Category Archives: Essays on Generally True Patterns

COVID as Our Ally

The struggle against Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is usually described in military terms. We are in a “battle, even a war against an insidious enemy. We must marshal the forces of medical science for a campaign to “defeat” this “enemy” of humankind. This plague challenges, if not our very existence, then at least our way of life. Nature has attacked us with this virus. Nature, our adversary, is at fault.

Or maybe not. Or at least, not exactly.

The physical suffering (a range of horrifying symptoms including immense pain, kidney failure, limb amputations, suffocation and death), the economic calamity (maybe a second Great Depression), and the general disruption of just about everything, is all too real. The lesson we take from this catastrophe, however, could be one of warning about worse to come. This may be our last chance to change our relationship to nature before climate disruption, nuclear war (coming about in part as a result of change in fresh water availability), worse pandemics, and other unimaginable horrors overtake all that we have built (in all social realms) and much of how we self-identify as residents of civilization and the nature which has until now kindly hosted us.

COVID-19 in this perspective is not our adversary, but our ally to averting the much worse which is to come. Sheltering in place from heat storms, continental flash fires, famine and insecure or no access to fresh water is not possible. While clearly not our friend, the virus can be our teacher. The virus did not come out to get us; we went out to find it (even if inadvertently). We disrupted natural habitats giving the virus an opportunity (or perhaps no choice) but to seek a new host (us) when traditional hosts either were no longer available or no longer opportune. Our suffering pales compared to the animal and plant genocide/holocaust we are imposing on the planet’s other life forms.

I was reviewing my list of Generally True Patterns (detailed elsewhere in the radical natural history blog) trying to determine which ones might be most germane to our current predicament. Several of them; I will mention just four.

Major changes in a system can come suddenly. The gradualism theory of evolution in which events progress slowly has its place, but earth history from geology to extinction events to social/political revolutions show that speed overtakes the existing order on a regular basis.

A change in the environment of an area will be accompanied by a change in the population of that environment. The environment may be physical (fewer people going to tourist destinations), but it can be mental as well. Here is our opportunity or downfall depending on the choices we make: Recognizing ourselves as a part of nature of continuing to see nature as the enemy. (The virus is evil!)

The closer a system gets to equilibrium, the less resilient it becomes to any changes in the environment. In our century’s long addition to carbon fuels (coal, oil) we have achieved a comfortable equilibrium as all other aspects of the planet from animal species to beauty itself has been compromised. Our civilizations great collective mantra is: we cannot change, we will not change. But what happens when the natural environment really does change?

All systems are dynamic and evolving or in stasis and dying. The system known as world civilization faces a choice of learning from the current disaster, or ignoring the COVID warning and likely not surviving (in any recognizable form) coming disasters that will be magnitudes of awful greater than we are currently experiencing.

The current malicious virus will not kill all of us, but it might save us should we heed its lessons.

(Image above: a Bobcat took over our driveway once we mostly stopped driving to stay at home.)


Hammett, William James, Van Leeuwenhoek explain Trump Cult

If you are like me, you have been looking to Nick and Nora Charles to solve the mystery of the Trump cult-like popularity. The novelist Dashiell Hammett created the crime solving couple in the 1930s; they appeared in movies starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. I don’t know if Nick and Nora were familiar with psychologist William James or with optics scientist Van Leeuwenhoek, but those gentlemen also belong in this conversation.

Laura Snyder, Eye of the Beholder

The historian Laura Snyder published a book (in 2015) about the 17th century Dutch geniuses Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek and Johannes Vermeer. She combined optics and art history and much else. The kind of realism demonstrated by Vermeer’s work conveys a “sense of bouding, that make-believe space that feels real.” I don’t know about Dr. Snyder’s qualifications in political science, but I felt that, even if a different context, she could have been describing the current political situations in the U.S. or U.K.

I could not find bouding in Ralph Mayer’s A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, so perhaps nether Mayer nor Snyder will object overmuch to my borrowing the term, peculiar to the Dutch language until appropriated here. I have not found a better term than bouding to describe the Trump cult or its appendages such as climate change denial.

Snyder explains, “Dutch theorists and artists used the term bouding as a blanket term for the many strategies that could be combined to create a compelling mimetic or imitative picture.” Or fantasy, if you will.

