Being (Multi)Human

Humans are eusocial. We form colonies and superorganisms as do ants and bees. These superorganisms are defined by and embodied as networks or webs of patterns that are recognized and recapitulated by their member organisms. Human superorganisms (multihumanisms) are sometimes vaguely understood as families, communities, tribes, colonies, corporations, states, etc.

fractal hand 480px × 408px

A superorganism may have metabolism, physiology, and cognition. Multihumanisms overlap or interpenetrate to various degrees with other superorganisms, including other multihumanisms, in their environments. Different multihumanisms have differing degrees of stability or permanence, pattern density, pattern regularity, etc. They also differ in the number of individuals of which they are composed. They range from whispy, ephemeral things to highly substantial and long lasting things. Many existing multihumanisms are still surviving from antiquity.  Besides their ability to interpenetrate and interact with each other, multiple multihumanisms can have family ties and family trees. Individuals can be related to the other members of a multihumanism biologically (via genes), cognitively (via memes), or both.

Participation in multihuman recognition, recapitulation, metabolism, cognition, etc. occurs mainly on a subconscious level. Dfferent members often play different, specialized roles. The participation of each member goes through a progressive learning or development process.

The idea of a multihumanism has been around in various forms for ages. I first wrote about it a few years ago in Stalking The Wild Multihumanism. But the degree to which multihumanisms are literally real and organic; and a simple, concrete way in which they have metabolism, physiology, cognition, and coordinated behaviors; came to me very recently in a dream. In this dream I found myself a stranger in a small urban center in what seemed like ancient India. I didn’t know how I got there and I was apprehensive and hypervigilant. Most of the people around me appeared to be peasants. The major architecture was grand but it seemed old and poorly maintained. The newer minor structures were ramshackle.

I was in an open square. I tried to watch and interpret the behavior patterns of those around me. Some were partaking from what seemed to be sparse public supplies of food and drink. I watched one man roll a small ball of food at the edge of an open platter. Once or twice he dipped the ball in a dish and then rolled it more with his fingers. In one hand he held a wooden or bamboo tube from which he occasionally drew a small stick. The tube seemed to hold a variety of these sticks. Each stick appeared to be inscribed with marks or symbols and I took them to be some kind of texts. Eventually I perceived a repetative pattern by which the man rolled and dipped the balls of food on the public platter, drank from a public gourd dipped in an open stone reservoir about one foot in diameter, and fingered the little sticks.

I watched other people, many dressed in various degrees of rags, come and go about the square and the smaller structures around it. I noticed they seemed to follow common paths. No one cut diagonally across an open area. I gradually perceived there were major paths and minor paths, and I could see the traces of some of these paths worn by bare feet into the stone paving of the square. They may have been following these same paths for hundreds or thousands of years by the look of the major buildings surrounding the square.

At first any moves or activities on my part drew attention. I realized that deviating from any of the normal, expected behavior patterns would reveal me as a stranger and perhaps, to some, as a threat. So I began to try to progressively fit in to the patterns I observed. I was a quick study, as I think most people are when motivated by paranoia and self preservation. Perhaps we owe our ability to rapidly detect and assimilate social patterns to our large brain size, or vice versa.

I listened carefully to the verbal communication around me, especially it’s tonal and emotional qualities; but since I had no language in common with these people, I became highly sensitized to their conduct, their body language, microexpressions, etc. I quickly became progressively more familiar with many kinds of patterns, patterns of patterns, and patterns within patterns. I was learning how to become part of a multihumanism. Eventually I would perceive that this city and its families, communities and tribes were multiple interrelated and interdependent multihumanisms.

I noticed that activity patterns were often closely related to the design of the spaces in which they took place. I realized that activities often involved combinations of breathing common air, eating and drinking common food and water supplies, and touching common materials, objects, structures, etc. In all these activities there was an incidental transference of messages, memes, energies, chemicals (including pheromones), microrganisms,  parasites (which may transfer blood from one person to another), and materials such as dirt, fecal material, etc. In these pattern recapitulations, combinations, and transfers I began to see the metabolism, physiology, and cognition of the multihumanisms.

As I learned to fit in with the social patterns around me in my dream, my participation in each particular pattern would become more automatic and subconscious over time. The assimilation process and the assimilated patterns are largely subconscious. We are only vaguely conscious of the multihumanisms in which we live and breathe and have our being. But many of the memes and narratives in which we believe most firmly were passed to us via the multihumanisms in which we subconsciously, automatically participate and which helped shape our individual development and cognition.

