Tag Archives: generally true patterns

Gradual Diminishment

Devisadero stone chairs

Devisadero stone chairs

 

Around a half-century ago, unknown persons built two stone chairs at the summit of Devisadero Peak. The chairs on this 2500-meter foothill east of Taos, New Mexico were a favored destination for resident hikers and visitors. They became part of the natural and historic landscape. Huddled together, on each, seat height above the ground was not far. Single rock slabs formed high backs, tipped at a slight angle from vertical. (More recently a few more rocks were piled up beside the chairs.)

The homemade land art were old friends providing a degree of comfort and sense of reward for those having achieved the summit. In their destruction this past spring, they became martyrs of conscious loss: the policy to diminish, extirpate, or eliminate something.

When this policy is implemented by the destruction of just one thing at a time, this form of loss becomes an example of gradual diminishment. Pointless dismantling of larger scale things—species, ecosystems, democracies—operates on the same principle at the small scale of rustic furniture. At any scale, gradual diminishment results in a loss of meaning.

For unknown reasons, this past spring, the management of Carson National Forest felt that dismantling the chairs was an important use of scarce taxpayer money. The rocky remains of the corpse chairs were scattered across what little un-trampled native vegetation remained at the summit. A Carson Forest official assured me that the chairs were not “significant.”

Not significant to whom?

Increasingly, our natural and historical heritage is seen as not significant. An endangered species here, a riparian area there, a modest structure on a minor mountain, all can disappear and what does it matter? As things (and creatures) of beauty disappear no more than one at a time we hardly notice. As one lovely thing or place is removed from our national lands, we can make the case that the loss of that particular one thing is not important.

The insidiousness of gradual diminishment arises from its pace (slow, local) and its placement (separated localities). It becomes conscious loss when it is the result of intended policies. It is a loss of meaning, in this case, the loss of a relationship of a particular structure to the land, and of the structure in the perception of its visitors as a naturalized monument that for many defined a particular place.

Gradual diminishment demonstrates a tangled and awful mindset that allows, one by one, much that is valuable to be officially vandalized, or neglected, or to disappear altogether. Added up, the loss of one thing at a time eventually becomes tragic. What happened? Where did it all go? Why didn’t we say something when each of us noticed that one thing that was important, even if, as in the case of the stone chairs, it was a small thing?

Generally True Pattern: We and everything are connected.

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Generally True Patterns #22

Waterfall, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Waterfall, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature

 

 

 

 

Part 22 of 22

 

Generally True Patterns by Chapter (what it all comes to)

 

I am aware of the complexity of my argument, and of the shortcomings inherent in its formal presentation as a philosophical thought problem. John Muir, Ernest Thompson Seton, Aldo Leopold, and Loren Eisley (more examples might be given) have made exactly the same points with an eloquence of beauty I can more admire than emulate. In my defense, I can only claim that each of must contribute what we can under the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves.

As I know from my studies of art history, the greatest and most original artists, no matter how radical their innovations, have built their accomplishments on what they learned from those preceding them. In this final section I offer first a restating in one place of the generally true patterns I have identified, followed by a glossary of terms I have introduced (I hope in the name of clarity), and a list of some of the more influential authors (but by no means all the authors) whose works I have called upon to support my structuring of the three realm examples that forms the model for generally true patterns.

1) Nature is characterized by generally true patterns: things, events, and processes that work in the same way across physical, biological, and social systems. An overriding pattern is that all actions have consequences. This implies that what we do in the world matters, yet too often our behavior is contrary to this pattern.

2) Nature in its three realms is about relationships. Nothing is one thing alone. Relationships evolve over time. All things, events and processes arise in our perceptions from somewhere. A thing becomes a thing following its move from an abstraction to a concrete reality or actual process of something. Realized outcomes of things, events, and processes are both deterministic and unpredictable. All things, events, and processes of the entirety change and evolve; the processes of reality are always in motion, regardless of time scale.

3) In any situation, as energy dissipates, the very occurrence of that dissipation creates disruptions. Energy moves through all systems. Instability within a system leads to change.

4) Everywhere we look in nature, we find a primacy of change. All situations of things, events, processes, and organizations exhibit motion and change. There is no situation of unchanging condition.

5) In trying to find meaning, we must look at relationships and the entirety. Change compounds change. Each emergent state includes the properties of the previous stages. As things, events, and processes evolve, so also all the relationships among them.

