Monthly Archives: May 2018

Generally True Patterns #14


Moss Campion, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Moss Campion, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

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




Part 14 of 22


Chapter 6 Part I Organization, Leadership and Imprecision (Determinism) 

On a windless summer day, sitting in the outdoor, tree-shaded patio of a popular local restaurant with a Japanese-born architect, I was confronted with the imprecision pattern. On the table was a rectangular dull orange ceramic bowl containing several kinds of paper-packaged sweeteners in a space half as long as a standard pencil and only half that wide. The food server, who perhaps thought we were looking at it, asked in reference to the bowl, “Is there anything not in there that you want?” She appeared surprised when we looked at her not knowing how to answer. “Is that a philosophical question?” I asked.

A Buddhist koan, we decided. What might not be in there? A chocolate mint? A winning lottery ticket? Taoist emptiness? What could be the range of things not in there that I might want, if anything (everything) could be included? My companion and I later decided that it could take several days to come up with an approach to the question, let alone come up with an answer. Since the food server was busy with the onrush of lunchtime customers, I said, “No.” But it was not clear what I said no to. How, for instance, is it even possible to know the full range of what might not be there? There could be things not there that I don’t even know about wanting, but which I might want if I knew about them. But how could I know? Perhaps what I most want I don’t know about. Can there be an “anything not”? What if I want something not in existence—would that count as an “anything not”? And what if I had wanted anything not in the bowl, what then? Would any answer be a matter of fact or would it be a statement of belief?

In belief systems we may affirm something based on no understanding, then negate or deny this something as we seek meaning, and then perhaps affirm it once again at a later time, but this time knowing why we do so. The sugar bowl contains everything or nothing. The origin of printed words on the packaging can be traced back to the beginning of time. Although the outcome of unpredictable determinism, with hindsight we might trace back every signal, every chance or planned bifurcation that led to the sugars’ presence on that table at the moment the question was asked. The enfolded potential of the universe, there from the beginning, unfolded into specific, realized form. If so, then perhaps what I want is already in there—but would I recognize it?

So is there anything in there that I want? No. An answer in the negative could be a correct reply only if there is meaning to back it up. On the other hand, what if in answer to her question I had said, simply, yes? What then: You can’t always get want you want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need? In the event, I took nothing from the bowl other than a sense of disquiet and asked for nothing more either there or not there.

Imprecision and instability need not mean despair. Application of imprecision provides the structures required to build our lives and organizations. It is in part a nod to the physicist’s uncertainty. All systems of the entirety are characterized by creative, evolutionary change, inherent movement, and dynamic cross-realm relationships leading to certain but unpredictable consequences:

All agents within all systems operate with some degree of imprecision.

For one asteroid striking another into a different trajectory, for an eagle swooping down on a meerkat, for us contemplating taking a risk in business, extreme adventure, or love, the prevailing pattern at work is one of imprecision, increasing or decreasing levels of control, always something less than absolute certainty of a specific outcome, but at the same time based on existing or impending potential (or emergent) order.

In this essay I will suggest a number of generally true patterns that present guidance through acknowledgement of imprecision in light of giving up on the hopelessness of certainty. Pattern recognition is the way past Einstein’s quandary of a universe that is either un-creatively deterministic (i.e., this-worldliness, time and history have no independent existence) or ruled by pointless chance (otherworldliness, time and history are irrelevant). The generally true patterns suggest the reverse: unpredictable determinism is the agent of creativity; and chance, rather than existing without meaning, is the ever unfolding realizations of enfolded potential over irreversible time. Also in paradox is the very concept of certainty, which is not supportable as a three-realm pattern. As Prigogine pointed out, initial conditions of anything (since all events, things, and processes seem to go back to the beginning of the beginning) cannot be precisely measured. However, much about nature can be imprecisely known. Consciousness about the meaning of the patterns can bring not only guidance but a degree of comfort as well.

This is the underlying premise for the imprecision of patterns:

All systems of the three realms are ultimately, even if distantly, connected to all other systems.

Organic and inorganic processes on earth have created an interconnection of all living systems. Cultural and cognitive processes have evolved from those systems and remain dependent upon them. Open systems encompass a wide range of energy forms such as thermal (physical) and informational (cognitive).

A functional system is one in which the inflow of energy is sufficient to maintain its operations.

The pattern holds equally true for both natural and cognitive systems. For natural systems this means adequate physical energy input; for cognitive systems, adequate information inflow. A closely related concept:

The vitality of any system depends on the free flow of information.

In systems from phone line data transmission to political structures, access and distribution of information is the determinant of system efficiency. Signals at the most basic levels in physical systems, the migration of genetic codes in organic systems, and the spread of scandalous rumors in social systems are examples of decentralized flow. Support for distributed, non-hierarchical power sharing in organizations might find a model in this pattern. In a change-driven environment the ability to adapt is the key to survival.

