Friday, January 05, 2007

Two Mysteries and a Map

I just started to read Daniel Pinchbeck’s “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.” I’m looking forward to the book…I’ve always enjoyed the writings of Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna—authors who challenge our conceptions of what we really know, what reality “really” “is,” etc. So I thought I’d use the excuse to bring up a few of my favorite mysteries—things that science, so far, is utterly unable to explain, and things that, when understood, may truly advance our gnosis beyond today’s empirical paradigm. These are, I think, the two fundamental mysteries--and it is significant that they are best termed "mysteries" rather than "problems" or "challenges":

Consciousness (a case study in Emergence): Consciousness is a problematic field in general, but I’d like to discuss the most unknown (and, as we will see, perhaps scientifically “unknowable”) topic within consciousness: emergence. Science tells us that we have billions of neurons, that they pass and store chemical-electric charges of varying intensity, that they build and constantly refigure massively lateral networks of connections. But science does not provide ANY insight of how consciousness emerges from this set of interactions. “Neural nets” and other attempts to model brain functioning increasingly tell us how it is that learning, memory, muscular control, etc. arise from this biology, but not the genesis of consciousness itself. We can observe the phenomenon of “emergence,” the unexplained coordination of non-hierarchal elements, at many points in our world—one of them being the emergence of consciousness from (presumably) the brain—but we cannot explain its function. This is critical because it not only illustrates our inability to demonstrate any understanding of the very core of our humanity, but it also demonstrates our inability to understand one of the fundamental forces acting in our world—and one that, if harnessed, could be a true solution to the problems of hierarchy. I’ve dealt with this topic a great deal in the past, and I won’t discuss the problems of hierarchy in more depth here, but suffice it to say that a true understanding of emergence would reach in impact far beyond a grant of insight into ourselves.

Developmental Micro-Biology (a case study in Field Teleology, for lack of a better term): The other fundamental mystery (in my opinion), is the unexplained teleological phenomena at work in our world—that is, the unexplained progress towards an apparent “purpose.” The case study here is human developmental microbiology: when a fertilized egg begins to divide, first into thousands, then millions and billions of cells, some of these cells become one kind, and other become other kinds—facilitating the creation of complex organisms like humans, where the liver is different from the brain from the bones. Where is the master blueprint stored to tell some cells to become a liver (and how to structure something as incredibly complex as a liver) and to tell other cells to become a heart (and how exactly to do that)? Science does not know—they have absolutely no clue. Some suggest that the answer is in our DNA, but the DNA is identical for all the cells, so how do they self-organize into such discrete and complex functions? We don’t know. Some (decidedly “non-scientific” perspectives) suggest that DNA (among other functions) is a “tuner” of sorts to receive instruction from a “galactic field” or some similar concept. Sounds ridiculous—especially to a more scientifically “attuned” mind—but it does no worse than science at explaining the mystery of developmental microbiology. On a grander scale, the mystery of teleological phenomena such as this are all-present. If some force outside the egg/zygote/fetus is responsible for directing development—as many argue and a logical analysis suggests—then what else in our world is similarly influenced? What is the interplay between emergence and teleological phenomana? These are all questions that, for now at least, “science” seems to have no answer for. This shouldn’t be looked on as a failure of science, but rather as a reminder that “science” as a concept is a tool, but not the end-all-be-all of gnosis. There are some things that, by its very method, science cannot explain—and these are increasingly more than just abstract philosophical or theological matters. Increasingly they are critical to advancing our society into new organizational forms, to advancing our consciousness beyond the market-state mentality, to preventing the destruction of our ecosystem, and the other critical tasks of our time.

It’s best that we round off discussing these two mysteries with the discussion of a Map—no, not a map that will help us understand these mysteries, but rather a discussion of why our necessary use of a map in the process of trying to do so prevents our success (in a “scientific” manner). Here I’ll resurrect on of Robert Anton Wilson’s most important notions, that the map is not the territory. Necessarily, a map cannot communicate or contain all information about the territory that it portrays—to do so would require it to be just as large, just as detailed as the territory itself, and in doing so it would no longer provide the heuristic advantage of its ‘map-ness,’ that is, that it condenses knowledge about its subject territory. Because, as humans, what our consciousness perceives is that which is inside our head (the map), not the actual territory (concrete “reality,” assuming such a thing actually exists, which we have no way of confirming). Our reliance on a “map” prevents us from empirical knowledge of consciousness, just as it prevents us from holistic knowledge of the entirety of the “field,” and as such we are mistaken to expect a “scientific” resolution to the mysteries above. We have ways of resolving these mysteries—as explored by Pinchbeck in his book—but because they are necessarily “non-scientific,” they are also ridiculed as charlatanism or hokey-pokey. So be it—they are critical to human functioning, and to our future, and we must find some way forward, some new heuristic fusion of empiricism and mysticism. I think that Pinchbeck’s attempt at exactly this—however much it may be ridiculed from all sides—should be carefully considered.

26 comments:

Theo_musher said...

I think its possible that people will begin genetically engineering the human brain for greater intelligence, before the emergent phenomenon of consciousness is figured out.

So then what we will have is people tampering once again with somthing we don't fully understand. Maybe this willl result in more intelligent, less consciously aware human beings.