6) Patterns describe potential, generally rather than precisely. All agents within all systems operate with some degree of imprecision. All systems change and evolve over time. All systems of the three realms are ultimately, even if distantly, connected to all other systems. A functional system is one in which the inflow of energy is sufficient to maintain its operations. The vitality of any system depends on the free flow of information. As organizations (social, biological, physical) increase in size and complexity, differentiation occurs. Information (or energy) does not move in a vacuum but through an already occupied space. Information exhibits the quality of continuance over time. All production is associated with certain costs.

Major changes in a system can come suddenly. A change in the environment of an area will be accompanied by a change in the population of that environment. Reciprocity is inevitable. Systems must be built through the necessary developmental stages. Evolution is a constant in nature. Longevity is subject to limitations. Agents, acting separately or collectively, claim a portion of physical space as their own. The closer a system gets to equilibrium, the less resilient it becomes to any changes in the environment; All systems are dynamic and evolving or in stasis and dying. Change compounds.

Systems follow natural processes of renewal to maintain themselves, including the ability to evolve into a different form. Aspects of existence are a collection of malleable properties rather than a set singularity. Energy moves through all systems. Structures of organization are systems of signals expressed in the form of energy, matter, and information in physical and cognitive systems. Organizational structures adapt to fit needs (or events or situations) as need arises.

An alteration or change in an agent or entity can send permutations through a system. Systems develop where movement of energy pushes the system to the edge of chaos, the place where creativity and adaptation to changing conditions takes place. Diminishment of energy into a system leads the organizational structure to resemble a closed system. A net gain of energy input is needed to maintain any system over time without running down.

7) Wild-nature pattern lessons are about transformation, including loss. Systems follow natural processes of change to maintain or transform into a different form. Aspects of existence are a collection of malleable properties rather than a set singularity.

8) We and everything are connected.

Glossary of Terms and Concepts Related to Generally True Patterns

Basic: parts of the entirety showing less inclusion of other parts of the entirety, e.g. atoms are more basic than molecules; the more basic parts are more independent of other parts.

Conscious loss: the policy to diminish, extirpate, or eliminate something.

Forms of conversion: processes whereby the movement of energy restructures a system into a new form.

Generally true patterns: things, events, and processes that work in the same way across physical, biological, and social systems.

Increasing inclusion: the idea of changing, compounding relationship over time.

Person/nature split: the misconception of human separateness from nature, based on a perception of loss or exclusion. Contrast with person/nature connection, perception of relationship with nature based on inclusion.

Potential: the enfolded form of a generally true pattern that exists across the three realms.

Principal: parts of the entirety that are more inclusive of other parts, e.g., consciousness; the more principal parts are more dependent on other parts.

Process integration: nature explained in terms of nonlinear and emergent properties arising from the actions of many agents—the means of connection of aggregates is usually more important than any one individual or individual event, although an aggregate is composed of individual events. The operations of process integration have been explored in complexity science and systems theories.

Realized: the unfolded form of a pattern manifested as a specific thing, process, or event in just one realm which, connected to related instances in other realms, comprises a generally true pattern; an individuality may also be termed an example of specific separateness.

Static constancy: a belief holding that things, events, and processes exist largely outside of time and are for all practical purposes, changeless.

Three realms: Our universe consists of three realms accessible by sensory means: the physical realm represented by the reductive sciences of physics and chemistry that includes classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and relativity. The second is the biological realm of all living things organized on an ecological model. The third is a special case of the second, basically, us, called by various names, but summarized as the social realm.

Further Reading

A conventional bibliography is not useful here since the literature on subjects covered is overwhelmingly vast. I will limit source citing to authors specifically mentioned in the text.

Bateson, Gregory. A Sacred Unity, Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind.New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate Order.New York: Routledge, 1980.

Cleary, Thomas (trans. And ed.). The Essential Tao: An Initiation into the Heart of Taoism Through the Authentic Tao Te Ching and the Inner Teachings of Chuang-tzu.Edison: Castle Books, 1998.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans, (1826) in The Leatherstocking Tales, Vol. I. New York: Library of America.

Davenport, Guy. Herakleitos and Diogenes.San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1976.

Evernden, Neil. The Natural Alien: Humankind and Environment.Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

Gould, Stephen Jay and Niles Eldredge. “Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phylogenetic gradualism” inModels of Paleobiology. San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper, 1972.

Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea.Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936, 1964.