Fantasy is harmless until it is not. It transforms to harmful when mistaken for reality: guns don’t kill people, worldwide temperature is not rising, women have no right to control their own bodies. Enter the Trump cult.

Snyder notes an important observation: “Van Leeuwenhoek realized that what one thinks he sees is related to what he wants to believe. Believing is seeing, sometimes.”

She confirms this with a reference to the work of William James who coined the phrase ‘will the believe,’ noting that “sometimes we convince ourselves to believe what we choose to believe, even without rational evidence; so to, it can be said, we sometimes will ourselves to see what we want to see, or what we are accustomed to seeing.” [William James, 1956, The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy {and} Human Immortality. Dover Publications.]

The Thin Man

Which brings me back to Hammett. In one scene, a police officer, speaking to Nick Charles, anticipates our current political situation by eighty-five years: “It’s a funny thing—I suppose you’ve noticed it—the people who lie the most are nearly always the clumsiest at it, and they’re easier to fool with lies than most people too.” [Ukrainian conspiracy theories anyone?] “You’d think they’d be on the look-out for lies, but they seem to be the very ones that will believe almost anything at all. I suppose you’ve noticed that, haven’t you?”

At a later point, Nick himself makes a similar observation: “Most people—even women—get discouraged after you’ve caught them in the third or fourth straight lie and fall back on either truth or silence, but not Mimi.” [A character in the novel. Substitute Trump’s name here.] “She keeps trying and you’ve got to be careful or you’ll find yourself believing her, not because she seems to be telling the truth, but simply because you’re tired of disbelieving her.”

I am in no way suggesting that Snyder or Hammett would endorse my positions of politics or the environment, but James, Van Leeuwenhoek, and Hammett bring important insight to contemporary times.

The above, as a Generally True Pattern: The vitality of any system depends on the free flow of information.

One more unsolved mystery: Why did Hammett write only one Thin Man mystery?

Be Somewhere Else Now

Dog Wisdom

Dog Wisdom

If Ram Dass  was still here, would re really be here now? Or would he be somewhere else? If here, he might be lonely. Being somewhere else might be safer. Over several years and with increasing frequency, environmental reports suggest the coming end of civilization (such as it is). See my Help Nature section for a range of reports from the Pentagon to United Nations on climate change, etc.

Bill McKibben in his new book Falter and in interviews suggests there is still hope to avoid complete catastrophe. But being here now myself, I am less certain.

Environmentalists vs. Deniers

Environmental groups continue their excellent work of convincing the already convinced about the trouble nature is in. Climate deniers and their Saint Ayn Rand still prefer the virtue of short-term selfishness over long term survival (at least if that survival requires socialist cooperation.)

If anyone can claim to be here now, it is the Deniers, at least based on who has political and social control. We are all victims of environmental destruction. We are all also perpetrators of it through consumption of everything from rare earth minerals to hamburgers, use of close dryers, the coming endless numbers of driverless cars that will soon swarm over the earth like locusts.

In my series on Generally True Patterns, the cornerstone of this site, I have stated that if we truly believed ourselves a part of nature, we would behave differently in our relation to the earth than as we do at present. The way we be here now is not working terribly well. Everyone participates in the destruction, either reluctantly out of necessity or joyfully out of whatever maliciousness motivates the Randians.

The Solution: Be Somewhere Else

The mind-set and moral change to a less consumptive, less destructive way of life is nowhere on the cultural or social horizon. Rather than continue to beat a dead world (so to speak), I am thinking that I should instead write about dog wisdom and post pictures of wildflowers and other lovely nature scenes to Facebook and Instagram.

Beyond documenting what is being lost, this won’t much help much but being somewhere else may hold more solace than being here (now).

Photo image: Luca the dog by David L. Witt

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.

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

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.


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

Generally True Patterns #20

South slope of Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

South slope of Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

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




Part 20 of 22


Chapter 7 Part III Loss (environmentalism) 

The long series of defeats for the environmentalist cause stems from accepting a debate based on loss-thinking. By altering our perception from one of loss to one of increasing inclusion, the acceptance of a person/nature connection gathers meaning. In loss terms, the environment is reduced to a commodity, sets of objects with economic value, at risk of being too valuable to keep, too worthless to keep, or priced just right to exploit, consume, or transform into something else. The desperate truth about environmental preservation is that each time we lose anything from a wild place to a baobab tree, it is lost forever; each time we preserve a place, it is temporary, its security no better than our willingness to fight the next assault. All acts of preservation are at risk of loss; all wild things lost are gone irreversibly. In every instance of deciding to preserve or deciding to destroy, change comes to the larger system with attendant consequences. Acts which lead to the preservation or destruction of relationships with nature, with the economy, with our organizations and associations, with one another, are examples of specific separateness within the social realm and part of the generally true pattern that actions have consequences.