How dangerous would that be?

I read a lot of "out there" stuff, and this seems to me to be what aliens are supposedly like.

Another thought I have though, as relates to hierarchy, is that these embryos you mention, are being formed into a hierarchy.

This emergent consciousness is the result of a cellular hierarchy. Sure its vulnerable.I mean,organisms with a well developed brain are vulnerable to assaults to the brain.

You cut a cockroaches head off and it lives for quite a while without it.

An amoeba, I guess would be invulnerable to that type of assault. Then looking at certian biological rhizomes as one entity, I guess it has its advantages.

But I can't escape the fact that this development toward hierarchy does seem teleological. I really do favor this arrangement of my cells in their present hierarchical form. A bullet to my brain could instantly end the whole thing, but still I feel I am happier than I would be as a jellyfish or an amoeba of a grove of chest nut trees.

So that's one reason I have kind of recently had a shift to thinking about political hierarchies and how they can be improved and why a good hierarchy might be better than a both a bad hierarchy and a good rhizome.

Theo_musher said...

What I think is happening is that the form of hierarchy prevalent today, is like a bunch of "pretenders to the throne." There might be the makings of an emergent hierarchy in the works. It may be a "spiritual" as opposed to "materialist" or "materialistic" hierarchy.

So the powers that be want to prevent this from occuring. But I don't think breaking hierarchy down into rhizome is the answer. I think going from hierarchy to rhizome would be entropy. A more ordered state to a less ordered state. Like a big amoeba digesting a mammal and turning the mammal into more amoeba.

Using the developmental microbiology analogy, I think democracy is like growth without a brain or an organizing principle. It would be like the embryo, splitting off of the brain and then turning into a big tumor. The brain, becomes its own organism, and forms a parasitic relationship with the tumor, feeding off of it to gain sustenance.

I think just killing the brain, doesn't help the plight of the body.

I think a body without a brain can only exist at a really low level of organization and complexity. I think that low level of organization describes rizomes, in general and rhizome societies by extension.

Maybe what is coming, after 2012, is some type of system that is more unified, but still complex and highly ordered, probably moreso. I don't know.

I plan to check out the book.

Dan said...

Interesting. McKenna's theory on psychelic substances fueling humanity's "Great Leap" is still my favourite.

Ted, where did you get the idea of cellular hierarchy from? I think cells are way too smart to rely on fragile hierarchies ;-)

I guess you can say a shot to the brain kills someone because the brain is the top of the cellular hierarchy, but I don't think that's a very solid assumption. The human body is a community of 50 trillion cells all reliant on eachothers input and output for survival. I don't see any cells exploiting others as we often see in human hierarchies.

Theo_musher said...

Thats because the the types of human hierarchies we have now are screwed up and out of balance. So basically Dan, the conclusion you have come to, like others in the anti-civ genre, is that hierarchy is an inherently flawed design.

So therefore it makes no sense to you that the human body is a cellular hierarchy, because otherwise it would be exploitative.

But really the human body is just a better example of a good hierarchy. But it is a hierarchy and the brain needs the body and the body neds the brain, but really the brain is the most important part because without out it the body can't fuction, but loss of a limb for example wouldn't destroy it.

Its interesting though, you are so biased against hierarchy that you can't see that the human body is one.

Theo_musher said...

I think the assumption that a bullet to the brain would kill me, actually is pretty solid. ;-)

Dan said...

Thats because the the types of human hierarchies we have now are screwed up and out of balance. So basically Dan, the conclusion you have come to, like others in the anti-civ genre, is that hierarchy is an inherently flawed design.

Where have human hierarchies not been screwed up and out of balance? Human societies based on hierarchies are a recent phenomenon in human history, something of an anomaly. Each one has collapsed because it could not effectively integrate and interact with the larger whole. My position is by default to have doubts about any hierarchy, because I see no evidence that hierarchy is a smart thing to live within for humans. Which is why we didn't live within them for most of our history, and which is why we are having such a hard time trying it now.

So therefore it makes no sense to you that the human body is a cellular hierarchy, because otherwise it would be exploitative.

Not necessarily, I was just comparing one characteristic of hierarchies.

But really the human body is just a better example of a good hierarchy. But it is a hierarchy and the brain needs the body and the body neds the brain, but really the brain is the most important part because without out it the body can't fuction, but loss of a limb for example wouldn't destroy it.

I think that's a good point, but it doesn't really support the idea of a hierarchy - it just says there are some areas more sensitive than the others in the network of cells that make up the body. I don't think by any means that that's enough to constitute a hierarchy, but then again I don't know how our definitions of hierarchy compare.

Its interesting though, you are so biased against hierarchy that you can't see that the human body is one.

To be honest, I've never looked at the body as either hierarchy or rhizome - it never occured to me before you mentioned "cellular hierarchy", which I still don't think holds ground.

chris said...

Theo-
I think the burden of proof is on you at the moment with regards to the body being a hierarchy. Sure, the body would not survive long without a brain. But the brain could not survive long without the heart, or the stomach, or the liver, etc. To compare a brain to a leg is comparing an organ to an appendage--not exactly a fair comparison.
It appears to me that the human body is much more rhizome like than it is hierarchical. The different organs are all dependant upon each other for survival and betterment of the organism as a whole. Yet they also have a sort of autonomy and a function that is specific to themselves. If you take one away, the whole body is weakened (and perhaps doomed). Perhaps you could go into further detail about how the human body is hierarchical in nature--it doesn't appear to me to be so.
Chris

Theo_musher said...

