Tuesday, February 26, 2013

meta-Tao hierarchies

The fourth metapattern introduced by Tyler Volk and Jeff Bloom are hierarchies (from greek ἱεραρχία, ierarchia, derived of hierárkhēs, composed of hieros "sacred" and árkhō "leader", therefore with the overall meaning of "leader of sacred rites"), conceptual structures which define relations among layers, sheets, groups of elements and levels of a system; the most known type of hierarchical structure is the pyramid-like, where the system description levels and the information flows are suitably represented in a vertical structure, typically used in organizations.
In the case of socio-cultural systems, insofar a pyramidal structure is perceived by the involved subjects, some myths are established such "control" and "power":

and related concepts such leadership:

Pyramid-type hierarchies commonly used have the characteristic that the related vertical levels have homogeneous elements, for example they contain always persons, even if with different roles and functions. The Russellian hierarchy of logical types instead shows a logical gap between levels and metalevels, applied for example by Bateson to the logical categories of learning and communication, and found also in description hierarchies where there is a logical dishomogeneity between levels, for example in the case of the transition from physical-chemical levels of the natural sciences to the higher of life and of emergent phenomena in complex systems. The pyramidal hierarchies are not the only possible; for the description of several conceptual systems categorizations of transversal or lateral type may be useful.


Hierarchies tend to be depicted as pyramidal arrangements of sheets. Hierarchies are identified as the relationships between layers become evident. In most cases, hierarchies are exemplified by power or control moving downward. In other cases, the top layers may indicate greater importance or significance. Information, materials, or energy move upward. They tend to create stratified stability. However, this stability may depend upon the types of binary relationships and other patterns that are created within the overall structure.


  • In science: trophic layers, phylogenetic trees, animal societies (bees, ants, chimpanzees, wolves), etc.
  • In architecture and design: pyramids, building design and layout, etc.
  • In art: as form, etc.
  • In social sciences: governmental and organizational structures; classrooms, schools and schooling; some learning theories; etc.
  • In other senses: information trees, branching decision trees, etc.


The Pattern Underground

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tao induction

the Division Bell, cover, Storm Thorgerson
The induction of an altered discrete state of consciousness (d-ASC) starting from the base state of consciousness b-SoC is a non trivial procedure, even if in many cases quite natural, for example for the transition from the waking state to sleep. The base state of consciousness is stabilized in multiple ways and to transit to an altered d-ASC is necessary "to force" a disruption and a repatterning.

Induction of Altered States

We have now seen that a d-SoC is a system that is stabilized in multiple ways, so as to maintain its integrity in the face of changing environmental input and changing actions taken in response to the environment. Suppose that the coping function of the particular d-SoC is not appropriate for the existing environmental situation, or that the environment is safe and stable and no particular d-SoC is needed to cope with it, and you want to transit to a d-ASC: what do you do? This chapter examines that process of inducing a d-ASC in general from the systems approach, and then considers its application to three transitions from ordinary consciousness: to sleep, to hypnosis, and to meditative states.

Inducing a d-ASC: General Principles

The staring point is the baseline state of consciousness (b-SoC), usually the ordinary d-SoC. The b-SoC is an active, stable, overall patterning of psychological functions which, via multiple stabilization relationships (loading, positive and negative feedback, and limiting) among its constituent parts, maintains it identity in spite of environmental changes. I emphasize multiple stabilization, for as in any well-engineered complex system, there are many processes maintaining a state of consciousness: it would be too vulnerable to unadaptive disruption if there were only a few. Inducing the transition to a d-ASC is a three-step process, based on two psychological (and/or physiological) operations. The process is what happens internally; the operations are the particular things you do to yourself, or someone does to you, to make the induction process happen. In the following pages the steps of the process are described sequentially and the operations are described sequentially, but note that the same action may function as both kinds of induction operation simultaneously.