Orff, Carl. Carmina Burana.RCA Victor album, 1992.

Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.New York: Bantam Books, 1974.

Prigogine, Ilya. The End of Certainty, Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature.New York: The Free Press, 1996.

Roszak, Theodore. The Voice of the Earth, An Exploration of Ecopsychology.New York: Touchstone, 1992

Tennyson, Lord Alfred. Idylls of the King1859.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28).New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.

von Bertalanffy, Ludwig. General Systems Theory.New York: George Braziller, 1968.

Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, The Spirit of Evolution. Boston: Shambhala, 1995.

This ends the 22 part series on Generally True Patterns

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Generally True Patterns #21

Summit Knob, 12,728', Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Summit Knob, 12,728′, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patters: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature

 

 

 

Part 21 of 22

 

Chapter 8 Inclusion (patterns)

Three of us were finishing lunch at the most popular restaurant in town. A fireplace just behind gave the kind of meaningful heat that provides warmth to more than just the body on a day when a blizzard rages outside. We watched the mounting snow level when a Swallowtail butterfly (genus Papilio) chose that moment to complete its metamorphosis and emerge from the purse of my guest just arrived from California. It had sulfur-yellow wings marked with four stripes of calligraphy on each side that were outlined in black across the bottom. The little creature pupated between California and New Mexico in time to arrive, wings still wet and unfolding, as the visual dessert to our meal. Its means of entry into the purse remained mysterious. But ultimately, a manifestation of the idea of a generally true pattern.

Now, as part of our lives in an unsuitable environment, I could do no more than take it home and release it to the relative hospitality of my house. It fluttered about for two days before dying. From the Papilio perspective, its mission in the world remained unfulfilled. We however were filled with wonder for two days by this demonstration of forms of conversion whereby the movement of energy restructures a system. It also demonstrated two generally true patterns:

A thing becomes a thing following its move from an abstraction to a concrete reality or process.

And:

Realized outcomes of things, events, and processes are both deterministic and unpredictable.

We are surrounded by manifestations of generally true patterns. Recognition of them could lead to an ideology of inclusion to replace the current one of loss and person/nature disconnection. The momentum towards loss is ascendant, but is there is hope for metamorphosis? Can we accept the pattern: Nothing is one thing alone. All systems of the three realms are connected (even if distantly). The generally true pattern, change compounds, is, like all patterns, one we cannot wish away just because of the inconvenience of that recognition. The heart of the person/nature split is the denial of three-realm consequences. Social experiments in biology (species elimination and forced behavioral changes such as animals changing from diurnal to nocturnal foraging) and physics (change in atmospheric composition leading to deterioration of Antarctic ice shelves) push all systems into chaotic change. The biological and physical conditions contemporary with the rise of civilization were mostly favorable to us. There is, however, no rational argument showing benefit to civilization from the destruction of pure air, clean water, or fertile wild and agricultural land. The ideology of loss as the pathway to gain finds no support in the natural world.

If morality can arise from physical laws of the universe, it may manifest as an ethics of relationship recognition where inclusion is given higher value than loss. The libertarian ideal of a virtue of selfishness values both loss and exclusion, an expression of the highest immorality under the inclusive laws of nature. This immorality of loss becomes all the more vivid if an argument is made for acting in self-interest alone by worshiping the falsehood of separation. Preservation of the air we breathe, water we drink, land and seas we live upon (with all their attendant creatures), cultures we interact with (even if not our own, having wisdom to share) is an essential act of individual and civilizational survival. Generally true patterns show the impossibility of separation of the social from the biological and physical realms. Violations of pattern rules by pretending that they do not exist (belief in non-consequence of actions) become actions that can fairly be described as immoral.

The separation thinking of the Great Chain of Being remains an active a force in our lives leading to the creation of false hierarchies. The pattern recognition of inclusion recognizes other species and cultures, land, sea and air environments as boundary-less vis-à-vis us as individuals and members of societies. Our concept of morality must be extended to include the undeniable existence of relationships. Pattern recognition is imminently practical. Since we are of nature, we must work within its rules or face gradual or swift decline.

