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

Generally True Patterns #16

Parry Primrose, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Parry Primrose, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

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





Part 16 of 22


Chapter 6 Part III Organization, Leadership and Imprecision (the change process)

Statements about patterns of the generally true often include either the words energy or information or both. These qualities can be interpreted as signals. The deep pattern of all energy and all information can be summarized:

Structures of organization are systems of signals expressed in the form of energy, matter, and information in physical and cognitive systems.

Consideration of generally true patterns provide a means of processing signals that evolve over time as more or new information is known, gathered, or accumulated. When the intake or generation of new energy slows enough or even stops, the system will wind down under the weight on its own entropy and eventually cease to function. The unpredictability of generative signals is problematic for bureaucratic or authoritarian organizations. A historical correlation can be demonstrated between a civilization’s failure and its running out of information just as natural resources support physical structures and psychic or moral energy support cognitive structures. The long line of failed authoritarian organizations is illustrative of energy non-replenishment, which the leaders of the Soviet Union didn’t understand. The input of signals forces change. Open systems tend to develop a more complex web of interrelationships. The emphasis on open systems has a political overtone valuing democratic over authoritarian. Acceptance of a democratic political model might lead us to perceive such patterns in nature. The quality of openness could allow us to recognize and employ this generally true pattern:

Organizational structures adapt to fit needs (or events or situations) as need arises.

An ideal philosophy for an organization’s leader to understand is accepting change as a given, and moving into rather than fighting it. In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, by stepping into the path of an attacker (change) the adept accepts the onrush of new energy (information) allowing the situation to move to a new stage while at the same time maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. Disequilibrium (signals in apparent chaos) leads to creativity (evolution) as the aspects of a complex system re-emerge to take on new form and new life, and then more energy leads to a period of new self-organization. These forms of conversion repeat endlessly through time.

Generally true patterns are refinements of one another, interconnected in such a way within the entirety that we should not try to entirely separate one from the next. They read with a certain likeness of character; each is a way into the larger system of patterns, but no one of them is the right way in. In social systems, the task of a leader is to understand the subtlety among them and choose the most appropriate to apply to a particular problem.

The leader as systemist learns to use patterns of the generally true as a means of traveling through various perceptions of time and multiple layers of problems faced by an organization. The role of leadership (as opposed to management) in an organization is to call for change and begin to implement the processes that make for change. Sometimes this process fails. Among the possible reasons for this failure is the fear or unwillingness of the leaders themselves to accept the concept of change so deeply that they are willing to change their personal attitudes. (Again, this equally applies to the way we organize our own lives and pursuits.) It is not enough for leaders to call for change. They must understand the structural dynamics of change in order to internalize acceptance of the concept and then act upon that recognition. Pattern recognition provides a way into this process. Here are three brief comparisons of pattern recognition and leadership practices.

Pattern: An alteration or change in an agent or process can send permutations through a system.

Leadership practice: Making a deep change in oneself can cause changes in the surrounding organizational environment. Internally driven leadership intent can make nearly anyone in an organization an agent of change.

Pattern: Systems evolve where movement of energy pushes the system to the edge of chaos, the place where creativity and adaptation to changing conditions takes place.

Leadership practice: Understanding organizations from an ecological perspective of seeing a relationship among all players in an environment. Systems must live on the edge of random disorder to generate the chaotic patterned disorder necessary to the evolution of the system.

Pattern: Diminishment of energy into a system leads the organizational structure to resemble a closed system.

Leadership practice: Recognition that the dynamic change process has been replaced by a gradual stasis, failure to adapt, and ultimate collapse that leads toward extinction of the system. Incremental or slow change in oneself or in an organization keeps open the possibility of reversing the process of change into a new form, but it also keeps open the option of returning to the old ways. Deep (authentic) change is not accepted. The attempt by a leader to retain control over all the processes in the system is a way of limiting the process of change itself and thus the inflow of energy. Energy starved systems act contrary to the surrounding environment. Failure by a living system (organization, individual, species) to adapt assures systemic failure. Taking actions based on an illusion of control over the environment is similarly dangerous to an organization over the long run. Surrendering control is difficult to achieve since the concept of organization itself implies some degree of predictability. A leader’s willingness to accept guidance within pattern processes rather than attempting control and absolute prediction of specific outcomes is what I mean by giving up the illusion of control.

There is in these two approaches a dichotomy between a content orientation favoring control and equilibrium and a process orientation allowing dynamism and emergence (spontaneous self-organization). If we accept the second model as the more accurate reflection of reality, then a system (internalized in our perceptions) of constant change creates a particularly active kind of universe. When an organization becomes more open to change, it risks increasing disorder, especially in the short run, but stands to gain an importation of ideas, unexpected resources, and a possible evolutionary advantage.

