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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Human Piece of the π

Where we begin a thought will often determine, if not where it ends up, where it cannot end up.  I don’t mean to be obscure; it just seems to happen.  There are certain beliefs, notions, ideas that must inform the beginnings of any process of thought for us to have a chance of reaching realistic conclusions.

I am proposing what is, in our present mode of thinking, an outrageous proposition: that there is only one right way to think and there is only one right set of actions, albeit with a little wiggle room.  If this sounds fundamentalist, it is. 

What I am not claiming is that I, or anyone, know the right way to act in all cases, or have how to think down pat.  I am only proposing that there is finally, fundamentally, one way.  All the others are wrong! Here is an explanatory metaphor: 

There is only one value for π. It is irrational, it is finally unknowable and it is singular.  All the others are wrong.  We can get close or, better, we can get close enough for use both conceptually and mathematically.  What we cannot do is ignore π or decide to use a value that particularly appeals to us rather than the best approximation for the situation.  

If you were to reject π because you just couldn’t see why the ratio between the diameter and circumference of a circle should be so very important, then your engineering behavior would be dangerously ill informed.  If you decided that there was no good reason to use 3.141592653589793… when 3 is so much easier, then none of your astronauts would ever get off the ground, much less return alive if by some chance a space vehicle did go into space. 

Our situation, living on the spaceship Earth, is not dissimilar.  We have long passed the point were rounding of π to 3 makes for effective results (it sort of worked in early Egypt) and we have long passed the time when we can make up our own views and values for how humans can and should be functioning in the tiny region of space that can support living things.

Here are some of the rules as I see them: π and the basic equations of human physics 

1) Humans must live in the natural economy the way every other organism does.  We cannot set up our own material and energy economies and ignore the material and energy cycles and systems that necessarily underlie them.

2) Humans must be integrated into the ecosystems in which they live.  We can’t poison ecological systems and continue to extract ‘ecological free services’ from them [1].  This involves a complex interchange of compensations that every other organism, present and past, billions of species, evolved in relationship with every other organism and physical condition of their region. 

3) Humans must live in numbers and with consumption rates that do not overwhelm ANY biophysical process, cycle or system.  At present humans are using almost ½ of the earth’s photosynthetic product and are using the earth’s total productive capacity at a rate of about 150% per year.  That is, the present rate of use is beyond sustainability: we are actually using up the earth’s capacities to sustain life faster than biophysical process (ecological free services) can restore them; eating our seed corn, gambling with our savings [2]. 

4) Humans must see themselves as organisms living in communion with all other living things.  All the belief systems in which humans are exceptional, more aligned with the supernatural than the natural, need to be seen as historical steps in our coming to grips with our powerful adaptations, not as transcendence of the physical world.  Humans are the only animal that can live in a bubble of its own mad realities – but only for a time, only until the distortions of reality must be answered for.  By all accounts that time has come. 

5) Humans must live in communities of such size, design and available activities that it is possible for most members to experience a sense of purpose and live in a state that I call specieshood.  Over the years and cultural changes it has become part of our underlying belief that the society has no responsibility to its members; institutions are the perceived vital units.  Somehow the loss of real, fully formed communities have left the individual without an effective and biologically supporting basis of attachment. 

6) Humans must live with direct expression and experience of our biology and also supportively apply the powers of our Consciousness Order adaptations.  The first requirement here is for an understanding of the Consciousness Order as a new system of order with unique properties to penetrate our belief systems and then to organize a comprehension of ourselves using the best thinking at present and recorded historically and the best science available.  Such a project seems completely impossible in the present intellectual and social environment, but it is the only way for humans to begin to approach living in reality. The time and opportunity to achieve this adaptively also seems impossible; all of our adaptive designs right now are powerfully devoted to strengthening and sustaining the madness of our excesses. 

As a species, humans have been part of nature ‘taking its natural course.’  The human primary adaptation is so overwhelmingly powerful that ‘taking its course’ has led to quite extraordinary results.  From the very beginning of the expression of the Consciousness Order in human behavior, when the ecosystem was the most powerful and immediate force, our adaptive powers fit us in exquisitely without the need to be particularly aware of how this was accomplished. 

But as our powers of organization and technology have lessened and put off the consequences of ecosystem influences, it is necessary that we discover how to use the Consciousness System of Order in other ways than defeating ecosystem limitations; it is exactly such “successes” that drive the need to discover the functioning of our consciousness systems just as we have discovered the properties of the elements, the principles of evolution and the laws of physics. 

We will adapt, in the “taking its course” sort of way, to almost any set of conditions that we confront, but today we are adapting to the conditions of our own making in an increasingly vicious cycle; and it is possible, even likely, that the conditions that we make will not be compatible with the rest of life on the earth.  There is only one tool that can confront such a challenge and that is the ability to appreciate possible futures and act on them. 

Our science can provide the ‘experience’; philosophy can provide the thoughtful counsel.  Democratic governance, community based economics and social experimentation can provide the platform from which to begin.  But we can no longer round off the human π to equal greed; we can’t substitute religion for the realities of human thermodynamics.  

At the moment of the greatest pressure to ignore reality, when Reality is delivering the greatest dangers, it is essential to embrace the reality of our species’ nature and the only answers that can restore the living space to its own sustaining processes. 

While it doesn’t appear so listening to our media world, it is possible for ideas to spread and to have positive, truly adaptive consequences; that is what the CSO has done for 200,000 years as a natural part of our functioning.  The trick, and tricks are the human game, will be to understand ‘understanding’ well enough and to find information sources sufficiently connected to Reality that we can add aware control to the CSO’s other powers.   Those who can must begin this in their own lives and so such a way of living may find roots and spread.  There will be no other way. 

[1] Poison is used in a very broad way in this case.  It includes, but is not limited to, actually chemical poisoning, removing or covering the land surface, redirecting water flows, changing the surface vegetation, removing or replacing animals, changing the chemistry of air and water. 

[2] This 150% doesn’t consider the 10 to 100 million other species of living things and is consequently dooming them to extinction at increasing rates.  Ecological collapses as a result of the loss of species, habitat and mutual compensation integrity would be devastating.

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