By often choosing to fight their battles on the loss-dimension of economic turf, environmentalists continue to lose literal ground. Managerial/bureaucratic environmentalism with its cost-benefit analysis reduces environmental issues to statistics for both the forces of preservation and the forces of destruction. Loss measurement is found in environmental impact statements, calculations of visitor days, motel and campground occupancy rates, and camping equipment sales. To fund their activities, some environmental preservation organizations push sales of outdoor clothing, camping supplies, and eco-tourism sending the inadvertent or advertent message that the consumers’ environment has become more important than the natural environment.

When government agencies plan the future of wilderness areas under mandates with titles such as “Limits of Acceptable Change,” accepted is the thesis that deliberate damage will be done to the “resource.” It begs the question of acceptable to whom or acceptable to what? What level of ski run length, width, and slope is acceptable to the riparian habitat below from the standpoint of the habitat itself? By removing meaning from the environmental debate and instead arguing over the usefulness of resources, both environmentalists and their opponents have contrived nature as an objectified and materialistic thing which can (and must) be exploited. Beauty itself can be a commodity. Environmental organizations sometimes trade less valuable lands for more valuable lands. This implies that some lands are non-valuable enough that they can be trashed in favor of higher standard property (usually, more “beautiful” land). Increasing exclusion is a political necessity when we accept loss as the measure of the person/nature split.

Academics have too often separated the physical consequences of climate change and mass species extinction from the moral consequences, hiding behind the call for ever more data collection before taking a position. Observational naturalists (Ernest Thompson Seton, John Muir, and their literary descendants such as Edward Abbey) have taken a more courageous stand, emphasizing the moral lessons to be learned from nature and our relationship to the natural world. The supposed dispassionate neutrality of the quantification and analysis data collectors is not neutral at all since not taking a stand always supports someone’s position. At the very least, as Sir Thomas Moore reputedly said, silence is consent.

An attitude of respect and reverence for the wild and natural is held as politically and economically aberrant in a civilization that favors exclusion over inclusion. Critics of environmentalism claim that it looks exclusively to the past, or more precisely, to the imagined idyllic conditions of the past at the expense of current prosperity. Actually, the philosophy of inclusion looks ahead by considering how current behaviors impact future outcomes. When we accept that what we do has consequences, then responsibility for those outcomes must be borne by governments, corporations, and most importantly, individuals. We can destroy that which we pretend to perceive as separate from ourselves, but upon rational acceptance of the person/nature connection (as demonstrated by generally true patterns) destroying the world we know for short term economic gain (only for the few) is the height of madness.

Those who perpetrate destruction, or who passively support it, drink the same water and breathe the same air. Two of our greatest observers of nature, the painter Thomas Cole and the writer James Fenimore Cooper, thought extensively about both connection and loss. In The Last of the Mohicans, the White frontiersman Hawk-eye, who reveres nature as much as the Indians with whom he lives and whose ways he has adopted as his own, observes, “Nature is sadly abused by man, when he once gets the mastery.” His antagonist, Maqua, the Indian who has adapted the worse lessons of European savagery and betrayal into his own bleak heart, says of the alien culture, “His gluttony makes him sick. God gave him enough, and yet he wants all. Such are the pale faces.” These are the finest literary statements of disconnection from nature.

In his paintings, Cole showed the Whites clearly as visitors to the edge of the wilderness where they stand out in their clothing, their tools and their homesteads, seemingly tenuous, but actually irresistible to the wild-nature they conquer. His Indians on the other hand, blend in to their wild surroundings as part of a larger visual pattern. Cooper and Cole were contemporaries living at a time when the rise of the American empire and the dominance of technology over wild-nature began to appear inevitable. The disconnection from nature that concerned both Cooper and Cole has continued as a theme for creative thinkers from later 19th century writers like Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville to contemporary science writers like Rachel Carson and Edwin O. Wilson.

