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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Picture Puzzles and Future Images

I have always liked puzzles, especially picture puzzles; 500 pieces, 1000 pieces, 5000 pieces (I don’t do them any more, too many other puzzles to put together, but did once): fitting together the interlocking parts, gradually exposing the image, gradually discovering its final form. 

Shapes, patterns and colors are for me a bit of an obsession; I discover/make them out of tile floors, arrangements of trees on a hillside, books on a shelf or papers strewn about my desk.  And I try to arrange, into interlocking motions, the myriad actions of the social, political and economic world using what I assume to be the same tools of observation, pattern recognition, organization and intuition used by my evolutionary forbearers to make child’s play of responding to the most genetically clever instinctual evasions and deceptions of the organisms with whom they lived.

Only today’s patterns, the means used for prediction, are not coming from yearly astronomical cycles, seasonal animal migrations or the instinctual protections and aggressions of our living prey, competitors and neighbors; they are coming from the wildly variable needs and methods of our own species: the ‘picture puzzle’ has a great many pieces indeed.  And to add to the difficulty, the pieces are, many times, cut by design so that large sections of the puzzles can be put together in different ways depending on what the puzzler thinks the picture should look like in the end.  This is an altogether unsatisfactory situation given that finally the image that we construct must fit in as a coherent segment of the larger earthy puzzle.

Facile minds have created, from this overwhelming reality, tidy images of ‘..isms’, ‘..ologies’, ‘..cracies’ and ‘..tions’; really small sections of the larger puzzle hammered together with at least some degree of fit to the pieces; sections that are ultimately arbitrary and that will never fit together when attempting to combine them into a whole image.  The frustrating part of this understanding is that those finally artificial sections must be completely broken up and rearranged for there to be any chance to make the whole image complete.

The damning part is that humans dedicated to what their section of the image is to look like will fight, kill and die for that image. No one is willing, or even can be willing, to stir all of the pieces, of a seemingly finished section of the puzzle, back into the mix and begin again – as one must from time to time with a cardboard puzzle – keeping only those fragments assumed with the greatest certainty to be correct.  In fact, those of our fellows who have suggested such a need with clarity and strength have often had their lives destroyed.

The present, so-called, liberal political model assumes that every segment of the puzzle, no matter how poorly made, has meaningful value and must, therefore, fit into the larger image in some way.  The, so-called, conservative position seems to be that “conservatives” are correct about just about everything and have, as a result, the right and obligation to use every possible means, fair and foul, to sustain their designs, demanding that all the other puzzle segments conform to theirs. 

Looked at from the metaphor of a picture puzzle, both views are incorrectly assembled from a similar set of the available pieces.  In essence, the so-called liberal view tries to include pieces that don’t fit and the so-called conservative view rejects pieces that do fit. The acronym SNAFU seems almost invented to be the appropriate description.

To be clear, it is my view that there is but one final dynamic image that all the pieces can and do construct.  It is only humans who have shaken the puzzle pieces loose, stirred them and therefore must make an attempt to put them back together.  If humans can achieve that, if we can reassemble the sections of the universal puzzle – that we have scrambled, rediscovering patterns, forms and functions that integrate with the whole puzzle – then we will have gone a long way in fully developing the remarkable evolutionary and adaptive tools that define us. And if we do not, then the puzzle pieces that define us will be boxed and put away on a shelf in the evolutionary closet.
* * * 
I have taken to reading the wide range of media as I would examine the individual pieces of a picture puzzle.  Some pieces can be immediately classified by a single element of shape, pattern or color and need not be looked at further (until perhaps later) while others need to be turned round and round, studied and placed for continuing evaluation as the assembly of context grows; too quick a judgment leads to the assembling of false starts.

The main outline of the puzzle currently being constructed is the preeminence of the organizational structures that we have been calling corporations or international corporations, but are really new organizational forms supplanting nation-states: organizational structures ‘freed’ from moral, social or fiduciary responsibility to the human species populating the earth.  And ‘freed’ from even the tiny remaining sense of obligation to the physical world found in the developed nation-states.

