Quantity of Genius?

Nobly reasonable? Infinitely facultative? Angelic and Godly?!
Wow! What a piece of work was Shakespeare!
But was he a genius? Was Bach, Da Vinci, or Einstein?
What do we mean by use of the word genius?

In this, the second of four posts, the intention is to push on, away from the comfort and normalcy of home port. Our journey began in a deep contextual fog, of historical, theistic, and social themes; tricky navigation to be sure! Now sailing out of the ‘fog’, our objective, or bias, is to explore the cultural isle of Intelligence testing. Beware! For things are not what they seem…

An unmeasurable quantity tentatively defined for the good of all children
“All beings in the process of development are distinguished by and characterized by their involvement in play.” – Alfred Binet (1909)

The only son of a wealthy physician and an artist mother, Alfred Binet was raised by his mother as a result of his parent’s early separation. By the age of 15, Alfred and his mother had moved from Nice to Paris, in order that young Binet might attend law school there. Six years later, in 1878, he was awarded a degree in law, but never practiced, perhaps due to his life of privilege and independent wealth. His intent, or perhaps his father’s, was to study medicine, so Binet attended the Sorbonne, where an interest in psychology, self-propagated and mediated by books in the national library, soon overwhelmed the Sorbonne’s standard curriculum in natural sciences. He did not finish formal study. 1 After five introverted years of independent study, Binet was introduced to Jean Charcot, then director of the neurological clinic in the Parisian hospital La Pitié-Salpêtrière, where Binet worked for eight years before resigning. In 1891 he was offered work at the Laboratory of Physiological Psychology at the Sorbonne, of which he became director in 1894. Despite the prestigious title, this position, like his prior one at the Salpêtrière, was unpaid. Indeed, throughout his career, Binet relied upon his independent income in order to conduct his research. 2

Descried as a shy but critical person, he had little patience for activities that he judged unworthy of his time. In description of Binet, his collaborator Simon wrote: “to examine patients with him was always an extreme pleasure, for he brought to the situation so much imagination” and recalled “What afternoons we passed with these subjects. What delicious conversations we had with them. And what laughs too.” A less sympathetic coworker described him as “difficult, dominant, even domineering, and that he alienated many collaborators.” Binet’s daughter Madeleine described him as “a lively man, smiling, often very ironical, gentle in manner, wise in his judgments, a little skeptical of course. . . . Without affectation, straightforward, very good-natured, he was scornful of mediocrity in all its forms. Amiable and cordial to people of science, pitiless toward bothersome people who wasted his time and interrupted his work.”

Binet’s ironical satire was tinged with darkness, evidenced by the following statement, designed to test critical thinking in child subjects: “Yesterday the body of an unfortunate young woman, cut into eight pieces, was found on the fortifications. It is believed she killed herself.”
– from a 1909 version of the intelligence scale.

Several members of the Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child, of which Binet was a member, were appointed to the Commission for the Retarded, as the result of a law mandating all children, aged six to fourteen, to attend school. The question under investigation was:
“What should be the test given to children thought to possibly have learning disabilities, that might place them in a special classroom?”

Binet took it upon himself to establish, and where possible, define and measure the differences separating normal and abnormal children. A first draft of L’Etude experimentale de l’intelligence (“Experimental Studies of Intelligence”) was published in 1903. Two years later, after collaboration with Theodore Simon, an assistant from the medical school, a new test called the Binet-Simon scale of intelligence was published.

Between 1905 and 1911, Binet spent substantial amounts of time on test revision. However, this was far from his only professional activity. In the same period, he wrote books on the relation of mind and brain, on children’s ideas, on retarded children, and on the theater. He also published more than 100 articles, only a few of which focused upon the intelligence scale; many others examined psychotic patients, residents of mental hospitals, courtroom testimonies, the relation between language and thought, experts at chess and mental calculation; professional actors, directors, authors, and artists, the effects of mental fatigue on intellectual performance, and a host of other loosely related topics.

Examined in Binet’s explorations were various populations, including typical children and adults, as well as children and adults with varying degrees of mental retardation. As Binet was relatively unrestricted in his choice of study material, he eagerly pursued any area that he thought might shed light upon individual differences in mental function – including at least: consciousness, will, attention, sensation, perception, esthetics, creativity, suggestibility, hypnotism, cognitive styles, love fetishes, pain thresholds, mental fatigue, language development, memory development, and conceptual development. However, as Binet did not hold a professorship, or even a formal degree in the sciences, there was no possibility of him attracting the students and funds which might facilitate the continuation of his works. Sadly, his contemporaries seem to have been unable to recognize value in his many ideas, possibly because as undeveloped concepts, they did not evoke the obvious practical utility ascribed to the intelligence scale.

Expounding the remarkable diversity of intelligence, Binet and Simon made clear the limitations of the intelligence scale, saying that it did not yield an absolute measure of intelligence. Unlike the measure of length yielded by a ruler, the intelligence scale “yielded an ordinal classification in which the measure of intelligence was entirely relative to that of other individuals of the same age.” Throughout his career, Binet emphasized the necessity of studying intelligence by use of qualitative, as opposed to quantitative measures, and stressed that intelligence was not based on genetics alone; that intellectual development progressed at variable rates, was influenced by environmental factors (i.e. milieu), and was malleable rather than fixed.

Understanding intelligence to be a complex, relative and variable phenomenon, Binet and Simon did not issue a definition of precisely what their scale attempted to measure. They did, however, argue the central role of judgment:
“In intelligence there is a fundamental faculty, the alteration or the lack of which is of the utmost importance for practical life. This faculty is judgment, otherwise called good sense, practical sense, initiative, the faculty of adapting one’s self to circumstances. To judge well, to comprehend well, to reason well, these are the essential activities of intelligence. A person may be a moron or an imbecile if he is lacking in judgment; but with good judgment he can never be either.”

In 21 years, Binet published more than 200 times (books, articles, and reviews) in fields that are now called experimental, developmental, educational, social, and differential psychology. The diversity of topics his studies addressed is perhaps best visible from one typically productive year, 1894. Two books (one an introduction to experimental psychology methods and one on the psychology of expert calculators and chess masters); four articles on children (three involving their memory for words, prose, and visual information and one on their suggestibility); two studies of professional dramatists; one article on spatial orientation (published in volume 1 of the new American journal Psychological Review); and a description of a graphical method for recording piano-playing techniques. He also found time to co-found and edit the first French psychological journal, “L’Année Psychologique“. In addition to this, Binet wrote four plays that were produced on the Paris stage, the common theme of which was the horrifying consequence of mistakes made by stupid bureaucrats, pompous physicians, and greedy businessmen.

“Individual differences have been an annoyance rather than a challenge to the experimenter. His goal is to control behavior, and variation within treatments is proof that he has not succeeded. Individual variation is cast into that outer darkness known as “error variance”. For reasons both statistical and philosophical, error variance is to be reduced by any possible device.”
– Binet

Intuitively, I understand that Binet saw himself in the children he was helping the French government to identify. The concept and term (retarded) was, I have little doubt, for Binet a working title; an officially sanctioned label that he could use until a better understanding of special children was reached. It seems clear that what he hoped to be able to identify, by application of some device such as the intelligence scale, were extraordinary young minds who perform a kind of cognition that appears alien, if not frightening, to (neurotypical) people who populate a span in the median range of the normal distribution of human cognizance. In light of the fact that the recurring theme of his research was the remarkable diversity of intelligence, it is highly ironic that Binet’s name should be so strongly associated with reducing intelligence to a narrow range of statistically standardized numbers; the IQ scores.

Subversion of extraordinary goodness:
normalcy and the dark side of human nature

Lewis Terman was also fascinated by intelligence, but his promotion of “gifted” children (a term he himself coined and identified with) was based upon elitist ideology. A proponent of eugenics, a social movement that arose from Galton’s conception of hereditary genius, and aimed to improve the human ‘breed’ by perpetuating particular traits while eliminating others. 3 In direct opposition to Binet, Terman felt that general intelligence was a quantifiable capacity. As a eugenicist, he believed that genetics dictated general intelligence, and that one’s “original endowment” of intelligence, which he termed intelligence quotient, was not altered by education, home environment or practice.
Lewis Terman

Terman’s moral milieu was a product of contemporary business, civic, and educational leaders in the United States of America, who were attempting to “accommodate the needs of a diversifying population, while continuing to meet the demands of society. There arose the call to form a society based on meritocracy while continuing to underline the ideals of the upper class. In 1908, H.H. Goddard, a champion of the eugenics movement, found utility in mental testing as a way to evidence the superiority of the white race. After studying abroad, Goddard brought the Binet-Simon Scale to the United States and translated it into English. Following Goddard [the mental testing movement in the U.S.] was lead by Terman, who took the Simon-Binet Scale and standardized it using a large American sample. The new Standford-Binet scale was no longer used solely for advocating education for all children, as was Binet’s objective. The new American objective of intelligence testing was illustrated in the Stanford-Binet manual, with testing ultimately resulting in curtailing the reproduction of feeble-mindedness and in the elimination of an enormous amount of industrial inefficiency. When Binet became aware of the foreign ideas being grafted on his instrument he condemned those who with “brutal pessimism and deplorable verdicts were promoting the concept of intelligence as a single, unitary construct.”

Regardless, in 1908 Indiana became first of the United States to enact a law allowing sterilization on eugenic grounds. In 1914, Harry Laughlin at the Eugenics Record Office published a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law that proposed sterilization of the “socially inadequate” – people supported in institutions or maintained wholly or in part by public expense. The law encompassed the “feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf, deformed, and dependent” – including “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers.” By the time the Model Law was published in 1914, twelve states had enacted sterilization laws. Despite these early statutes, sterilization did not gain widespread popular approval until the late 1920s.