In our time it is the dominance of wild-nature over technology that is inevitable. The wild-nature that we most cherish, that of tigers and untrammeled wilderness may not survive our onslaught, but bacterium, viruses, and larger small things will thrive endlessly. A future based on conscious loss is just that, a chosen direction on a small-minded path, not an inevitable one. There is an alternative: we could subject the decisions we make to the laws of nature in such a way that we live and thrive in accordance with this larger path. This mostly has to do with how we organize how we think and how we use language to express those thoughts. Knowledge arranged according to increasing inclusion rather than increasing exclusion leads us to a different place.

A final thought about loss: At least from the turn of this century, the state of Alaska has seen exceptional shifts in its climate as permafrost melts and fires ravage the land. A news report I heard about that state raised more questions than it answered: “In Alaska, which has been hard hit by wildfires, over two million acres of land have been lost.” Did that land really go somewhere, misplaced and beyond our finding? Or was the news report unconsciously making a deeper point? With the burning of ancient forests, an ancestral touchstone to our own distant past diminishes. The loss was not one of land, but one of meaning.

There really is no cure for a broken heart.

Next essay: Chapter 8 Inclusion





Generally True Patterns #19

Snow Ball Saxifrage, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Snow Ball Saxifrage, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

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




Part 19 of 22


Chapter 7 Part II Loss (tiger)

An economy and a politics based on loss rather than on pattern recognition is one that leads to impoverishment on multiple levels, devaluing biological diversity and the health of all living beings. In pursuing a public policy of conscious loss-generation—for instance warfare and genocide against other humans and other species—we might ask what generally true patterns support such activity. If we view the entirety as one of increasing inclusion, then we must reject loss as the means to achieving that end. As an example of this, we might subject a simple question to analysis both from the perspective of loss and the perspective of pattern recognition.

What good is the tiger?

The disappearance of the tiger from wild-nature has been proposed by environmentalist Neil Evernden as a metaphor for larger environmental crises. The aesthetic of natural fierceness—power and speed (velocity) combined with the beauty of the animal itself in relation with wilderness (position)—is suggestive of large meanings about freedom, life, death, and change. Meanings include the importance of the tiger to itself and its surroundings, and its symbolic meaning to us as interpreters: the qualified tiger. This tiger, the one facing certain extirpation from the wild finds itself in trouble because its meaning has been removed. There are those who like tigers (or the idea of tigers somewhere else), or who do not actively oppose them, but who discount tiger meaning through economic analysis. The measurable economic usefulness of tigers is primarily limited to illegal trafficking of its components: hides, claws, captivity-amusement value of live specimens. But this business is one without a future with the coming end of the tiger resource. It therefore can be argued that working for the continuance of the tiger based on economic grounds is nonsensical.

Favoring tigers based on ecological arguments is not much stronger. In the past, predator-prey relationships in which tigers were the fiercer part made sense in intact biological systems. Man-eating tigers scare people out of Mangrove swamps, saving those areas. Currently, so few tigers survive that a few less, or none, will likely not importantly disrupt natural systems that have already been disrupted anyway and may be washed away by rising sea levels. Holding on to wild tigers for their scientific value as dissertation subjects is of no help either. Value assignment as study object will do little to aid the tiger relationships of the plants and animals with which it is associated; they will all be equally swept away by the human tide. We also place aesthetic value on the tiger—it is beautiful and wild. But aesthetics no more than economics, ecological, or scientific value will save the tiger. All arguments made on any of these reasons regularly fail as preservationists look on hopelessly and helplessly, watching the tiger disappear from wild-existence.

From the perspective of pattern recognition, it may be seen that when the tiger finally goes, it will take part of us with it. There is no static constancy, only increasing or decreasing inclusion, a person/nature split or a person/nature connection. The politics and policies of loss operate at a deep level. Consciously removing individual or aggregate entities is another way of putting energy into a system and forcing it into a new form. Actions have consequences in and through time.

It is therefore not just the tiger we need to preserve, but the meaning to be derived from all the tiger relationships. An animal (including the human) is self- realized in relation to its society, and that society is realized only in interaction with its environment. Recognition of interconnectedness in the sense of tigers being an extension of us and us being an extension of them is an argument that may not win out, but one which may be more helpful to the tiger than just assigning to it an economic or scientific value. Conscious loss (removal in this case) creates instability which leads to unpredictable change. The change in the world resulting from the loss of the tiger may or may not be minor; but as a metaphor for larger environmental issues, the consequences of basing nearly all of our actions on a policy of conscious loss is monumental.

