Stalking The Wild Multihumanism

Alternate (better) title: Becoming (multi)Human (thanks to Mark Frazier)

True and perfect Friendship is, to make one heart and mind of many hearts and bodies.
Pythagoras

fractal hand 480px × 408px

Perhaps the most momentous biological innovation next to the origin of life itself was when single-celled organisms evolved into multicellular ones. What were the specific survival advantages that promoted that transition? What were the small steps involved?

Per Wikipedia:

There are various mechanisms by which multicellularity could have evolved.

One hypothesis is that a group of function-specific cells aggregated into a slug-like mass called a grex, which moved as a multicellular unit. This is essentially what slime molds do. Another hypothesis is that a primitive cell underwent nucleus division, thereby becoming a syncytium. A membrane would then form around each nucleus (and the cellular space and organelles occupied in the space), thereby resulting in a group of connected cells in one organism (this mechanism is observable in Drosophila). A third hypothesis is that, as a unicellular organism divided, the daughter cells failed to separate, resulting in a conglomeration of identical cells in one organism, which could later develop specialized tissues. This is what plant and animal embryos do as well as colonial choanoflagellates.[6][7]   (Wikipedia/multicellular_organism)

In that context I’d like to discuss another possible phase-shift in the evolution of living systems that might be equally momentous– the multi-multicellular organism, and more specifically the multihuman organism or multihumanism. Theoretically, the multihuman organism is to the single-human organism as the multicellular organism is to the single-celled organism.

What would a multihumanism look like? How might it come about?

What it isn’t:

  1. It is not sociality or eusociality, although that is most certainly a prerequisite. Social structures or institutions like marriage, family, community, tribes, geopolitical states, religions, etc. are probably necessary precursors to multiorganism; but they are not it. Certain religious cults (YUCK!) may be as far as sociality alone can take us towards multihumanism. Hopefully those are no more than evolutionary false starts or dead ends.
  2.  It is not asymmetric inclusion. Most multicellular organisms are hosts to a microbiome of other organisms that are typically of lower phylogenetic types–viruses, bacteria, and even multicellular parasites.

Plagiomnium affine, Laminazellen, Rostock

A multiorganism is a union of multiple organisms of the same or comparable type at a level that is more profound and stable than sociality alone. A multiorganism also reproduces in kind.

Consider the slime molds. Their properties and behavior seem to fluctuate between that of a social colony of single-celled organisms and a true multicellular organism. Highly eusocial insects (ants, bees, etc.) seem to approach or border on being multiorganisms.

So, again, what might a multiorganism of humans or a human multiorganism — a multihumanism — look like?

Hopefully not like “The Human Centipede.”

Credit: South Park

After all, even the cells in our bodies are not “stitched” together that rigidly. There is a wide range between extremes of structural rigidity or solidity, and structural flexibility or fluidity, in organisms. Existing examples of semi-multiorganism such as slime molds or ant colonies are very fluid in their physical structure. A multihumanism might be even more so, and yet its structure or configuration would be more spatially, functionally, and temporally coherent and stable than anything produced by sociality alone and it would have the ability to reproduce itself in kind.

Nor should it be like the Borg (Star Trek).

Captain Picard as Locutus. “Resistance is futile–you will be assimilated.”

Like the Human Centipede, the Borg is another example of a very, very bad multihumanism design. The somewhat libertarian creators of Star Trek viewed all forms of collectivism (except perhaps the United Federation of Planets) with extreme skepticism.  So should we all as far as implementation details are concerned, but our skepticism should be of the scientific, open-minded type –not  the closed-minded reactionary type.

Any proposal or plan for becoming (multi)human constitutes an extraordinary hypotheses and as such demands extraordinary proof of safety, efficacy, and general utility. At the very least we need approval from The Consumer Report, the Underwriters Laboratory, and a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

No matter what else we might imagine or suppose, things like love, empathy, compassion, etc. are essential for a multihumanism that will be palatable to its human constituents and consistent with their best interests.

The self-actualization and well-being of a multihumanism should not come at the cost of corresponding needs of the individual constituents. There must be a net increase in happiness and well-being.

Any thoughts?

Poor Richard

[This essay is brought to you by coffee + Napoleon brandy]

Related PRA 2.0 Posts:

Portuguese Man o’ War: An Organism Made of Organisms?

The natural history of knowledge

Natural History

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commenting on:

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Does your dualism lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?
Unblock your inquiry with a dose of Peirce’s Elixir Triadic❢

Inquiry Driven Systems : Are There Apps For That?