This advantage is a head start on the change process which is in any event inevitable, whatever our resistance to it. Since we cannot foretell the future, what is not gained is an exact image of what will happen next. Since pattern recognition does give us a general if imprecise idea of what could happen, the risk in letting go of the illusion of control is less risky than holding onto it. It is not enough to say that we embrace the idea that we live in an environment of change. By itself, such a statement is largely without meaning. Acceptance of change as the actual model of reality calls for a reordering of how we organize knowledge, away from a concept of separate but connected events toward a concept of interconnection of all things, events, and processes into networks of systems.

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

Generally True Patterns #15

Parry Lousewort, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Parry Lousewort, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

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



Part 15 of 22


Chapter 6 Part II Organization, Leadership and Imprecision(2073)

The fossil light from a distant star may be analyzed to determine the elements fueling that star. Mammals learn by observation of others. Scholars and novelists convey their truth through storytelling. Secretiveness, as it is practiced in organizations, or obfuscation promulgated by bureaucracy contradicts the pattern of information flow, cutting back the energy available to a system, often compromising its long-term survivability. In an attempt to create maximum stability by means of diminishing energy flow, authoritarian organizations frequently collapse from the failure to adapt. Secretive or open:

All production is associated with certain costs.

This is as true at the cellular level as it is at the corporate. Energy transference is required in the making or transformation of anything, a principle more clearly understood for physical systems. Its application in living systems is more problematic but can still be traced. What is imperfectly understood is how to account for costs in human economic systems. A reductionist approach is selective in what is quantifiable as costs—only certain kinds of costs are valid. Looking at accrued expenses systemically creates a different accounting regime. Allowing for all costs occurring within a complex system such as a social organization would mean assigning value to human effort, opportunity costs for other kinds of production foregone, and environmental consequences. For instance, the profit and loss report for a timber harvest shows costs of labor and equipment compared to price of sale of the final product. Not included in the accounting are costs such as carbon pollution and harm to water quality, wildlife, plants, and aesthetics.

By recognizing all the costs that occur within the system, a truer picture results than with the current approach of including only some of the costs. Complex, systemic cost accounting of production by human organizations could present a more accurate (but not exact) model more closely aligned to the energy accounting methods of nature and thus more closely aligned with the generally true pattern. In our considerations, we must also take into account:

Major changes in a system can come suddenly.

Thermonuclear transformation of elements in stars; rapid evolution within a species (such as wolves becoming dogs); the unexpected bankruptcy of a major multi-national corporation; all of these suggest sudden, largely unpredictable change as a prevailing pattern of the universe. A theory in the long debate of catastrophism vs. gradualism was named “punctuated equilibrium” by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge. Environmental changes elicit immediate responses, with each bifurcation leading to a change in the evolutionary paths of individual organisms and species as well as the ecosystems they inhabit. Specifics do not repeat: an organism is not reinvented into the same form as a previous one, nor apparently galaxies, but the rapid change pattern exists over time resulting in a new emergent self-organization of the system:

A change in the environment of an area will be accompanied by a change in the population of that environment.

In living systems, cold and dark in the autumn is accompanied by a falling of leaves. In a volume of interstellar space, the local population of photons is diminished (according to theory) by the presence of a black hole that captures particles. In any of the three realms a change in one place creates a perturbation through the whole system. Another way to state this is that:

Reciprocity is inevitable.

Also note that while change is driven in part by chance, change can also move through logic:

Systems must be built through the needed developmental stages.

In an ecosystem, successful reintroduction of climax species does not skip steps but develops through plant and animal succession stages. It is for this reason that human attempts to “restore” damaged ecosystems meet with difficulty. In correlation with this:

Evolution is a constant in nature.

From genetic mutations to the presence of play in mammalian species to the ability of a business concern to become a learning organization, innovation is present at all levels. Solar systems and entire galaxies are born, burn out, and are then recreated in a new form over time. Creativity, like history and memory, is an aspect of evolution. The long trajectory of creativity in any form also faces resistance based on past choices:

Longevity is subject to limitations.

When organisms adopted genetic recombination through sex, the rate of evolutionary process increased, but the price of sex was death, since that progress depended upon one generation succeeding another. Creativity and destruction are, as Herakleitos suggested, the same process. From molecules to individual cells to species, genera, families, business ventures, economic systems, civilizations to galaxies, all things run a course. The prospect of termination can be negative for the individual agent but not necessarily for the system as a whole. Further, the individual or collective agent is restricted in terms of placement:

Agents, acting separately or collectively, claim a portion of physical or conceptual space as its own.

Placement includes both the physical space taken up by a robin and the concept among robins of territoriality. Ideologies and ideas are inhabited cognitive space. Gravitation and other physical laws make a different kind of claim on space, but a claim nonetheless. The concept of claim, whether mental or physical, presupposes that all things, processes, events, and organizations undergo some degree of movement. For living systems, at least two important aspects of claim arise. While not generally true in the three realms, they arise from the generally true: (1) All living forms constantly move toward a place of better opportunity, whether by choice or by chance. (2) All living things are impacted by other systems and may be modified or eliminated. (3) A living being is so much a part of its environment that it is, in effect, its environment; without an environment to live in, it cannot exist; equally, in its absence, the environment is a different place. There is also this:

The closer a system gets to equilibrium, the less resilient it becomes to any changes in the environment.