Conservationists and environmentalists, by basing their preservation arguments on the scientific, economic, and political definitions of loss, will indeed lose all they seek to preserve. The loss of the tiger and much else of wild-nature is inevitable as long as we remain on our present course. The trajectory of this debate alters only with a changing of both basic and principal definitions. The questions we need to ask, the policies we need to follow, are outside the path of loss and instead come directly from the enfolded potential of nature itself, the generally true patterns.

Next essay: Chapter 7 Part III Loss

Generally True Patterns #18

Rock Jasmine, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Rock Jasmine, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

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



Part 18 of 22


Chapter 7 Part I Loss (symptoms of beauty)

My observations come out of being struck by the beauty of order characterizing nature. Describing the symptoms of beauty does not explain the essence. To find that higher level of meaning, it is necessary to go into the structure of that beauty to discover a way to provide a better explanation of what we are observing. The potential of generally true patterns represents the essence of that structure, but it is the realized specifics that drive us emotionally into finding meaning.

I am continually drawn to the high mountain arctic alpine by its challenges and promise of adventure. At the tree line ecotone, tundra above, forest below, Engelmann spruces (Picea engelmannii) can grow to nearly the normal length of their kind, but sometimes laterally along the ground rather than vertically, a pattern known as krummholz. Bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata) produce foliage less dense, but at this elevation have more massive trunks than the spruce. These gnarled ancient ones tenaciously cling to the unpromising rocky alpine slopes where even the tallest of most other plants scarcely touches the belly of a medium-sized dog. Steep slopes show soil loss from storm erosion and moisture loss from the prevailing southwest wind. Nonetheless, this land nurtures the trees into a lengthy maturity.

Most years I visit the two most imposing pine trees inhabiting a large grove sprawling down a long south-facing slope. The larger of the two lives upslope of the other, its grayed, sculptural trunk growing parallel to the ground for a distance longer than I am tall before thrusting its bulk upward in the manner more typical of trees. The skyward facing side of this trunk has lost much of its bark and in one place has been worn over time into a shallow depression, a bowl where a thin leafed bunch grass and yellow Groundsels have taken root inside what becomes a diminutive rain pool after a downpour. The two trees reach out toward each other, their branch tips just coming together so that they look like arboreal lovers holding hands. Their ample fertility is evidenced by large numbers of pinecones beneath the spread of their limbs and by the dozens of younger pines farther down. The leaves at the end of each branch are whirled into the form of bristle-brush bottle washers; to others these branches suggest foxtails and give an alternative name to the tree.

Clark’s Nutcrackers, (Nucifraga columbiana) the size of a large jay (which is more or less what it is) pass low over the trees, their flapping wings producing a breathy puffing sound, then circle back to rustle about in the upper limbs of the pines. They settle dislodged cones in the ample crook of a dead branch, then turn them over and over picking out the ripe fruit. Some of the seeds fall near where I recline on the horizontal trunk later to be washed downhill by the rains or picked up and dropped by the birds above the parent tree. One of the seeds dropped by the birds as I watch may, as a mature tree, provide good seating for a future naturalist to watch Nutcrackers crack nuts a thousand years hence.

Most of the Bristlecones on this slope are less than four hundred years old. The oldest known member of this group—still living after 4900 years—grew in Nevada until collected (killed) by a biologist for the data provided by its tree rings. It is a misguided profession that converts the living into the dead for study. I don’t know the age of my reclining tree, but until the scientists find it, it will remain one of the oldest denizens of New Mexico. Tiwa Indian hunters must have passed by this tree prior to the building of their oldest multi-story adobe buildings over nine hundred years ago in the valley below. The Nutcrackers live only a few seasons, dogs somewhat longer, humans longer still, but even if I live to be very old, it will be as nothing compared to these trees which should outlast me by several centuries if they survive climate change and are otherwise left alone.

Rarely, hikers or horse riders pass nearby on the ridge above the Bristlecone grove. They never see me. I remain hidden and motionless beside the tree, trying to become as much a part of it as possible. It is the pursuit of the naturalist to become one with the surroundings. I don’t have to kill the tree to know it. In those moments, I make myself malleable and transform into some larger meaning than the small space I take up at most other times. I pull away from this place where I fit in so well with a sense of loss.