The generally true patterns, those listed in these essays as well as others which will be identified, are straightforward. The practice of pattern recognition at first appears difficult since the presence of multiple interacting simple rules is the font of complexity. That something can be both certain and imprecise, deterministic and unpredictable, specifically different but generally true, challenges us to the limits of our perceptive abilities, but consider this as a measure of probability: You don’t always have to be entirely precise (absolutely true) when being somewhat precise (generally true) has a higher likelihood of achieving the correct answer. Think of shooting at a target bull’s-eye with a rifle. Using precise control methods (a steady arm, a calculated aim) leads to one of two results: exact target contact or complete miss. By contrast, firing at the target with an imprecise weapon such as a shotgun leads to two slightly altered results: the near certainty that most of the pellets will miss the target and the relatively certainty that at least one or more may well strike the targeted area. Since systems are continuous through time and space, the imprecision of the generally true will fit more cases than the precision of one specific case. Bertrand Russell showed that such uncertainty in mathematical calculations operates with vague but real logic.

While many machines and calculations do require exact precision, most of what we encounter in the course of a day—running a project, acting within an organization, or coping with our private lives—is inherently imprecise, especially when judged by our ability to predict exact outcomes of particular actions. Precise, linear thinking may lead to the right decision by chance, but application of generally true rules will arrive at a near-correct answer more often. But what is the nature of “generally true” itself?

Ludwig von Bertalanffy in his General Systems Theory postulated the existence of “isomorphisms” or similarities of organizational structures in different systems. His purpose in systems research was to identify the underlying mechanisms of affiliation. He recognized the loss of reverence for the living world. We kill ourselves as we kill nature, but how do we internalize this message of the world as a single organization? How do we push beyond the edge of problem-recognition into that place where problem-solution is actively sought? Where do we find the edge of the person/nature split? It is not an exact place but rather one whose edge is always in motion. A few years after the compilation of Bertalanffy’s work, another writer in applied relational thinking, Robert Pirsig, observed that the frequent recurrence of a fact has greater usefulness than one that is rare. For him, similarities and differences were less important than “the recognition of likenesses hidden under apparent divergences. Particular rules seem at first discordant, but looking more closely we see in general that they resemble each other; different as to matter, they are alike as to form, as to the order of their parts.”

Generally true should not be read as forever true since what is general may change in its substance over the course of evolution and will certainly change over the shorter run of our perceptions of it. The organization of the universe and all its components may have an ultimate form, but even if so, it is unknown to us. We impose organizational concepts to make sense of the entirety. These concepts change in our reckoning as a result of developments in science, philosophy, and attitudes. Nonetheless, by not going beyond the fixed points of reductionist thinking, we limit the sense of meaning that can be derived from a broader view.

The concept of generally true patterns can be misused (accidentally or intentionally) if not collaborated by actual (not false) three-realm examples. There are infinite choice/decision, if/then bifurcations in the ongoing history of any system, so any one outcome may not be predicable in advance, although in hindsight the outcome sometimes may be analyzed to find out which bifurcation seemed to lead to that outcome. Bifurcations appear as indeterminism or chance as small changes become amplified into large emergent outcomes. The unfolding generally true patterns provide order to apparent randomness:

In terms of outcomes of situations, there are not infinite possibilities; there is instead one possible, unknown outcome.

A generally true pattern is something like a wave, a phenomenon of flow, until it breaks upon our beach and we can experience its existence as a concrete thing, event, or process. While a pattern is generally the same in the three realms, its specific existence as a concrete fact in the physical realm is not exactly the same thing as its manifestation in the world of biology or in a social system (each individual occurrence, an example of specific separateness). Each individual example presented to establish the existence of a generally true pattern is true only in its own case and not in every case. An individual example illustrating a pattern is specific only to a physical system, a living system, or a social system but does not cross boundaries. However, when these specific examples are taken as an aggregate, they do define a generally true pattern that is true across the whole range of nature. The larger issue concerns the ways in which we might interpret the signals (information, data, etc.) found in nature in a coherent way.

There is no one approach to finding the generally true patterns, but since all parts of the entirety are ultimately (even if distantly or mysteriously) tied to all other parts, our application has the goal of explaining observations in a useful way. This method of building models from the observation of nature credits both the linear, reductive approach and the systems approach of examining multidimensional interrelationship processes. Consideration of generally true patterns does not need to achieve absolute certainty, but instead, “appropriateness” (Laszlo’s term) in the search for meaning within unfolding potentialities.