Forest fire suppression over decades was meant to establish permanent equilibrium but instead weakened the system it was meant to protect, leading to the catastrophe of major crown fires and interfering with normal tree reproduction cycles. The related concept is that:

 All systems are dynamic and evolving or in stasis and dying.

Change represents a kind of system where change itself changes the conditions under which change occurs. For instance, in physics, within the concept of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, space and time underwent changes in the moments after the event occurred. In the biology of ecosystems, development possibilities are explored by the system itself through natural selection that goes beyond individuals to the mass of relationships among aggregates of individuals. The concepts of self-organization and co-evolution enter here. A non-equilibrium state gives rise to complexity. As a generally true pattern, it has already been summarized as change compounds. Unsettledness is the font of evolution. Imprecision is its signature.

Systems are identifiable as entities within an environment. They are also of the environment, acted upon and acting upon the surroundings in an interconnection of ongoing processes. Time may be linear from the standpoint of a modern social organization, but energy acting within time may be cyclical, giving rise to patterns:

Systems follow natural processes of renewal to maintain themselves, including the ability to evolve into a different form.

Both the carbon cycle in biology and Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm progression show how nature seems to have a preference for recurrence of generalities. The life element carbon recycles in a generally similar way over time, although the manifestations of that carbon alters in the form of different individuals and different species. In the course of time, thought gives rise to different theories of how nature is ordered. The process of refining goes on through history while the thoughts themselves change as additional information becomes available to foster that thought. A leader might guide an organization in a particular direction, making use of available energy to renew the organization or using energy to force the organization to take on an altogether new form. This form itself, which seems solid when looked at from the outside, is from the inside an evolving interconnection of things, events, and processes:

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

This is basic to physics. It is also illustrative in ecology, the science of life relationships to environment. The robin outside my office window may be predator or prey, but neither the individual nor the individual as representative of its species is simplistic, particularly in relation to me the observer. The robin who inhabits the juniper trees is by turns a stationary object observed through my binoculars; a blur of motion as it moves through the forest; an active individual; a participating member of a flock; a consumer of living things; an energetic force as carrier of its informational genetic code; an input mechanism for other species, spreading seeds, depositing nutrients, and providing sustenance to other organisms with its own death. What is the role of the robin in the forest ecosystem? It is no one thing, or rather, it is at any given moment one or more processes. Through all its activities, the robin is a pattern of accomplishments, a system of its own body and life events, part of a larger system of all robins, part of the carbon cycle, and so on, subsumed into ever larger systems.

The ever-changing role of an organization and its leadership could be similarly broken into its unique aspects, but with the understanding that all the components and all the interrelationships cannot be charted. The leadership lesson is that the thing, event, or process we observe is not just the thing itself, but something more vast yet limited at the moment of observation by our choice of perception. (By leadership as an imprecision practice, I refer both to organizations and to the responsibility we take in any aspect of our own lives.)

Returning to the robin, but reversing course from its relation to the outside world to its relation to the inside world, on the robin subatomic level there is no longer matter at all, but there are electromagnetic forces holding particles together long enough and securely enough to form solids. There are mostly empty regions of space consisting of imperfectly understood waves and particles of energy. The mysterious motivation of movement on this level can be stated in the form of an additional generally true statement:

Energy moves through all systems.

The energy of sunlight is utilized by the supraorganic system by way of transformation in plants through photosynthesis.

In the social realm, the distribution of information in an organization is the most important measure of energy flow. In organizations, including organizations of our own beliefs and actions, the energy of power is generated by the changing imprecision of relationships. The movement of this kind of energy through an organization is analogous to the way energy moves through any natural system. Information shared through a system such as an organization gives many people an opportunity to act in the best interest of the group: If we all know what the goal is, we are more likely to work cooperatively than it we don’t know the goal. In the complex web of an ecosystem of which the robin is a part, a larger number of web strands (interconnections) usually give greater strength to the system as a whole. If this perception is correct, then an application of the lesson could be found in creating a model for an organization where distributed power (information) gives authority and responsibility to the greatest number, increasing the number of stakeholders who have an interest in the outcome of whatever processes are going on.

Distribution of information and power in human systems can create an opportunity for individual expression as well as the possibility of effecting changes in the system, thus altering the course of the system’s further evolution. Restricted distribution of information, such as corporate accounting fraud, can lead to the collapse of an organization. Shutting off energy flow is deadly to any living system. In the natural systems of wild-nature, such flow-through of energy creates long term interrelationships that evolve without coming apart even through the lives and deaths of individuals and species. Order can be seen through repeating patterns.

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


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