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Circulation of the Light

Essential metaphor of global sustainability? (Part #1)

Circulation of the light, its inhibition and its surrogates
Cognitive and strategic implications
Hidden dynamics of the "circulation of the light"
Experiential implication in the "circulation of the light"
Sustaining the circulation dynamic
Circulation around what?
Circulation engendering circulation?
Symbolic indications
Completing the circuit

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As one of the people upheld as having the most insight into the global financial system, George Soros has made use of alchemy as a metaphor in a widely commented study (The Alchemy of Finance: reading the mind of the market, 1988). This metaphor is central to the Taoist meditation practices of China as described, for example, by Lu K'uan Yü (Taoist Yoga: alchemy and immortality, 1970). The key process is described in terms of the metaphor "circulation of the light". This has notably been highlighted by Carl Jung and Richard Wilhelm with respect to a Chinese classic, The Secret of the Golden Flower (Tai Yi Jin Hua Zong Zhi). The Wilhelm translation is accompanied by a translation of another classic, the Book of Consciousness and Life (Hui Ming Ching) containing images indicative of the toroidal channel within which the "circulation of the light" takes place in that process.

Attention has previously been drawn to the correspondence between the preoccupation of the current global civilization with "sustainability" and that of the preoccupation with "immortality" of past civilizations lasting centuries (Identity in Time: sustainability and immortality, 2010). The question explored here is the extent to which the metaphor of the "circulation of the light" is indeed an essential metaphor for comprehension of global sustainability at this time. In addition to the particular use made of such an unconventional metaphor by Soros, the case for the more attentive exploration of such metaphors has been well made by Susantha Goonatilake (Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999), specifically with reference to those of Asian cultures whose economic role is becoming ever more apparent.

In that respect it is prudent to recall that the subprime crisis of 2008-2009 arose from widespread successful use of a risk-assessment formula, designed by a Chinese economist, which he himself noted very few people in fact understood (Felix Salmon, Recipe for Disaster: the formula that killed Wall Street, Wired, 17.03, March 2009). Expectations that conventional thinking will ensure "business as usual" in the coming decade have been most recently challenged by a study by the Rockefeller Foundation in association with the Global Business Network (Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development, 2010). One of its four scenarios characterizes the immediate future as the "doom decade".

Rather than explore the circulation metaphor from within an alchemical perspective, the concern here is the extent to which any such understanding of circulation is implicit in other processes and preoccupations, perhaps best to be understood as surrogates for an insight of essential psychosocial significance. The matter has previously been discussed from other perspectives (Engaging with Globality: through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009; Designing Cultural Rosaries and Meaning Malas to Sustain Associations within the Pattern that Connects, 2000).

Might it be the case that sustainability -- and resilient navigation of the adaptive cycle -- are impossible if the cognitive implications of the "circulation of the light" are not internalised into individual and collective memory? The question follows from earlier explorations, notably with respect to historical time (Adaptive Hypercycle of Sustainable Psychosocial Self-organization, 2010; System Dynamics, Hypercycles and Psychosocial Self-organization, 2010; Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004).

Does civilizational collapse become probable when the resources of the cognitive geometry on which a civilization chooses to live are exhausted -- as an extension of the argument of Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005)?

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