Intelligent Relating in a Complex Emergent Universe

MY COURSEBeginning Big Intelligence, in development

MY QUORA contributions (Oct 2017 and Jan 2018)

Answer and Comment archives


  • The Existential Kitchen – Pretense-free recipes, whole-some ingredients, all in good taste.
  • Celebrate Mind – Encouraging a disciplined approach to framing reality, mind, self, and other as complex systems. Supporting those who want to balance and amplify the capacity of mind to enhance joy, courage, and presence in the face of complexity.

MY TREATISES (2003 to present)

Notes from the Existential Underground: The Universe as a Complex Emergent System, Cosmos & History (Oct 2016) – see full journal issue or view

ONT eBook Screenshot Collection (Dec 2015) – view

Implications of a Novel View of Cosmological Energy Density and Pressure Relationship (2003) – view

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Mind Body Attention with M. Fogelman (Dec 2017, written) — brief bio; background and context about ONT; personal practices and awakening

Completely Ordinary with J. Lott (Mar 2016, video) — we riff about spirituality and science

Buddha at the Gas Pump with R. Archer (Feb 2016, podcast or video) — mainly about personal transformative experiences, very little discussion of my work and ideas

MY ARCHIVE Collection (2013-2017)

Me think’st thyself trivial: Deconstructing The Corrupt Spirit

“Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound when majesty falls to folly.”

— from  King Lear by Shakespeare

Corruption is a scourge, and all kinds of systems are vulnerable to it. Why? Is it something insidious about human nature? If so, is it true about me?

Corruption is not a moral failing but rather a shared vulnerability. When the human spirit does not develop immunity to mental triviality, the systems it creates or is obliged to respond to get fueled not by the fullness of reality but by the power of terminal belief streams. What do I mean by that?

Think of a category of beliefs centered on terminal outcomes, including but not limited to — carnage, cut-throat competition, end times fantasies, annihilation scenarios, suicide, and on the more delicate side, the rewards of heaven. The Corrupt Spirit finds itself engaging terminal belief streams in part because they elevate the triviality of existence that quietly vexes us.

Interconnected global waterways is a decent metaphor for the non-terminality of beliefs that infiltrate the uncorrupt spirit and the coherent system that fuel it. Picture all waterways that are, at a given moment, in a direct line of flow to the ocean. Along with the oceanic waters, these thoughtful waterways make up a special kind of continuity that, from my experience, is possible to recreate through existential contemplation that is relational.

What Does It All Mean?

Meaninglessness or, within society, the dead-endedness of echo chambers and self-defeating power structures, are tough on the spirit. For adults, questions of deep meanings, when they can’t be avoided or understood immediately, often bring up nagging, irritated feelings, or sometimes a foggy, soft-brained unease. Subtle reality dictates that such reactions form feedback systems that tend to ensnare us within frank social dysfunction.

As children, our minds develop in part by engaging in daring existential reflections, often quite spontaneously. Ya’acov Darling Khan in his recently published book Jaguar in the Body, Butterfly in the Heart recalls his most compelling  ask as a child — “If God created us, what created God?”

There’s a vulnerability there though. We encounter profoundity and then might well be met with adults who react as if life is a game or by soliloquizing about the profundity of their own agendas. Our wide-reaching observations, concerns, and questions about what it means to exist get sidelined or, worse yet, silenced.

At such moments, the search for meaning and existential truths feels like it betrays us as social creatures, though as adults we have the chance to notice that nothing could be further from the truth. To the degree that we give in to defeat and disappointment at this pattern of trivialization, our thinking in relation to reality itself becomes corrupted. The effect on the mind and self being conceived by it is, paradoxically, self-defeating as it contract self-image to mere influence-peddling and “playing the system.”

Who Me? 

Corruption of spirit begins with supplanting the innate desire for meaningfulness with the socially guided desire for influence. Ironically, focusing squarely on influence actually handicaps our minds, making us more likely to get entranced by terminal belief streams and keeping us isolated from a robust experience of reality in all of its complexity and subtlety.

At its best, self-image is an existentially robust opportunity. In contracting it, we inadvertently depress our desire for existential meanings and train ourselves instead to engage only with staid rational meanings.

When we go so far as to apply such a limited standard of self-image to others, we negate those in society or wider nature who are denied influence in our spheres of experience, perhaps though no fault of their own.

We get so used to doing this that we forget to reflect on what it means existentially that we have the capacity to be a purveyor of human potential and expresser of values,  not from a boastful or cynical adult perspective but from a big picture perspective relished by our daring and existentially inspired inner 8-year-old.