Perhaps due to his bullied mid-west childhood, Terman made use of his influential professional position, in order to push for forced sterilization of thousands of Americans who scored below average on the Standford-Binet scale. By 1924, approximately 3,000 people had been involuntarily sterilized in America; the vast majority (2,500) in California. That year Virginia passed a Eugenical Sterilization Act, which was adopted as part of a cost-saving strategy to relieve the tax burden in a state where public facilities for the “insane” and “feebleminded” had experienced rapid growth. The law asserted that “heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy and crime…” It focused on “defective persons” whose reproduction represented “a menace to society”.4

Hitler much admired the eugenics practices in America and, after becoming the German chancellor in 1933, empowered Nazi emulation and application of Americanized eugenics on anyone deemed to be a degenerate. By October of 1946, due to the atrocities imposed by the efficient systematization of eugenic (“genetic cleansing”) practices during the second world war, the Nuremburg trials declared forced sterilization a crime against humanity. Terman backed away from eugenics professionally, but personally maintained his belief.

Without doubt, Terman’s America and Hitler’s Germany formed an unfortunate and uncomfortable milieu. An infamous example may be made of the cooperation between the German government and the German subsidiary of American owned International Business Machines. “It was legal for IBM to service the Third Reich directly, but only until America entered the war in December 1941”. IBM technology increased the efficiency of Germany’s “Final Solution“, defined as the systematic extermination of the Jewish population in Nazi occupied Europe. It is perhaps insignificant in the current exploration, yet noteworthy, that America did not drop Einstein’s bastard children, Little Boy and Fat Man, on Germany.

Society identifies and attempts to define both, genius and pathos.

Terman’s Termites, it seems, excelled in ability to perform within the educational system5, though none proved to be a genius, none won a Pulitzer or a Nobel, and none have left behind extraordinary lifetime achievements. It is certainly noteworthy that Einstein would have failed to enter Terman’s group, as did William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, both winners of the Nobel prize in physics, in 1956 and 1968, respectively.

Bibliography and Notes
1) T. Imhoff, “Alfred Binet (1857 – 1911)”, (2000), http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/binet.htm

2) R. Siegler, “The Other Alfred Binet”, (1992), Developmental Psychology, Vol. 28, p. 179 – 190, American Psychological Association, http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/dev/28/2/179/

3) M. Leslie, “The Vexing Legacy of Lewis Terman”, (2000), https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=40678

4) P. Lombardo, “Eugenic Sterilization Laws”, (cca 2011), http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/essay8text.html

5) W. E. Benet, “Genius: An Overview”, (2005), Assessment Psychology Online, http://www.assessmentpsychology.com/genius2.htm


Fog of Genius

Nobly reasonable? Infinitely facultative? Angelic and Godly?!
Wow! What a piece of work was Shakespeare!
But was he a genius? Was Bach, Da Vinci, or Einstein?
What do we mean by use of the word genius?

In this, the first of four posts, the intention is to again push off from the comfort and normalcy of home port. This time to explore the most slippery o’eels! Our journey begins in a deep contextual fog, of historical, theistic, and social themes; tricky navigation to be sure! Once out of the ‘fog’, our objective, or bias, will be to explore the cultural islands Intelligence, Creativity, and Mental illness, and to interrelate them via cellular biology generally, and astroglial function specifically.

The subject matter is seemingly impossible; a vast ocean of reported (known), unreported (unknown), and living (tenacious and malleable) ideas. A rather less than more reliable volume! Aware of the bias – of our direction – mediated intentionally by sails, rudder, and navigator, and as much again, and more, without intent, by swells and gales and monsters unknown…

Qui_vive ?

Deep cultural time
The word genius is derived from the Latin gigno, from the Ancient Greek γίγνομαι ‎(gígnomai, “to come into being, to be born, to take place”). Oddly, the word genius is also recognized as a Romanized version of the Arabic jinni or djinni (“hidden from sight”), from which is derived majnūn (“one whose intellect is hidden”, “mad”). Also, the pre-Islamic jinnaye (“good and rewarding gods”). A sentiment similar to that apprehended by pangan animism.

The jinn or djinn are Arabian mythological creatures who inhabit an unseen world beyond the known universe. Apparently, in the Quran, jinn are composed of a smokeless, scorching fire, and in the Torah (Christian “Old Testament”), as seraphim and cherubim (“burning/fiery ones”). The jinn, humans and angels are said to make up the three sapient creations of God. Like humans, the jinn have free will note A, and so may have a good, evil, or neutral disposition. The latter, mischievous or evil spirits were called shaytan jinn, and are also described as demons. Interestingly, phenomena that in ancient times were thought to result from possession by a shaytan, are in modernity defined as psychosis, schizotypy, or outright schizophrenia. All as stigmatizing now as they were a millennium ago, during the intellectual darkness, indeed exorcism, of the middle ages.

Closely related, in form and function, to the jinn, seraphim and cherubim, are the Karabu, Shedu and Lammasu of Assyria, Babylon and Phoenicia, respectively. All are depicted as sapient hybrid animals, varyingly described as:
– the likeness of four living creatures;
– each with four faces (the face of a man, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle) and four wings, with straight feet with a sole like the sole of a calf’s foot, and hands of a man under their wings;
– six-winged beings that fly around the Throne of God crying “holy, holy, holy”;
– a lion or bull with eagles’ wings and a human face;
– having a king’s head, a bull’s body, and an eagle’s wings;
– human-headed winged lion (Sphinx);
– eagle-headed winged lion (Griffin).

Ezekiel’s vision – the marking of this image is incorrect. According to the literature, the two objects labeled “Angels” are cherubs
Another representation of cherubs flying with the throne of God
A representation of a Seraph
A pair of Lamassu

Interestingly, all of these fantastical creatures are described, almost exclusively, as powerful protective deities. For example, cherubim first appear in the Christian bible, in the Garden of Eden, as guards of the way to the Tree of life – possibly also the Tree of knowledge.

Classical and Enlightened soles
Animism represents a unity of spirit and material. Thus, in pagan antiquity, souls or spirits were not restricted to the human condition, but were also intrinsic to other animals, as well as plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, even thunder, wind, shadows, the sun, the moon and planets, etc… In his treaties on the nature of living things, “De Anima“, Aristotle pointed to the soul as the form and essence of a living thing. Thus the soul was assumed not to be a distinct substance from the body, and a body without a soul was unintelligible.

For love of empire, all good Romans worshiped the genius of Rome – the divine power protecting the Roman empire, Rome itself, and its heroic leaders and emperors. Likewise, the genius of a family, or house, was a protector and guide, an inspiring supernatural spirit which took care of house and family, and was the object of worship.1

Early in the 17th century, believing that a divine spirit had revealed new philosophies to him, Descartes suggested that the mind, spirit, or soul, is composed of a nonphysical substance, which he identified with consciousness and self-awareness. Unlike Aristotle, Descartes distinguished these spiritual aspects from a physical (material) brain. Hence, the dualism in modem philosophy of mind, and the resulting mind-body problem. Substance dualism is famously defended by Descartes’ “Je pense, donc je suis”, arguing that the mental substance can exist outside of the body and that the body cannot think. This philosophical stance, a belief held almost ubiquitously in modern culture, has allowed for the conception of artificial intelligence, hypothetically assumed to come into existence as a product of machine mediated computation of abstract (nonphysical) algorithms.

Late in the 18th century, expanding upon a theme related to substance dualism, Emmanuel Kant argued that experience is structured by the mind. He had published “Critique of Pure Reason” in response to the philosophical rift that had developed between empiricists – who believe that knowledge is fundamentally rooted in sensory experience, and rationalists – who believe that knowledge is fundamentally rooted in reasoning. In attempting to resolve the issue, Kant leaned toward the latter, a priori knowledge and reasoning. He suggested that the mind comprises necessary structures the function of which is to internalize the physical sensations, which are comprehended via synthesis with reasoned structures. It is this understanding of mental primacy in comprehension and conceptualization that gives way to what he called anshcauung, which we may call intuition, imagination, visualization, or insight.

Arthur Miller (2000) has identified this concept in his exploration of the role of insight in the sciences. In particular, Miller focuses upon Kantian anshcauung and anschaulichkeit (“visualizability”) in physics, proposing that “Anschaulichkeit refers to properties of an object, which exist whether or not we look at it or make measurements on it.” And that “anschaulichkeit is immediately given to the perceptions or what is readily graspable in the anschauung.” Furthermore, anshcauung is raised up from anschaulichkeit, and “visual imagery” (anschaulichkeit) is inferior to visualization (anshcauung).2 It is possibly this Kantian epistemic quagmire that has frightened so many quantum physicists into a strictly calculating corner, from which one often hears comments such as Don’t look for meaning, just do the math and you’ll get the right answer.

The Prussian general and military theorist, Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, emphasized the importance, in war, of immeasurable “moral forces” (i.e. all influences on events not material in nature: the morale and experience of the troops, or the skill of the general, for example, as opposed to the number of troops, quality and quantity of arms, etc…). He posed that the immeasurability of moral factors created a difficult dilemma: “theoretical calculations would either have to be inaccurate (excluding moral forces) or impossible to carry through rationally […], since they included indeterminate quantities.”

This rational ignorance is precisely the strategy of modernity, most clearly visible in business, economics, and in the sciences. Generally, we calculate based upon measurable phenomena, assuming that the immeasurable (irrational) phenomena will magically balance, rendering no net influence. Simplified, abstracted, and linear; rational theories attempt to describe non-linear and complex real-world phenomena. The analysis of models is useful, but immersive indoctrination in them tends to a belief that the model (theory) is reality.
“The very nature of genius is to rise above rules. However, any theory proposing rules not good enough for genius – rules which genius can disregard would conflict with reality, for it would set theory in conflict with genius, and the successful actions of geniuses are part of the reality which theory ought to help us understand and explain.” note B
– Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (cca 1820)

However, “one never rises above the rules, if the rules are correct”. note C
The decisions to which a person is lead by genius, will be entirely consistent with correct rules (theory), but theories which exclude genius (i.e. the moral, irrational, immeasurable) from the rule, are reprehensible. Von Clausewitz attempted a definition of genius, posing it to be the application of rules in situations where key data are not apparent. Expanding upon this, one might say genius is recognized as action taken in accordance with an intuitive conceptualization (that is, an unknown or hidden, and thus irrational, mental model), based upon fragmentary evidence. Here neither intuition, nor genius, are taken as being synonymous with ‘rising above the rules’, rather with the extraction of meaning from current patterns, based upon experience, but without necessarily being able to define those patterns.