One of the main points that I took from my dream “revelations” was that the concept of human superorganisms was not just a metaphor or a potential in our possible future evolution, as I formerly thought. Instead the literal, organic existence of human superorganisms and the participation of a vast majority of human individuals in them by default goes back into the early prehistory of our species, and perhaps as far back as pre-human primates. Most of this remains invisible or at most metaphorical to us because our participation in our superorganisms is mostly subconscious.

We may need a great deal of research to make our superorganisms more visible and tangible for us. We need to improve our ability to recognize them, find their boundaries and overlaps, understand their biology and cognition, and discover the ways that our superorganisms mold us, their individual members.

 

Poor Richard

 

Related:

Stalking The Wild Multihumanism (PRA 2.0)

The Meaning of Life (PRA 2.0)

Living systems are open self-organizing living things that interact with their environment. These systems are maintained by flows of information, energy and matter.

 

 

 

 

A World With No One In Control « how to save the world

A World With No One In Control « how to save the world.

Filed under: How the World Really Works — Dave Pollard

“There’s an implicit presumption, in everything the media reports on, in our whining about governments and elites and bosses, that as civilization culture has grown ever larger and more global, the power and control of those at the top of the pyramid has grown correspondingly larger, and that they’re still in control, still worthy of praise and re-election and multimillion dollar bonuses when things go right, and still worthy of blame and overthrow and opprobrium when things go wrong.

“But there’s plenty of evidence that if that ever was the case, it isn’t the case now. One of the key attributes of complex systems is that, unlike merely complicated ones, because of the huge number of variables and moving parts and interactions and effects between and among them, we can never hope to understand what’s really going on in them, or predict or significantly influence what happens in them. They become larger and larger black boxes, ever more mysterious, until suddenly they produce great depressions, peak oil and runaway climate change, and no one knows how, or why, or how to mitigate or change them. Like Charles Barsotti’s cartoon above says, in complex systems nobody knows anything. And no one is in control.”  Read the rest…

[I agree with most of Dave’s epiphany about complexity, but another aspect of reality is proximity–we do know a little about a little, and we can predict or control a little about a little. So there is a place for small hopes and puny efforts, even in the context of the grand complexity and absurdity which Dave Pollard portrays most eloquently. The ego that wants to control or save the whole world is the same one that wants to renounce the world and absolve itself of all duty and responsibility. –PR]

:: Pema Chodron – On Shenpa :: (being “hooked”)

Mono a Mono?

Was monotheism an advance in human understanding?

What if the historical trend towards monotheism were principally reinforced by its utility as a pretext for authoritarianism?

The animism and polytheism (or pantheism) of early humanity did not preclude the appropriation of religious motifs and beliefs by sociopolitical institutions or hierarchies, but they may have made it more difficult for such hierarchies to grow into permanent monopolies of orthodox dogma.

The word orthodox is from the Greek orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) + doxa (“opinion” or “belief”, related to dokein, “to think”) (Wikipedia)

Perhaps ideology is a stage in the development of authoritarian culture analogous to monotheistic theologies. Each “brand” of theology and ideology rolls up and obscures a pantheon of diverse ideas. Converts don’t need to drill down very deeply.

Ironically, the growing influence  of science on society may contribute to a popular misconception of scientific or academic certainty that can be exploited to forge even tighter monopolies on culture and thought. The evil twin of science, pseudo science or “scientism,” is seductive to many.

Theology, ideology, and scientism lend themselves equally to the agenda of authoritarianism. The real war for the hearts and minds of humanity is not between the Right and the Left, or any of their many academic, theological or ideological proxies. The real war that underlies everything else is between orthodoxy and pluralism. Conformity and conflict are two sides of one coin. We need forms of civic equality and conviviality that are not based on uniformity.

Nature abhors a monoculture.

“The etiology is psychiatric” — Helen Caldicott

PR

Related: Town Hall Meeting: Class war, Culture war, or Holy war?

The 99% Solution

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sign of the Four opens with an alarming scene:

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.   With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.  Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.”

A little later in the story Holmes states, 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution.  Would you care to try it?”

Limitation of classical social movements

Classical social movements have often been limited by tunnel vision, cooptationastroturfing, diversion, attrition, intimidation, repression, legal injunction, corruption, constraints of philanthropy, etc. Meanwhile, today, the 1% (the looter elite), are attacking the 99% on every side,  capturing every institution of society, and privatizing every resource on the planet.