The change process is all-important.

As organizations (social, biological, physical) increase in size or complexity, differentiation occurs.

This occurs as a result of changes in the physical locations of agents, and also of the abilities of the agents, the demands on them, and the separations or joining with other agents. These processes sometimes modify the environment itself. In the social realm, both business organizations and nonprofit agencies experience identifiable life cycles, including rebirth, as a result of disaster or reorganization. Interpreted as a pattern that is generally true, differentiation is an aspect of the meta-pattern of evolution. Darwin’s Galapagos finches evolved from a common ancestor to include several types which are of the same organization (finches) but which perform specialized functions. The principles of science increasingly inform the perceptions of organizational change. Dynamic disequilibrium from energy input forces change from the quantum level to the corporate. Change also exhibits the quality of position:

Information (or energy) does not move in a vacuum but through an already occupied space.

This is true not only on the subatomic and molecular levels (even allowing for the vastness of space between objects in the quantum realm, agents there do run into or otherwise affect one another), but also in politics and organizations. Space, in its various aspects, is crowded with systems that we may or may not see. Information running through social systems inevitably bumps into something. Yet it also keeps going:

Information exhibits the quality of continuance over time.

Next essay: Chapter 6 Part II Organization, Leadership and Imprecision

Generally True Patterns #13

Lake Fork Peak, New Mexico

Lake Fork Peak, New Mexico

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




Part 13 of 22


Chapter 5 Part IV The Order of Connection/The Connection of Order (it’s about time)

One other important aspect in the category of order is time. A basic shared assumption developed by all cultures is the perception of what constitutes time – both in the immediate term and in the historical period in which the culture or organization operates. This perception will have an important influence on how we chose to interpret and define patterns. Western culture assigns much importance to linear time, measurable by appointments in desk calendars or other kinds of commodity-type units. Time can also be measured by accomplishments so that simultaneous actions can take place. (One of the most important systems theorists Ilya Prigogine gave much attention to the nature of time.)

Time shows other characteristics as well. Historic or longer-term time focuses or broods upon the past. Contemporary concerns can keep us in the moment. Dwelling on the future gives us a chance to look ahead or to avoid something for now. Cyclical time experiences history as repeating like the seasons. Systems, by having come from some place, advancing toward another, and for the moment, teetering on a chaotic edge of the temporary steady state, repeat generally true patterns even if not specific events. A system flows through all the pasts, presents, and futures of time at once. Agents of the system are carried on this stream and affect its course at the same time. It is possible to imagine the pattern recognition naturalist as a time-perception traveler, not limited to any one definition of time, but choosing to use whichever concept is useful in achieving a particular task or vision.

This kind of naturalist can experience time itself as a system and, with intent, try to operate within that system at a level of appropriateness to the situation. Linear time (realized, quantitative) is expended for planning (control) while development time (potential, qualitative) admits that some parts of the system are not subject to the attempt to control. Avoidance of time-entrapment necessitates going back and forth between different senses of time. This is not an either-or issue. It is possible for a particular task to exist in both planning and development time. It may be that time, like other things, events, and processes, operates in the same kinds of ways regardless of scale.

Conflict within oneself, within an organization or between an organization and its environment (other organizations or other kinds of systems) arises out of misunderstanding one’s own or others’ time definitions. The place to look for the meaning of whatever we are trying to describe is not in the individual agents but in the interrelationships and interconnections of those agents. The pattern, of which time is a part, is big and impersonal. The level on which the individual living agent interacts with the entirety is highly personal. The limitations of the cold logic of science, as it has come to recognize the mathematical complexity of reality, necessitate the use of a deep immersion approach to organizing knowledge and the need to re-forge our connections to nature and time. The natural and social worlds are part of a single larger whole within the entirety moving through time.

But where are we located in this larger order of the entirety? Is it self-centered to believe oneself at the center of the universe? As you are implicated in the entirety, there may be fundamental truth to ascribing your position as being in the center. In an infinite universe, all distances from where you are lead to infinity, with yourself in the middle as a kind of hub. You are, in some respects, still in that place. This compact connection of the quantum and cosmological entirety in a point represents an intimacy of magnitude on a scale we cannot comprehend, yet the concept is important, for if this theory from physics in correct, then no person/nature split can physically exist. All things, events, and processes were implicated from the beginning to unfold into manifest and permanent relationship.