Here, Herr von Clausewitz suggests subconscious computation – a form of signal processing and information ‘chunking’ that occurs in our minds without our direct awareness. He alludes to the same concept again, saying: “The rules of war, like those of grammar, can be derived inductively. This may provide the ability to reach the right conclusions without the need to learn the rules abstractly or apply them analytically.” Indeed, he has used the word “subrational” to describe a significant component of genius, allowing for a rapid recognition of truth, which the mind would normally miss. The majority of genius, he ascribed to stubbornness, “tremendous determination”, an overcoming of fear and social friction.3

In concord with von Clausewitzian rule breaking, and with Henri Poincaré’s “special aesthetic sensibility”, Miller writes “just as in art, discoveries in science are made by breaking the rules”, and suggests that “in network thinking, concepts from apparently disparate disciplines are combined by proper choice of mental image or metaphor to catalyze the nascent moment of creativity. This necessarily nonlinear thought process can occur unconsciously, and not necessarily in real time.” Miller also reminds us of Poincaré’s description of scientific creativity, as the “the process in which the human mind seems to borrow least from the exterior world, in which it acts, or appears to act, only by itself and on itself.”

An example of a similar phenomenon may be made of not learning by rote (i.e. learning, but not by memorizing through mechanical repetition, not by hearing and repeating aloud, not without full attention to comprehension or thought for the meaning). Poincaré and Einstein both expressed difficulty in memorizing material that had no clear patterns, or was not inducible from first principles (a priori reasoning).

Learning by rote seems to be for those who can not see the truth.

Hereditary genius
Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, in 1868 published a bestselling Hereditary Genius. Robert Nesbit (1976) has defined Galton’s concept as “a special intellectual and spiritual power that is inherent in a given person’s nature and that transmits itself to succeeding generations through the germ plasm – until or unless, that is, this genealogy becomes corrupted through interbreeding with inferior physical and mental types.”

The meaning here (i.e. a eugenic caste) fascinates as much as frightens me note D because I hold an inexorable faith in free will, and because I closely relate the reality of the human condition to biology generally, and particularly to the sociobiology of certain insects and microbes.
“Capacity for intense and sustained concentration of the mind is also one of the qualities seen oftener in the great than in other people.”
– Nesbit (1976)

Nesbit’s interpretation is one of temporal, rather than hierarchal displacement. He quotes Goethe:
“If a talent is to develop quickly and joyously, it is essential that there be in circulation throughout the scene an abundance of productive genius and of sound culture…. We admire the tragedies of the ancient Greeks, but upon proper examination we should admire the period more than the individual author. [No doubt, there is] the occasional exception, the mind of great creative force. […] This rare individual through reading, fantasy, and sheer imagination creates his own milieu. […] Great ages in the history of culture are made by their great component individuals, but the reverse is also true, that in large degree great individuals are made by great ages and by all the intellectual circuits.”

“The intellectual and moral milieu created by multitudes of self-centered, cultivated personalities was necessary for the evolution of that spirit of intelligence… that formed the motive power of the Renaissance. […] Ages of genius have truth, beauty, and goodness emblazoned on them, not modernism, post-modernism, and futurism.”

Nesbit describes the concept of milieu as a fusion of consciousness with environment.4 More specifically, the meaning of milieu is interpreted as part of the larger environment, that is simultaneously participated in, shaped by, and swept into, the individual’s consciousness. He continues, saying “Every individual above the [intellectual] level of moron is from time to time excited emotionally and intellectually by the people and things around him. It is a fair statement that the highly talented are the most excited in this way, and whether it is a poem or a scientific theory, what we witness is the capacity to internalize a social experience and to make the product socially available. […] Galton did not err in his linking of geniuses by family and genealogy; where he went wrong was in limiting family to physical genealogy rather than seeing it as […] the whole social order – social, cultural, moral, and intellectual entities, as well as a continuity of germ plasm. Heredity, yes, but that word is also properly used when prefaced by the word social.”

Rather than affluence, “a closeness of the generations”, intellectual and moral intimacy between parent and child, a form of apprenticeship, “assimilation of the many psychological and social insights, understandings, skills and techniques”. These, Nesbit posed, are of vital importance in the formation of genius.

“What is true of individuals is also true for peoples. By common assent the three most talented peoples of the past two and a half millenniums have been the Chinese, the Greeks, and the Jews. […] In all three, the family extended itself into all aspects of the individual mind, becoming the nursery of education, moral precept, citizenship, piety, and craft skill.”

There are darker aspects of the familial milieu also. Nesbit lists greed, fratricide, incest, and other evils, and interestingly, argues that “murder is the price to be paid, along with incest, blood feud, and other linked evils, for the uniquely intimate atmosphere of family, and it is, on the evidence of history, a price that should be paid. Better a society in which these specific evils will always exist as the consequence of the family tie than one on which, in order to abolish the evils, the family itself is abolished.”

“One can somehow live with the evils, but civilization could hardly exist without the nurturing ground of its geniuses.”

Bibliography and Notes
note A) Angels are not reported to have been endowed with free will, making them seem rather machinelike. For fear of prosecution, and because I feel the issue has little of significance to offer our current exploration, I shall refrain from commenting on this curious finding.

note B) A similar argument can be made for authority – it is unnecessary to challenge the authority, if the authority is correct.

note C) The meaning of this passage is strikingly similar to that of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, authored a century later, in 1931.

note D) A good argument might be made for the existence of social castes within our current world population; a topic not explored here.

1) R. Rushdooney, “The Ideas of Genius”, (1972), Chalcedon Report, vol. 78, http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/the-idea-of-genius/

2) A. Miller, “Insights of Genius”, (2000), MIT press.

3) C. Rogers, “Clausewitz, Genius and the Rules”, (2002), The Journal of Military History, Vol. 66, p. 1167-1176, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3093268

4) R. Nisbet, “Genius”, (1976), The Wilson Quarterly, Vol 6, p. 98 – 107, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40256393


This is the third of three posts, exploring the connections between cultural morality, sustainable development, and iconoclasm.

Iconoclast from Byzantine Greek εἰκονοκλάστης (literally “image breaker”). Iconoclasm is the deliberate destruction within a culture of the culture’s own religious icons and other symbols or monuments, usually for religious or political motives.1

”A major reorientation is needed in many policies and institutional arrangements at the international as well as national level. The time has come to break away […] to break out of past patterns. Attempts to maintain social and ecological stability through old approaches to development and environmental protection will increase instability. Security must be sought through change.”
– the Brundtland report (introduced earlier in this series, in “Moral Deference of Sustainability“).

The same sentiment was expressed beautifully, albeit more concisely, by Albert Einstein:
We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

The Periplanetans
A couple of decades ago, upon returning to Vancouver from travels abroad, my brother had invited me to stay with a small group who had squatted the upper floor of a Chinese supermarket, in Chinatown, during winter. There was no heating. The rooms, which may have been meant for use as storage areas or offices, were already inhabited by squatters; I had set up my tent to one side of the ‘common area’ (display space) over a well used polyurethane foam mattress core and folded cardboard boxes. This arrangement acted well to insulate me from the cold and from other curious scavengers.

The squat had two microwave ovens, standing side by side in the ‘kitchen’. The machines were being made use of by two squatter species; us (Homo sapiens) and them (Periplaneta americana). Preiplanetans were regularly observed perambulating the upper reaches of both microwave oven cavities. Interestingly, they were never observed on the the lower walls or floor/platter. Due partly to the gloomy ambient condition of the ‘kitchen’, and the fact that no observations were performed while the oven was not in use by a human, insects were observed only while the oven was operating, and thus the cavity was lit by it’s own internal light source. It was fascinating to discover that the Preiplanetan colony had made use of warm spots, on the rear exterior and within the ventilation channels of each machine, as ‘preschool’ redundancies. That is to say the colony was making use of physically protected and heated areas of the machines, as incubators for the ootheca and nymph stages of the Preiplanetan life cycle.

microwave_edit_1 field_distribution
Schematic diagram of microwave oven, showing upper corner areas (highlighted in green) joining the walls and ceiling, in which Periplanetans were observed. Computer model of a 2D slice, of a 3D electric field distribution inside a microwave oven cavity2. Note the relatively low field density (low power potential) in corner regions.

“Scientists are discovering that […] cockroaches are actually highly social creatures; they recognise members of their own families, with different generations of the same families living together. Cockroaches do not like to be left alone, and suffer ill health when they are. And they form closely bonded, egalitarian societies, based on social structures and rules. Communities of cockroaches are even capable of making collective decisions for the greater good. By studying certain species of cockroach, we may even be able to learn some insights into how more advanced animal societies evolved, including our own.”3

Two cockroach species (Blattella germanica and Periplaneta americana) that have adapted to human habitats, have become model species for sociobiological studies revealing complex systems of social organization via various forms of communication and group dynamics. Though closely related to termites, roaches are not eusocial, they are described as gregarious and egalitarian. “[Gregarious] species present yet another form of sociality where individuals of all developmental stages and from various genetic lineages co-exist in open and more or less fluid (yet integrated) aggregates […] characterised by a common shelter, overlapping generations, non-closure of groups, equal reproductive potential of group members, an absence of task specialisation, high levels of social dependence, central place foraging, social information transfer, kin recognition, [sophisticated communication and emergent forms of cooperation], and a meta-population structure.”4
A metapopulation is a group of subpopulations.5
– note that this image was sourced from a computer science document describing computer models of knowledge ecosystems as part of adaptive management. The image served as an analogy: “local meetings […] produce information for higher level processes”. Also of interest, is that the source document was authored by a person whose principal area of research is defined as:
“the dynamics and impact of pests and diseases, particularly the effects of climate and weather.”
The research approach is described as:
“multi-disciplinary, multi-agency knowledge-based systems and decision support systems, [including] the use of Artificial Intelligence […], customized document generation, and internet-based system deployment.”

It is surprisingly easy to overlook the significance of what we have encountered here; a convergence of insect population dynamics, human population dynamics, and information population dynamics. However, as we shall see in the following section, population dynamics need not be computable (rational) in order to be effective realities.

