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Configurative thinking and metaphor


Massive Elicitation of Psychosocial Energy (Part #3)


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This speculative reflection may be framed by the question as to what was not known about the nature and relationship of energy, mass and light until a century ago?

With what coherence was the significance of those terms disparately experienced in daily life? To whom did the subsequently discovered insights as to their relationship then make a difference? How many now continue to live their lives without significant comprehension of the relationship discovered?

Despite this widespread ignorance and incomprehension, even among the brightest, there is nevertheless an evident capacity to deal with these disparate phenomena in a coherent manner -- without the benefit of recent discoveries. For most there is a kind of fuzzy experiential entanglement with them. This is imbued to a degree with cognitive sophistication -- drawing upon a variety of disciplines and possibly "multiple intelligences".

Metaphor: A key to the obvious viability of this capacity might be roughly described as figurative thinking, notably recognized in the use of metaphor -- beyond its role as a simple figure of speech. The comment of Kenneth Boulding is significant in this regard:

Our consciousness of the unity of self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of group, organization, department, discipline or science. If personification is a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors -- we might be one ourselves (Ecodynamics; a new theory of social evolution, 1978)

If e = mc2 is a sophisticated product of collective endeavour, subsidized by the tax payer, why should its potential as a pattern of connectivity not be otherwise explored? Having cited Boulding, it is appropriate to note his role in the instigation of general systems theory. This specifically explored the isomorphism between apparently disparate systems, notably as articulated by James Grier Miller (Living Systems, 1978).

Meta-pattern: If e = mc2 is to be considered a fundamental pattern of great generality, is there then not a case for exploring the extent to which it implies a pattern of even greater generality? This would be consistent with the epistemological argument of Gregory Bateson ((Mind and Nature; a necessary unity, 1979):

The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. (p. 8)

And it is from this perspective that he warns:

Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality. (p. 11).

On the assumption that the advance of collective knowledge and insight will continue for centuries to come, modesty dictates the recognition that any fundamental pattern like e = mc2 will continue to be mined and reframed beyond the achievements and conclusions of the past century. This is consistent with the argument of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (The Grand Design, 2010) who emphasize that current understanding is based on the best of human model building in the light of the measurements available.

Future thinking, if it is to have any scope for creative reflection after the achievements of the past century, may offer radically new ways of engaging with the reality experienced. Or is there some implicit assumption that future physics will be framed as "footnotes to 20th century science" -- as has been the case with Western philosophy, famously framed by A. N. Whitehead as a "series of footnotes to Plato"?

What new, paradoxical and self-reflexive dimensions might be factored into such emergent insights -- perhaps of greater relevance to psychosocial organization and sustainable development? For example, how will new cognitive significance be associated with what are currently named "dimensions"?

Adequacy of abstraction: The nature of what tends to be lost in conventional abstraction -- in the geometry on its own -- has been intimated by such as Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge, 1975; Farewell to Reason, 1987; Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being, 1999; The Tyranny of Science, 2011) or, more recently, by Steven M. Rosen (The Self-Evolving Cosmos, 2008; Topologies of the Flesh: a multidimensional exploration of the lifeworld, 2006; Dimensions of Apeiron: a topological phenomenology of space, time, and individuation, 2004; Science, Paradox, and the Moebius Principle, 1994).

Rosen notes the manner in which the richness of psychosocial engagement with the world has been completely undermined -- an "eclipse of the lifeworld"  -- through a formal discourse caricatured by F. H. Bradley as an "unearthly ballet of bloodless categories". Ironically, in a period of sensitivity to the challenges of "resources" and "energy", this view is echoed by other authors, notably arguing for the desirable potential of a participatory encounter with reality:

Their concerns might be succinctly expressed in the comment by Edmund O. Wilson: The natural world is the refuge of the spirit... richer even than human imagination (Biophilia, 1984)

Embodiment: Rather than the worlds of the infinitely large or infinitely small -- from which the role of human cognition and its constraints have effectively been "designed out" -- the 21st century will undoubtedly need to "design in" those funding such research. The challenges are implicit in the work of authors such as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought, 1999) or Douglas Hofstadter (I Am a Strange Loop, 2007). With respect to the role of physics as considered here, Lakoff usefully asks the question (with Rafael Núñez) as to Where Mathematics Comes From: how the embodied mind brings mathematics into being (2000).

Patterning capacity: Such considerations highlight the degree to which the articulation of "explanations", however sophisticated, may fail to address the constraints on human cognitive capacity in its engagement with what is explained as being "reality". They also point to the dangerous assumptions associated with premature assertions and closure -- precluding radical new insights in centuries to come. Ironically "ex-planation" may beunderstood as offering a perspective disassociated from the "plane" of reality -- raising the question as to the nature of the perspective from which it is formulated (as explored by Lakoff and Núñez, 2000). The detection of patterns such as e = mc2, to which fundamental significance is attached, may (from a future perspective) say more about human patterning capacity than about the nature of fundamental order. Assuming otherwise is itself a form of potentially premature closure.

This approach suggests the possibility of envisaging frameworks Beyond the Standard Model of Universal Awareness (2010).

Of further interest is the possibility that the complexity of the patterns hypothesized and engendered at the frontline of the "advance of human knowledge" may say as much about a subconscious effort at integration -- an extension of "psychological self-healing" to remedy dysfunctional disassociation from a larger reality (Cognitive Implications of Lifestyle Diseases of Rich and Poor: transforming personal entanglement with the natural environment, 2010; Implication of Personal Despair in Planetary Despair, 2010, Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008)


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