Induction Operations: Disruption and Patterning

The first induction operation is to disrupt the stabilization of your b-SoC, to interfere with the loading, positive and negative feedback, and limiting processes/structures that keep your psychological structures operating within their ordinary range. Several stabilization processes must be disrupted. If, for example, someone were to clap his hands loudly right now, while you are reading, you would be somewhat startled. Your level of activation would be increased; you might even jump. I doubt, however, that you would enter a d-ASC. Throwing a totally unexpected and intense stimulus into your own mind could cause a momentary shift within the pattern of your ordinary d-SoC but not a transition to a d-ASC. If you were drowsy it might totally disrupt one or two stabilization processes for a moment, but since multiple stabilization processes are ongoing on, this would not be sufficient to alter your state of consciousness.So the first operation in inducing a d-ASC is to disrupt enough stabilization process to a great enough extent that the baseline pattern of consciousness cannot maintain its integrity. If only some of the stabilization processes are disrupted, the remaining undisrupted ones may be sufficient to hold the system together; thus, an induction procedure can be carried out without actually inducing a d-ASC. Unfortunately, some investigators have equated the procedure of induction with the presence of a d-ASC, a methodological fallacy. Stabilization processes can be disrupted directly when they can be identified, or indirectly by pushing some psychological functions to and beyond their limits of functioning. Particular subsystems, for example, can be disrupted by overloading them with stimuli, depriving them of stimuli, or giving them anomalous stimuli that cannot processed in habitual ways. The functioning of a subsystem can be disrupted by withdrawing attention/awareness energy or other psychological energy from it, a gentle kind of disruption. If the operation of one subsystem is disrupted, it may alter the operation of a second subsystem via feedback paths, etc. Drugs can disrupt the functioning of the b-SoC, as can any intense physiological procedure, such as exhaustion or exercise. The second induction operation is to apply patterning forces, stimuli that then push disrupted psychological functioning toward the new pattern of the desired d-ASC. These patterning stimuli may also serve to disrupt the ordinary functioning of the b-SoC insofar as they are incongruent with the functioning of the b-SoC. Thus the same stimuli may serve as both disruptive and patterning forces. For example, viewing a diagram that makes little sense in the baseline state can be a mild disrupting force. But the same diagram, viewed in the altered state, may make sense or be esthetically pleasing and thus may become a mandala for meditation, a patterning force.

Steps in the Induction Process

Figure 7-1 sketches the steps of the induction process. The b-SoC is represented as blocks of various shapes and sizes (representing particular psychological structures) forming a system/construction (the state of consciousness) in a gravitational field (the environment). At the extreme left, a number of psychological structures are assembled into a stable construction, the b-SoC. The detached figures below the base of the construction represent psychological potentials not available in the b-SoC.
Disrupting (and patterning) forces, represented by the arrows, are applied to begin induction. The second figure from the left depicts this beginning and represents change within the b-SoC. The disruptive (and patterning) forces are being applied, and while the overall construction remains the same, some the relationships within it have changed. System change has about reached its limit: at the right and left ends of the construction, for example, things are close to falling apart. Particular psychological structures/subsystems have varied as far as they can while still maintaining the overall pattern of the system.
Also shown is the changing relationship of some of the latent potentials outside consciousness, changes we must postulate from this systems approach and our knowledge of the dynamic unconscious, but about which we have little empirical data.
If the disrupting forces are successful in finally breaking down the organization of the b-SoC, the second step of the induction process occurs, the construction/state of consciousness comes apart, and a transitional period occurs. In Figure 7-1 this is depicted as the scattering of parts of the construction, without clear-cut relationships to one another or perhaps with momentary dissociated relationships as with the small square, the circle, and the hexagon on the left side of the transition diagram. The disrupting forces are now represented by the light arrow, as they are not as important now that the disruption has actually occurred; the now more important patterning forces are represented by the heavy arrows. The patterning stimuli/forces must now push the isolated psychological structures into a new construction, the third and final step of the processes in which a new, self-stabilized structure, the d-ASC, forms. Some of the psychological structures/functions present in the b-SoC, such as those represented by the squares, trapezoids, circles, and small hexagon, may not be available in this new state of consciousness; other psychological functions not available in the b-SoC have now become available. Some functions available in the b-SoC may be available at the same or at an altered level of functioning in the d-ASC. There is a change in both the selection of human potentials used and the manner in which they are constructed into a working system.
Figure 7-1 also indicates that the patterning and disrupting forces may have to continue to be present, perhaps in attenuated form, in order for this new state to be stable. The d-ASC may not have enough internal stabilization at first to hold up against internal or environmental change, and artificial props may be needed. For example, a person may at first have to be hypnotized in a very quiet, supportive environment in order to make the transition into hypnosis, but after he has been hypnotized a few times, the d-ASC is stable enough so that he can remain hypnotized under noisy, chaotic conditions.
In following this example you probably thought of going from your ordinary state to some more exotic d-ASC, but this theoretical sequence applies for transition from any d-SoC to any other d-SoC. Indeed, this is also the deinduction process, the process of going from a d-ASC back to the b-SoC. Disrupting forces are applied to destabilize the altered state, and patterning forces to reinstate the baseline state; a transitional period ensues, and the baseline state re-forms. Since it is generally much easier to get back into our ordinary state, we usually pay little attention to the deinduction process, although it is just as complex in principle as the induction process.
It may be that some d-SoCs cannot be reached directly from another particular d-SoC; some intermediary d-SoC has to be traversed. The process is like crossing a stream that is too wide to leap over directly: you have to leap onto one or more stepping stones in sequence to get to the other side. Each stepping stone is a stable place in itself, but they are transitional with respect to the beginning and end points of the process. Some of the jhana states of Buddhist meditation may be of this nature. This kind of stable transitional state should not be confused with the inherently unstable transitional periods discussed above, and we should be careful in our use of the words state and period.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