Personally, I would add that this is the kind of thing I felt in April of last year, when in the Preamble to “Refraction of the State of Nature“, I wrote:
“As I continue to explore, now reaching for novel connections as well as topics of exploration, I am beginning to catch fleeting glimpses of a unity. Not a Grand Unified Theory, nor the Theory of everything sought by theoretical physicists, but a more modest unity of the handful of ideas explored in these pages, to date.”

Synergy versus Stigmergy
Synergy is widely misunderstood as a synonym for ‘mystical activity’. Literally, the term refers to cooperativity, and is derived from Ancient Greek σύν (sún “together”) and ἔργον (érgon “work”)6. However, synergy implies an outcome of cooperation that is in principle unpredictable from the action of the cooperating agents. Thus it seems fair to assume that the term represents ‘irrational (non-computable) emergent phenomena’, also known as strong emergence7, and ‘a whole greater than the sum of its parts’.

Stigmergy may be interpreted as a rationalized form of synergy, and may be described as a self-organizing and self-regulating process (i.e. an operational mode) mediated by indirect cooperation between multiple agents8, which collectively give rise to qualitative meta-phenomena not attainable by the individual agents. We had touched upon this concept in an earlier post, titled Governance, under the heading “How does nature govern her systems?”.

Inefficient use of energy feeds the world
“Sunlight plays a much larger role in our sustenance than we may expect: all the food we eat and all the fossil fuel we use is a product of photosynthesis, which is the process that converts energy in sunlight to chemical forms of energy that can be used by biological systems. Photosynthesis is carried out by many different organisms, ranging from plants to bacteria. The best known form of photosynthesis is the one carried out by higher plants and algae, as well as by cyanobacteria and their relatives, which are responsible for a major part of photosynthesis […].”9
Algal cells

Fascinatingly, even though photosynthesis produces all the food we eat and all the fossil fuel we use, it is a remarkably inefficient process:
– “[The] theoretical maximum efficiency of solar energy conversion is approximately 11%. In practice, however, the magnitude of photosynthetic efficiency observed in the field, is further decreased by factors such as poor absorption of sunlight due to its reflection, respiration requirements of photosynthesis and the need for optimal solar radiation levels. The net result being an overall photosynthetic efficiency of between 3 and 6% of total solar radiation.”10

– “[The maximum conversion efficiency of solar energy to biomass ranges from 4.6% to 6%, at 30 degrees C and today’s 380 ppm atmospheric CO2.]”11

– “Due to losses at all steps in biochemistry, one has been able to get only about 1 to 2% energy efficiency in most crop plants. Sugarcane is an exception as it can have almost 8% efficiency. However, many plants in Nature often have only 0.1 % energy efficiency.”12

In contrast to ancient photosynthetic cells, state of the art photovoltaic cells approach 45% energy efficiency, but they do not self-organize, adapt, or reproduce. Certainly there seems little hope of them feeding the world.
Timeline of solar cell energy conversion efficiencies13

Importantly, the reader is not to assume that the meaning here is entirely antagonistic toward photovoltaic technology. Simply, a trend of increasing energetic efficiency, like increasing gross domestic product, is extremely unlikely to solve any of our existential (environmental) problems. Rather, an entirely different set of thoughts – an entirely different worldview – is necessary. It is precisely at this point in our train of thought that iconoclasm becomes of critical importance.

A networked collective of inefficient nodes, even if cooperation between them is indirect and discontinuous, can produce vastly more efficient outcomes than is predictable from efficient operations at the level of individual agents.
It does not always compute, may be irrational and thus immeasurable. It flows naturally among and between us; among and between all living things. It flows from Sun to Earth, through water and rock, emerging spontaneously as life … as the Higgs field … as the Aether.

It is not, and can never be ‘good science’. The Church of Reason will have great difficulty defining it, though our great House of Arte has always imagined it clearly, and continues to tap it regularly.

In our modern culture the image of irrational faith over rational knowledge (see image below) is surely the most difficult icon to break. If you do manage this feat of iconoclasm, then you will see clearly that irrationality is the denominator, and rationality the numerator.
Only a fraction of everything imaginable is knowable.

Bibliography and Notes
1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconoclasm

2) T. Santos etal, “3D Electromagnetic Field Simulation in Microwave Ovens: a Tool
to Control Thermal Runaway”, (2010), COSMOL Conference (excerpt), http://www.comsol.com/paper/download/63024/santos_paper.pdf

3) M. Walker, “Why cockroaches need their friends”, (2012), BBC Nature, http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/17839642

4) M. Lihoreau et al, “The social biology of domiciliary cockroaches: colony structure, kin recognition and collective decisions”, (2012), International Union for the Study of Social Insects, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00040-012-0234-x (abstract only)

5) A. Thomson, “Knowledge Ecosystems”, (2012), Adaptive Knowledge Management, http://adaptivekm.com/ke_more.html

6) http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/synergy

7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence#Strong_and_weak_emergence

8) http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/stigmergy

9) W. Vermaas, “An Introduction to Photosynthesis and Its Applications”, (2007), Center for Bioenergy & Photosynthesis, Arizona State University, http://photoscience.la.asu.edu/photosyn/education/photointro.html

10) K. Miyamoto et al, “Renewable biological systems for alternative sustainable energy production”, (1997), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, http://www.fao.org/docrep/w7241e/w7241e05.htm

11) Zhu et al, “What is the maximum efficiency with which photosynthesis can convert solar energy into biomass?”, (2008), Department of Plant Biology, University of Illinois, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18374559

12) Govindjee & Govindjee, “What is Photosynthesis?”, (ca. 2000), School of Life Sciences, University of Illinois, http://www.life.illinois.edu/govindjee/whatisit.htm

13) G. Wilson & K. Emery, “Best Research-Cell Efficiencies”, (2014), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, CO, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell#mediaviewer/File:PVeff%28rev140511%29.jpg

SWOTing the World Bank

This is the second of three posts, exploring the connections between cultural morality, sustainable development, and iconoclasm. A simple analysis of World Bank Group Strategy is performed.
– analytical format: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT)
– analytical focus: sustainable development

While ‘sustainability strategy’ documents have been found for various corporate persons, including: McDonalds, Nike, Monsanto, Bayer, Nestle, and Microsoft (all last accessed in 2014), no such document has been found in relation to the WBG. The closest thing in meaning to such a text, was found as a blurb in an environmental strategy published by the WBG.1

Formal programs have been set up within the World Bank and the IFC to manage environmental impacts from internal operations. Efforts to measure, report, and offset greenhouse gas emissions from internal operations have been strengthened. In 2006, the WBG became carbon neutral for its headquarters-based internal business operations, including all facilities operations, staff air travel, and owned vehicle use. WBG facilities are now more efficient in water use, waste management, and procurement, and the results of these efforts are published annually on the website. In 2010, the IFC’s headquarters building was awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum Certification for Existing Buildings by the U.S. Green Building Council. Two other WBG buildings have received a gold standard, and the new “C”.”

This paragraph seems insufficient for the purpose of a SWOT analysis, as no weaknesses, opportunities, or threats are clearly stated. Let us instead take a wider perspective from a document, titled “World Bank Group Strategy”.2

A selection of introductory quotes.
“The [WBG] strategy focuses on the ambitious goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner.”

“The [WBG] is committed to helping clients3 see note reach these goals through economic growth, inclusion and sustainability.”

“The WBG will reposition itself, based on a value proposition to best serve the development community in pursuit of the two goals. [(i) work more in partnership with others, including the private sector, and (ii) significantly increase collaboration across its agencies].”

“Implementation of the Strategy will require organizational change and a new framework for medium-term financial sustainability to ensure that its resources are commensurate with the roles and responsibilities it carries out on behalf of the international community. Translated into action, the Strategy will reposition the [WBG] to help transform the lives of the nearly 4 billion people […].”
– presumably, “nearly 4 billion people” refers to ‘owned clients’ (i.e. ‘owned countries’).

Strengths: finances and political influence
Access to vast finances and influence of global political structures, via a combination of capital, globalized institution, and propaganda.

“a strong, AAA-rated financial institution, the WBG mobilizes and manages large amounts of resources for development on a global basis, and offers a wide range of innovative financial products and services to clients.”

“With its global multilateral membership and ownership structure, the WBG can synthesize perspectives on development issues from around the world.”

“the WBG has broad operational experience; expertise on policy dialogue, implementation, and capacity building; knowledge of the private sector; ability to blend public and private finance; and capacity to bundle knowledge, finance, and convening services.”

“The WBG will strengthen the focus of its country programs by developing a more evidence-based and selective country engagement model in the context of country ownership and national priorities, and in coordination with other development partners.
A Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) will use data and analytic methods to support country clients and WBG teams in identifying the most critical constraints to, and opportunities for, reducing poverty and building shared prosperity sustainably, while explicitly considering the voices of the poor and the views of the private sector. The Country Partnership Framework (CPF) will describe focus areas for WBG support, aligned with the country’s own development agenda and selected primarily to address the key constraints and opportunities identified in the SCD. Performance and Learning Reviews will identify and capture lessons; determine midcourse corrections, end-of-cycle learning, and accountability; and help build the WBG’s knowledge base, including effective approaches for integrating inclusion and sustainability dimensions (including gender and environmental sustainability) into the SCD and CPF. A new Regional Coordinating Mechanism [RCM] will formalize country-and regional-level coordination among the [World] Bank, [International Finance Corporation (IFC)], and [Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)]. The RCM will help the WBG with its regional engagements.”

Weakness: good quality statistical information
“In the competitive market for political risk insurance, MIGA is considered the strongest multilateral provider in terms of its business results, global reach, and market reputation. It is recognized for (a) its expert underwriting, (b) its strong balance sheet, enabling large long-term guarantees, (c) its willingness to guarantee complex projects in high-risk markets, and (d) its unparalleled record in resolving investment disputes. MIGA, too, has a broad array of clients representing a range of industries, sectors, and geographic areas. Much of MIGA’s comparative advantage is derived from its affiliation with the WBG, which enables it to draw on the research and knowledge base to inform underwriting, the extensive network of global offices to support business development and project monitoring, and the relationship with host countries to allow it to take on riskier projects. Like other multilaterals and the other WBG agencies, MIGA’s perceived weakness is having heavy information requirements, especially in the areas of environmental, social, and integrity due diligence.”

