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Going Nowhere through Not-knowing Where to Go

Sustaining the process of autopoiesis through point-making (Part #1)

Challenges to understanding of point and identity
Point identity and identification with a point

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Whether for the individual, for factional interests, or for global governance, it is becoming increasingly clear that many experience a sense of "going nowhere". Part of the issue lies in not knowing "where to go" in quest of whatever might have been imagined as desirable. The issue has been highlighted with respect to the young -- as challenged by unemployment in an increasingly complex society -- and with the long-term unemployed. It is also implicit in the situation of the terminally ill and the elderly, especially those confined to hospice care. It is otherwise highlighted by those living with every probability of imminent death, namely the cannon fodder of major battles, those in highly asymmetric warfare, and those on death row -- all variously not knowing whether they will survive another day.

Curiously, key responses under such conditions tend to be centered on various interpretations of "point". Most commonly this takes the form of the assertion of some point in arguments ("making" or "accepting" a point), competing with others for points (as in games), gaining or losing percentage points (as in political and market surveys), or endeavouring to determine "the point" of some process -- even of life as a whole, as with those considering suicide. One motivation may be the quest for a "high point" -- commonly framed as a "high".

In contrast to this tendency is the identification of individuals with data "points" in research surveys and the administrative tendency to treat individuals as "points" aggregated in any concept of social organization -- notably as nodes in a network.

The following argument explores the experiential implication of point identity and identification with a point -- in the light of both intuitions implied by common metaphors and the implications of subtler understandings of point from mathematics and physics. The emphasis is on individual experience (as carried by such metaphors) and not on the conventional explanations of that experience by others. This follows from an interpretation of the recognition by Alfred Korzybski that the "map is not the territory" (cf. The Territory Construed as the Map: in search of radical design innovations in the representation of human activities and their relationships, 1979). Korzybski's insight has been otherwise emphasized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile: things that gain from disorder, 2012).

The argument endeavours to reframe the existential anxiety of "not-knowing" in the light of a traditional appreciation of that modality as paradoxically related to wisdom -- and therefore of potential significance to more fruitful insights regarding "sustainability". Knowing "where to go" may not be the most fruitful and sustainable cognitive stance in a complex situation. It may well be a cognitive trap, as suggested by the arguments of Taleb.

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