Uncorrupt spirit and the questions that give rise to such an experience are nourishment for the self, especially in the context of learning what it means to imagine the self and society we desire into Being and even to get our game on, so to speak, in a world that is in fact piquing us with paradoxes and endlessly meaningful curiosities.

(Sm)Art : Emotional Systems

To a large degree, modern troubles in our systems of government, education, and well being have had a tendency towards, let’s call it, intermittency. The kinds of troubles your car mechanic hates to be asked to diagnose and fix!

Well, intermittency no more. The U.S. is speeding down an unknown road with a sea of dashboard warning lights aglow at sundown.

So what have we been doing? Avoiding unpredictability and, to justify underlying stupidity, scapegoating emotion.

Most of us interpret emotion as one if not the major source of human unpredictability. There’s been little incentive to view emotions as anything but irrational. Given cultural stories built within a framework of intermittency, emotion becomes a natural, albeit rudderless place to lay our pleasure, and our pain.

Add to that the physiologically supported, emotionally safe, often unconscious strategy of coping and, more often than not, we tolerate dysfunction and even carry on expecting more of the same.

Damned Emotional Well Being

I had an amusing discussion recently. My teenage son’s door is often closed. My daughter who is 8 is appropriately curious and affectionate toward her brother. This day, I was particularly keen to stay away from what might have been the same old, what a closed door might mean conversation we often have. Instead I said, “Let’s pretend we don’t know what’s behind the door.” I made a thinking noise. We began telling vignettes about what might be behind the door. Mythical creatures mostly. Then we got to the real nitty-gritty — was what we were imagining going to lead to avoidance or engagement?

Illuminating for me.

When a mystery is discussed with a sense of negative foreboding, the imagination also evokes a healthy layer of dread or avoidance (of the door itself).

How would you behave differently (in relation to the door), if the mystery were disclosed with a sense of positive anticipation and possible engagement? The answer to that question is the best measure of emotional well being I can think of.

Emotional well being is possible, though not so much when your reality model not only keeps doors to unseen mysteries shut (aided by reactive imagination) but nails a warning sign on them. “Beware emotions lurking within: unreliable, irrational, unpredictable.” All things that are the stuff of dirty bathwater on a bad day. On a good day, the same characteristics that make up much of the baby of creativity, innovation, and inspiration. We tend to forget the mystery of those.

When in Doubt, Stare at Art.

As we mature, dread and foreboding around closed doors disguises itself as wise cynicism. AKA tautologically rational intelligence. AKA too smart for one’s own good stupidity.

Beliefs built around the shut doors in life happen on an individual level. They also happen at organizational and cultural levels.

What would happen if we became curious about models in which emotions are not inherently dysfunctional? What too if we made room for emotionality to be present in the “experiences” of systems as well as individuals? Difficult to contextualize given current grounds for reality models.

It must be considered though because an endless parade of emotional work for individuals could never replace an existential articulation of both individuals and systems as having emotion-related behaviors that are predictable. The key is to understand that predictability, emotional or otherwise, need not be conceived only in terms of material outcomes. The intersection between meaningfulness and prediction is more important than exactness and prediction and can and should be grasped through relational structuring.

At present, reality models exclude emotionality for both individuals and systems. I suggest individuals’ emotions have an equivalent in existentially robust systems. They form feedback between self and other in terms of direction arising from abstraction.

Next, I needed a way to capture for you this kind of emotional intelligence, which is communicated in unique terms within ONT’s relational structuring. While the structure is tricky to intuit, the states of Being it incorporates are not. I took the subset of states in ONT that are related to abstraction and focus (how relational meanings are embedded in systems) and applied colors and patterning to the structural parts to make art.

I call it (Sm)Art.

Cowgirl Science (It’s a Ramble)

Super-Compliance Mob?

I’m flummoxed at the idea of a science march on Washington, DC. The first ever is slated for April 22, 2017. The theme seems to be equally climate change and the promises of science. Scientists, especially the young, are itching to show their moxy. Forget waiting for make-believe super-heros to save the planet. It’s time for Super-Compliance Mob to do the job.

Scientists achieve a position the hard way — they prove it, and then recruit others to take heed. And generally, there are sufficient reinforcements for said proofs and positions, and science and the policies it informs march forward in a sort of intangible but traceable provisphere.

Like other professional social endeavors for nerds, this is pretty much how excited groups of scientists behave. Maybe you haven’t worked with many, but I have. They’re not rebels.

They also tend to be reluctant to personally promote super-power notions about knowledge and technology. The media, however, is not. Scientists, like other figures thrust into media spotlight, get shocked and awed into whatever hero mantle is offered. So what about the current movement for scientists to march for political purposes? Given the current administration’s rough-shod tactics with facts as well as the media, I imagine they aim to evoke the awesome (to them) power of the scientific Super-Compliance Mob.