We remain in this relationship of the entirety because of generally true patterns that are in force regardless of placement of the scale from basic to principal. Quantum mechanics (behavior of subatomic particles), special relativity (perception of space and time as an outcome of motion), general relativity (the shape of space and time as influenced by matter and energy, i.e., thermal history), operate without us, but also operate within us (and not as something separate) as generally true patterns that are equally applicable to the physical, biological, and social realms. Any other interpretation allows the argument that nature is a thing apart from us and not significant in relation to actions we may take. Arguments to the contrary come from notions of reality that perceive progressions as only linear in form. These linear relations do exist in much the same way that Newtonian mechanics exists even in the age of quantum mechanics. The limitation of these approaches is historic, an unwillingness to accept the literalness of natural history. All relationships are connected relationally through time: systems are part of other systems because of shared time ancestry. This concept is difficult to depict graphically.

Generally true patterns are enfolded potentiality, which is to say they are abstract. Since they are not things, they do not lend themselves to placement on relational charts. We can, however, infer their existence through observational natural history, the realized, concrete events of things, events, and processes that take changing form over time. The entirety in either its abstract enfolded or concrete unfolded form is a moving target beyond absolute description: evolving historic relationships (determinant in hindsight), manifesting in this moment of purely conceptual and illusory present, and continuing onto an indeterminate future. In this time-based system our challenge is to find the means of connecting the processes that unfold to become the three realms of the physical, biological, and social. To the extent that we disbelieve the possibility of relational connections within the chaos and complexity of the entirety, we create the static existence of a person/nature split where our actions do not matter.

One means of finding order (or ordering) within this moving-target universe is to recognize nature’s tendency towards patterning. The fundamental stuff of atomic and subatomic particles may not be precisely eternal, but the events of which atoms are a part occur within time. The transformation of generations of solar bodies, to take but one example, occurs over billions of years. Physicists claim that atoms did not exist until sometime after the Big Bang, but the meta-pattern of creative evolution seems to have been present from the beginning, perhaps a concept as close as possible to describing something eternal. Such implicate forms mysteriously give rise to a process of potential becoming realized.

A thing, event, or process becomes realized at the moment its existence acquires meaning in relation to something else: it effects and is affected by other things, events, and processes over time. At the moment of its unfolding into a specific, an agent acquires a history in time that connects it to all else that has ever happened or ever will happen. It finds relation in terms of momentary position and evolution in terms of its rate of motion. The development of meaning, from the creation of the first atom to the first dinosaur to the first self-aware conscious thought about the world by a living creature becomes in this way more than novelty. Time itself becomes both object and subject of natural history. Within evolutionary time, physical, biological, and mental events become not things separate, but relationships inherently implicate within one another.

In describing the workings of the entirety whether through generally true patterns or any other means, we should consider this warning: “Every time you write a rule, something escapes.” (Attributed to Ralph Hummel by Professor David Carnevale, University of Oklahoma, personal communication, June 1999. Of course, this rule, by its own internal logic, may not be correct since anything could escape to prove it wrong.) A truism from art history applies here: All photographs of paintings are lies. The representation of the object is not the object; the actual object cannot be captured in reproductive models.

This is not as obvious as it seems since representing complex systems from fractals to business growth statistics in two-dimensional form is the standard—but one pattern that does not exist in a generally true way in nature’s complex systems is the two-dimensionality of standard linear models. Simplified depiction in the form of flow charts, organizational charts, matrices, and the like gives the impression of a linear, reductionist approach even where not intended. Allowing that this is one kind of description, depicting a generally true pattern throughout its manifestations in physical, biological, and social systems may have to be accomplished in another form than the two-dimensionality allowed by paper. The talents of the visual artist, the computer programmer, and the mathematician (the place where art meets science) are needed to depict a new graphic, perhaps a hologram accounting for multi-dimensionality. By whatever means it is conveyed, both the passage of time and the reality of change over time need to be reflected graphically if the model is to show the system as a whole. The resulting pattern:

All systems have a history in time.

 Order is identified through text and charts. Impressive for each such attempt is what is left out—agents conveniently ignored for not fitting within a particular scheme (it can’t exist if it is beyond our explanation) or not considered important enough to warrant explanation (cases of conspicuous by its absence). This was the failure of the Great Chain of Being. A chart that includes small to large things (like atoms to galaxy clusters) falls short in explaining quantum mechanics, relativity, gravity, and electromagnetism while theoretical concepts such as graviton particles may exist from most basic to most principal inclusion, but have not yet been discovered. What is the speed of thought and imagination compared to the velocity of light? Does our conceptualization ability outrun photons to instantaneously connect vastly separated things, events, and processes? Non-linear relationships such as consciousness are impossible to depict, as is the concept of the spiritual.

Patterns operate at the scale of the unimaginably small to the incomprehensively large. The broadest of them, such as evolution, are present at every scale of physical size and time. The inherent movement within the entirety is of all agents to all other agents. As a generally true pattern this can be expressed:

As things, events, and processes evolve, so also all the relationships among them.

