A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What if war were a “normal” option?

I am of a time and a class that sees war as a crime against humans, other living things and, given present technologies, the earth itself.  But what if war is seen as just another economic and political option?  Most people, the vast majority of people, those people from whom the young men and women come to fill the ranks of the militaries of all sides, cannot fully appreciate how those who willfully drive the chariots of war think and believe.

War is the action that offers the appearance of total domination, total victory – victory without compromise.  In equal proportion victory is obtained by absolute destruction of all aspects of the other.  To start wars is always an act of desperation or madness, and often both.  War is the cousin of intimidation, the child of greed.  War is the father of starvation and dismembered bodies, the mother of despair. War is also the sport of heroes, the study of madmen.  War is the tool of kings, a tool to take what is controlled by others and to control their own subjects.  And if war comes from a place were there seems not to be a king, then there is one there hidden in the shadows of another name.

Those who seek to war always have a larger goal than life, or at least the lives of others.  It is worth starving and sickening to death a million Iraqi children; there is a larger purpose.  So said the good mother Albright.  Stack the bodies high in Baghdad.  So said and did Alexander; there was a larger purpose.  Eric the Red, Hitler, Andrew Jackson, Mao, James Polk, U. S. Grant, Hirohito, Guy de Lusignan, and many thousands more all had a higher purpose than life: they wanted something.  They were all quite mad in their desire for something greater than life.  They willingly traded the lives of others for land, for wealth, for ideas, for their own glorious posterity.

If you have a higher purpose, then the dismembered soldier, the unlucky innocent and the grieving survivor are well worth the price.  They are in no way an argument against a war, just an inconvenience or a cost of business.  George Bush sleeps well; he even says so with the pride of a man with a higher purpose.  His million plus victims cannot scream loudly enough to reach his ear.  He began with tormenting animals, branded initiates in college, oversaw executions in Texas and graduated to war as king.  Dick Cheney, the other king, does not sleep as well.  His higher purpose is more difficult to fulfill.  It is not the cost of doing business that disturbs him, but how to do more.

For people like these, war is just another option to get the things that they want. There are no arguments about life to sway them, only arguments of purpose and possibility.  The U. S. constitution recognizes this reality and requires that a representative body be the only part of our government that can take our most vital young people to war.  And yet this too has now fallen prey to a higher purpose, to a higher purpose than the life in an almost completely lifeless universe.

Those who would take us to war tell of us of the world’s dangers and the need to remove them.  They hold up the examples of “good” wars, wars against true evil.  But they do not tell us that it was only those same lies told by some other king that started those “good” wars in the first place.  They don’t tell us of the higher purposes that make our existence secondary to their own.  Ultimately that is what makes war a normal option.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Trick is Not to be Confused

If an argument devolves to detail vs. detail with the underlying assumptions and presumptions hidden from view, then there is little convincing to be done. An example from Thom Hartmann’s radio show: a McCain spokesperson was saying that Head Start was no good because by third grade many of the differences measured in performance between Head Start kids and those who had only a kindergarten experience began to melt away.  There is so much wrong with the statement that I hardly know where to begin, but suffice to say that there are ways that such a result could occur that would demonstrate an even greater benefit from Head Start than was being claimed.  Hartmann offered statistics said to show a significantly better life experience for Head Start participants; higher high school graduation rates, lower incarceration rates, by and large more acculturated and responsible adults, the combined effect of which was an “investment ratio” of about $1 spent on Head Start producing $9 in social gain. The lady left livid. We can assume that both bits of data are true, so what’s the deal?

If the underlying presumption is that never should one dollar should be “taken” from a productive person (defined as someone with a dollar) for the purpose of “giving” that dollar to a non-productive person (defined as someone without a dollar), then the only detail that matters is that which either supports or can be twisted to support the view.  If the underlying presumption is that we need to have as much correct information as possible when we make decisions with wide-ranging consequences, then the emphasis must be on understanding what makes research represent and model reality.  I am not saying that Hartmann’s only goal is to discover what is real before acting in the world, but I am certainly saying that the McCain spokesperson had already decided what was real long before the data offered its suggestions.