This separation requires that the boards of directors, CEOs and the other central functional parts of the leadership of these new entities see themselves as qualitatively different than the rest of humanity and that their belief systems be imbedded in economic ideation utterly unsupported by biophysical Reality.  Assembling the many individual puzzle pieces of (so-called) corporate and nation-state government action with these design principles in mind allows the pieces to fit together very nicely – much too nicely for human comfort.

The relationship of nation-state governance, including actions of social responsibility, to their populations is clearly being driven by these new organizational entities.  The new model is not the simple model of capitalist competition – long since abandoned, really still born from its 18th century intellectual birth – but a monopolistic economic totalitarianism in which the new plutocratic entities attempt to control every aspect of life’s possibilities and withhold them for a price.  Living space, food, water, breathable air, medical care, movement and association, recreation, activities of creation (both intellectual and biological) are all intruded upon to greater or lesser degrees and charged the price of dictated productive activity chosen by and for the benefit of the plutocracy (really the stealing of work and the value of human life).

Such an assembling of a section of the human puzzle will never fit either other sections of the human puzzle or the larger puzzle into which ours must finally mesh.  But, there is no telling that to those who are committed to their own small segment and who can and will see no other.  It is an over simplification, but plainly put, their puzzle construction must be taken from them, stirred and reassembled on principles that include all of the parts of the human puzzle and in recognition of the total puzzle already assembled by the living earth.


Kirby Obsidian said...

I respect and appreciate your arguments here. Lots to think about. My one, strong disagreement is with your view that there is some single, correct, final formulation that all the pieces will form. As I live and grow, my sense is that truth is less clear and solid a thing as I once thought. It brings to my mind that conundrum of physics that occurs when trying to fix the location of a subatomic particle. How the very act of observation becomes a factor. So with things human, social and cultural, I suspect. What we desire, aim for, value, etc. and where we are, in terms of our own development and growth, is part of what determines the final shape of the puzzle.
I think your essay deserves a closer reading and a finer analysis than I've been able to give it. But I prefer making this not-quite-thought-out reply, than to make none. (FYI, I've found your last several posts interesting and very deserving of commentary as well. But for lack of time, focus, energy...)

James Keye said...

Kirby, (if I may – my old school southern upbringing tends to go first to Mr.)

I understand your objection. One of the reasons for so baldly stating such a seemingly rigid position was to create it in the reader; not a trick, but a device: I do believe it. Let me explain: Quantum mechanical uncertainty generates the near absolute certainty of Newtonian mechanics in a way analogous to how the statistical nature of genetics, behaviors and capacities generates useful behavioral and historical generalizations for evolution, species’ behaviors and even human behaviors. This is further analogous to our ability to make quite accurate predictions about climate, accurate means and standard deviations for various measures, while not being able to predict daily weather beyond fairly broad outlines.

From a political point of view, if I can get the polity to focus on the conditions of uncertainty, then the actually clearer certainties can be ignored to my immediate advantage. To say this in terms of the metaphor in the essay: the statistical uncertainties are just another piece of the puzzle. I was careful to say “one final dynamic image.” I am primarily a biologist and my model for a completed puzzle is a homeostatic entity: all the parts are in constant change around very rigid parameters, integrations and relationships; in other words the living state (or ecological state or universal order) is allowed by the integrations of all the puzzle pieces. I certainly agree that human action must be part of the puzzle’s form, but the range of its form is far from unlimited; there is basically one way to be sane (agree with Reality) and a near infinite number of ways to be crazy! Nothing lasts very long that doesn’t fit its pieces together.

I deeply appreciate being pushed to think through the ideas that I post – many of which could use more thought. Your responses have been gratifying in that being understood by another human being seems to be one of our needs. Thanks for satisfying mine.