The death of its member branches is a natural part of the life of a Bristlecone. In the oldest trees there is at least as much dead wood as live, sometimes more. After death, their skeletons may stand for uncounted decades. The oldest dead trunks scattered across the alpine turf like bleached bones have been beyond this life for over a century. With an ancestry of over 10,000 years, since enough ice cleared out of the cirque after an age of ice, a visit here is a sojourn to the elder community. Like the prairie, the physical space occupied by an alpine tree is well beyond the reach of its branches and the flight of its attending birds. It also takes its place in an irreversible time of transformation and loss.

Vastly long after the death of the Groundsel, me, and even the aged tree itself, this ridge will erode, severely creating slope on which even the Bristlecones will not stand. If the planet’s atmosphere warms enough, even the tundra will be gone. And not withstanding human intrusion, long after the humans are gone, the mountains too will flatten and disappear. If life continues, the Nutcracker may have a successor bird for its ancestral niche and perhaps a successor species of naturalist devoted to its study. Now I hear the distant voices of hawks and on occasion, when the wind lets up, the voices of hikers whose words blur with the distance and mean nothing to me. This place is about loss, but also preservation, perseverance, transformation, and connection in time and space revealed by the repeated patterns of nature.

In my notes on these subjects from decades ago, I speculated on a general upward evolution of advancement: more efficient species, greater knowledge, a democratic political procession. Instead, change is neutral even if the circumstances of change may be more, or less, favorable as expressed by Carl Orff: “The wheel of Fortune turns, and I am put down, while someone else is taken up on high. Exalted gloriously, a king sits at the top. Let him beware his ruin!” As a generally true pattern, it may be stated:

Systems follow natural processes of change to maintain or transform into a different form.

In the physical realm, radioactive decay is such a process; in the biological realm, the carbon cycle circulates material through different life forms over time; and in the social realm, our understanding of the entirety reinvents itself through the progression of philosophies. The stories we tell ourselves about the way things are in the world often concern the nature and meaning of loss. In our time, political fascism (authoritarianism of both the so-called left and right) and religious fundamentalism (represented by many different groups and creeds) purports to explain the state of loss: Loss of land, resources, wealth, status, dignity, freedom, life itself. Common to each story is the assignment of blame to other people or to nature itself. All stories of disconnection are tales of loss. Stories of connection lead to a different way of thinking and acting.

To establish the person/nature connection in our lives, organizations, and societies, there are generally true patterns we must try to become conscious of. Whether or not we are aware, these patterns are operating all around us at all times. In our homes, workplaces, nations, in meditative or ecstatic or profane states, without our permission, potential unfolds into realized form. Defining complex issues one-dimensionally avoids coming to terms with the inherent energy flow leading to emergent properties and therefore has no basis in nature:

Aspects of existence are a collection of malleable properties rather than a set singularity.

This is one of pattern recognition’s most radical lessons: Nature operates with an economy of pattern and form to achieve complexity. With an understanding of the generally true patterns, what were once mere independent agents become instead aspects of changing forms with velocity and position. The reason we need to tell stories about things, events, and processes is that energy can dissipate into useful function or into purposeless void. Either way, it is a social realm example of the generally true that turbulence, position, velocity, and energy flow, both create and are created by us. This has been noted in the psychological sciences. William Reich observed that human happiness, what we might term contentment, arises from our ability to connect with nature. Theodore Roszak put forth the premise that human-caused pollution and destruction of the earth is an indication of the state of the human soul.

The stories we tell about loss are among our most important, not the less so for often degenerating into circular reasoning: We must give up our civil liberties to fight terrorists who would deprive us of our freedom. We must sacrifice the environment (the source of our economy) for the sake of growing our economy. These arguments nearly always win out over opposing views. In the tradition of the Great Chain of Being, questions that we might ask regarding consequences of actions and relatedness of all things, events, and processes are often not accepted as valid by political and media authorities. Any pattern larger than their own personal gain is not considered relevant. Questions of meaning can be deflected by construction of an entirety characterized by static constancy where change and time don’t matter. Environmentalists for the most part have accepted this state of definition, equally ignoring the existence of generally true patterns and usually asking questions or making protests relevant only within the context of those who have defined loss instead of the more accurate perspective of change and relationship as our prevailing wind.

Next essay: Chapter 7 Part II Loss

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