Here is the problem, or rather, THE PROBLEM: In the design of human cognition, presumptions create the basis for responding consistently in a confusing and disorderly world.  Questioning presumptions and modifying them from the suggestions of neutral data is a high-order learned activity that often leaves people with feelings of unease and anxiety; but is an essential ‘new’ skill if we are to reconnect with the biophysical reality huffing and puffing at our door.

An argument among unevaluated presumptions is ultimately meaningless regardless of how many suffer in the process.  The word of the Pope is infallible! Every species must be preserved! God (mine) directs all events! Blue is a better color than red!  Abortion is evil and must never be allowed! Sex is a religious sacrament! Sex is dirty! There are as many presumptions as humans can imagine – and every imagining can be believed as fervently as any other.

Our imagining was once in the service of the ecological relationship; reality was not at the door threatening to come in, it was the substance of hominid and human lives.  The detail that was imagined about came from the wind, from the shape land, from the sounds of night and from the very textures of the soil.  An imagining was a tool to bring many experiences together and communicate with others.  A ghost haunting a forest margin is a handy device to summarize a multitude of experiences and organize behaviors in effective response to the quite real dangers there.

Note: I spend and have spent a great amount of time in wilderness.  The sensation that “comes over” me as I go into deep intuitive mode “feels” like information is coming from a surrounding sentience.  The projecting of consciousness process and human intention onto our environment has long been a human quality. From this come ghosts…and gods.

Our PROBLEM today is that we still form presumptions from the preponderance of the personal data and the strength of experience just as we did when these sources could be trusted, when the Reality of the biophysical world was our reality.  But today, the preponderance of the data is controlled by media, religion and ‘education’ (which has come to be controlled by wealth and power) not by events themselves.  Our presumptions, with which we evaluate and act, are being designed and delivered by people who are advantaged by the beliefs we hold and the actions we take.

So long as we get our presumptions from the media, et al., our presumptions and actions will be based on self-referenced “reality” which is no reality at all.  We can still use the media as an information source, but we have to see it as a deceptive source to be carefully vetted and never, never as a way to form our systems of assumptions that measure truth.

How to evaluate, reconsider and inform our presumptions is a life long process.  The essential practice is to find various contact points with biophysical reality and give them daily observance.  There is no other base from which to build.  Religious practice, academic study, reading widely, looking at all points of view are all useful ways to expand the range of well founded understandings and comprehensions, but are, of themselves, useless to form an essential metaphysics.  

It is necessary to dip into our species’ biology, to reestablish our biophysical contacts and to develop a spiritual relationship with the immediate universe in which we live and that is the sustaining stability that allows our existence.  How to do those things is the substance of these writings.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virtue and the Way

The Te-Tao Ching (Tao-Te Ching, Te is virtue and Tao is the way) talks about becoming the complete man, the virtuous man, the sage.  It directly confronts the contradictions and paradoxes that living the life ‘of the way’ leads to in the world of cultural man.  It is an underlying assumption that humans are naturally ‘of the way’, but, in their present relations, have lost it.  The book is not a prescription for the society, but for the individual (though it does prescribe for a proper politics assuming that proper personal action would lead to proper public action).

By the time of the thinking that forms the basis of the Te-Tao Ching (about 3000 years ago), the “natural” forms were already going and The Madness was taking over -- belief and action had become self-referencing and were therefore unguided and without limit.  It was the study of and the immersion in the paradoxes that would lead the thoughtful back into the way, the one way, the unnamable way.  As they became resolved, so the way was attained: action without action, attainment without effort, to attempt virtue was to deny virtue and so on.

Consciousness order generates paradoxes, paradoxes that when fully integrated into a community in a natural truth relation with the environment disappear (it is itself a paradox).  These are not trivial paradoxes, but formed of the very bedrock of our belief and action.

When the community has moved into self-referencing and away from a truth relation with reality, the paradoxes fall most heavily on individuals as they struggle to establish personal truth relations in a world in which the very design of their societies have adopted madness over sanity.