“Building shared prosperity will require countries to address inclusion and sustainability more vigorously. With the focus on jobs, policy action is urgently needed in countries where women are excluded from opportunities in paid employment and entrepreneurship. Developing countries must manage spatial transformation well to increase prosperity sustainably. Across the developing world, growing populations and economies are putting significant strain on the natural resource base—land, water, forests—and countries are struggling with the impact of climate change, environmental degradation, and ecosystem changes. Most countries that have successfully transitioned to high-income status followed a path of urbanization and concentrated industrial development that enhanced productivity, expanded service delivery and generated broad based gains in social welfare. In tackling these complex challenges, developing countries can benefit from the pace and breadth of technological change, which will continue to reshape development in myriad, often unforeseen ways—but this in turn will require robust policies to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and the free flow of information.”

Opportunities: ownership and development of clients
“While the opportunity is historic, bold steps will be needed by all stakeholders and the risks are multifold. The WBG faces significant risks to delivering on its commitment to the two goals, particularly if it falters in implementing the actions identified in the Strategy. Management will need to meet its commitment to keep the WBG relentlessly focused on the goals, to offer clients world-class development solutions, and to operate truly as One World Bank Group, as well as to move ahead with changes to make the organization more efficient and stronger. Continued strong engagement with the Board of Executive Directors and the Governors will be decisive to address key areas such as the budget and financial sustainability, and to support the shift to a “Solutions WBG.” Achieving the goals will depend on each member government and the international community as a whole demonstrating the political will to focus on the poor and disadvantaged, and to act in partnership with the private sector and civil society. Effective global action will require that all countries and multilateral institutions demonstrate a renewed capacity to collaborate. Together, we can do what it takes to end poverty and build shared prosperity in our time.”

“Implementing the CPF will be challenging, and there will be a need to adapt it to specific country circumstances. First, country ownership will remain critical. In situations where the alignment between country demands and the goals remains unclear, the WBG will work with country clients to deepen the analysis, understand the political economy, and pursue dialogue in an effort to help clarify the most appropriate and promising pathways toward the goals and build social consensus. Second, partnerships will be essential. WBG country teams will work with key partners at the country level, including the IMF and MDBs, encouraging them to engage in the SCD process and seeking their input into the formulation of CPFs where appropriate. Third, data availability will be a limiting factor, particularly in countries with weak country statistical systems: only one-quarter of WBG member countries have adequate capacity and data to assess progress in poverty reduction and shared prosperity, and to account for sustainable development. Working with development partners, the WBG will launch a new initiative under which member countries will be requested to gather relevant data and improve access to and dissemination of these data through a global database.”

Threats: climate change and social development
“Climate change threatens both future poverty reduction and the sustainability of past gains, achieved through decades of efforts. The international community’s collective response to the fundamental threat posed by climate change will shape not only the global fight against poverty, but also the world’s overall development trajectory for generations to come. Average world temperatures are on track to rise at least two degrees Celsius and rainfall patterns are changing. Increasingly, these changes are resulting in more severe and frequent extreme weather events—storms, droughts, heat waves, and floods. The impact of these events is exacerbated by environmental degradation and other socio-economic factors. The adverse effects of climate change fall disproportionately on the poorest countries and, within countries, on the poorest people, who are already seriously affected by environmental degradation and lack adequate capacity to adapt.”

The WBG plans to capitalize upon its vast finances and sphere of influence via its institutional structures, in order to sustain and increase its finances and sphere of influence via “shared prosperity” and “inclusion” of economically developing regions on the globe. Critically, one would ask whether this is not a polite manner of stating “client ownership”, and whether the latter is not simply slavery; the result of systemic indebting of the world’s poorest people.

A similar treatment of Fairtrade organization has revealed identical corporate, financial, institutional, and governing mechanisms, albeit on a smaller scale and flying different colors. Briefly, farmers living in ‘developing economies’ are bamboozled into debt, up to 60% of annual income, under the auspices of sustainable development. Critically, peasant farmers under Fairtrade are forced into a holding pattern via ‘client ownership’ by indebtedness, identical to that implemented by the WBG.
Fairtrade mission statement / manifesto4
I) “[Fair] Traders pay producers an agreed minimum price that covers the costs of sustainable production and living; this gives way to the market price whenever the latter is above this minimum.”

II) “[Fair] Traders should, in addition to the minimum price, also provide a social premium, of around 5 to 10 per cent, for development and technical assistance.”
– the term ‘social premium’ is identical in meaning to the more familiar term social insurance.5 Essentially the Fairtrade premium is a financial risk mitigation mechanism, helping to stabilize production.

III) “Fair Trade products must respect a series of social and environmental criteria.”
– is this not true for all products?

IV) “[Fair] Traders, as far as possible, must purchase directly from producers or producer organisations using long-term contracts to lessen the number of intermediaries and to promote long-term planning and stability.”
– this surely is a good ambition!

V) “[Fair] Traders should help provide producers with credit of up to 60 per cent of the value purchased when requested.”

The fine print
“[Fair trade contracts are also] available for large agricultural businesses […].”

“[…] Fair Trade organisations charge certification [contractual] fees to cooperatives [villagers] and wholesalers [usually villagers] for services such as inspecting the farms and monitoring the supply chain. The minimum charge for certification [contractual obligation] for the smallest group (fewer than 50 producers) applying for certification of their first product is approximately £1,570 in the first year followed by an annual recertification fee of around £940. The charges for certification of additional products are approximately £165 in the first year followed by an annual recertification fee of £145.”

“[W]holesalers that supply to retailers wishing to use the Fair Trade label also have to pay a licence fee, which is usually based on the wholesale price of the product. For example, in the UK, the Fairtrade Foundation charges 1.7 per cent on the first £5 million [£850,000] of annual sales of Fair Trade certified products and marginally lower for incremental sales thereafter. These fees contribute towards meeting the expenses of the Fair Trade organisations.”

“The mainstreaming of Fair Trade proved highly successful, with Fair Trade’s profile and sales expanding markedly.”
– may we assume this refers to the trade of corporate shares?

“[The following global brands have made 100 percent commitments to Fairtrade:
Cadbury Dairy Milk, Starbucks, Kit Kat [but not the rest of Nestlé], Green & Black’s and Ben & Jerry’s]”

– please stop here for a minute, to think about what this might mean ‘wholly’, i.e. in regard to the ‘development of villagers’ and ‘indebtedness of villagers’.

“An important component of the Fair Trade movement is its campaign-based promotion. [Promotion] is critical for Fair Trade as its growth in sales depends on public awareness and understanding of Fair Trade products and the rationale for buying them, marketing and conventional distribution and retail channels. The mainstreaming of Fair Trade proved highly successful, with Fair Trade’s profile and sales expanding markedly.”
– ‘campaign-based promotion’ is nice wording for ‘corporate and political propaganda’.
– no mention at all of the well being of peasant farmers or villagers.

See also:

Bibliography and Notes
1) The World Bank Group, “The World Bank Group’s Environment Strategy 2012-2022”, (2011), http://go.worldbank.org/K0BH79OE50

2) Joint Ministerial Committee of the Boards of Governors of the Bank and the Fund on the Transfer of Real Resources to Developing Countries, “World Bank Group Strategy”, (2013), http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/DEVCOMMEXT/0,,pagePK:64000837~piPK:64001152~theSitePK:277473~contentMDK:23470472,00.html

3) Note: in this document the words “client” and “country” are used interchangeably. Also, there are three mentions of “country ownership” and at least one mention of “client ownership”.

4) S. Mohan, “Fair Trade Without the Froth”, (2010), http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDEQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.iea.org.uk%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fpublications%2Ffiles%2Fupldbook524pdf.pdf&ei=7vN1U-nkAene7AaVxYHIAQ&usg=AFQjCNFeHESy_r4CDg0yJUESbfnIDhXIqg&bvm=bv.66699033,d.ZGU

5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_insurance

Moral Deference of Sustainability

Explored in this and the following two posts, are connections between cultural morality, sustainable development, and iconoclasm.

In my worldview the term sustainable development (sustainability) has a clear definition, equivalent with that of homeostasis. There are various definitions of the latter, my meaning relates generally to biological physiology; the set of physical characteristics comprising life-functions and life-forms observable in biology.

In my personal view the issue is less clear, cloaked in irrational and unknowable metaphysics:

Sustainability is a volume of persistent flux, a disequilibrium, an entropy-reducing physical change, created by, mediated by, and sustained as interactions between complex physical objects with the capacity to individually and collectively self-organize and self-regulate.

Not fantastic, but phenomenal. Seemingly improbable but apparently common and persistent here on Earth.

The Earth may not be viewed as an independent physiology, because the Sun plays an essential role in sustaining nearly all planetary life systems; certainly the large, highly complex ones. Hypothetically, given at least the Sun and Earth, one might begin to imagine a large and complex ‘self-sustaining’ physiology.
Interpreted holistically, sustainability refers to a single untied living system. If we are to accept this premise, we must assume that the purpose of any thoughts, discussions and/or actions on the subject of sustainable development, are to sustain life, not necessarily lives, on Earth. This is an important distinction; an aspect of biological reality which we modern cosmopolitans tend to ignore, choosing instead to fool ourselves into the belief that each life (individual organism) is of paramount importance.

Both, common sense and thermodynamics show that sustaining any kind of object and/or action indefinitely, is not possible. Certainly not as part of an energetically closed system. For the purpose of the current argument the solar system might be imagined as a hypothetically ‘closed system’. There seems little room for doubt that given enough time to develop, the Sun, Earth, life, everything.., will grind down to near-equilibrium, following as closely as possible:
the path of least resistance.

It seems most reasonable to address sustainable development selfishly (anthropocentrically), and practicably (feasibly). From this it follows that we hope to sustain at least one viable culture of H. sapiens on Earth. Attempting to put a ‘use-by-date’ on H. sapiens is beyond the scope of this text. Currently, we focus upon our contemporary period, with one eye toward the past, and the other toward a reasonably visible future.1 Of course, anthropocentrically, I hope and trust that many happy days precede me, and us all! That is to say, I hold faith in the adaptability and resourcefulness of our species.