“America is in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on the brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. But like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos.” (Xander Drax, The Phantom)

What cultural transformation has lacked is an organic form, an embodiment tailored to chaos: a stigmergic swarm, or a slime-mold for example.

“When food is abundant a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply, slime molds congregate and start moving as a single body.” (Wikipedia)

A Slime mold growing on a beer can

A Slime mold growing on a beer can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 99% Solution

  • The 99% Solution is not a “mob”. It is a self-organizing organism, a “complex adaptive system“.
  • The 99% Solution is an emergent cultural slime mold that can engulf countless separate islands of class, political identity, and single-issue activism.
  • The 99% Solution has the potential to initiate and sustain a fundamental cultural phase transition.
  • The 99% Solution can assimilate (but does not require) leaders, agendas, advisers, critics, and philanthropists. It only requires active participants.

“You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

(Star Trek)

Poor Richard

  • The Co-Intelligence Institute works to further the understanding and development of co-intelligence. It focuses on catalyzing co-intelligence in the realms of politics, governance, economics and conscious evolution of ourselves and our social systems. We research, network, advocate, and help organize leading-edge experiments and conversations in order to weave what is possible into new, wiser forms of civilization.

Videos

The Origins of Human Nature

Charles Robert Darwin, Natural Selection from ...

Charles Robert Darwin, Natural Selection from Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human cultures are as much a product of the human genome (and epigenome) as are individual human beings.  Genes influence “human nature” and human nature influences culture (and the reverse). Charles Darwin guessed this 150 years ago, but only recently has scientific evidence reached a critical mass in support of a general model of multilevel selection. Multilevel selection is a set of dynamic and recursive interactions between various “units” of natural selection such as individual selection and group selection.

“A unit of selection is a biological entity within the hierarchy of biological organization (e.g. self-reproducing molecules, genes, cells, individuals, groups, species) that is subject to natural selection. For several decades there has been intense debate among evolutionary biologists about the extent to which evolution has been shaped by selective pressures acting at these different levels. (Wikipedia)

In theory such co-evolutinary relationships between units of selection could extend from the molecular level all the way to the biosphere as a whole. Mathematical models for such generic co-evolution are works in progress, with the current concentration of effort directed at the individual-group level. In “The Social Conquest of Earth” (amazon.com),  Dr. E. O. Wilson (Wikipedia) describes for a broad audience the available evidence for an individual-group model of multilevel selection including its ecological and social aspects. Among other things, multilevel selection offers a framework for understanding the evolutionary origins of the “varieties of human experience”, including the effects of natural variation and selection on different “phenotypes” of human personality, morality, and culture. As a rule of thumb (an admitted oversimplification), Wilson attributes “selfish” characteristics to individual selection and altruistic or cooperative characteristics to group selection. The constant, dynamic tension between these “magnetic poles” of our nature may account for much of our cognitive and cultural dissonance. I’ll close my introduction to this topic with the final words of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:

“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Poor Richard

Charlie Rose interviewing Dr. Edward Wilson (two-minute excerpt): http://youtu.be/j4Ltmy4DvNg

Videos:

“The Righteous Mind”Jonathan Haidt, C-SPAN BookTV:

“Jonathan Haidt, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, presents his thoughts on the current political and social divisions that he contends separate the Left and the Right. The social psychologist examines the origins of these fissures and explains that people’s moral intuition, the initial perceptions we have of others, propagates the idea that people who view the world differently from how we do are wrong.” (full video)

Video excerpt (10 min):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHSAXyBg8h0 How do Conservatives and Liberals See the World? (vimeo.com)

“Bill Moyers and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.”

Know Then Thyself

by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast; In doubt his mind and body to prefer; Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks to little, or too much; Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d; Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d; Created half to rise and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all, Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d; The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

TIMN in 20 minutes: social evolution — past, present, and future, (YouTube.com) This video offers an overview of the TIMN framework: its focus on social evolution (past, present, future), its construction around four cardinal forms of organization (tribes, institutions, markets, networks), its system dynamics, and its future implications.

Dr. Gabor Maté: Attachment and Brain Development (46:21) (youtube.com) and a longer version

1:21:49 Dr. Gabor Maté

Atheism 2.0

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Alain de Botton is a philosopher with some very constructive suggestions for improving secular society by selectively plucking  useful heirlooms from the traditions, practices and organizations of religion while leaving the rest. He surveys the cultural and social capital of three major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism– and suggests some assets worth salvaging.