My observation of nature is that events and processes give the appearance of reoccurring through physical and living systems in such a way that they can be said to be generally true. Patterns operate in our perception as inter-connecting systems and can be interpreted across the three realms. We can establish the existence of these patterns by identifying specific examples. We can draw lessons from the patterns assuming that what is generally true for the rest of nature is also true for human beings. This knowledge can be used for problem solving by leaders in organizations and by individuals in their personal lives. Living in accordance with the patterns can be applied by all of us in our relationship with nature, as a denial of separateness, and as proof that the relationship is ultimately with ourselves. There is no other.

Postscriptum: Long ago, on a visit to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, I experienced a manifestation of imprecision and inclusion in the form of a visual pattern. Here I borrow terms from art history. The clouded overcast sky and the vast array of sand dunes had taken on the same value, that is, the gray lightness of air and land were exactly the same. As a result, what is called the vanishing point (the horizon where parallel lines meet) had itself vanished. Perspective ceased to have meaning so that near and far could not be distinguished nor could the up and down of elevation. The difference between a meter or one hundred meters and a kilometer could not be ascertained by the eye although, beneath the clouds, the air was entirely clear. A step down could give an unpleasant jolt because the ground level had not changed, or it could send one unexpectedly tumbling. Lateral distance and elevation change became the same in my mind only since, in the physical realm, nothing had changed. My connection to the desert was absolute in a weird kind of inescapable oneness, disconcerting inclusion, imprecision of depth perception, visual illusion overriding physical certainty. It could have been a lonely spot, but instead the desert had enveloped me, unfolded its potential to amaze by erasing and at the same time enhancing its essence. For a little while I was fully included.

Next essay: Generally True Patterns by Chapter

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Generally True Patterns #17

Peak 12,819 Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Peak 12,819, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature

 

 

Part 17 of 22

 

Chapter 6 Part IV Organization, Leadership and Imprecision (turbulence)

Since knowledge of patterns can give guidance to behavior, by implication there are ethical dimensions to this line of inquiry, seen more clearly when restated as a question: How can we use knowledge of generally true patterns as a guide for our behavior? If we ask this, then we are faced not only with using this body of thought as a guide for how we act in relation to each other at work, at home, and in society in general, but also, as a guide for our relationship with nature itself. Could generally true patterns form a systemic basis for morality? Generally true patterns can be thought of as a philosophical ecotone, a phase/space of transition/connection, the entirety of things, events, processes, and organizational structures that are at once (in space or in the mind) a place apart and a place connected. This process of ordering may itself be part of some larger pattern. Pattern recognition can be used in assessing personal and organizational situations: environment (constraints and opportunities), resources (availability of information), and history (the relative importance of agents at work on each level of the system perceived as moving from less important to more important).

The challenge faced by individuals and organizations is that of adapting to the turbulence caused by the actions of other systems (physical and cognitive). The manifestation of turbulence is uncertainty. The outcome of uncertainty is change. Organizations may expand to encompass a greater sphere of the environment (pushing boundaries outward) in an attempt to control change (e.g., purchases, mergers, acquisitions) or may attempt to become more self-sufficient by increasing internal production of whatever is needed to sustain the organization’s operation. But when these methods become an attempt at imposing centralized control, the system can move toward a closed rather than open organizational model and a counterproductive rejection of the generally true pattern of the inevitability of change. Failure to cope with change results in organizational death. This is a common if not predominant tendency over time that might be shown by listing the number of business and private non-profit corporations over one hundred years old or the list of first marriages lasting a lifetime.

The generally true pattern here is:

Energy input is needed to maintain any system over time without running down.

This input comes in part from individuals within an organization and can be measured by whether or not actions taken are achieving agreed-upon objectives. Energy comes into an organization from the outside (taking into consideration the larger environment) determining the appropriateness of actions taken in relation to the larger frame of reference for the system as a whole. Deciding what constitutes inside vs. outside energy sources is an imprecise act. The generally true patterns are useful for making such arbitrary divisions less important. When we organize how we think about things, events, and processes as a kind of continuum rather than a separation, we begin to apply models from nature to the needs of our organizations.

The usefulness or guidance value of a pattern can be tested by stating it as a question: If this pattern holds generally true in physical, biological, and other social systems, how can we apply the lessons derived from it to a problem in our own organization or lives? The process starts with identifying a particular pattern, such as All production is associated with certain costs.If specific examples can be found in all three categories of systems, then the pattern identified could be generally true. Next comes analyzing the meaning of the pattern to determine how it applies to one’s own organizational problems (including one’s personal life). It is at that point that the leap is made from theory to practice.

Next essay: Chapter 7 Part I Loss

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