When imagining a sustainable culture of H. sapiens on Earth, I can not help but think of ‘the old ways’. Pre-industrial renaissance, or better, semi-industrial societies such as the Amish described in an earlier post of this series, titled The Worldly and The Amish; possibly parochial, though not necessarily Christian or even religious, reproductive population(s) of fit, adaptable, social, creative and analytical, generalists; survivors.

It is my opinion that we currently live in a golden age, perhaps The golden age of humankind. Life has never before been so easy and good for so many of our species, and there are many of us. Very many more of us, however, aspire to the globally endorsed and internationally accepted social and economic norms. I shall be blunt; there are too many of us. Assuming that our global population will continue to increase during the next few decades, then begin to stabilize by about 2060 with an estimated population of between 9 and 10 billion individuals, any definition or proposal of ‘sustainable development’ including the idea of sustaining current standards and aspirations is necessarily false; unattainable as long as our population number is static or positive. Actual sustainable development presupposes that either our population or our expectations, or both, decrease.

Neither pessimism nor optimism, but realism is required in order simply to see what the sustainability puzzle really is about. It seems not to be simply a set of choices we stand to make; sustainability is probably not a consumer good. Instead, the issue appears to comprise a set of physical factors, together acting to limit population growth of H. sapiens on Earth. I would not wish a life at carrying capacity upon anyone; the concept contrasts against my selfish hope and trust for a sustained good life.

Modern conceptions of sustainable development derive from a seminal text2 on the subject. This document, also known as ‘the Brundtland report’, called for: ”a common spirit of responsibility” and ”for new norms of behaviour at all levels and in the interests of all. [Changes in attitudes, in social values, and in aspirations]”.

Yet the definition endorsed by our institutions, the political and corporate sectors, itself stemming from the same seminal document, is: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Prosaic as this may seem, it is obvious that any serious consideration of sustainable development must define and take into account the needs of the present. I thus challenge the reader to identify their own current needs, and to compare these with their own current state of wealth. Personally, I have come to realize that the vast majority of aspects identified as necessary within the lifestyles of modern globalized culture, are unnecessary. Furthermore, I have over the past seven or so years begun to subtract superfluous aspects from my lifestyle. This gradual personal process has, and continues, to lead to what appears from the outside to be quite radical change, in both, my thoughts and actions.

Moral Deference
”[The] answers to fundamental and serious concerns are not at hand, there is no alternative but to keep on trying to find them.”
– the Brundtland report

Contemporary representative democracies are based upon the premise of deference of responsibility. By casting a vote, the voter actively defers his or her personal responsibility to govern the society of which they are a part, to a ‘political representative’. The ‘representative’ is thus assumed to act instead of, and as a proxy for, the voter. A political representative is usually a person or group, endorsed by a political platform, business, or coalition thereof, and is in the vast majority of cases disconnected from a personal understanding of the voter. This kind of deference of responsibility is accepted, more or less unquestioningly, by people comprising modern democratic society, as a normative cultural moral.

”major changes [are] needed, both in attitudes and in the way our societies are organized”.
– the Brundtland report.

Let us define moral as: ”[the] principles of right and wrong in behaviour, especially for teaching right behaviour” and ”conforming to a standard of right behaviour; sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or ethical judgment”.3

I have only recently realized that morality is relative to contemporary cultural conditions. Please consider the following three examples:

i) The construction of a “permanent repository” for nuclear waste at Onkalo.
Into Eternity is a documentary film which does a remarkably good job of describing the challenges intrinsic to discussions of sustainable development; we can not know what will occur in the millennia that follow us, nevertheless we are deferring the difficult end of the nuclear waste problem, by the conviction that we can construct a situation of ‘permanent safety’.
– the first tick mark on the left indicates the construction of the great pyramid of Giza (2560 BC); the second tick mark indicates 0 AD; the third tick mark indicates 2010 AD. The span between the third and fourth tick marks represents the period for which Onkalo must last, many times longer than the oldest structures built by humanity have ever existed.

ii) The translocation of Abu Simbel by UNESCO.
“[From the outset UNESCO played a role in the promotion and rescue of historic sites. Postwar reconstruction of Europe, from 1945 to 1955, initiated as the large-scale restoration of war-torn cities. Concern at the scale of war damage was such that the Hague Convention produced in 1954 a convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. A handful of years later international concern was raised by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, which would flood the valley containing the Abu Simbel and other temples, significant relics of ancient Egypt. In 1959, following an appeal from Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO instigated a major conservation programme which involved intensive archaeological excavations and the removal, stone by stone, of the temples that were reconstructed on higher ground above the flood line.]“4

An archeological construction project, spanning two decades and costing a quarter of a billion dollars (accounting for inflation to present), the purpose of which is to translocate a temple by 200 meters due to the construction of a dam, does not feel like the kind of thing that would constitute a contemporary moral obligation. At this time there seem to be more pressing moral obligations, such as the ‘bailing out’ of the global banking system, and of Greece.
It is fascinating and revealing to come to terms with the ridiculousness of our institutionalized moral acts. “Five years after coalition troops invaded Iraq, the Iraq Museum is still closed, […] some 8,000 objects remain unaccounted for. Archaeological sites, including the iconic remains of Babylon and Ur, continue to be neglected or damaged. […] Much has already been written about damage to the Iraqi cultural heritage [the legacy of one the earliest civilizations on Earth] as a direct result of the Second Gulf War […]. Apart from the Iraqis themselves, […] many foreign organizations and individuals have been involved, directly or indirectly, in what has happened.”5

iii) The Apollo program.
Equally perplexing from our current cultural situation is the prospect of spending nearly 110 billion dollars (accounting for inflation to present)6 in order to send a handful of people to the moon for a walkabout.

Disposable morality?
Habitus and praxis are introduced as part of a previous post in this series, titled Nous Kairos. Currently, we explore what appears to be a moral incongruence regarding sustainable development. Let us begin, however, by assuming the reverse; thus hypothesizing that the contemporary cultural moral, which is associated with sustainable development, is one of congruence between habitus and praxis.

It seems clear that our modern global culture now includes a moral obligation to strive for sustainability, and so this ethic necessarily plays a central role in our collective habitus. Examples of ‘doing the right thing’ in regard to environment, biodiversity, poverty, war, violence, governance, education, healthcare, consumption, etc… abound in our culture. The vast majority of us, modern cosmopolitans, are convinced that we do ‘Green’ by buying ‘Green’; a recent car commercial stated:
“C4 = 0g.CO2

This is a blatant lie. In fact, it is not a lie resting upon a lie?
Not only is it physically impossible for a car to equal 0g CO2 but the premise upon which this kind of marketing rests (i.e. that global climate change can be stopped or mitigated by a reduction of environmental carbon dioxide) is also a lie.7 Furthermore, peculiarly, as if with purpose, the format of the advertised equation is not correct.
Though technically incorrect, this equation should read: C4 = 0g CO2

Generally, in connection with sustainable development, we excuse ourselves from a similar moral obligation in praxis, by simple assertions of practical inconvenience (impracticality). So it may be said that, in our time, sustainable development exists virtually – ‘on paper’ and ‘in theory’ – but is a practical impossibility.

Commuters, for example, are morally obliged to think about and communicate modes of transportation other than car driving; such as walking, bicycling, motorcycling, use of public transport, velomobiling, horse riding, ox&cart, etc.., but generally feel, and are morally excused from actual realization of these alternatives due to a supposition, or imposition, of practical impossibility; even car pooling is generally assumed to be inconvenient. Proof of this is evident in rush hour car traffic congestion, if not car traffic congestion generally.

The contemporary cultural moral is one of ideas, thoughts, plans (visions) about sustainability, but is largely not one of practice. The latter is actively deferred (disposed) to an unknown future generation. Implicit but unspoken, in this moral deference is the assumption that a supposed (envisioned) sustainable cultural moral will exist at some future time, by people other than us, as a congruence between moral ideas about the kinds of action that must be executed in order for H. Sapiens to sustain a viable population on Earth, and the actual execution of those acts.

Perhaps, in order to realize sustainable development, it is necessary for people, collectively, to change the contemporary cultural moral? In order for sustainable development to become a reality, moral congruence between habitus and praxis is necessary – at least in theory. The process of attaining such a cultural moral congruence will necessarily include wide-sweeping changes in social organization and regulation, in order to better facilitate the practical possibilities of the nascent cultural moral.

Bibliography and Notes
1) Interestingly, keeping one metaphorical eye on the past and the other on a probable future, a third is necessary in order to focus on the present.

2) World Commission on Environment and Development, “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future”, (1987), Oxford University Press, http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

3) http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/moral

4) N. Sykes, R. Hewison, (1987), “Sustainability in the Arts and Humanities”, The heritage industry: Britain in a climate of decline, London:Methuen, via The University of Nottingham, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike UK 2.0 Licence.

5) “The 2003 invasion and aftermath”, (2008), Trustees of the British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/museum_activity/middle_east/iraq_project/2003_invasion_and_aftermath.aspx

6) “Project Apollo: A Retrospective Analysis”, (2014), NASA, http://history.nasa.gov/Apollomon/Apollo.html

7) Global climate change appears to be a cyclical phenomenon of periodic glaciations, stretching at least several hundred thousand years into Earth’s history. So it might be safe to assume that climate change (cycles of global warming and global cooling) is sustainable. Volumes have been written on the subject of global climate change, I shall not focus upon it here, other than to mention that it is of fundamental relevance to sustainable development.