This began thousands of years ago in earnest.  Any agriculturally based community must be rooted in the real, but can be quite mad in its “loftier” parts.  The early civilizations began to pop the kernels of the community-based paradoxes into full-blown madness. The early beliefs were (as described elsewhere) stories, cultural mnemonics, that, when functioning in the originating environment, produced very detailed and adaptable action based in the realities of sustaining the people and the culture. (A new ethic, that of “progress” and “improving” the culture, began with self-referencing.) When the stories were removed from the originating environment, the content detail became ‘real’ rather than only a vehicle for the message.

The stories were no longer environmentally referenced and actions grew out of them based on story details, often of only mnemonic significance, attached to accidental (coincidental) conditions of the social environment.  This could even be driven by the thought of subgroups or single individuals seeking immediate advantage.

((Hypothetical example: A prohibition against cutting a certain type of tree in the rainy season -- an adapted response to the tree’s biology and function in the ecosystem -- sustained in a culture based story that required the sacrifice to the tree before cutting of a minor dry season animal.  As the tree becomes more rare (for whatever reason -- not necessarily related to human action) detail can be added to the requirements for the collecting, say, of  the winged stage of a termite as additoinal offering. 

After a time the tree is either gone or no longer used in the same ways, populations have shifted or grown, yet the story and its power may still serve as a social device, but becomes attached to sacrificing to a leader who could be called “the tree of the people” and the winged termites are grain or a seasonal fruit with an association to termites (color, shape, sound of name, location --in self-referencing systems the associations are almost unlimited).  The very word for termite could come to be taken for certain kinds of tribute. – we can look to many examples of such self-referenced sequences.))

You see how it goes; each change references a previous cultural/social condition rather than reaching back to an environmental condition --social reality is split off from Reality.  And in its wake are trains of trivial paradoxes and a few major ones.

The individual who “feels” these disconnections is largely at sea: the original stories have no connection to reality; the social reality has little or no connection to Reality and yet, for some, the body and the mind form a conspiracy that points into an evocative mist of ideas that stand at odds with the social reality of the time.

It is never so simple as to say that The Real is within us if we will only “listen” to it.  It is more like: certain rough measures of certain parts of the Real are still within us to varying degrees (genetically based biological references).  We are a construction in which some parts are provided by biology and some parts are provided by environment.  The environment provides the biology with guides and the biology selects from the environment.  This is true and more easily understood in the physical development of the organism, but is also true -- even more true! -- in the development of consciousness order.  But we cannot make a list of what is genetic and what is environmental; these are completely interpenetrating in any functional product.

For example: a body is made of materials from the environment on a pattern supplied by the genes (even this pattern is interpenetrating). The amount and timing of various environmental materials and events influence the genes turning on and turning off as well as other behaviors.  The genes acting through the growing forms contact with different aspects of environment in selective ways -- genes “expect” the environment to present in particular ways based on long standing environmental stabilities (this is a key concept).

There is a “standard result and a range of variability” that defines the biological/consciousness product, but no part of the result can be said to be exactly genetic or environmental in origin.  How much of a house is the plan and how much is the lumber and how much is the labor (we can for a very selective purpose put money values on them, but that is not their actual contribution)?  Put this way it is clear that we can talk about optimum contributions and qualities, but that we really can’t trade off one against the other.  We can’t add a carpenter to make up for not having enough lumber!

Consciousness order and its products (consciousness, thinking, language, story, the whole host of “concepts” and words that we have created to indicated the nuances and expressions of awareness and its consequences) have a very similar relation:  Genetics carries the pattern to generate the form and the form interacts with the environment to generate and manifest consciousness order.  Consciousness order, once it is manifest, has its own information selection, storage and implementation designs which use environmental pattern, process and event as its substrate.  So, genetic design, biophysical design and environmental order all contribute in a completely interpenetrating way to consciousness order.

And so, the biological components, when they do not develop in the “expected” situation, may express in modified ways.  In a world that is dominated by consciousness order and is self-referencing, the biological origins cannot be fully satisfied and organized into the functioning organism -- specific omissions or commissions would have recognizable consequences.