the imperial touch of Tap

Vladimir Ashkenazy, third movement "Rondo"
Beethoven´s Piano Concerto No. 5 "Emperor".
London´s Royal Festival Hall 1974.
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.

Monday, February 18, 2013

a legacy for Tao - I

Angels Fear Revisited: Gregory Bateson’s Cybernetic Theory of Mind Applied to Religion-Science Debates

Abstract Gregory Bateson intended his posthumous book Angels Fear as an approach to the scientific explanation of natural phenomena in the living world based on cybernetics that would not be so narrowly mechanistic that it triggers a fundamentalist reaction. This issue is newly urgent in the contemporary context of global religious conflict, resurgent fundamentalism, and the intelligent design debate. A redefinition of mind in terms of process and organization sufficient to analyze both evolution and learning, and an application of the Russellian theory of logical types to explanatory systems are central to his approach.


The interdisciplinary conference brought together in Copenhagen in August 2005 by Professor Jesper Hoffmeyer was a fitting climax to the Gregory Bateson Centennial. First, because my father sought ways to make what he was saying accessible and useful to biologists, but second, because the broader interdisciplinary conversation was essential to preserve the weave of Gregory’s thinking. For biologists to discover what may be useful in his work it is necessary to consider writings that are primarily oriented to other disciplines, about, for instance, mental illness, where much of his thinking about communication can be found, or religion. Gregory regarded religions as efforts to understand the living world that might encode insights yet to be explored in other contexts, as exemplified in his comparison between Genesis, in which order is imposed on the natural world by god, and a New Guinea origin myth in which order is immanent in the material world and it is disorder that needs to be defeated. His primary approach, even in discussing matters that his colleagues declined to discuss, was as a scientist, but he regarded a sense of wonder at the natural world as a valuable corrective to the limitations of science.

Bateson’s Redefinition of Mind

The rule when Gregory began work as a scientist, as he expressed it, was perfectly clear: “in scientific explanation, there should be no use of mind or deity, and there should be no appeal to final causes. All causality should flow with the flow of time, with no effect of the future upon the present or the past. No deity, no teleology, and no mind should be postulated in the universe that was to be explained”.
The turning point for his thinking at the Macy conferences on cybernetics, was reflected in the title Warren McCulloch gave to the second conference in 1946: “Teleological Mechanisms and Circular Causal Systems.” In that title there is already an expression of the particular epistemological exploration that engaged Gregory for the rest of his life: cybernetics could be looked at as a way of understanding what looks like final cause or purpose in systems where self-corrective feedback loops provide for an “effect of the future on the present.” If causation does not always flow with the flow of time, we need a way of talking about it without postulating an external agent or deity.
Because of this characteristic, particularly in living systems, Gregory defied taboo by redefining the word “mind” to refer to material systems so organized that they have the immanent capacity for self-correction. Gregory listed six “criteria of mental process” in Mind and Nature: “A mind is an aggregate of interacting parts… triggered by difference … requiring collateral energy …, [and] circular (or more complex) chains of determination … [resulting in] transforms (i.e. coded versions) of events … disclosing a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena”. I mention a seventh in Angels Fear that we discussed just before his death, the uneven distribution of information. He might have argued that this was entailed by one of the others but I put it forward because of his emphasis on the importance of parts of any system not having full information about other parts.
An examination of this list reveals that although Gregory is speaking of material systems dependent on physical energy, the process involves non-material abstractions and communication: triggering by difference, coding, and logical types.