In these circles hierarchy is synonymous with everything bad. The human body is seen as a good thing, so that's probably why it doesn't compute.

But I think its one of those things that is so obvious that people can't see it. Like the word "head"? Heads of state, department head, etc.

The brain directs the rest of the body. Its the most important part. I know its not very democratic or egalitarian. Seems like I am not beeing fair to the other parts, but basically a body with no functioning brain, like say a person in a vegetative state, loses the property of consciousness.

Sure all the parts need each other, but to be conscious and to have an executive function the body needs a brain. The brain needs a heart and lungs, but the brain makes the heart and lungs work. The brain can avoid areas that would result in death of the whole system.

The human body is an example of a properly functioning hierarchy.

I think the runaway growth in modern society is caused not by the basic design flaw of hierarchy but by a break down in hierarchy. Communication is broken down (nervous system?)

I think a Hierarchy that serves the body is needed. What we often call hierarchy is just a type of exploitation. The brain does not exploit the body, the brain directs the body. The body serves the brain. Both are connected and need each other, but the brain carries out the executive function.

Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. The development of life forms with brains advanced enough to have emergent consciousness appears to show telology. An anthropic principle. There appears to be a purpose behind it.

That's how I see these things Jeff mentioned as being connected.

Theo_musher said...

which appears to have a greater degree of consciousness? A human being or a strawberry patch?

As far as human ontogeny goes, there are jungian archetypes, that imply that humans are wired for hierarchy.

There is a King archetype. King energy is seen as an organizing principle.

Unrestrained growth, seems to be a product of a lack of an organizing principle, like a cancerous tumor.

That's all I will say for now. i don't want to hog discussion. Perhaps I will write about this on my own blog

sventastic said...

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche:

Instinctively we identify ourselves with our bodies and minds. We have a very strong emotional attachment to them even though our whole idea of self and mine is very vague and confused...
we are still very unclear about what this 'I' might be. We may even wonder if it is, perhaps, just a small vital part of the brain.
However, when one thinks about it, one is not emotionally attached to a minute mechanism in one's grey matter. If that were all one's emotional attachment were about, it would be easy enough to remove and all human suffering with it. Life would not need to have any meaning, nor human life any particular value. There would be no need to go on struggling in a life full of suffering and frustration. However, such a view strikes us as totally nihilistic and demeaning. The 'I' feels much more important than that.

The 'I' that we are emotionally attached to seems to step back and look on life, evaluating experience and wishing to avoid suffering. We do not experience it or treat it the way we would a physcial object like a brain.
We know from general knowledge gleaned from other people that the brain is in the skull. It can be physically located, touched, and measured. It has some relationship with the mind because, when our mental state changes, a change can often be detected in the brain. However, whatever scientists may find out about the brain, they will only be able to tell us the relationship between the mind and brain in more detail. They can look and probe and measure to find facts about what the brain is doing, but how will they know what the mind is experiencing as they do it?
They may, for example, be able to say there is a lot of activity in such and such region of the brain when a person thinks of red. But how do they know for sure the person is really experiencing red?
The person himself knows for sure the nature of his experience. He may call it red. He may not. He may not call it anything. He will never know if anyone else ever experiences antnything in the way he does, even if everyone agrees to call the experience they have by the same name. Who can know how anything is experienced other than the experiencer?
A scientist can say the brain is acting as if it were experiencing red because the brain is doing what it always does when people are experiencing red. Who will know if they are right in any particular case or not? Only the experiencer can know for sure.
The scientist relies on well-informed guess-work. Certain theories are taken to be true becauswe they seem to explain events very well.
The main thrust of Buddhism, however, is not about theories at all. It is about experience. In particular it is concerned with the experience of suffering. What Buddhism has discovered is that the experience of suffering is always associated with strong emotional attachment to a vague sense of 'self.'

So Buddhism turns its attention onto that strong eotional response associated with that sense of 'self' and asks about how that 'self' is acutally experienced. Where is the 'I' experienced?
One might answer that one experiences it in the brain. However, one does not need to know anything about the brain in order to suffer. Even a dog or child suffers. They do not have any theories about the 'self', but their behavior suggests that they have a sense of self.
If they did not, why would a child or a dog existing in one instant of time concern itself about a dog or child that was going to exist in the next moment? Surely it is because unconciously he is thinking that the dog or the child of the next moment is still 'him' in some sense and is distinct from anyone else.
When he sees a threat to his life or comfort he recoils from it. Unconsciously he is thinking that 'he' could escape this threat and continue his existence somewhere more pleasant; this shows he has a sense of having an independent existence (a 'self').
One could argue that in lower forms of living organisms recoiling from unpleasant stimuli is simply a mechanical response, like trees waving in the wind.
Maybe this is true for primitive forms of life, but this does not have any bearing on the problem of suffering at all. If we were merely complex mechanical devices one could argue that objectively suffering did not matter. This would be an extremely impoverished attitude to life and not a very convincing one.