Leeds Student Radio Web page article about the...

(credit: Wikipedia)

Botton isn’t asking atheists and agnostics to kiss and make up with religion. He is a non-believer. He may not be the confrontational type, but he’s no double agent with a secret religious agenda, as some atheists might fear. His mission is to initiate a humanistic renaissance in secular society that will bring us up to speed in some areas where religions may have superior social and cultural know-how.

“The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction, but as I look at secular society, I see how we’ve been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is.”

“Religion has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.”
“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

– – – –

Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.(Amazon.com)

– – – –

Religion for Atheists

“It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.”

Note: I have not read the book (so it could be awesome or awful), but based on the interviews and articles below, I like this guy. I think he is measured, pragmatic, and non-polemical; and he has one of the most constructive arguments I’ve heard in a very long time.  It strikes me that the approach taken by Botton could go a long way towards ratcheting down the hostility between atheists, agnostics, and our superstitious brothers and sisters :). It is the kind of thing that might be a useful balm for folks in the Occupy and 99% movements who struggle to maintain solidarity with each other despite differences that are sometimes deeply rooted.

Interviews

My favorite interview is from C-SPAN’s Book TV. You can view the whole 58-minute  After Words interview with Chris Hedges here or watch a ten-minute segment below, followed by other interviews from You Tube.

BookTV: Alain de Botton and Chris Hedges

Alain de Botton on atheism 2.0 and what secular ideologies can learn from religion

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton says non-believers can learn a lot from religion – without believing in God.

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

 

Why America Failed

[Book TV (CSPAN) also covered this recently.]

In Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline Morris Berman makes some great points, such as:  “Education” and “communication” per se (exposure to facts, rational arguments, etc.) can not produce fundamental changes in US society.

The influence of biases in “human nature” (e.g. emotion, cognitive biases, etc.) on our national identity, cognition, and social behavior are too deeply rooted. No matter how hard we try to “communicate” and “educate”, the breakdown of  society is largely an irreversible trend. The behavioral adaptations that are demanded of us if we are to survive the rapid changes in our population, environment, etc. are all but ruled out by the cognitive biases built into us by evolution.

PR
C-SPAN video: Book Discussion on Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline

“Morris Berman talked about the third book in his trilogy on the decline of the American empire. In this talk, titled “The Way We Live Today,” he argued that self-interest trumping the common good has led the U.S. astray.”

Other C-SPAN videos with Morris Berman

Social evolution: An ounce of allegory vs a pound of theory

Society in our modern world is little different from the earliest societies. There are four elements: sheep, shepherds, wolves, and scavengers. The sheep are we the people. The shepherd is government, which leads, protects, and annually shears the sheep. The wolves are the corporations which run the sheep half to death, rip out their throats, drink their blood, and feed upon their flesh. The wolves leave enough scraps to feed assorted cadres of buzzards, crows, rats, and other scavengers. All have co-evolved and are mutually co-dependent. Neither the shepherds nor the wolves will free the sheep. Sheep can only escape this tightly integrated system by becoming cooperatively self-reliant.

In another analogy, the liberal class is like the Eloi in H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”. The docile and child-like Eloi would awake each morning to find food, clothing, etc. provided for them in the night while they slept. But a few of their number would also be missing each morning. The Morlocks (who lived underground) manufactured and provided all the necessities to the Eloi as they slept, but they also carted some of them away each night to feed upon them in the underground city.

There is no political or economic theory that can save the Eloi. All that can save them is for them to learn how to provide for themselves independently of the Morlocks, and to learn how to protect themselves.

This is a question of works, not words, and tactics, not theory.

Work is a matter of effort and skill, chipping away the marble or wood one blow at a time. Work is pragmatic, interdisciplinary, and non-ideological; with artistry, resource management, critical path management, management by objectives, and continuous improvement. (This sounds like a gruesome mashup of creativity, labor, and corporate culture.) Oddly enough, there once were artisans… and after a while there were workshops with masters and apprentices… and then there were schools and guilds and societies… and eventually there were corporations. This was ever-increasing collectivism. The left might be happy with this except for the now-gratuitous regimentation of life, commodification of work, and alienation from nature that came with it.