Knowledge Generator

It is what it is
“The individuals credited with the introduction of philosophical thought into human civilizations were men who speculated on what constitutes the objects of human experience in so far as those objects have or involve an existence or being independent of what [any given agent, be it gods or human beings] may think, feel or do. The philosophers, in other words, are those individuals who are credited with introducing into human thought the idea of reality, or something which ‘is what it is’ on its own grounds, regardless of what further relations it may have ‘to us’ or how it may appear in experience.” – John Deely (2001)

It is perhaps more the norm than the exception for university life-science majors to be instructed, at the outset of their studies, that “science only studies observable phenomena. It functions in the realm of matter and energy [and therefore] it is a serious mistake to think that the methods of science can be applied in areas of investigation involving other aspects of human experience, e.g., matters of the mind”. However, “most neuroscientists and philosophers now take for granted that all biological phenomena, including consciousness, are properties of matter . . . and some philosophers and many neuroscientists believe that consciousness is an illusion”. And so a rather fascinating question arises: How did modern science – the communal knowledge-generating system par excellence – arrive at this sterile impasse – one where the investigation of individual knowledge-generating systems (minds) as knowledge-generating systems per se has come to be seen, at best, as a vexingly paradoxical riddle and, at worst, as falling entirely outside the scope of legitimate scientific inquiry?(1a)

A little more concisely: minds are unscientific.
A search using terms describing study of science such as “scienceology” returned only “scientology” entries. Apparently there is no meta-science, or science of science.(note i)

Biological prerequisite for knowledge
“Knowledge-generation requires opportunities for systemic self-correction, recursive iteration, and continual adaptive growth” – Donald Favareau (2010)

Systemic self-correction is exemplified by the proofreading capability of ribosomes, the action of immune systems, the healing of wounds, the regulation of emotions…

Recursive iteration is exemplified by the copying of physical genetic materials (DNA or RNA), its transcription to physical messengers (mRNA), childbirth, trial-and-error…

Continual adaptive growth(note ii) is exemplified by the evolution of species, a tree growing through a fence, the subtle changes in the morphology of quorum sensing signaling molecules that allow for the exclusion of cheaters in a bacterial colony…

These three concepts seem fairly straightforward, and clearly describe aspects of living systems. Indeed one may fairly argue that they are necessary for the continuation of any living system, and so are more than concepts(note iii), they must exist in the reality external to minds.

Knowledge-generation is a rather more mysterious concept, a compound of generation (similar to iteration) and knowledge. The meaning of the latter is not at all clear, and invokes feelings of awareness, consciousness, certainty, and experience – all of which are subjective states of minds. Is knowledge necessary for the continuation of a living system, such as an ant nest? Is knowledge necessary for the continuation of a formal system of logic, such as a computer program? In both cases I would argue that it is, and that examples might be made of the various epigenetic phenomena in living systems, and the symbolic representation of data stored in the working memories of formal systems.

Prior to the Hellenistic period, the word σημεῖον (Latin: semeion) was understood by the Greeks almost exclusively as a medical term, roughly akin to the modern concept of symptom, referring to the outward manifestation of an internal state. A sign – something that suggests the presence or existence of some other fact, quality or quantity.
Donald Favareau
Donald Favareau – circa 2010

Biosemiotics is defined as “the study of the myriad forms of communication and signification observable both within and between living systems. It is thus the study of representation, meaning, sense, and the biological significance of sign processes from intercellular signaling processes to animal display behavior to human semtotic artifacts such as language and abstract symbolic thought. Such sign processes appear ubiquitously in the literature on biological systems. Up until very recently, however, it had been implicitly assumed that the use of terms such as message, signal, code, and sign with respect to non-linguistic biological processes was ultimately metaphoric, and that such terms could someday effectively be reduced to the mere chemical and physical interactions underlying such processes. As the prospects for such a reduction become increasingly untenable, even in theory, the interdisciplinary research project of biosemiotics is attempting to re-open the dialogue across the life sciences – as well as between the life sciences and the humanities – regarding what, precisely, such in eliminable terms as representation, sign of, and meaning might refer to in the context of living, interactive, complex adaptive systems”(1b)

Assuming that human minds did not arise ex nihilo (from nothing), some far more fundamental form of mind (subjective experience) must be occurring within and between living systems. A handful of relatively new fields of study, including: neurophilosophy, evolutionary psychology, dynamic systems theory, cognitive neuroscience, and artificial intelligence/artificial life, are attempting to reframe two age-old questions:
“What is the relation between mental experience, biological organization, and the law-like processes of inanimate matter?” and “How does the human brain produce the mind?”

In accordance with modern scientific understanding, the phenotype(note iv) of a living system is the product of its evolutionary and ontogenetic embedding in the environment, and it consists of precisely those sets of systemic relations that serve to organize material substrates into that particular living system. I am speaking of living systems rather than organisms because life rarely, if ever, comprises a single organism. Much more common, if not ubiquitous, are the various forms of symbiosis:

Commensalism – a relationship where one species obtains nourishment and/or shelter from another species, and does not harm or help the other species.
Mutualism – a relationship where both species benefit from the relationship.
Parasitism – a relationship between two species in which one species (the parasite) obtains nourishment and/or shelter to the disadvantage of the other species (the host).(2)

“Biological organization and agency of every kind, is precisely the naturalistic establishment of sign relations that ‘bridge’ subject-dependent experience (such as we find both in animal sensations as well as in human ‘mindedness’) with the inescapable subject-independent reality of alterity – an alterity that all organisms have to find some way to successfully perceive and act upon in order to maintain themselves in existence.”
– Favareau

The narrow path of logic – a short history
Aristotle’s vision of biology (represented as a group of texts titled De Anima) included an interdependent recursivity:
a) A phenotype is the product of a living system’s interaction with the world, and vice-versa.
b) The actions of a living system upon the world (which subsequently change that world) are both enabled by and constrained by the systemic biological constitution of the living system, including its perceptual capacities.
c) As the result of (a) and (b) there is both a “realism” to sign relations and a deep necessity for the joining together of the extra-biological relations of external reality to the embedded biological relations within living systems such that what occurs in the case of the perceiving [system] is conceivably analogous to what holds true in […] the things themselves”.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was born into the Roman aristocracy, circa 480 AD. BoethiusHis social position ensured that he acquired a thorough grasp of the Greek language and scholastic tradition. It is uncertain whether he traveled to Athens or Alexandria, the sites of the two remaining (Platonic) philosophical schools, but certainly he was acquainted with their works. His life combined stately privileges and duties, and a learned leisure in which he pursued a vast project of translating and commenting on philosophical texts. This undertaking was cut short by his execution, circa 525 AD. It is important to realize that the Aristotelian works which were available to European scholars in the early Middle Ages, included only the six books on logic that had been translated by Boethius. These became the standard text of non-Biblical learning in the thousand years between the fall of Rome and the beginnings of the modern era, and were known collectively as Organon (the “instrument” of knowledge and well-ordered thought). Organon comprises treatises on the internal logic of language and linguistically formed propositions. Aristotle’s more general treatises on biological form, function and development (De Anima), were lost to the West for the first 800 years AD.

Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis (St. Augustine), circa 400 AD, is presented as the first Western thinker to have discussed the similarities and differences between “natural signs” (signa naturalia) and “given signs” (signa data). The former lead to the knowledge of something other than themselves – one might think of the relations of physical contiguity, such as the relation of smoke to fire, or the relation of a fossil to the phenotype that left it. The latter (signa data) are mutually exchanged by living systems, in order to show, as well as they can, the feelings of their minds, of their thoughts, or more simply of their perceptions.

This Middle Age misinterpretation of Aristotle, by accidental exclusion of De Anima, has resulted in ordo orandi (“order of speaking” – hierarchy of knowledge), through which things of “the external world (res) are signified by mental concepts (intellectus), which are then signified by spoken words (voce) and these, in turn, are signified by written characters (scripta). Supporting this system is the principle that: at the [root] of written and spoken discourse there is a mental speech (oratio mentis) in which thinking is performed”.
hierarchy of knowledge
The hierarchy of knowledge (ordo orandi)

“Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images…”
De Interpretatione is a part of the Aristotelian Organon, it deals specifically with semantics, hermeneutics and propositional logic; it focuses on signa data via the relations of words and sentences.

Unsurprisingly, ordo orandi has resulted in a top-down hierarchy of knowledge, in which sign relations follow linguistic relations. Of course we now know this to be an evolutionarily impossibility, as language (even oratio mentis) could not have preceded simpler forms of symbolic exchange and interpretation (sign relations). Even so, the habit of attempting to logically derive deep knowledge persists to this day. Herein, I believe, may be embedded the two central problems of modernity:
1) Homo sapiens assume ourselves to be smarter and more important than we are.
– God made the Earth, the plants, and the animals for us, and we are to keep and rule over them.
2) Top-down logic is one-sided and short-sighted.
– nature in composed of bottom-up, top-down, (multi-)lateral, and interconnected (complex) logical structures.
Molecular interaction map of the toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling network(3)
– in reality this set of molecular interactions has no “top”.

One can not help but wonder what the world would be like if medieval (European) scholars, such as Augustine of Hippo, had understood the whole of Aristotle, including that “sign relations are a subset of genuinely causal existential phenomena of relational organization”. Chances are that the modern sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology would not have called solely upon the top-down ordo orandi to explain how a biochemical set of relations (i.e. living systems) could come to know about – much less think about – the set of physical relations existing independently of, and external to, themselves. Perhaps a more realistic method of knowledge generation, and thus a truer knowledge set, may be derived from bottom-up hierarchies, lateral hierarchies, and interconnected parallel hierarchies, as well as top-down hierarchies? It really is mind-bogglingly difficult to step out of what we know, or better, what we think we know, even if we see clearly, as we now do, that our knowledge leads to breakage and discontinuity.

There is, I believe, an important albeit intuitive observation to be made here. It may not be possible for one to understand, come to terms with, and implement this more natural complex of hierarchies, that understanding may necessarily require more than one – person, ant, bacterium… perhaps even more than one species.

If re-oriented, the discoverable relations between system x and entity, state or event y – as those relations become actualized during the course of the interaction whereby y is acted upon as a sign of z for x – can become the focus of empirical and falsifiable scientific investigation. This may sound unworkably complicated, but it is the kind of “enmattered formulable essence” which Aristotle called for in relation biologically [self-] organized systems.

