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.