One may feel that what one really means when one says that suffering is experienced in the brain is that it is experienced in the mind.
Since one automatically assumes (in modern western society) that the mind is in the brain, and since one's notion of mind is so vague anyway, there does not seem to be much difference between talking about the mind and talking about the brain. However, they cannot be synonymous, even if ultimately they are discovered to be of the same stuff, or nature.
...One might be tempted at this point to start speculating about the nature of the mind and the self. One might even wax philosophical about it, reflecting on such statements as, "I think, therefore I am." However, since 'I am' is merely a thought, the only thing we are really sure of is the experience of thought.
So the only sure means of finding out what that experience is, is to experience it as precisely and as dispassionately as is possible. So the Shravaka approach is to investigate experience by simply being as aware aspossible every moment.

KTGR Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khenpo_Tsultrim_Gyamtso_Rinpoche

http://www.snowlionpub.com/search.php?cart_id=3139040.25692&item_no=PRSTME

chris said...

Perhaps it is not an either/or question. Theo-your points about the brain being "the head" are well taken, however, it appears that heirarchy does not completely describe how the body functions.
Jeff wrote about nature having room for both heirarchy and rhizome:

From time to time I have been told that I ramble on about the two opposing modes of organization: hierarchy and rhizome. One of the most common critiques I hear is that hierarchy isn't really so bad--after all, it exists in nature. Quite true, both hierarchy an rhizome DO exist in nature, an will continue to be important parts of life on Earth. The trouble with hierarchy is that it is presently grossly overrepresented. The organizational balance is far out of whack--more than eliminate hierarchy just for its own sake, we need to work to restore a dynamic balance between hierarchy and rhizome, between centralized and distributed organization. The problem with doing that is the institutionalized subsidy that civilization uses to underwrite its hierarchal foundations.

I guess I can see both rhizome and heirarchy as equally valid ways of describing a complex organism like the human body.

Theo_musher said...

When I read this line:

"Necessarily, a map cannot communicate or contain all information about the territory that it portrays—to do so would require it to be just as large, just as detailed as the territory itself, and in doing so it would no longer provide the heuristic advantage of its ‘map-ness,’ that is, that it condenses knowledge about its subject territory"

I thought of wikipedia.

Theo_musher said...

Chris,

I guess I can see parts of the human body as being a rhizome, like the immune system. But I think its all under a hierarchy.

I think things like Biofeedback, make the body a better hierarchy. I can't escape this executive function of the mind. I can decide to shoot myself,as in suicide. It would be a totally autocratic decision. I wouldn't take a vote and arrive at a consensus through imput from my spleen, liver, gall bladder etc.

My body can communicate needs to me, that "I" will carry out. Like my stomach will tell me I am hungry. So "I" go get some food.

Its a clear hierarchy to me. It just works well.

I think hierarchies in society that people point to are disfunctional. They are just methods of exploitation. They may not even be hierarchies.

Like a form of parasitism. For example a wasp can take over the body of a caterpillar and lay eggs in it. Chemicals are injected into the caterpillar that increase its metabloism and stop it from maturing.

I think this is akin to the situation with the growth economy. I think its caused from exploitation, not the inherent flaws of hiearchy.

I think if it were a true hierarchy with all the parts serving each other in mutuality things would be better.

sventastic said...

Please see the Khenpo Rinpoche quote above.

'Hierarchy' is a conceptual superimposition that we project onto the phenomena we experience.

It does not objectively or truly exist.

People believe it does, and have corresponding emotional responses, similar to seeing something in the dark and believing it to be a snake and freaking out, but when you turn on the lights, it is clear that it is only a coil of rope.

I think rhizome is closer in describing the interdependence and impermanence that mark our phenomenal world.

The brain is not disctinct from the body, nor vice versa. EVERYthing is interdependently related, and nothing is separate, independent, or enduring.

Let me reiterate:
Hierarchy is not good or bad, simply because it does not actually exist. We merely believe it does. We believe in it so much (through our cultural conditioning and socialization) that we are emotionally dependent on it.

This is like a child freaking out when their sand castle is unexpectedly swept away by the rising tide.

The point is, we do not have to suffer or freak out at all. We can begin to recognize the patterns of interdependence and impermanence that are undeniably around us and that we are an intrinsic part of.
We can appreciate the basic beauty and ordinary magic that we are constantly participating in.

We can transcend the illusion of hierachy and all of its demeaning lies (that we tell ourselves), and abide in the natural state of things, peacefully.

Theo_musher said...

you seem to be using the word "hierarchy" as a synonym for "evil"

Then you kind of slip into quasi buddhism and explain why "evil" (in this case hierarchy) is just an illusion.

But what if I don't see hierarchy as representative of all that is evil?

What if I just see it as one set of relationships, like a repeating pattern that matter arranges itself into?

Speaking of Buddhism, That is a hierarchal religion. It has a top down autocratic leadership structure.

Its not democratic or egalitarian at all. That doesn't mean its bad, it just has that pattern. Does a Zen master neccessarily need to prey on his students for it to be a hierarchy?

sventastic said...