the merry touch of Tao

Vladimir Horowitz
Mozart's Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major-K. 488-Allegro
The Orchestra of La Scala, Director:Carlo Maria Giulini
Burial site in the crypt of Toscanini family, his father-in-law Arturo Toscanini.
Cimitero Monumentale, Milano, Italy

The Horowitz Website

codependent arising selfless Tao

© Igor Morski
The absence of a Self revealed by the Abhidhamma analysis of the five aggregates of the subjective experience, with its consequences for cognitive sciences, poses the question of how it may be understood on the basis of a Selfless mind.
The authors begin this discussion in the context of three examples: the model of agents society proposed by Marvin Minsky - a paradigm for Artificial Intelligence -,  la object relations theory, proposed in psychoanalysis by William Fairbairn and developed by the work of Melanie Klein, and the idea of codependent arising, from eastern traditions:

Selfless Minds

Societies of Mind

We have now seen in some detail that brains are highly cooperative systems. Nonetheless, they are not uniformly structured networks, for they consist of many networks that are themselves connected in various ways. As we have already sketched for the case of the visual system, the entire system resembles a patchwork of subnetworks assembled by a complex process of tinkering, rather than a system that results from some clean, unified design. This kind of architecture suggests that instead of looking for grand, unified models for all network behaviors, one should study networks whose abilities are restricted to specific cognitive activities and then look for ways to connect the networks.
This view of cognitive architecture has begun to be taken seriously by cognitive scientists in various ways. In this chapter we will see how it also provides a natural entry point for the next stage of the dialogue between cognitive science and the mindfulness/awareness approach to human experience. To make the discussion clear, we will explore this next stage on the basis of Marvin Minsky's and Seymour Papert's recent proposal to study the mind as a society, for. This proposal takes the patchwork architecture of cognition as a central element.
Minsky and Papert present a view in which minds consist of many "agents" whose abilities are quite circumscribed: each agent taken individually operates only in a microworld of small-scale or "toy" problems. The problems must be of a small scale because they become unmanageable for a single network when they are scaled up. This last point has not been obvious to cognitive scientists. It is to a large extent a result of the many years of frustration in AI with attempts to find global solutions (for example, in the form of a General Problem Solver) and of the relative success in finding solutions to more local tasks - solutions that cannot, however, be extended beyond specific domains. The task, then, is to organize the agents who operate in these specific domains into effective larger systems or "agencies," and these agencies in tum into higher-level systems. In doing so, mind emerges as a kind of society.
It is important to remember here that, although inspired by a closer look at the brain, this model is of the mind. In other words, it is not a model of neural networks or societies; it is a model of the cognitive architecture that abstracts from neurological detail. Agents and agencies are not, therefore, entities or material processes; they are abstract processes or functions. The reader is no doubt familiar with this theme of various levels by now, but the point bears emphasizing, especially since Minsky and Papert sometimes write as if they were talking about cognition at the level of the brain.
The model of the mind as a society of numerous agents is intended to encompass a multiplicity of approaches to the study of cognition, ranging from distributed, self-organizing networks to the classical, cognitivist conception of localized, serial symbolic processing. The society of mind purports to be, then, something of a middle way in present cognitive science. This middle way challenges a homogenous model of the mind, whether in the form of distributed networks at one extreme or symbolic processers at the other extreme.