In which Jon Awbrey raises the subject of the “Relationship between emergent-evolved systems and engineered systems.”

That points toward what I like to call the “natural history” of cognition, inquiry, logic, mathematics, language, etc. We might learn things from the natural, sequential development of such faculties and systems that could be either prescriptive or proscriptive for modern engineering practice.

I like looking for the earliest and simplest instances of things. Unfortunately the early natural history of most things is largely unknown. Take the evolution of the triangle or the number three in human cognition, for example. But even in the absence of historical data we might gain something from thought experiments or inferences about what the evolutionary sequence might have been in the light of things we do know about the human bio-computer.

Incidentally, thinking about threes and triangles, the basic transistor (perhaps a fairly close man-made analogue of a primitive neuron or a even a bit of DNA) that we now “print” with exotic nano-particle ink is a thing with a tripartite configuration. I guess such three-part structure actually applies to most switches, many instances of which greatly predate biology.

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Structure of a section of DNA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And commenting on a related post on Jon’s blog, Inquiry into Inquiry, Definition and Determination : 10 :

“Suffice it to say that a sign endeavors to represent, in part at least, an Object, which is therefore in a sense the cause, or determinant, of the sign even if the sign represents its object falsely.” — Charles S. Peirce

Typically symbols or signs are objects of higher compression (or lower resolution or complexity) than the objects they represent, but in some cases the reverse may be true.

I think of knowledge as consisting of networks of associations. If each association has a probability and each network has a geometry, then the structure of knowledge isn’t much different from the structure of physical stuff. Perhaps we will find a sort of quantum mechanics or geometrodynamics of knowledge.

Presumably the brain uses a wide variety of relatively specialized algorithms and heuristics (evolved and learned) depending on the kinds of signs, objects or data types and structures involved in a task.

fractal Von_Koch_curve

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How useful Is fractal geometry for representing recursive networks of objects-associations?

A mirror of silver and glass makes no critical analysis of what it reflects, but we think that few (if any) reflections are perfect. When light reflected from objects in our field of vision enters the eye a series of additional reflections are created by our optical and visual systems. The eye and brain apply adaptive-corrective algorithms all along the way. Among these are associations with previously recorded and computed objects, signs, rules, etc.that provide context and some critical analysis — a comprehensive (in some degree) grasp. Many “leaps and grasps” have occurred before we are consciously aware of an image at all.

What we know or comprehend about something is largely (wholly?) based on comparisons and contrasts (positive and negative associations) with other stuff we already know. Following the development of knowledge backwards to its origins, the original vestige of prior knowledge presumably comes somehow from the DNA and possibly other materials of the fertilized embryonic germ cell and this is inherited by the first neuroblasts that go on to form the brain.

Contrasts and comparisons (associations) are fundamental operations of the biochemical machines that run up and down the DNA chains making DNA repairs, copying it, building proteins based on it, etc. At the biochemical level reflections (associations) typically come in the form of positively or negatively matching shapes and electromagnetic charges.

I think we agree that the geometry of the basic unit of association is triadic. I tend to think of it most often in terms of two nodes and a connecting line, the basic unit of a network; rather than as a triangle. A triangle, it seems, has more than three parts (3 sides + 3 vertices + 3 angles + an enclosed area = 10 parts — at least!).

Poor Richard

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

The Meaning of Life

Comedy icon Charlie Chaplin
Charles Chaplin, one of my favorite philosophers
[updated 10-13-2012]
What do you want a meaning for? Life is a desire, not a meaning. Desire is the theme of all life. It’s what makes a rose want to be a rose…Charles Chaplin, “Limelight”

What is the meaning of life ?

What is the purpose of life?”

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Why do we ask these questions?

What human desire or urge are we seeking to fulfill?

But wait–what do we mean by “meaning”, and what purpose do we have for asking about our purpose?

In the universe of matter and energy, structures give rise to properties; structures and properties give rise to functions; and structures, properties, and functions give rise to capabilities. Each of these things can in turn feed back into the things it arises from, creating dynamically entangled networks of cause and effect.  Perhaps the meaning and purpose of life are defined or revealed by form or function.

“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” by Paul Gauguin

For billions of years before any life appeared on earth, the universe underwent a process of evolution (or what in the case of inanimate physics is often called self-assembly or self-organization) driven by the intrinsic structures, properties, and functions of space, matter, energy, and time.