On the Hack the State site, Toni Prug writes:

Armed revolutionaries and anarchists hate the state. Social democrats want to be the state. I say we better hack it. [W]e need to Hack the State (hack as reuse by clever re-purposing of what’s already here), to make it do what we want it to do. (via Hacking the State, P2P Foundation Blog)

For the pragmatic, eclectic approach to social change I think the term “hack the state” works beautifully — at least for the digital activists and the internet-savvy white collar workers. Maybe not so beautifully for “mom and pop” or the blue-collar workers here in the US.

But as an ex-IT guy I like “hacking” and I would go right down the line hacking capitalism, hacking the corporation, hacking the bank, hacking property, and even hacking the commons.

Curiously, many such “hacks” already exist in the history of pragmatic, progressive movements in the US. But neither the old-school socialist terminology nor the new-school computer hacking terminology sit well with much of “Middle America”.

My own tentative umbrella term for interdisciplinary hacking of capitalism, corporations, banking, property, and democracy is “Green Free Enterprise”.

Besides cooperative self-reliance and provisioning, to rise above being sheep we the peeps need to protect ourselves from the predators in society, whether they be pirates, tyrants, corporations, or corrupt bureaucrats.

When social animals and people first began to populate the earth they quickly found strength in numbers. Eventually our experienced pioneer ancestors invented the wilderness stockade to keep out unwanted intruders of both the four-legged and two-legged kinds.  But the ultimate enemy often came from within the tribe, city, or state in the form of predatory elites either in merchants’ garb or royal attire–the over-zealous wolves and shepherds and, worst of all, the unholy alliances of the two.

What philosophers of the commons often seem to want looks a lot like feudalism to me–what I might call peer-to-peer feudalism. Maybe that’s fine, but from Aristotle’s Athens to the Soviet communes it keeps turning out that mankind’s relationship with land and with materials and with tools is at its highest an intimate, personal relationship like that between a husband and a wife or a mother and child.  Managers of  giant Soviet farms found that when they gave each working family a quarter-acre of personal land, the yields on those private family plots were ten times what they were in the collective fields. Similarly, one of the most generous and community-spirited men I ever knew would not let another person handle many of the tools of his trade. In many families and communities there are “common” tools for laypeople, but many (if not most) artists and craftspeople have very intimate, personal, and private relationships with their tools. Especially where any sharpening is involved.

Again and again, socio-economic systems and institutions that work best in real life seem to be hybrid, hacked systems where there are checks and balances between the individual and the collective good; where these checks and balances evolve bit by bit over great time (notwithstanding the rare but natural socio-economic phase transitions that sometimes occur) through the agency of both obvious and ambiguous forces that are as complex as the forces of geology and evolution.

This is not to say that unguided, natural social evolution is the best thing. The point is that when we ply our arts, crafts, and trades to the canvass of culture, to the carpentry of social institutions, and to the husbandry of nature we must respect the natural, biological and psychological complexity and diversity of all life; and not the least our own lives; and be informed by the deep, fractal complexity of natural ecology and the broad diversity of form and fit that emerge from natural selection.

Just as we can think globally and act locally, we can think theoretically but act pragmatically and observe empirically.  We must continuously refit theory to the facts on the ground and in the field, confident that whatever works in practice can work in theory, but not vice versa. We must be more committed to explicit, measurable objectives than to methods or even to noble (we think) principles. There is only one essential noble principle–“the golden rule.”

The rest is sausage making.

Poor Richard

Perrenial Wisdom vs Cultural Graffiti

Many of the earliest known teachings about wisdom and self-knowledge include methods of meditation and breathing. We find these teachings in every culture around the world, past and present. We can trace the teachings back to every dead culture that we have evidence for. It is possible that these teachings originate before writing, and perhaps before language itself. The wisdom teachings we know today as meditation and breathing methods may go back to our earliest cognitive experiences of  self-awareness, even before the dawn of Homo sapiens.

Although such ancient teachings may have had independent origins in many different times and places, I suspect that all these teachings about meditation and breathing may have a common source, and that source might actually be our own DNA.

There are numerous instinctive patterns of breathing and mental states that are suitable to different types of activity.

Although there is probably some cognitive “wisdom” correlated with all such possible states, here I only want to focus on the state of being at rest or repose or prior to sleep; and in particular the state of intentional self-calming and relaxation on a mental and physical level concurrently. This could be characterized as a process of progressive relaxation and breathing in a characteristic way. Although the optimal patterns, processes, and progressions are only vaguely defined, they include

  • Synchronization of circulation, muscle action, organ functions, neural networks, etc.
  • Process cycles, oscillators, timing and re-timing cascades
  • Self-massage of internal organs and muscle sets. Optimizing circulation.
  • Balance and equilibrium approached progressively, step by step, through repeated cycles of stretching (inhalation) and relaxing (exhalation).