Some people “feel” these states and try to adjust to them.  One such effort is to regain as much of specieshood as possible for them in their situation.  It is a motive that has underlain past and present religions (the pantheistic religions are another matter) and it is the lack of completeness of function and the self-referencing of consciousness order that turns such efforts into political rather than spiritual directions for the greatest number.  Such efforts are made part of the self-referencing story and thus lose their connection to reality which originally motivated them.

This is then, when successful, a lonely quest, and thereby limited in its potential accomplishment.  One person can develop a relationship with the originating natural world, but two (or more) are almost certain to have to combine on a self-referencing model -- almost!

However, ultimately the associations that one makes embedded in self-referencing are even more alone than being alone within one’s own specieshood; though the possibility, always there, of combining in community within the referencing of specieshood (and thus reality) is so powerful that it is always worth remaining receptive.

Most people do not “quest”, but apply directly their human ways (the human biological/consciousness adaptation) to the environment in which they are born and grow.  Since this environment is now, thorough the long process and history of the accumulations of the consciousness system of order, in large part social self-referenced ‘environment’, it is in no particular relationship to the native designs of the human species.  The ‘successful adaptation’ to the social designs that lack truth relation is Madness -- even (especially) when fully accepted within the social order as normal.

What is gained by recognizing the madness of the society and attempting to find ways (the Tao) to non-madness (sanity)?  It is fairly obvious that the rejection by society often follows any open “defiance” of social rules and values.  It is also obvious that it is the defiance of such rules and values that will be the eventual outcome of any truly successful coming to peace and accommodation with specieshood and with ecologically functioning consciousness order. The question then hinges on a single idea, a single word: openness.  At what point in the process does the assumption of specieshood require an open recognition and action in the social environment?  I believe it to be different for different people and situation, but early in the process is best, if not essential.

Values: (values that I have come to as being most directly appropriate to specieshood or important to adopt in our present situation to allow specieshood to manifest)

(1) Live simply: use little material resource, accumulate only the necessary.

(2) Live richly in relationship and learning:  Don’t just recognize the biophysical events, processes and entities that are the world of existence and experience, but have relationships with the most enduring (“plants”, “animals”, sky, earth -- health, for example, is a relationship).  Value the process of living and the special contribution of the consciousness system of order as part of the measure of life.  Value all of life as a special system of order in the universe and value the physical universe as the source.  Spend time, give attention, learn these things with direct experience.

(3) Let life dominate the material: Life’s events and action should interact with and use the material and should not be “owned” by the material. Life is in its processes and events and not its accumulations.

(4) The single most destructive act is the LIE: The only protection from the madness that distorts societies and trivializes life is the truth relation between belief and The Real.  Lying at any level damages this vital relationship and finds its way into the very substance of the primary informing basis of consciousness order.

Errors in the truth relation regardless of the source are damaging, but errors as part of the honest pursuit of the valid truth relation are naturally correcting, i.e., errors of result are traced to errors of initiation.  Lies, on the other hand, attempt to create unaddressable connections, attempt to hide relations that are real and place in front of them images of relationships that are not real.  Eventually these deceptions fail, but damage is always done to the designs of good order. 

(5) Support low growth, no growth and negative growth of population and economies:  A new economics is desperately needed that allows and supports a reduction in the use of material and productive biophysical space.  Until there is such a paradigm shift, individuals, for their own benefit, need to live in a sustaining model.

(6) Value community over the private: This is tricky since the consideration of these issues is typically done from a position firmly in the madness, a madness obsessed with “private property” and “ownership” as the primary definitions of human value.  Also, the notion of community is demonized by a sort of institutional immaturity that doesn’t want “to share.”  This is really central to much of the human difficulty: personal psychological distortions given importance and justification by framing them in societal terms, supporting social designs not for their efficiency, but for their usefulness to one’s distortions.

(In general madness cannot speak to sanity and madness talking to madness is only the appearance of communication.  One “system” ungrounded in reality can’t communicate with the system grounded in Reality, and two “systems” both ungrounded in Reality, but different, even if they seem to use the same language, can only seem to communicate.  This is even more destructive to forming a truth relation.) 

(7) Value diversity:  An immediate problem with this simple and obvious value is that madness is the most “diverse system” of all -- it has only one fixed rule (and thus can be of any form that does not violate it) and that is to be disconnected from Reality.  It is therefore the very ‘poster child’ of diversity.