Next essay: Chapter 6 Part I Organization, Leadership and Imprecision

Generally True Patterns #12

Kingscrown, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Kingscrown, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

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



Part 12 of 22


Chapter 5 Part III The Order of Connection/The Connection of Order (perception)

While order is a matter of perception of connection and disconnection, it is also a matter of scale. Nature is characterized by multi-dimensionality of scale (size) and time, further qualified by qualities such as luminosity and electric frequencies. Mapping this reality in the 20th century became a primary goal of the systems scientists. They took on the difficult task of creating diagrams and charts that would quantify the scales and qualities of the measurable and immeasurable. The problem with relational scale is that the physical distance between the very small and the very large is difficult for the mind to grasp. Within physical systems are the extremes of small (photons, nucleons, properties of subatomic particles) and the extremes of large (galaxy aggregations, the astronomical universe). Within biological or living systems are natural components (organisms, ecosystems) and the special case of humanity (socio-systems, and cognitive processes that can occur as a result of our existence).

Inherent to this scheme of organization seems to be a hierarchy of complexity. To some extent, each higher system (in the progression from smaller to larger) is smaller in absolute number than the previous one, but at the same time is greater in diversity. There are more atoms than molecules, more molecules than organisms, more organisms than societies, but with increasing complexity from one level to the next. Since systems can be seen as crossing even these boundaries, assigning definite place to anything within this order can be seen as more convenient than real. The difficulty in describing systems is compounded in two ways. One is that they are multidimensional, expanding in all directions as they evolve through time in connection with other systems. The other is that complex systems are abstract constructs whose components are our own creation, simplifications necessary for comprehension. Even where constructs such as length, width, and depth make sense, the possibility of mysterious quantum dimensions makes near nonsense out of the concept of dimensionality. Hidden dimensions may be enfolded into the more familiar dimensions.

Both the big and the small of physics, cosmology and quantum mechanics, edge into claims that sound metaphysical: the universe contained in a singular point before it expanded; a post Big Bang expansion rate that seems to have outrun the speed of light; and subatomic particles whose vibrations may be a connection to the origins of all patterns. Scale, however, is yet more complex than just bigness and smallness. It is also a matter of relative importance of all agents within the entirety. For relatedness of scale to exist in nature, some sense of hierarchy must exist, one based on physical dimensionality (numerical quantification) but also, like the Great Chain, on our perceptions of order (reasoned qualification). The concept of relative importance, or increasing inclusion, is the ultimate denial of static constancy since the boundaries of things, events, and processes are not clear. Each class of agents within the entirety, however, can be thought of as containing more or fewer aspects, including actual components such as atoms or thoughts. Subatomic particles (either discovered or undiscovered) comprise the most basic class. On a scale of increasing inclusion, human consciousness, particularly in its more esoteric speculations, could be considered the principal class.

A scale of increasing inclusion from basic to principal works like this: The more basic a class, the more of the universe that must contain it as a component. In the physical realm, people contain atoms, but atoms do not contain people. In the biological realm, all life forms from the microscopic level show basic reaction to stimuli, but only fully sentient life forms imagine into existence philosophy, a principal class of living system outcome. In the primary and secondary educational structure of the human realm, the learning that occurs in lower grade levels is the foundation upon which learning at higher grade levels is based. Another way to put this is that the more basic classes are incorporated into the more principal classes so that the higher classes are dependent upon the existence of the lower, but not the other way around. Lower classes are more basic because they are components of all higher classes. Higher levels are more principal because they contain as components all of the lower. Our planet can exist without nation states, but if earth were to disappear from existence, there would not be countries. An individual atom contains within it less of the universe than does a person, especially when we include knowledge as a component including the knowledge of how to place the agents of the entirety in some kind of order. (The organizational scheme of relative levels of increasing inclusion has a history that includes systems science work by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Erich Jantsch, and Ervin Laszlo. Ken Wilber used the terms “fundamental” and “significant” in his diagramed explanation.)

All that we do, all that we are, is part of a larger reality from which there is not even the possibility of separateness. All realms are interconnected by the generally true patterns which run through them, independent of both order and scale. The patterns are enfolded potential outside of either increasing or decreasing inclusion but the unfolded generally true pattern describes the inclusion process:

Each higher emergent state includes the properties of the previous stages.

Regardless of whether matter collects or disperses, change compounds change in any direction or diagonal within the entirety (or any of its systems). It is characteristic of all generally true patterns that they are without specific directionality, without entry or exit point, but do manifest as particular things, events, and processes. In the physical realm, chemical compounds are the emergent properties of combinations of molecules, each of which is the outcome of atoms combined of quarks and other subatomic particles. In living systems, the alpine biome is a collection of ecosystems made of sedges, grasses, forbs, lichens, and so on. In human systems, a university consists of colleges made up of departments. Basic components combine to emerge as grand principals (foremost, from our perspective). While each specific example is different from each other specific, the generally true pattern is the same.

Next essay: Chapter 5 Part IV The Order of Connection/The Connection of Order