Muscles are like taffy. They tend to stiffen into any long-held position. Stretch-relax cycles plasticize the tissue, allow stress and balance redistribution, equilibrium.

Three stages:

  1. Beginning: The first step is mental, attention turns from thought to quiet observation of body, muscles, breath, etc.
  2. Middle: as tensions are located and relaxed, the breathing pattern gradually gets deeper, larger, and more synchronized. The deep breathing creates passive mobilization of joints, alternate muscle sets, and organs. All gradually assume their ideal positions and orientation.
  3. Ending: When all the tissues and organs have experienced a sufficient period of rhythmic flexing and have assumed their ideal configuration, the breathing gets shallower until motion becomes minimized at a level just adequate to provide sufficient blood/air material exchange in the lungs to support the resting, or idling, body and brain.

This type of meditation and breathing is ideal for introducing sleep but can also be practiced as a “tune up” in many other situations.

These three stages of progression probably have many subdivisions that could be teased out by subtle physiological measurements.

At each point along the progression of this process, with each breath, there may be an optimal rate of inhalation and exhalation, an optimal volume of expansion and contraction, and an optimal pause in transition. These parameters can not be prescribed by theory or taught in any exact, static, one-size-fits-all paradigm. It can only be anticipated that such optimums exist and that they can and must be directly sensed by each individual in each moment.

Each species presumably has it own distinctive set of patterns for this process of retuning or toning the brain and body.

These instinctive patterns have not been invented by us. They have been invented by evolution and are only crudely understood by the mind and by the traditions that attempt to “teach” them.

Our cognitive attempts to recognize, ponder, and practice this process consciously could possibly be the very first example of organic biology percolating up into mindfulness and ultimately taking shape as individual and collective human wisdom.

Cognitive models of these phenomena vary. Many are crude and take off in tangents influenced by many possible agendas. Most end up in “the weeds”. But as long as the core elements of calming thought, turning attention to finding and releasing tensions, and expanding breathing cycles remain, each individual has an opportunity to follow a gradient in these perceptual “tastes” towards the “zone” of equilibration and instinctive “master rhythm”. This process may involve not only joints, tissues and organs but perhaps even cellular and sub-cellular processes. It may also involve rerouting neural network/module inputs and outputs in novel ways that increase functional neural integration and/or re-order the functional dominance hierarchy of one area or network over another. One example would be new or increased mapping of the motor, parasympathetic, or proprioceptive neural networks onto the neocortex. The neocortex is the newest and outermost layer of the brain that seems to be all about integrating, organizing, and coordinating older brain areas in new ways. Practices such as yoga and tai chi may also help to increase brain integration in a similar way.

What makes this authentic wisdom is that it is self-knowledge gained through a combination of self-observation and rational thought. It is a combination of instinctive biological activity with conscious cognitive functions in which each enhances the other. The instinctive pattern of breathing becomes associated with a passive but observant mental state and the conscious mind becomes able to initiate and facilitate the instinctive activity. Such combinations promote new and higher cognitive and biological integrations. I think this is the reality base and the functional nucleus of most forms of yoga, meditation, and other “spiritual” practices. Unfortunately, this core reality often gets obfuscated or entirely lost in inappropriate language, ideas, and extraneous associations. Then the potential for wisdom is perverted into its own opposite, magical thinking and folly.

I guess this is my non-mystical version of the “perennial philosophy“.  People in all cultures and all ages find a few common truths hidden in plain sight and proceed to embellish them with all sorts of extraneous associations drawn from the culture, natural history, and language of the respective place and time. This process further buries and obscures what was always hidden in plain sight under more and more layers of cultural graffiti.

The human brain is brilliant at connecting dots. List three facts on a blackboard and anybody can instantly make up a story about them. In fact, we can’t help it. We have to make up a story. Our brains are wired that way. The problem is that we go around spontaneously and compulsively connecting all kinds of dots that really shouldn’t be connected. Pretty soon we are all lost in the tall weeds of our own bullshit.

“Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Did Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday really say that–or not?

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2010 posts:

Know Then Thyself

by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast;
In doubt his mind and body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks to little, or too much;
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself, abus’d or disabus’d;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

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