First:
I did not assert nor imply an association between hierarchy and "evil." In fact, I explicity stated:
Hierarchy is not good or bad, simply because it does not actually exist.
Very simply: something that does not exist can't be anything, let alone "evil."
Second:
"Hierarchy" is a conceptual framework based on a belief system of an ontology of power relationships.
Since all relationships are conceptual and relative phenomena (they are subjective interpretations of empirical experience, and as such are variable, diverse, and can change) they do not have an objective status as being truly existent in and of themselves.
Nothing and no experience exists independently, separately, or permanently; requisites for "objectivity."
For instance, one considers the mosquito that bites them and drinks their blood as a pest, whereas the mosquito considers you to be a delicous meal. Who is correct? How can you possibly assert your experience as being superior to another's? It is all merely experience, and one cannot assert a variable interpretation of an experience (which can and does change over time due to the vicisitudes of memory) as being "more real" than any other.
It is the same with socio-political power structures.
Many people fear the government, most likely because they have been taught to. But people and institutions only have the power that we are willing to invest in them, consciously or not. Beliefs in "superior" and "inferior" are subjective interpretations of relative power relationships.
"Hierarchy" is the structure of some being superior over those who are inferior in some way. But beliefs in being subordinate to someone else are variable, diverse, and change over time, and are therefore not truly existent.
Let me reiterate:
Despite the fact that they have shotguns and tear gas and tasers does not make the "government" be superior or have power over me. It can coerce or even destroy me through violence, but that does not make it powerful.
A volcanic eruption or hurricane can coerce and destroy me through "violence," but I do not superimpose the same power dynamics on them that I do to the government.
In fact, it has been historically shown that there is a force more powerful than violence or the threat thereof: love.
One can look to recent examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their amazing successes in producing social change my means of non-violent methods, in the face of beligerent and violence-wielding institutions and structures.
Indulgence in violence is of course the par for the course for humanity, and is the path of least resistence for those who are greedy, hate-filled, or afraid of others. But it does not have to be the only way, and in fact, there are forces more powerful than these.
Those who insist on perpetuating "Hierarchy" employ fear and hate-mongering, encourage apathy and complancency, and espouse propaganda and ignorance.
These tactics and strategies are unsustainable and destructive, and has lead us to the brink of global annihilation.
Thirdly:
Buddha said in the Sutra on Pure Realms Spread Out in Dense Array:

"Do not accept my Dharma merely out of respect for me, but analyze and check it the way a goldsmith analyzes gold, by rubbing, cutting and melting it."

That does not sound hierarchical to me. Buddha, and the philosophy he taught, is inherently based on individual examination of one's own experience, use of reason and logic, and innate potential of every single being to become awake to how the world functions. It is not based on coersion, threat or use of violence, or any other features or qualities of Hierarchy.

Like any human institution, Buddhism has unfortunately been co-opted here and there by those who are greedy, scared, or full of hate. But these are absolutely not features of what the Buddha taught, but are rather superimpositions and bad choices made by a few people who call themselves "Buddhists."
That is why the Buddha also said:

Rely not upon the person, but upon the doctrine.

With respect to the doctrine, rely not on the words but on the meaning.

With regard to the meaning, rely not on the interpretable meaning, but on the definitive meaning.

With regard to the definitive meaning, one should rely not upon comprehension by an ordinary state of consciousness but upon an exalted wisdom consciousness.

Because of this, the reliability of teachings cannot be determined by the person who taught them but by investigating the teachings themselves.

Theo_musher said...

So how is Jeff critiquing somthing that doesn't exist?

Do you consider that to be like critiquing the tooth fairy?

I don't follow you.

I just made the observation that the cells of the human body seem to be arranged in a hierarchy.

Strawberry's seem to be arranged in a rhizome. There appear to be several patterns in nature.

sventastic said...

More like a perverse combo of the Easter Bunny and Big Brother.

I think what Jeff is critiquing and what I'm trying to expose is the ultimate deceitful con: that it is okay, and actually preferrable, for us to subordinate ourselves to the whims of others.
We are complicit in this indoctrinated system of deception as long as we remain ignorant of it and do nothing to counter it in our own lives.
Daniel Quinn describes this as the constant background hum of socialization to which we've been desensitized called Mother Culture in his great book Ishmael.
The fact that we are not aware of this pervasive ignorance to how things are is testament to the insidiousness of its illusion.
Like I've said, "hierarchy," or belief and emotional investment in it, is not evil, just highly unfortunate and unnecessary.
It is like seeing someone across the street and recognizing them as your friend, and when you run over to greet them, you see with your own eyes that it's actually a stranger. This mistake is not bad or evil, it's just a mistake. We do it all the time. We are being tricked and are tricking ourselves.
The key point here is that we consistently make this mistake with our government. The more propaganda they spew, and the more a complancent populace gobbles it up, the deeper entrenched their heinous scheme becomes.
Hierarchy does not truly exist. We mistaken believe it does, and empower those who exploit us in its name to perpetuate our misery.
Even hierarchy in a non-human context does not exist; relationships are relative and variable. They do not truly exist one way or another, but rather in interdependence with everything. There are infinite points of view of every thing, and therefore no absolute or correct structure or system or hierarchy between them.
The world is what we make of it.
We can chose to continue to imprison ourselves in a twisted web of self-deception and subordination, or we can wake up to the fact that we are inherently good and free, and that the world is actually a magical and blissful place.
In an interesting twist of semantic genius, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, describes nature in terms of "natural hierarchy," which is a non-dual, non-conceptual mode of pure being. He does this in stark constrast with our conventional notion of hierarchy, which is a stratified order of superiors dominating inferiors.
Natural hierachy, as Trungpa Rinpoche coined the term, is actually remarkably similar to what Jeff calls rhizome. It is suchness, plain and simple. No good, no evil. No better or worse. No hope and no fear.
This is not contradictory to what I'm espousing above. Trungpa Rinpoche is using language to subvert our common notions of hierarchy, and subversively invented this term to wake us up to the non-dual, non-conceptual nature of reality.
If this is interesting to you, I highly suggest you check out the book.

chagapilz said...