Any particular case of structure that arises through mechanical self-organization can also be broken down again. In fact, it appears that each individual, localized structure that forms in the universe–atoms, molecules,  stars, galaxies, etc.–almost certainly shall be broken down eventually. And yet despite this, it also appears that the overall amount of structure and complexity created by self-organization and evolution has continued to progressively increase for billions of years.

As intelligent and imaginative creatures we may look back at all of this progressive self-organization and evolution and imagine that the purpose of matter and energy is to produce progressive overall organization and complexity within the universe; and the purpose of life is to continue and extend that trajectory of evolution into ever-greater forms of complexity and diversity.

Universe expansion timeline (image via WikiMedia)

Viewed retrospectively we can impute the purpose of creating progressive organization and complexity to the role that each individual thing plays in that overall progress. But we probably should admit that the word purpose had no meaning until that word was created by us. Human beings created that word and endowed it with a meaning of our own choosing for its utility to us.

As far as we know, the province of meaning and purpose is confined to the human consciousness or at least to living things with similar cognitive abilities.  When we ask “What is the meaning and the purpose of life?” we are currently limited to asking this question of ourselves, individually and/or collectively, and it is up to us to answer.

Is this anthropomorphizing the idea of purpose? Yes and no. Purpose carries a certain connotation we can’t quite shake: intentionality or design. The purpose of a typewriter is to print words on paper–that’s what its intended for– but it can also function as a doorstop or boat anchor. Function, on the other hand, can be said to be purely objective. There is no anthropomorphism in saying the function of the universe is to create progressive complexity and diversity and, eventually, biological life.  We can clearly see this function in 20-20 hindsight. There may be functions that escape our notice, but those which we notice can be cataloged empirically. So at present we can only ascribe the notion of purpose and meaning to conscious beings.

“You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. The significance of you will remain forever a mystery to you, but you may assume you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all your experience to the highest advantage of others.”
-R. Buckminster Fuller

There are many who consider the evolution of the universe to be purposeless, unintentional, and accidental; yet there are many others who consider the possibility of our particular universe being a “happy accident” to be nil. Back in the 1980’s MIT did a computer simulation that computed the odds of life evolving by chance to be roughly equivalent to the odds of a tornado hitting a junkyard and accidentally creating a fully functional Boeing 747.   However,  scenarios that include multiple cycles of universe expansion and contraction, or scenarios that include multiple concurrent universes (multiverse or M-theory and Membrane cosmology scenarios, for example), suggest that the evolution of a universe such as ours is not only mathematically possible but it could actually be inevitable. Nevertheless, in the absence of conclusive evidence one way or the other, I’ll remain agnostic. That question will not be answered here.

For the present, at least, meaning and purpose will be attributable only to conscious beings. That isn’t strictly anthropomorphic, because we can include animals other than humans as well as other possible intelligent beings unknown to us.

With the eventual evolution of life, living things acquire an additional aspect of function that might be called capability. Some capabilities confer reproductive or other survival advantages. The functions of flagella and cilia confer the capability of motility. Because the capability of motility confers survival advantages, motility becomes the implicit purpose of flagella and cilia. In the same way, the implicit purpose of a fin or a leg is mobility, the purpose of a mouth is to ingest food, and the purpose of a gill or a lung is to absorb oxygen. But are any of those things in some way more purposeful than the light mechanically emitted by a star or the rotation of a galaxy? It depends on the point of view. Who knows what purposes the cell may have for wiggling its flagellum?

(Structure of a typical bacterial cell)

When  is function promoted to the status of a purpose in our eyes?  I don’t exactly know–but it happens in some network or nodule of neurons within the human brain. Perhaps its when the cause and effect become obvious and consistent enough to one or more observers. Then we begin to think of a thing’s most common, customary, and characteristic function as its purpose.

Eventually, with progressively increasing cognitive capabilities, more and more thoughts, meanings, intentions, and purposes arise in the minds of more and more people. The things that people think, say, do, or make may then be considered to happen according to an intentional and explicit human purpose –despite the fact that many (if not most) results of human thought and action are unintended and unanticipated.

Much (if not most) human thought and activity is instinctive, reflexive, conditioned, unconsciously motivated or manipulated. Presumably, the implicit “purpose” of instinctive behavior is to confer survival advantages. But we only define that cause-and-effect relationship as a “purpose” after the fact, in retrospect, when we abstract it and consider it consciously in the context of our ideas about evolution and natural selection.

Like purpose, meaning is really a matter of associations– association of cause and effect, association of one pattern with another, association of a word or symbol with a concept, a memory, or a perception, etc.