“A physicist would define an affection of soul differently from a dialectician . . . the former assigns the material conditions, the latter the form or formulable essence . . . Thus, [for the dialectician], the essence of a house is assigned in such a formula as ‘a shelter against destruction by wind, rain, and heat’; while the physicist would describe it as ‘stones, bricks, and timbers.’ But there is a third possible description which would say that it was that form in that material with that purpose or end. Which, then, among these is entitled to be regarded as the genuine physicist? The one who confines himself to the material, or the one who restricts himself to the formulable essence alone? Is it not rather the one who combines both in a single formula?” – Aristotle, De Anima

In discussions about a previous post in this series (Governance), a number of my peers have commented that it seems unfair and/or meaningless to compare hierarchical human cultures with anarchic ant mounds or bacterial colonies, because humans are much more complex, more evolved(note v), and because we are self-aware. Biosemiotics fortifies my argument for meaningful analogies between humans and ants in regard to self-organization and self-regulation (i.e. self-governance). Indeed, it would seem to say that because ants and bacteria are closer to the root of the biological system, they may be truer to (less abstracted from) reality.

i) There are references to “science of science policy (SoSP)”, but this is the realm of business and politics – not science. Neither politics nor business are sciences, and the term “political science” is a misnomer.

ii) The assertion “continual adaptive growth” implies continued growth. I find it difficult to accept the relation of those terms and see continued adaptation as real. Continued growth seems to belong exclusively to the realms of cosmology and economy – neither of which are real, but theoretic.

iii) Conceive – from Latin concipere (“to take”), from con- (“together”) + capio (“to take”).

iv) Technically, in modern biology, phenotype is the composite of an organism’s observable characteristics or traits, such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, phenology, behavior, and products of behavior (such as a bird’s nest). Phenotypes result from the expression of an organism’s genes as well as the influence of environmental factors and the interactions between the two. – Wikipedia

v) It is physically impossible for humans to be “more evolved” than ants or bacteria. Quite simply, living systems did not stop evolving with the emergence of Homo sapiens.

1a) D. Favareau, “THE EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY OF BIOSEMIOTICS”, chapter one of “Essential Readings in Biosemiotics”, (2010), p.2, Springer, http://www.google.si/url?q=http://www.psychologia.pl/lasc/Favareau.pdf&sa=U&ei=8MMUUvnQNqne4QTZpoEw&ved=0CD0QFjAJ&usg=AFQjCNHZFF0HLguVDQoX2L-WXS0zn9pliA

1b) D. Favareau, “Essential Readings in Biosemiotics”, (2010), preface (not available without login to publisher), Springer, http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/book/978-1-4020-9649-5

2) http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent525/close/goodbuddies.html

3) K.Oda and H.Kitano, “A comprehensive map of the toll-like receptor signaling network”, (2006), Nature, http://www.nature.com/msb/journal/v2/n1/full/msb4100057.html


In a paper describing the assembly of clathrin-coated vesicles, authors Schmid and Ford etal, concisely define the term matricity as “the interaction of a matrix with its environment”.(1) In the title of the current essay, I am using the term to connect the concept of volume transmission, introduced in the previous post, with the concept which is the subject of this post, known variously as transitional space, potential space, and the intermediate area.

Introduction – Cut-up technique
At an historical exhibit of William S. Burroughs “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius”(2), I was surprised to learn that Burroughs had studied medicine in Vienna, and I was fascinated to discover his grandfather’s Burroughs Corporation, due to my own interest in mechanical calculators (see “The mechanization of logic”, in The Laws of Thought). As a respectful tribute to Burroughs and Bowie, the current and recent essays are products of Cut-up technique.
William S. Burroughs – circa 1959

Synaptic pruning
Beginning in the earliest embryonic stage and lasting until approximately 2 years of age, new neurons and synapses are formed at an amazing rate, at times reaching 40,000 new synapses formed per second. By the end of this process individuals are left with far more neurons and synapses than are functionally needed or preferred. Synaptic pruning is the process by which these extra synapses are eliminated, thereby increasing the efficiency of the neural network. The process continues until approximately 10 years of age, by which time nearly 50% of the synapses present at 2 years of age have been eliminated. The pattern and timeline that pruning follows varies based upon brain region, but generally flows from the back to the front of the brain. Synaptic pruning is not random. Rather, connections that have been frequently used and thus strengthened through sensory and cognitive input as well as motor and cognitive outputs are spared. Those connections that have been weakly reinforced and are no longer functional, or those that are redundant with connections of adequate strength are ‘pruned’ away.(2)

From this we might allow the assumption that the phase space of the child mind has twice the capacity of the adult mind, little wonder that children are so profoundly playful and creative. Interestingly, the schizophrenic mind may be the product of synaptic pruning gone wrong; randomly severing rather than selectively pruning connections. In the science-fiction scene pictured below, the character David Bowman is removing memories and their connections, from HAL’s brain. HAL was already schizophrenic due to an internal program dichotomy, Bowman acts as pruning gone wrong.
“I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid.”
HAL 9000 – circa 2001

The metaMusketeer – 5th of three
Metaphorically, three musketeers were introduced in the previous post, represented as Fluid intelligence, Insight, and Flow. The fourth, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, is represented by Divergent thinking (see “Another three musketeers”, in Refraction of the State of Nature). Currently, we meet their synergistic entity, the fifth musketeer, represented by Transitional space.

Generally, epistemology draws a line between subject and object. In context of interpersonal perception and communication, this model is too simple. What exists between subject and object is in some sense a zone and in some sense a permeable boundary with constant traffic both ways, and with objects often multiply represented. In addition to the inner world and external reality, “there is the third part of the life of a human being, a part that we cannot ignore, an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute. It is an area which is not challenged, because no claim is made on its behalf except that it shall exist as a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet inter-related.”(4a)

It is important that we consider an area or space. It is not the sharp boundary-maintenance referred to as reality-testing. It is intermediate, an “illusion, which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion. Infants and children and adults take external reality in, as clothing for their dreams, and they project themselves into external objects and people and enrich external reality by their imaginative perceptions. More than the inner world, external reality, and the commerce between them, “we really do find a third area, an area of living which is derived from, and corresponds to the infant’s transitional phenomena.”(4b)
Donald Winnicott – circa 1970

“Lines drawn between the subjective, the transitional, and the objective, should be dotted, so as to indicate their permeability, rather like a cell membrane, across which all sorts of metabolites selectively move back and forth.” Here Winnicott may as well be describing volume transmission (see “A messy workspace”, in Refraction of the State of Nature)

The transitional object is decathected, “it becomes not so much forgotten, as relegated to limbo. It does not go inside nor does the feeling about it necessarily undergo repression. It is not forgotten and it is not mourned. It loses meaning, and this is because the transitional phenomena have become diffused, have become spread out over the whole intermediate territory between inner psychic reality (subjective reality) and the external world (objective reality), perceived as the whole cultural field – the space of play, creative symbolism and culture.”(4c)

The human experience is essentially concerned with the problem of relationship between what is objectively perceived and what is subjectively conceived. An intermediate area is allowed to the infant between absolute subjectivity (primary creativity) and speculative objectivity (objective perception), based upon reality-testing. Transitional phenomena represent the use of illusion, without which there is no meaning in the relationship between objects and the perception that they are external to the mind.(4d)

Left: “The mother’s adaptation to the infant’s need for feeding (via the breast) gives the infant the illusion that there is an external reality that corresponds to the infant’s own capacity to create.”
Right: “Of the transitional object it can be said that it is a matter of agreement between us and the baby that we will never ask the question: ‘Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?’ The important point is that no decision on this point is expected. The question is not to be formulated.”(4e)

Winnicott proposes that illusion is an inherent and fundamental aspect of human minds and that no individual ever finally solves the matter, instead it resolves to become the transitional space, which is taken to be a compromised understanding of objective reality. He talks here of the child’s weaning from the mother. Further, Winnicott suggests that a “theoretical understanding” of weaning, as the process of illusion-disillusionment, “may provide a theoretical solution”. Interestingly though, by his own logic, the hypothesized theoretical solution must, by definition, inhabit the transitional space.(4f)

Theory of Illusion-Disillusionment
I completely agree with Winni in that full acceptance of reality never occurs, because no human being is free from the strain of attempting to relate his or her subjective and objective realities. The only form of relief from the strain, says Winnicott, is provided via an intermediate and unchallenged area of experience. The intermediate or transitional space is a continuum including the flow of play, addiction (fetish and/or substance), religious experience.

Reading this, I am reminded of the flow of work, of sxolí or skolí, and of intellectus and prima principia (see Intellectus Principiorum, in Nous Kairos).

If an adult insists upon our acceptance of the objectivity of her subjective phenomena, then we diagnose her as insane. Conversely, common experience between members of a group in art or religion or philosophy or science, is the result of unclaimed (non insistent) communication, and group acknowledgement of individual corresponding transitional spaces.

“Transitional objects and transitional phenomena belong to the realm of illusion which is at the basis of initiation of experience. This early stage in development is made possible by the mother’s special capacity for making adaptation to the needs of her infant, thus allowing the infant the illusion that what the infant creates really exists. This intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in respect of its belonging to inner or external (shared) reality, constitutes the greater part of the infant’s experience, and throughout life is retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to creative scientific work.”(5)

Electron phase space or nipple?

It would seem that humans can never wean from Winnie’s transitional space, it is the zone of mind, the probabilistic phase space in which we envision complex systems self-organization and evolvution, it is the idea space in which creativity and madness and genius reside, it is the state of (human) nature. I shall guess that mathematics and geometry are transitional space in pure form, little wonder then that physics shows reality as fundamentally indeterminate.

1) E. Schmid, M. Ford, etal, “Role of the AP2 β-Appendage Hub in Recruiting Partners for Clathrin-Coated Vesicle Assembly”, (2006), PLoS Biololgy, http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0040262

2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Burroughs

3) E. Santos, C. Noggel, etal, “Synaptic Pruning”, Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development, (2013), Springer, http://www.springerreference.com/docs/html/chapterdbid/180648.html

4 a-f) R. Young, “POTENTIAL SPACE: TRANSITIONAL PHENOMENA”, The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young, (2005), http://human-nature.com/mental/chap8.html

5) D. Winnicott, “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena”, PLAYING & REALITY, (1971), http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/winnicott1.pdf