Jeff, regarding the twin mysteries you site - subjective experience, and cellular differentiation during development- I appreciate you bringing attention to the limitations of the current scientific culture. It may be, in the case of the phenomenon of subjective experience, that by the nature of our rather close association with it, it will remain forever unintelligible to materialist science. Not necessarily, though, and even less so in the case of development. I think that much of that shroud of mystery is imposed by overly-reductive explanation and grossly simplistic understandings of causality. There are, thankfully, rigorous - and rigorously materialist - antidotes, both for the problems specific to these two questions, and to the Weltanshaung that underpins them.

Two books I that I recommend very highly to those with the fortitude to put up with some academese, are:
_The Ontology of Information_, by Susan Oyama; and
_Neither Brain nor Ghost_, by W. Teed Rockwell.

(For those who want to follow up on Oyama's intervention, check out _Cycles of Contingency_. For those who want to read what one wishes Rockwell had read before writing NBNG, and a great biological account of the limits of certainty, check out _The Tree of Knowledge_, by H. Maturana and F. Varela.)

I admit I skated through much of the latter portions of the comments above me. What is the definition of hierarchy that folks are using anyway? There seem to be several floating around. It's worth differentiating between:
*spatial or scalar hierarchies,
*energetic hierarchies (a la systems ecology),
*rank or command hierarchies, and *Koestlerian holarchies (nested hierarchies of parts and wholes).

And, especially in the case of scalar and/or nested hierarchies, to distinguish between levels of *organization* and levels of *observation.*

Sometimes these hierarchies overlap in parallel, and sometimes not. There are, arguably, always multiple sorts of hierarchy intersecting, congruently and perpindicularly, on any social pheonomenon.

All this confusion is, I think, a symptom of a cultural lack of good conceptual tools for understanding complexity. But we are working on it, no?

Theo_musher said...

good disabiguation there.

thanks.

chagapilz said...

Whoops, that title by Susan Oyama should read:
_The Ontogeny of Information_

Jim Zack said...

This is perhaps the most provocative post and set of comments I've seen to date! Thank you all for sharing.

To me, "hierarchy" represents an oft vain attempt to understand the patterns that give rise to a particular tangible structure. We humans are constantly concerning ourselves with exercises of classification and the reduction of wholes into component parts. In Object Oriented Programing there are concepts of class hierarchy (functional) and structural hierarchy (which are encapsulated memory locations that are can only be modified by themselves). They are both abstractions that may not exist in the "Grand Design" but serve to help some of us with the gnosis Jeff has so eloquently described.

As an example of a functional hierarchy, we can have a Class called "Vehicle" that has Subclasses such as "Land Vehicle" and "Water Vehicle" to allow for the "inheritance" of properties from the "Vehicle" class, such as speed, capacity, and range (which all vehicles, by definition, have). Furthermore, "Water Vehicle" may have subclasses like "Sailboat" and "Submarine" that inherit the properties of "Water Vehicle" and "Vehicle". The problem comes in when something doesn't fit in neatly with our model of functional hierarchy, like an amphibious vehicle. But modern OOPs allow for multiple inheritance lines.

Structural (or compositional) Hierarchies are easier to understand: As I see it, a bicycle comprises two wheels, each of which has a hub and a fixed number of spokes, a rim, a tube, and a tire. Etc. Yet to the bicycle engineer, the hierarchy might go "a bicycle comprises a steering system, a drivetrain, a frame, and a suspension." Who is right? Does it matter? The bicycle functions the same way regardless of how we deconstruct it!

This is a shortcoming of our reductionist approach as epitomized by Classical Newtonian science. It permeates many Information Science models like the still-used Dewey Decimal System, where a book on Alexander von Humboldt is either filed under the 920's (biography), the 980's (General History of South America) or the 580's (General Botany).

To me, specialization is a key component of a hierarchical system. A sponge seems to me to be representative of a rhizomal organism.

I disagree with the notion of the brain as being the controllor of functions of organisms. Witness Mike the Headless Chicken. How could the bird stay alive for so long without a head/brain? How could it stay perched? There must be some other factor at play. I think the endrocrine system plays a much greater role in controlling and regulating living things. The tree "knows" how to reach for the Sun without a brain (it uses auxins and gibberellins to build complex structures out of just a few types of cells). The brain is a mediator of these hormones that "higher" animal species developed to perform "higher" functions such as logic, memory, language, coordinated muscle response, visual perception, emotions, etc.

