoot through the wet grass towards statues of the Buddha;
"Then the smile of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing ... Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious ... The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no "mystery." All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear... everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination... I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don't know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise."
No, ... understanding did not come in as dramatic a form at Asilomar as in Merton's experience, but the understanding which grew out of the confluence of different viewing spaces by independent researchers, possessed the same geometry, ... that of the vanishing of the 'puzzle' simply due to perceiving things in a new way, ... of seeing the containing 'implicit', ... the compassionate ether of space-time, the nostalgia-inducing quantum field constituting the 'evolutionary history of the whole' which precipitates us and everything.
If we want complexity to be assimilated back into natural reality and if we want our racing clock to be superceded by a sense of timelessness, then we must subordinate our voyeur view of the world to an immersed view, ... a child's view, in which we see ourselves as constituent-participants in the system, ... and move back into an equilibrium with our own evolution. In this mode, we cease to worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow becomes an abstraction which 'never happens', ... the time is 'now', ... a continuously becoming 'now'.
But nothing need be lost by this perceptual transformation, as Merton and Gharajedaghi imply, ... we simply 'swallow' our old way of thinking and it becomes a part of us as the prokaryote becomes an organelle in a eurkaryote and the hymenoptera and the paramecium become a part of our neural structures, ... as the mechanical paradigm in business was swallowed inclusionarily by the cybernetic paradigm which added variability to mass production but retained the advantage of mass production, ... and as the 'third generation' of 'purposeful systems' will swallow and include both of the former generations, ... 'playing the game changes the game'.
As Gharajedaghi points out, 'the world is not run by those who are right but by those who convince others they are right.'. This realization is surely why Banathy used the word 'uncompromising' with respect to the new directions of the ISSS, ... it seems high time for 'manifestos' which do not seek compromise but which transcend it, ... As the mission team-leader of the Apollo 13 team said to his team, as the team flipped from the exclusionary 'explicit-over-implicit' design mode to the inclusionary 'implicit-over-explicit' design mode (from second generation to third generation design mode), ... 'I don't give a damn what anything is designed for, ... I care about what it is capable of!', ... a manifesto which re-instates internal purpose and consciousness, the 'natural system', in its rightful primacy over culture-laden 'formal models' and the unconscious acceptance of 'rules'.
The 'reductionist' or 'materialist' view accepts rules as being complete in themselves, and where they fall short and improvement is seen to be needed, this view sees such improvements as being developed over time, ... where those suffering from the 'incompleteness' of rule structures are asked to 'have patience'. For example, that North American systems of justice have a culture-laden blindspot with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples, ... because western 'explicit-over-implicit' culture is an innately insufficient container for holding the aboriginals' 'implicit-over-explicit' culture, ... is something that our reductionist paradigm would manage by means of a so-called linear-time 'evolutionary progression', a view which denies the inclusionary nature of evolution. The problem is that 'tomorrow never happens', the incomplete rational paradigm spins its wheels in a sysiphusian cycle of refinement, seeking to tighten its net around a fish whose belly it is swimming within. Aboriginal traditionalists are well aware of this topological paradox and so was Janis Joplin. Her use of the expletive in this context is therefore easy to understand, ... love is never having to say 'tomorrow'.
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