This move is particularly apparent when Minsky and Papert argue that there are virtues not only to distribution but to insulation, that is to mechanisms that keep various processes apart. The agents within an agency may be connected in the form of a distributed network, but if the agencies were themselves connected in the same way, they would, in effect, constitute one large network whose functions were uniformly distributed. Such uniformity, however, would restrict the ability to combine the operations of individual agencies in a productive way. The more distributed these operations are, the harder it is to have many of them active at the same time without interfering with one another. These problems do not arise, however, if there are mechanisms to keep various agencies insulated from each other. These agencies would still interact, but through more limited connections, such as those typical of sequential, symbolic processing.
The details of such a view are, of course, debatable. But the overall picture of mind not as a unified, homogenous entity, nor even as a collection of entities, but rather as a disunified, heterogenous collection of networks of processes seems not only attractive but also strongly resonant with the experience accumulated in all the fields of cognitive science. Such a society can obviously be considered at more than one level. What counts as an agency, that is, as a collection of agents, could, if we change our focus, be considered as merely one agent in a larger agency. And conversely, what counts as an agent could, if we resolve our focus in greater detail, be seen to be an agency made up of many agents. In the same way, what counts as a society will depend too on our chosen level of focus.
Let us take an example. Minsky begins his Society of Mind with the example of an agent whose specialty is building towers out of toy blocks. But to build a tower, one needs to start the tower, add new blocks, and decide when to finish. So this agent-Builder-requires the help of the sub-agents Begin, Add, and Finish, and these subagents require still more agents, such as Find and Pick up. The activities of all these agents combine to accomplish the task of building a tower. If we want to think of Builder as a single agent (a homunculus, maybe even with a will, who performs actions), then Builder is whatever it is that switches on all these agents. From the emergent point of view, however, all of these agents combine to produce Builder as an agency that constructs toy towers.
Minsky's and Papert's society of mind is not, of course, concerned with the analysis of direct experience. But Minsky draws on a delightfully wide range of human experience, from playing with children's blocks to being an individual who is aware and can introspect. In many ways, Minsky's work is an extended reflection on cognitive science and human experience, one that is committed to the "subpersonal,"but does. not wish to lose sight for too long of the personal and experiential. At certain points, Minsky even senses the kinship between some of his ideas and those of the Buddhist tradition, for he begins six of his pages with quotations from the Buddha.
Minsky does not follow the lead that his own citations suggest, however. He argues instead that although there is no room for a truly existing self in cognitive science, we cannot give up our conviction in such a self. At the very end of The Society of Mind, science and human experience simply come apart. And since we cannot choose between the two, we are ultimately left with a condition of schizophrenia, in which we are "condemned" (by our constitution) to believe in something we know not to be true (our personal selves).
Let us emphasize that this kind of consequence is not peculiar to Minsky. Indeed, cognitivism forces us to separate cognition as representation from cognition as consciousness and in so doing inevitably leads us to the view that, in Jackendoff's words, "consciousness is not good for anything."
Thus rather than building a genuine bridge between the computational and the phenomenological mind, Jackendoff simply reduces the latter to a mere "projection" of the former. And yet, as Jackendoff also notes, "Consciousness seems too important to one's life-too much fun-to conceive of it as useless." Thus once again science and human experience simply come apart.
It is only by enlarging the horizon of cognitive science to include an open-ended analysis of human experience that we will be able to avoid this predicament. We will return to consider this impasse in its Minskian form in greater detail. At this point, however, we will tum to a discussion of ideas of society and properties of emergence in two disciplines that examine experience from perspectives other than cognitive science: we will discuss psychoanalysis briefly and the mindfulness/awareness meditation tradition at greater length.