The ironies and oxymorons … well, striking. Rebellious super-compliers gathering to get a rogue executive branch to bend to proven common sense approaches to reducing the negative impacts of human technologies on the Earth.

I hope the Mob has better bearings on this than I do.

Is “Bad Science” Killing Canaries?

At least three dead canaries litter the science-media mine of human existential truths. Two are already publically attributed to the specter of “bad science” so I’ll tackle both at once. These poor birds are Climate Change and Vaccine Policy.

Debates on both topics (more like bombing campaigns at this point) hardly belong only to science or the media that reports on it. Yet, that’s where the focus squarely sits. It’s as if, because of science’s association with objectivity, it can and should be used by the public and/or for the public good to avoid certain inherently mysterious (ahem, unknown) parts of existence. There’s no way to get around the fact that not-knowing is experienced at an emotional level not unlike loss, hurt, or rejection. Plus, no matter how deep one’s faith in God or the natural world may be, put face-to-face with a problem that you believe could have or should have been prevented, there’s an angry panicked person inside you demanding objective help in “fixing it” or “fixing them” because otherwise someone’s got to take the rap for the bad guidance.

Science has played along, to its own detriment I would argue, accepting the misplaced mantle of purely objective predictor and fixer. Media shows up to reinforce the helpless, angry, and panicking by accepting “life is not messy when you do x, y, or z” as sufficient reporting. We the public participate by peppering our belief systems with a hodge-podge of objective measurements and predictions we gleen randomly, then use to relinquish any requirement for responsible communication with those who’s experiences are different than ours, or that are mysterious in and of themselves. Within a given debate, we are prone to lean on wholesale defense of or detraction from scientific prediction, proving (wrongly) our own superior objectivity.

Scientific research and prediction is an effective and necessary shield from some of the messiness of being human. Still, to the extent that we take an escapist ride on the science-media gondola ride to the top of the mountain of objectivity, we avoid the truths of human existential matters, which is that they reflect tough choices mixed with actual, unavoidable unknowns in life. From a personal standpoint, a lifetime of avoiding confusion or being wrong or lost hardens our souls to soft knowledge, that is, what really matters in our own brief existences.

To break the pattern of defending alarmist climate change positions, we must find paths to engage personal values sharing about climate change and pollution beyond our own provispheres. In alarmist public health debates, the turn must be towards acknowledging that people have not only negative experiences but outcomes within a overly pressurized modern medical system like that in the US. Modes to communicate that are both value-based and two-way are needed if we are to tap the well-spring of wisdom from the diverse and telling stories among us — they are what truly help us bridge the unavoidable and precious public/private divide. Science and the media can help by starting to acknowledge and contextualize the “bad science” specter. What that will look like is hard to say.

Which brings me to a third poor bird: Emotional Intelligence.

Ever since Daniel Goleman brought emotion into debates about intelligence with his 1995 book, science has been scrambling to prove, or disprove, the role of emotion — to no avail. The untold story is this: the only vindication for scientists, such that they might continue to claim to objectively deliver existentially untainted facts and analyses, is that they prove themselves utterly emotionless. See the robot-scientists-are-good-scientists catch?

So far science has been able avoid the problem by pretending this poor bird does not actually exist. Emotionality is allowed to be a truth that has no proof, a tool-less utilitarian solution. It’s framed as a sort of ephemeral additive intelligence without consequence on the other objective kind of intelligence. The question of emotionality leading to “bad science” is avoided, a band-aid on a imaginary dead bird.

As for good science that incorporates emotional intelligence, one doesn’t have to look far. Consider the heart-wrenching work of knowledgeable health providers whose fields include end-of-life decision-making. In 2016 Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter made an extraordinary short documentary film  Extremis. In it she flawlessly probes the nuances of emotional intelligence accessible in life-and-death contexts. The key for her work seems to be physicians and families allowing the full feelings of a looming loss — an unresponsive or laboring-to-live loved one — to surface and receive honest and complete information, which means not shying away from inherently muddled and emotionally fraught responses to the complex process of caring for ourselves and others.

In my Oct 2016 paper “Notes from the Existential Underground: the Universe as a Complex Emergent System,” I offer what I would call an emotionally intelligent window on science at large.