But madness is not what is valued here.  A more accurate statement is that diversity is valued within the truth relation.  Thus is created the issue: what is to be done with madness?

A specific species of Madness, generally, rejects challenges.  Since madness is also inherently baseless (that is, the particular form of madness exists only by accident; a different set of events would produce different details of madness), then it must reject variety to remain itself.  Non-madness or sanity is enhanced by variety; it is recognized as unfinished, still in formation from the touches of Reality that valuing diversity makes it ready to receive.

Madness does not carry a sign.  In our society much that is madness is seen as the essential roots of normalcy. (more on this elsewhere)

(8) Support Reality based contact with the world: Contact with people, other living things and the physical world is best done “in person.”  Our various “communication” devices and methods need to be seen as isolating and discommunicators; their proper function is to facilitate direct contact rather than substitute for it.  This is particularly an issue for those devices and methods that directly support “story” (cultural ‘DNA’): books, movies, radio, TV and increasingly Internet connections have become the repository of story, replacing community and the mutualizing process of story creation, interpretation and implementation.

Another related part of this value in to confront and deal with both the sane world and the mad world on the same (non-mad) terms.  Those parts of the mad world with which one must have relationships must be honestly, directly and immediately acted on, not in the terms of the mad world (which will have great force to design the form of action), but in terms of this overall value system.

(9) Living in specieshood as a practice:  In the simplest terms this is living within the biological designs of the species.  A beaver acts like a beaver.  A Wasp acts like a wasp.  A human might best act like a human.  But the information how to and the functional capacities to act like a human have been drowned out by the self-referencing Madness (even as we feel the tugging); it must be rediscovered by effort and practice.  Even avoiding the most oppressive forms of madness is not enough, is only a necessary beginning.  This is the life-long personal quest that is practiced by spending time in The Real every day.

(10) Establishing a truth relation with the madness:  The madness, if one is not absorbed into it, can be seen as a local reality the way one might look at the behavior and rules of a club or, physically, at the surf at the beach.  We have no trouble being in a truth relation with the waves at the beach.  We fight against them to a measured extent; we give up to them also in a measured way.  We do not demand to breathe when we are knocked down and held against the bottom.  We do not rail against their uncertainty or their power.  We use them for our pleasure even as we are occasionally tossed and scraped.  We avoid them when they are more powerful than our own strength. This is the way to live with the madness.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bad Things

I feel like I am writing the same thing over and over again.  And I am.  And I will… until everyone (yes, everyone) is listening.  There are 6.5 billion humans on the planet (and dwindling numbers of great apes, elephants, tigers and a whole list of other things alive).  I generally do about three bad things every day -- I won’t name them, I am ashamed -- and I suspect that everyone does: that’s 19.5 billion bad things happening everyday.  I also do good things, but that is not my point.

Billions of the bad things are individually of minor note, but certainly millions and millions of bad things are truly very bad and some many tens of thousands are terrible in the extreme (everyday!) – things that we can’t let go unresponded to.   I’m talking here about acts of genocide, war, institutional theft (and the consequent destructions of many lives).  There is no shortage of bad actions to which to direct our attention and attempted good works.

But, let us return for a moment to those of dwindling numbers.  Do they do bad things too?  Is the catching, killing and eating of a deer by a tiger a bad thing? Can a tiger do a bad thing?  A “tame” bear, not long ago, bit a trainer in the neck and killed him; absolutely bad for the trainer, his family and others, but did the bear do a bad thing in the sense that we should punish the bear other than being much more careful with him? 

Is there a difference in the collected and accumulated bad behaviors of humans and the behaviors of other living things that we humans might see as bad?  This is not just silliness.  It is my belief that until we understand the origins of human bad behavior we will be forever dealing with the many thousands of terrible things, the millions and millions of truly very bad things and the 19.5 billion basically bad things, all daily and all in a bewildered daze.

