I keep returning to the lessons of futility. We are admonished to, “Try harder!”in the face of that which we cannot change, leaving us spinning our wheels….
It has to do with cause & effect….
But this is only part of what’s going on.
If we participate in the creation of what-is. And, if we set aside the computer-model of the mind. Then there’s more to be left behind than just our notions of cause & effect.
But it’s a good place to start. We are immersed in this expectation that, “Things happen for a reason.” Combine this with the assertion that it’s possible to, “know enough to get things done!” And we spend all our attention and energy stirring the pot. “Unintended consequences” pop up at every turn and, in our attempts to control what we imagine to be chaos, we generate true chaos.
What do we mean when we say something is chaotic?
We’ve built-up this model of order based on geometric shapes and cause & effect. Geometric “Building blocks” seem to be an essential core of how we make things. Writing, especially in English as J. M. G. points out in his most recent post, we are channeled down a path of language that insists on division. That insists action is what is done to a predicate by a subject, full-stop. These appear to us to be foundational truths instead of artifacts of a particular habit of thought.
How can we conclude these are mistakes?
We are surrounded by, engulfed in, soon to be buried under the results of these modes of thought and their resultant means of action.
We mistake traps for limits and take limits as traps. We fantasize after a featureless void and call it freedom. In each case we are refusing to see how our maps create the confusion we find ourselves in.
Facing a viable habitat we see a chaotic void. We turn our geometry loose and establish a plan of attack. By the time we’re done we have achieved chaos while in our exhaustion and misery we think we’ve accomplished something. Destroying what was alive we create a zone of undeadness and call it good.
We’ve pursued this plan around the world and back. Even in the face of all we’ve destroyed these habits of thought keep us focused on further division and yet more destructive plans of action. Anything but allow our selves to see that nothing but more-of-the-same can result. The entire process is put into perspective in a scene from “My Life as a Turkey.” An adolescent bird comes across a chain-sawed tree-stump. Its perplexed response challenges all of our assumptions of what is right.
This young bird knows that a “clean-cut” does not belong.
This is not a case of “wisdom from the mouths of fools.” The turkey is showing greater intelligence, not less. If we allow our selves to learn from one of the most intelligent birds we begin to break-down this edifice of assumptions.
A critique of civilization might come down to addressing these two habits: geometric reduction and the belief that an isolated act leads to a beneficial result. Before we bemoan how; if this is true, we are doomed; let’s take a breath and look around. These are not the only options available to us. We confuse a trap for a limit when we fail to see that intelligence can function in any other way.
This recent article on the brain-as-computer shows how persistent mental models can be and how misleading. Building an optics on top of a mistaken assumption guarantees incoherence in everything we think we’ve discovered looking through that lens. Funny, how even in writing about how our two fundamental bad-habits are flawed it’s hard to refrain from using their metaphors. “Optics” and “lenses” are artifacts of a mechanical model of how perception happens, how things work.
Even a statement like “How things work.” goes wrong. We have English grammar enforcing the way we perceive and act. We cannot know a “how” in the ways we assume to. There are no “things” in the sense we’re used to. And, there is no simple, linear – mechanical – way in which the universe comes into being as we expect it to.
One of the difficulties presenting itself as I sit-down to write these essays is brought to a head right here at this point. What I’ve written so far can be taken as an explanation of a problem. Something written with the expectation that by convincing someone of its validity I will help solve that problem.
None of that tangle of assumptions is correct. And, it is correct.
In this paradox is a hint at the way through. Everything about this paradox of writing is also true about the greater conundrum of incoherent thought.
It’s my guess that our hands taught our minds to see a simplifying geometry and then impose it on our surroundings. Make a straight, chopping motion with your hand and you have the embodiment of what it means to cut along a line. There is power in this abstraction and in the actions resulting from its use. But there is no wisdom brought to bear until we begin to distinguish power from strength.
Or should I say re-distinguish?
Every organism besides us – an us made up of those capable of reading this, for example – knows strength. It is the only form of exertion available to them. To make something happen they must use their strength. Their capacities are known to them in the fact that their abilities to act and the strength with which they can act are co-equal. I would guess that the concept of power is unknown to other creatures. They are not tricked by “short-cuts” by which we believe we can get what we want by “leveraging” what we do by resorting to power.
Strength is the energy available within an organism. Its abilities and capacities. Its anti-fragility?
Power is a realm in which we find a temporary extension of what strength makes possible by resorting to methods that break the bonds of what we might call the fabric of being. We take processes that do occur, like fire or nuclear fission, and we “harness” them. We take them out of their existing realms and assume that because we can manipulate them that we are controlling them. Power has tremendous visuals. It does a great job of spreading destruction. It’s only so long as we can maintain an illusion that this destruction does not come back around and destroy us – that same us I referred to before – that we can maintain our Promethean Illusion.
The good news?
We’re at the end of the days in which we can continue to fail to see through this illusion. We are in a period when this blind-spot in our understanding of how everything is – a crude attempt to sidestep the problematics of saying “How things work.” – is breaking down. At a time like this we either continue to try to mate with a nubbly, brown glass beer-bottle or we correct our navigational error and come up with a better form of dead reckoning.
Navigating is a deeper metaphor than geometry or cause & effect. Every being locates itself and maps its surroundings in some way, to some level, with some evolutionary success at making the right moves enough of the time. It does seem that this habit of thought has been and can be brought to bear in ways that are not limited by the traps laid by geometry and cause & effect.
I’ve been drawn to this definition of what it means to navigate since I found it:
Say not, “This is the Truth!” but “So it seems to me to be as I now see the things I think I see.”