The Society of Object Relations

Within psychoanalysis, a new school, so different from Freudian theory that it has been called a paradigm shift, has emerged. This is object relations theory. Freud already anticipated this theory in an embryonic form. For Freud, the superego results from the "internalization" of parental morality as an internalized parental figure. Freud also discussed particular psychological states, such as the mourning process, in terms of relations between the self and such an internalized parent. Object relations theory has extended this idea to encompass all of psychological development and to act as an explanatory framework for adult functioning. In object relations theory, for example in the work of Melanie Klein, the basic mental developmental process is the internalizing of a rich array of persons in various aspects. Fairbairn goes so far as to reconceptualize the concept of motivation into object relations terms; for Fairbairn the basic motivating drive of the human is not the pleasure principle but the need to form relationships. Horowitz joins object relations theory to cognitive science by describing internalized object relations as interpersonal schemas. These schemas and subschemas act very much as Minskian agents.
The convergence between psychoanalysis, in the form of object relations theory, and the concept of mind as a society in artificial intelligence is striking; Turkle suggests that this convergence may be of benefit to both. Object relations theory has been much criticized for reifying interdependent, fluid mental processes into an image of independent, static mental structures. In the society of mind portrayal of the emergence of agency from agents, however-as in our previous example, Builder-it becomes quite apparent how one can structure such a conceptual system-how one can incorporate aspects of the disunity of mind to which object relations theory points without reification.
Psychoanalysis is not just theory but a practice. Troubled patients who see an object relations therapist learn to explore their minds, behavior, and emotions in terms of object relations-they come to see their reactions in terms of internalized agents. Does this, we wonder, lead them to question their basic sense of self altogether? This surely happens in some instances between a gifted therapist and a committed patient. But more generally it is unlikely to happen in the present cultural context in Britain and North America since psychoanalysis has been co-opted by psychiatry to an important degree.
Thus more often than not it is seen as medicine rather than as a means to gain knowledge about the nature of mind. A successful object relations analysis, like any other analysis, is designed to make the patient better-more functional, with improved object relations, and with greater emotional comfort; it is not designed to lead him to question, "Isn't it odd that I am so zealously pursuing my object relations and my comfort when all I am is a set of object relations schemas? What is going on?" In more general terms, it is apparent that object relations analysis, like other contemplative traditions, has discovered the contradiction between the lack of a self that analysis discovers and our ongoing sense of self. It is not, however, apparent that psychoanalysis in the form of object relations theory has faced, or even fully acknowledged, this contradiction. Rather, object relations theory appears to accept the basic motivation (the basic grasping) of the ongoing sense of self at face value and employs analytic discoveries about the disunity of the self to cater to the demands of the ongoing sense of self. Because object relations psychoanalysis has not systematically addressed this basic contradiction-the lack of a unitary self in experience versus the ongoing sense of self-grasping the open-ended quality that is possible in analysis, though present in all psychoanalysis and particularly in object relations therapy, is limited. Lacanian analysis in Europe may be one exception, and it may have gained some of its power and notoriety because of this quality.
A fuller discussion of this fascinating bridge between psychoanalysis and modem cognitive science - and eventually with the meditation tradition - is, however, beyond the scope of this book. We therefore tum once again to mindfulness/awareness and the expositions of the Abhidharma.

Codependent Arising

How is it, if we have no self, that there is coherence in our lives? How is it, if we have no self, that we continue to think, feel, and act as though we had a self-endlessly seeking to enhance and defend that nonfindable, nonexperienced self? How and why do the momentary arisings of the elements of experience, the five aggregates and mental factors, follow one another temporally to constitute recurrent patterns?
The Buddha was said to have discovered on the eve of his enlightenment not only the momentariness of the arising of the aggregates but also the entire edifice of causality - the circular structure of habitual patterns, the binding chain, each link of which conditions and is conditioned by each of the others - that constitutes the pattern of human life as a never-ending circular quest to anchor experience in a fixed and permanent self. This insight came to be named with the Sanskrit word pratityasamutpada, which literally means "dependence (pratitya) upon conditions that are variously Originated (samutpada)."
We will use the term codependent arising, since that gloss best expresses the idea, familiar in the context of societies of mind, of transitory yet recurrent, emergent properties of aggregate elements.
This circle is also called the Wheel of Life and the Wheel of Karma. Karma is a topic with a long history, both pre- and post-Buddhist, on which an immense amount of scholarship has been focused. The word karma has also found its way into contemporary English vocabulary where it is generally used as a synonym for fate or predestination.
This is definitely not the meaning of karma within Buddhism. Karma constitutes a description of psychological causality -  how habits form and continue over time. The portrait of the Wheel of Life is intended to show how it is that karmic causality actually works. The emphasis on causality is central to the tradition of mindfulness/awareness and as such is quite compatible with our modem scientific sensibility; in the case of mindfulness/awareness, however, the concern is with a causal analysis of direct experience, not with causality as an external form of lawfulness. The concern is also pragmatic: How can the understanding of causality be used to break the chains of conditioning mind (an idea quite contrary to the popular notion of karma as predestination) and foster mindfulness and insight?
There are twelve links (called nidanas) in the circular chain (the patterning situation as shown in figure):