However, if our cognitive capabilities continue to evolve without catastrophic interruption, we will continue to find greater and greater meaning in more and more things and to imagine, discover, and pursue greater and greater purposes for ourselves. As life evolves, so will meanings and purposes evolve. Thus a fundamental proto-purpose of human life is to understand, enhance and promote evolution–the progressive organization, complexity, diversity, and capability of the  biosphere.

Like a sprouting seed or fractal pattern, the proto-pupose of increasing complexity and capability will unfold and elaborate into new meanings and purposes without end. In the case of human beings, in our evolving capability for higher meaning and purpose, a primary focus should be the investigation and development of our most unique features and strengths–chief among these being our cognitive, technical, and social abilities.

If our broad purpose is to increase overall capability and utility (the greatest good) for the biosphere, by consciously promoting evolution in every way possible, how should we act? What kind of lifestyles and social institutions should we favor?

Information systems, quantum mechanics, molecular biochemistry, cognitive neuroscience, deep ecology, fractal geometry…the first generation to grow up with such mental tools is alive today. What can this add to a quest at least as old as the anatomically modern human brain, the question of the meanings and purposes of life? How can these new tools and capabilities help us to amplify the evolution of our culture and the evolution of the biosphere?

Human culture has always evolved more rapidly than our anatomy. But even the rapid progress of our culture has begun to fall behind the pace of changes and challenges we now face in our crowded societies and  our ravaged environment. Rather than rising to meet these challenges our social institutions show signs of actually breaking down and becoming less effective. Increasing competition over land, water, food, and other resources is likely to favor increasingly authoritarian institutions. While technology offers solutions to resource problems in theory, in practice it also favors greater stratification of wealth and power. If recent trends continue we may be faced with a future of highly authoritarian corporate neofeudalism (privatized governance).

Faced with such prospects, some of us should be choosing to explore the boundaries of the brain’s ability to examine and extend itself and to accelerate the evolution of culture with the same kind of intensity and effort that it takes for the military occupation of the Middle East or sending a spacecraft to the Moon.

Its time for groups of our most highly-developed and progressive people to start acting more like macro-organisms. This is analogous to the era when communities of single-celled organisms began to coalesce into multi-celled plants and animals that could reproduce true-to-kind.

We all know things we don’t know how to express in words. When we try, they often sound like cliches and tautologies. But sometimes  progress comes through persistent interaction with a friend, a partner, or a colleague. Sometimes two heads or three heads are better than one. Sometimes people who spend a lot of time together develop special kinds of connections. If we live or work together long enough and closely enough we may begin to establish what I call human broadband connections. This may evolve further as we keep house, interact with nature, travel, solve problems, share adventures, meet challenges and survive crises together, until we can finish each others sentences. We are beginning to realize that such intimacy can gradually change the chemistry and structure of the nervous system and allow for progressively increasing inter-personal communication bandwidth and synchronization. One example is menstrual synchrony.

Some might consider it to be an interpersonal spiritual connection, but it is a natural phenomenon that I would call bio-cognitive development (bio-cognitive = body + brain) and psycho-neuro-synchronization.

Bio-cognitive development partners are two or more peers engaging in an in-person practice that focuses not on learning facts but developing and practicing bio-cognitive skills such as high-bandwidth psycho-neuro-synchronization.  As psycho-physiological intimacy and coordination increases over time, the bandwidth and synchronization of the bio-cognitive communication increase.  Some of the coordinating feedback channels are:

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.Voice modulation, body language , airborne chemicals, and physical contact all stimulate the release of a wide array of neurotransmitters and other hormones throughout the body. These change the states of neural networks, nerves, and tissues throughout the body. That much is established fact.

Actual neural connection patterns in the brain

My additional hypothesis is that all these channels of communication can gradually come into greater synchronization between people. Its similar to the way higher data throughput is achieved between nodes in a communication network as they each synchronize to the same timing, states, and protocols. The rate at which this happens between people and the degree to which it happens depends on the innate psycho-physiological characteristics of the participants as well as their acquired proficiencies.  When well developed, interpersonal bio-cognitive communication bandwidth may change as much as the difference between a 300 baud asynchronous modem connection and a 10-gigabit broadband connection.