The mind is like a chainsaw in the forest: Pick it up and power it up when you need to cut down a tree, but turn it off and put it down when you don't need it. Sitting Meditation (in the Shambala style) helps me turn off my mind and just "be" without judgement or comparison to past events or anticipation of the future.

As a geographer who specializes in Geographic Information Theory, I found it interesting that RAW's "the map is not the territory" was first put forth by Alfred Korzybski not to describe the cartographer's dilemma of how to generalize reality, but to describe our understanding of general symantics.

Don said...

Thank you, Jeff, for introducing me to the concept of emergence. It's a nice little synchronicity, as I was asking people I know if there was a term for exactly that definition, as I'd come to its conclusion from another point of view but had no term by which to easily explain it.

The thing with any ontological system is that they have a theme: they are organised for one purpose or another. All systems exist within another system. One is the scaffolding for another primal system, and yet another, et cetera.

So what is the prime order, the One?

This is what drew me to this post in the first place, your mention of teleology.

These are some notes from a lecture I make on contemporary occultism, mostly adapted from Vibrational Medicine, by Richard Gerber, MD:

What DNA does not explain, however, is how these newly differentiated cells travel to their appropriate spatial locations in the developing baby’s body. The missing element is the architectural space in space and time in which this new life is to occupy. They require a three-dimensional map. The map is the bioenergetic field. And this field or “etheric body” is a holographic energy template that carries coded information for the spatial organization of the fetus as well as a roadmap for cellular repair in the event of damage to the developing organism.

The earliest evidence to support the existence of a holographic energy body is of Harold S. Burr at Yale University in the 1940s. Experimenting with salamanders, Burr found that they possessed an energy field that was actually roughly shaped like the adult animal. He also discovered this field contained an electrical axis which was aligned with the brain and spinal cord. In earlier embryogenesis, Burr also discovered that the electrical axis originated in the unfertilized egg. This discovery contradicted the conventional biological and genetic theory of the day. Using tiny droplets of ink injected into the axial region of the egg, he discovered that the dark ink always became incorporated into the brain and spinal cord of the developing salamander. He also continued his research with plants and seedlings, finding that the shape of the electrical field around the sprout was not the shape of the original seed but that of the adult plant.

Leaves have been taken and amputated, then photographed using what are commonly referred to as Kirlian cameras or electrophotagraphy. The amputated leaf would have it’s top cut off and could still be electrophotographed in its entirety. This is also similar to the phantom-limb sensations so often reported by amputee victims. Studies by Allen Detrick has also gone further to capture both sides and details of a leave, the equivalent of cutting off a person’s fingers and electrographing the bottom, phantom fingerprints, and the top showing phantom fingernails. Studies by I. Dumitrescu in Romania, utilizing a scanning technique based on the electrographic process, added a new twist to this phantom leaf effect. Demitrescu cut a circular hole in a leaf and then photographed it with his equipment. The image revealed was that of an exact replica of the original leaf, with a hole cut into it, and another leaf within, continued ad infinitum.

As William Blake penned, we can see the whole of the universe in a simple grain of sand.

These new sciences go further, explaining the transmutation of cosmic rays into matter, literally energy becoming matter. In effect, a high-energy photon can be slowed down to become a particle and in doing so, attains some of the properties of matter (i.e., mass). This particle of frozen light might be viewed as a miniature energy interference pattern or a microcosmic energy field occupying and infinitesimal space. And now, for those that have followed me this far, can see how the macroscopic illusion of reality all but melts away when delving into the world of particle physics. Add to this realization that the fact that the atom is made up mostly of empty space, something very difficult for people to even contemplate, and that the particles that do fill this void are, in fact, frozen packets of light. When viewed from the microcosmic level, all matter is frozen light!


Interestingly, this lays a basis for not only the use of geometry and particular "frequencies" of thought, architecture, and compounds used in everything from holistic medicine to the alchemy and magic of antiquity.

The thing is, the Divine Spark granted us is the ability to mould our perceived reality as we will. Because science is a process that can only measure as far as its tools will allow (including scientists' imaginations and semiotics), there is a vast, undiscovered country that exists.

This dark realm may simply be ourselves, as we are able to shape the perceived orders around us. The big question is whether the brain and nervous system developed as a function of the Universe to make order of itself or if the universe has become ordered and apparent out of a function of Our doing.

A recent quote I came across touches on this, from Alchemical Studies:

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

Enlightenment is the act and experience of building new ontological models by which to frame one's previous ones. By uncovering the un-perceived, undiscovered country of the map we currently have no perceptual frameworks for, we build models by which we can correlate and compare. By doing so, we can order new models of similarities between ontological models — "lowest cultural denominators," I call them — and we're left with unique elements left over from each one. These are the rare bits that define the model at any given point on the hierarchy.

These rare bits can form to create new models and hierarchies, by which we should be able to glimpse the larger picture, that of the One.

(For lack of better terms.)

Anonymous said...

gg3 here, first post on your site.

Jeff, if you're interested in what's going on at the cutting edge of consciousness studies, there are two sources you need to read, and these get my highest recommendation.

One is Hameroff & Penrose, their paper on "Orchestrated objective-reduction," often abbreviated as "Orch-OR." You can find this on Hameroff's site at University of Arizona, Consciousness Studies department, along with plenty of interesting speculation and empirical findings and so on.