I think that we can agree that a tiger killing a deer for its own sustaining is not a bad thing, but that a soldier at a check point shooting confused civilians is.  Termites eating the wood of a house is natural to termites (not a bad thing) even though we try to kill them and protect the house, while humans cutting off the tops of mountains to get at the underlying coal is not natural to humans (and is a bad thing) even though the coal is used to make electricity and to heat homes.  We do need to figure this stuff out; millions and millions of bad things really add up fast.  Even if apes and tigers and all those others did bad things they couldn’t have much affect since there are fewer and fewer of them all the time – due in major part to the increasing numbers of humans and the collective bad things we do.

So, enough playing around!  Here is what I take to be the answer: behaviors that disrupt ecological balance are generally bad and behaviors that sustain ecological balance are generally good.  The metric is a stable ecology moving by ecological processes toward maturity.  In nature the behavior of a species supports the ecology that supports the species, otherwise the species either evolves into such a relationship or disappears.  When the ecology changes, often due to physical changes in the planet -- the planet has its own process and rate of maturation and change -- species either keep up with the rates of change by evolving or they disappear.  With the rare and notable exceptions of extinction events planetary changes have been slow compared to the rates of evolution and living things have even pushed things along with the metabolism of free oxygen and the modification of ocean chemistry.

In this view humans invented, several thousands of years ago, bad things.  Humans evolved a way of getting around the ecological gate keepers, of “breaking the rules” faster than ecological perturbations could feed back and correct our unbalancing actions.  It has come to pass that we now are dependent on and function through the bad things that we do.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Madness – Another Ship Metaphor

Dealing effectively with societal Madness is impossible.  A metaphor:  A huge ship, much larger than our present largest, seems to need steering.  There are complex and incompletely understood algorithms operating between the wheelhouse and the engine room and rudder.  There is nothing to see from the wheelhouse except the expanse of the ship in all directions.  All information comes from instruments of uncertain reliability, various yelled directions from outside (it is unclear what ‘outside’ actually is) and sets of charts that the helmsman supplies.  The charts are often argued over and may or may not be believed.

The journey began long ago in little open boats.  The coastline was almost always in view and weather could be seen coming.  Gradually boats were tied together, roofed over, motorized, instrumented and the increasingly larger ship headed for the open sea.  It is, however, coming to the other side of the open ocean (or returning, coming to landfall in any case), leaving the deep ocean and heading for banks and reefs, headed for narrow passages and shallow. 

All the things we have done, done for all those good reasons in the moment, are conspiring to make safe passage impossible.  The whole design neglects the persistent Reality.  It is not that there is a reality for which the giant ship is suited; it is that for a time the power of invention was able to stay ahead of the violations of Reality.  Reality was one force, the challenge to Reality from imagination was another and invention was the third.  This drives change faster and faster with the interesting irony that faster change must be applied to a bigger, more cumbersome ship (thus the algorithms). 

The dangers go un-noticed in deep water running.  It is the norm to imagine that where we are is where we intended to be.  But, where we are is in essence unknown; that we got here by the sheerest of chance is unrealized. The moment is artificial; created in the artfulness of imagining. 

To some, whose wanderings about the ship and iconoclastic natures gave both evidence and aptitude, it was clear that the ship was not the appropriate design and function to confront the enforced realities of reefs and shoals, narrow island passages and river mouths.  But those who lead the ship could not imagine in one large movement the shift from the mythology of the open ocean to the Reality of the shore. 

It must be remembered that the ship came to exist in many small and cumulative imaginings acted on in many small implementations.  That what the inhabitants of the ship see and live as absolute reality could be utter madness in the persistent Reality, a more demanding form of which they are soon to reenter, is too large a leap for all but the most unaffected minds.

Of course, those who argue that the ship will have to be broken up, that the passenger/inhabitants will have to learn to operate small open boats, have to acquire a knowledge of the currents and weather, have to navigate using observations of the shoreline; those people are ignored, or worse, disposed of.

With all the skill available to them the leaders attempt to turn the ship again and again to the open sea away from the approaching persistent Realities of their world.  Eventually, however, the ship becomes so large that no matter how it is turned it is immediately approaching the shore.  Then the societal Madness and the inevitability of its crashing headlong into Reality begins to dissolve into individual madness.  As the ship finally founders, those remaining do the best they can with what is left.