The importance of shared activity to developing bio-cognitive intimacy and high communication bandwidth can’t be over-emphasized. Important activities include, but aren’t limited to: singing and dancing, eating and drinking (especially alcohol), domestic housekeeping (especially kitchen work), manual labor (gardening/farm work, carpentry, etc.), professional work, artistic collaboration, dialog/debate, sports and recreation (camping is great), traveling, and adventure. Sharing risks and crises is especially effective for promoting empathy and trust. The more time participants spend together the better. Sharing living quarters and workplaces is especially effective, within the limits of intimacy fatigue. And of course if these things are done mindfully, with the intention of developing high-bandwidth intimacy, and with appropriate methods and skills, excellent results are possible. I have achieved such intimacy with several individuals and small groups who lived and worked together.

“There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

As my friend Natural Lefty points out, on some level this is common sense and I am merely stating a truism of social psychology: people who hang together synchronize their language, culture, and behavior to some extent. This can have survival advantages but it can also have negative consequences such as excessive conformity or “group-think”. It can promote cooperation or it can lead to intra-group or inter-group conflicts. Even members of a well-organized wolf pack may attack each other savagely. So the devil is in the details–what are the actual empirical effects of cognitive synchronization and development  in practice, on the ground. What effects prove positive and what effects lead to negative consequences. The process of distinguishing between the positive and negative results, maximizing one and minimizing the other, can be thought of as a process of quality control and continuous improvement.

To achieve continuous improvement and positive quality control, we should systematize and instrument our intentional community of self-study and self-development. We should consciously formalize our group dynamics in a context of systems science and rigorous experimental design. Process transcends objectives, but measurable objectives  provide important feedback for process improvement.

The prerequisites for bio-cognitive development and psycho-neuro-synchronization of groups are motivation, opportunity, and  resources. It is important that various conditions and tools are provided.

One way to provide conditions for bio-cognitive group development is  to establish venues for the kinds of activities mentioned above, in which those activities can be offered to the public and simultaneously shared by a residential staff group. Another approach is to establish intentional communities.  These can be urban or rural.

In addition to the shared activities mentioned above, some of the possible tools and techniques for bio-cognitive development and psycho-neuro-synchronization include:

These and many other tools can be used for increasing adult brain plasticity and promoting emotional and physiological states that enhance learning, memory, and neural network integration. Conducted in groups they can also promote  psycho-neuro-synchronization and bio-cognitive group intimacy.

All this provides a matrix for accelerated cultural and cognitive evolution that is independent of gross  brain anatomy. (Lets face it, we aren’t getting bigger brains any time soon.)  Nonetheless, there is good reason to hope that radical self-knowledge, bio-cognitive development,  neuro-physiological practice, and psycho-neuro-synchronization may all work together to promote developmental changes in the brain’s micro-structure and its operational patterns. We can try to examine and consciously modify various aspects of our irrationality, automaticity, implicit associations, cognitive biases, etc. With all these tools and techniques we may have a shot at developing a kind of persistent group consciousness capable of hosting perceptions and representations of reality and establishing behavioral innovations and capabilities well beyond the confines of the mainstream culture and language.

This just might help us keep each other alive a few decades longer.

Conclusion Pending

Of course survival, evolution, self-development, and progress are sensible objectives–but do they constitute a purpose for life? What is the purpose of the universe other than assembling itself? Who knows? The thing is, whether the universe has further purpose(s) or not, human beings have brains that let us (perhaps require us) to imagine and choose purpose(s) for ourselves.

The epicureans advise that we eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die. This particular expression is actually a conflation of two biblical sayings: Ecclesiastes viii. 15 (AV) “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry”, and Isaiah xxii. 13 (AV) “Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.” (answers.com)

Solomon, the wisest of the wise, advises us to be moderate in our good works, for anything else is vanity. But above all else, perhaps, he advises us to pursue the desires or our hearts and to be merry. And what makes most of us merry? The fullest possible development and expression of our gifts and our relations with one another and with the world. This is sometimes likened to blossoming, and its symbol is often the rose.

Utilitarians also advise that we seek the greatest good for the greatest number.

If you need more purpose and meaning than this, go discover it or invent it, and please copy me.

Poor Richard

Related:
(1:32 Fora.tv) The biological basis of human nature.

Randal_A._Koene heads the organization carboncopies.org (http://carboncopies.org/, co-founded with Dr. Suzanne Gildert), which is the outreach and roadmapping organization for action towards Advancing Substrate-Independent Minds (ASIM). Dr. Koene is a neuroscientist and neuroengineer, and he directs the Halcyon SIM (substrate-independent minds) and BCI (brain-computer interfaces) divisions, as…

Related PRA 2.0 Posts:

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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