What can we build upon this base?
I hope you see the paradox in this question.
What can we manage to do after we understand that how we think we see and how the courses of action we lean on are compromised?
It is only then that we can begin to accept the limitations that mark the boundaries of our actions. Only then can we begin to navigate our traps.
12 thoughts on “An Exploration, navigating without a map.”
I have been wondering. How much of our ‘behavior is a direct result of our being bilaterally symmetrical beings. Our physicality has these tendencies. We travel forward, we see ahead, we are best at hearing what is in front of us, we ‘taste’ what we encounter going forward. We pay little attention to what is behind us. We poop and walk away. This has worked well for eons, but in these new explorations in thought we’ve met our match. We are trapped in our three dimensional reality. These linear pathways we habitually follow get narrower and narrower. Blazing new ones mostly requires additional expense of energy, and there is risk of the track closing quietly behind us and getting too far from the original trail to find one’s way back. I am being metaphorical, of course. The fact is our physical architecture does serve as a limitation, Our minds however are more malleable, more amorphic, and with a little goading, more adventurous. inquisitiveness opens realms that cannot be put into the same box with our ‘three dimensional’ assets.
Things like spirituality, morality, love, hate, and sense of being and sense of place. Not the same as sense of location, not a dot on a map, but ones place in ‘universiality’.
Though I’m thinking more about the space between traps and limits. I’d say we’re limited by our three dimensional reality; but not trapped by it unless we fail to attend to its limits. Like in Qi Gong, when we attend to the constraints of our physical geometry and the limits of our strength we come into a direct relationship with our physical limitations that may be closer to the way other creatures attend to theirs. Following these “linear pathways” in this way we come around to appreciating how they connect and we follow their roots down and outwards where they lead to everything. This can create in us an embodied universality.
Glad that these ramblings make a connection with you!
Tony, Have you ever seen a grasslands hillside, and all it’s evenly spaced dear paths (or cow paths) All created over a long period of time, all spaced to reach the middle of the middle spaces so the grazing is even between the paths. Same goes with the aerial views of great Savannas. The open spaces are geometrically and evenly spaced between paths of habit and bio – efficiency. Critters do nothing randomly, they are genetically and socially programed to “work the land” in a given way.
You’re pointing at the order that exists before we overlay our expectations of geometry and simplistic cause& effect. But the key to seeing it differently lies in letting go of this persistent model of seeing things as being “genetically and socially programmed.”
No consciousness works like a computer. These creatures don’t work the land because they are programmed. Their actions are non-random. What we read as geometry is a pattern we overlay on the traces of their complex actions. These traces are the result of similar interactions leading to similar results, not because a map was followed whether “by design” or by programming.
This is getting to what I’m after. How can we see complexity without falling back into translating what we see into the tracks of bankrupt models and maps?
Until we can see the Qualities we bury in our abstractions of quantification we will continue to fall into the same traps.
Theses traces you bring up are a great example. They are tracks left by interactions with Quality. They’re not the same as graphs on a chart. Reducing Quality to Quantity eliminates what was alive in an experience and opens the door to actions that can only lead to destruction.
We’re blind to both the life we fail to register and to the destructive consequences of our actions since we cannot see how we are dominated by our maps.
Yes ,i agree. There is that distinction. “is this void a a pitfall or an opportunity”? Is this a path, or a web? Either way, is it beneficial and “is the juice worth the squeeze?”. This constant data collecting , and taking measure, and processing and trying to control, takes the place of freeing ourselves to enjoy the ride and immersing ourselves in the moment at hand. The power of ‘patterns’ is expectation, and recognition, and can camouflage reality.
Tony, I have read and re-read your original posting, and I think I have a better grip on where you are going with it. Qualitative v.s. quantitative differences are different as night and day. They are tangible v.s. intangible. Rational v.s. irrational.
I have long been involved in the study of animal behavior. As so, I look for and am guilty of studying them from within an overlay of parameters, based on the need for nourishment, safe resting places, territorial breeding areas, etc. This is only the basic needs parameters. Quality isn’t as easy to incorporate into this model. It is less than nuanced. Most of the time species tends to work in a usual default mode. What may seem an aberration to this default may well be due to quality issues. Poor quality, or higher quality, and the sense of either may be perceived in times where all is well, and basic survival is not an issue. In stressful or less optimum times the default mode kicks in to survival mode , and patters become very obvious.
Maybe that’s what is wrong with the human species? Maybe we have made our lives so stressful that we no longer find our lives out of the stress mode. We are so busy trying to survive, or worse, seeking perceived power, that we have lost or nearly lost the ability to recognize the nuances between the adequate, and survival ability, and that which is subtly of higher quality.
We might never get it all back if we continue to make everything rational. Rationality keeps us from looking for the intangible qualities that actually glues it all together. The emotional stuff, the spiritual stuff, the sense of place, and a oneness within the universe of our minds.” Wholeness”.
Yes! You’ve put it all together!
Thank you. This is a great step, clarifying what’s come up to now and pointing at a next step.
This chronic anxiety, remaining locked in a “rational mode,” blinds us to quality. In this blindness we can’t even see where we’re going wrong.
The sense I’ve been getting is that for other creatures survival mode is extremely transient. They do not stay stuck in it for long – in the normal course of life. Place an animal in a human trap and they can be scarred in the same we we are.
We have fabricated a way of life that makes our traps more and more powerful and harder and harder to evade.
Without access to quality as what connects us to creation we can’t break free. Without breaking free we have a hard time accessing quality….
This is where practice comes in. If we are able to take our fragmentary insights of quality and wholeness and bring them into relationship with a practice we can build on it.