The other is David Chalmers, his paper on the "interactionist model of consciousness." This can also be found via Hameroff's website, and it's pretty difficult reading but worth it.

I could summarize both of these for you but it's not hard to find the original material and you should read it for yourself. As I interpret them, what they are saying provides a) neurophysiological support for the idea of free will, based ultimately on nondeterministic phenomena in the transmission of signals through the nerve cells, and b) an approach to understanding consciousness that addresses the shortcomings of both the old religiously-based "dualist" model and the more recent biologically-based "materialist monist" model.

Also it would seem that the necessary conclusion from reading both Hameroff/Penrose and Chalmers, is that "information" is a fundamental quantity in the universe-at-large, similar to energy, matter, and spacetime. Think about this idea for a while, work out its ramifications, and you will see that it is powerfully relevant to the mystery of consciousness and perhaps also to the mystery of teleological behavior of living systems. Consider it in light of the fact that in quantum physics, contrary to common-sense experience, time is reversible: a scalar (quantity without direction), rather than a vector (quantity with direction). Consider it in light of findings on quantum entanglement and correlated behaviors of electron-pairs.

---

All of the arguing about whether hierarchy is "good" or "bad" is getting tiresome. It is similar to arguing whether waking or sleeping is "good" or "bad." The relevant question is, "good or bad _for what purpose?_?"

Waking is good for working and playing; sleeping is good for resting and dreaming. Hierarchy is good for some purposes, bad for others. Rhizome is good for some purposes, bad for others. Rather than trying to fit the purpose to the structure, 'tis better to explicate the underlying value system: for example, "sustainability, liberty, equality," and then carefully choose specific structures for specific purposes.

In other words, at every moment, for every purpose, we still have to observe and we still have to choose.

Joel said...

Yes, these are two mysteries, but the two you've chosen aren't immune to pragmatic inquiry anymore. There are some left, but not these two.

V. S. Ramachandran has recently made some impressive progress on the emergence of consciousness. His methods involve interviewing & presenting tasks two people who have somehow lost their concept of self, in whole or part. Stroke victims, for instance, who will use a mirror to pick a piece of paint off of their forehead, but vehemently deny that the image in the mirror is of themselves. Or people who can't understand the notion of a right side; such a person denies that their right arm, leg etc. is paralyzed, won't apply makeup to their right eye or cheek, and in some cases won't notice right-side paralysis in other people. This has help confirmed Dr. Ramachandran's hypothesis that self-awareness has developed from our awareness of others. In observing the actions of other people and modeling those actions with a concept of telos, we developed skills that eventually allowed us to think and speak of our own behavior and the reasons behind it...although a person's discussion of their motives is almost always a confabulation. There's much good, exciting science to read in this area.

Secondly, morphogenesis is not understood by biologists to be a matter of telos (although people do instinctively apply teleology to patterns of this type...), but of gradients of hormones. Develomental biologists have discovered several chemicals, called morphogens, that influence embryo morphology, and in most cases they understand how the gradients in morphogen concentration arise naturally, either initiated by random fluctuations or by pre-existing morphology. For instance, positive feedback can cause natural fluctuations become amplified to eventually cover the whole organism. Again, morphogens are experimentally accessible, and research is ongoing. I've met some of the grad-student researchers in this field, and they're pretty excited.

I'm glad I made the effort to find your blog again. There are lots of great ideas in it! Thanks for putting them out there.

Joel said...

Yes, these are two mysteries, but the two you've chosen aren't immune to pragmatic inquiry anymore. There are some left, but not these two.

V. S. Ramachandran has recently made some impressive progress on the emergence of consciousness. His methods involve interviewing & presenting tasks to people who have somehow lost their concept of self, in whole or part, due to a brain injury. Stroke victims, for instance, who can use a mirror to pick a piece of paint off of their foreheads, but vehemently deny that the image in the mirror is of themselves. Or people who can't understand the notion of a right side; such a person denies that their right arm, leg etc. is paralyzed, won't apply makeup to their right eye or cheek, and in some cases won't notice right-side paralysis in other people. This has help confirm Dr. Ramachandran's hypothesis that self-awareness has developed from our awareness of others. In observing the actions of other people and modeling those actions with a concept of telos, we developed skills that a later adaptation allowed us to use recursively. Regarding our own behavior and purposes as those of a person are the basis of self-awareness...although a person's discussion of their own motives is almost always a confabulation. There's much good, exciting science to read in this area. The map doesn't say "here be monsters" anymore...there's a coastline, and a few rivers.

Secondly, morphogenesis is not understood by biologists to be a matter of telos (although people do instinctively apply teleology to patterns of this type...), but of gradients of hormones. Develomental biologists have discovered several chemicals, called morphogens, that influence embryo morphology, and in most cases they can explain how the gradients in morphogen concentration arise naturally, either initiated by random fluctuations or by pre-existing morphology. For instance, positive feedback can cause natural fluctuations become amplified to eventually cover the whole organism. Again, morphogens are experimentally accessible, and research is ongoing. I've met some of the grad-student researchers in this field, and they're pretty excited by what they're doing.

I'm glad I made the effort to find your blog again. There are lots of great ideas in it! Thanks for putting them out there.