“In the ‘conservative’ scientific belief that logic is what sets humans apart from lower life forms, or the ‘progressive’ belief that it’s our only hope of saving the planet, much of the hard work of logic is nothing less than incoherence among sources of academic hubris. When progress or saving us from ourselves supplants the more fundamental understanding that we are part of a cosmic logic much bigger than ourselves, when the projection of well-meaning onto our incomplete but hard-sought logical ways, we find ourselves in the awkward position of defending the indefensible.” [ full text ]

When we avoid story-laden debates and the emotional intelligence required to digest them, choosing instead number-filled ones that make life seem less messy, we also inadvertently shield ourselves from the satisfaction of experiencing clarity through being really present for the “meaning of it all” kinds of experiences in our life. Letting life be messy and still worth showing up for builds courage to live life beyond the provisphere. We must stop leaving it to science or media (or one’s negative judgments of either) to do the at times dirty, at time illuminating, bidding in life’s deep, dark, existential mine. I suspect many scientists would welcome the notion that God is not dead, but in part buried, below the surface, hard to reach, harder still to directly observe in the context of what exists and what does not, or might or might not as the future unfolds.

Politics and Pretense

Today my husband asked me about politics, power, and justice. “How does it look with ONT?”

Interpreted very loosely and using common terminology, I suggested that left-wing politics focuses on “mind over matter” strategies and right-wing politics focuses on “matter over mind” strategies.

This is interesting in and of itself. But now, what of emotion? Few would displute that mind, matter, and emotion are inextricably linked — somehow.

What the dominant political factions have in common is that both function (and fuel their mutual struggle) by  pretending that emotion is not at play. I’m going to write that sentence one more time and put it in bold so you are sure to pay close attention. What the dominant political factions have in common is that both function (and fuel their mutual struggle) by  pretending that emotion is not at play.

Any time we pretend something is not there  and then defend the pretense that there is no need to be that thing (in this case emotional), we enter what I refer to in ONT as a Bind of Partiality.

To frame some of the political shebang in terms of ONT, partiality in politics can be viewed in terms of love, power, and justice. These are the three zero tension states of cyclic order 7 (1st diagram below).

Its analysis in terms of Binds of Partiality looks like this:

  • Right and left wing factions are struggling for control of The Empowerment Bind. (Justice and Power)
  • Third party-ers are in The Idealist Bind. (Love and Justice)
  • Those who are “above justice,” that is, already in power politically or have money to influence it, are in The Mafioso Bind. (Power and Love)

Together we seek the Freedom from Partiality that I refer to as The Manifestation State.  (2nd diagram below) That is, Love, Power, and Justice in balanced flow with each other.  “Manifestation” may make you I think of Law of Attraction — I use the word in a broader sense than that.

[For assistance in understanding the role of assumptions and logical omissions in Binds of Partiality, view my page Reality Morphing – a simple visualization.]

It’s not always emotions being ignored either. We’ve all experienced the Binds of ignoring thoughts that matter or things that think (like other people with opinions different than ours). If I am right about the emotionless two-party political firestorm in the US, how is there any hope of making progress to something more civil? The real struggle vexing us is our culturally-divisive attachment to mind-over-matter vs. matter-over-mind strategizing.

Brass Tacks, please

“Hold on. Put on the brakes here. Are you waxing philosophical, because everybody knows philosophy is not practical and we need practical solutions?!” (rhetorical question)

Ironically, dismissal of philosophical issues too requires pretense. Let’s pretend there are not deep existential questions that brood, often unacknowledged, below the surface of intransigent perspectives. Given the structure of things like elections (and in some cases revolutions), politics is always a pivotal reflection of current intransigencies.  Any place of stuckness, philosophically- or otherwise-motivated, has the potential to play a pivotal part.

A final word on emotion.  How did you feel about my use of the word “emotionless” to describe the current political firestorm? Did it sit with you as wrong somehow, or upset you as seeming true but deeply ironic? Let me say a few words more about emotionality at the level of the specific Binds of Partiality at cyclic order 7, were love, power, and justice are intricately at play.

This level requires a meaning of emotions not as purely individual bodily phenomena but as social/cultural phenomena, by which I mean  express abstractions that arise in our shared search for commonalities. I am applying it to politics here, but that’s hardly the only place it’s true.

So, if my specific use of “emotionless” did not bother you, perhaps you instinctively see emotions as layered in relation to self and culture and other systems. If your response was “what do you mean emotionless! I/Others are clearly tied up in emotions over this election!” then perhaps you are caught up in the bodily feelings of dissonance between what is being said and done in relation to Greater Good.

Everyone has their particular desires for justice, power or love that make it hard to push aside the veil. I’ve been experiencing lately in my precious veil-free moments, that there is room for being enraged even within the responsible, caring, generous individuals we enjoy Being within a reality that reflects the same back.

Good luck with stepping into your choices and fulfilling your civic duties in ways that inspire!

In existential solidarity,