The circle is an analytic structure that can be used to describe events of any duration from a single moment to a lifetime or, in the Buddhist view, to many lifetimes. Metaphorically, we could say that these motifs have a fractal character: the same patterns seem to appear even when we change the scale of observation by orders of magnitude. Descriptions of the twelve interdependent links follow.

1 Ignorance
Ignorance is the ground of all karmic causal action. It means being ignorant of, not knowing, the truth(s) about the nature of mind and reality. In the material we have discussed so far, this means being ignorant-personally experientially ignorant of the lack of ego-self.
It also means the confusions-the mistaken views and emotions of believing in a self - that come from that ignorance. Hence it could also be rendered as bewilderment. (In later formulations, it came to include other truths. about which a sentient being could be ignorant.)

2 Volitional Action
Out of ignorance, one acts on the basis of a self. That is to say, in the selfless state there are no self-oriented intentions. Because of ignorance of the lack of ego-self, the urge toward habitual, repetitive actions based on a self arises. Ignorance and volitional action are the ground, the prior conditions, sometimes called the past conditions, that give rise to the next eight links (the third through the tenth). If this analytic scheme is being used to talk about the links arising in time, then these eight are said to constitute the present situation.

3 Consciousness
Consciousness refers to sentience in general, the dualistic state we talked about as the fifth aggregate. It may mean the beginning of consciousness in the life of any sentient being or the first moment of consciousness in any given situation. Remember that consciousness is not the only mode of knowing; one is bom into a moment or a lifetime of consciousness, rather than wisdom, because of volitional actions that were based on ignorance. If we are speaking of the arising of a particular moment of consciousness, its precise form (which of the six sense bases it arises upon, whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, etc.) is conditioned by the seeds laid down by the volitional action(s) of the previous link.

4 The Psychophysical Complex
Consciousness requires a body and mind together. Moments of consciousness in a given situation can gravitate toward one or the other end of the psychophysical complex: perhaps the consciousness is primarily sensory; perhaps it is primarily mental.

5 The Six Senses
A body and mind mean that one has the six senses. Even brief situations, for example, eating a piece of fruit - involve moments of each of the six sense consciousnesses: one sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, and one thinks.

6 Contact
Having the six senses means that each sense is able to contact its sense field, its appropriate object. Any moment of consciousness involves contact between the sense and its object (contact is an omnipresent); without contact, there is no sense experience.

7 Feeling
Feeling - pleasurable, displeasurable, or neutral - arises from contact. All experience has a feeling tone (feeling is also an omnipresent factor). Feeling has, as its basis, one of the six senses. At the point of feeling, one is actually struck by the world-in phenomenological language, one could say that we find ourselves thrown into the world.

8 Craving
Craving arises from feeling. Although there are innumerable specific kinds of craving (84,000 in one system), the basic form of craving is desire for what is pleasurable and aversion for what is displeasurable. Craving is a fundamental, automatic reaction.
Craving is an extremely important juncture in this chain of causality. Up to this point, the links have rolled off automatically on the basis of past conditioning. At this point, however, the aware person can do something about the situation: he can interrupt the chain or he can let it go on to the next link (grasping). The handling of craving is what determines the possibilities for perpetuation or change.
It is a traditional exercise to contemplate the chain of codependent arising in both directions, backward as well as forward. Because such an exercise communicates well the codependent emergent quality of this causal analysis, we will show what happens when we go backward in our reasoning from the point of craving: craving for pleasure requires that there be sense feelings; to have feelings, there must be contact with the objects of the senses; to contact the sense objects, there must be the six sense faculties; for the six sense faculties to exist, the entire psychophysical organism is required; for there to be a psychophysical organism, there must be sentience.

9 Grasping
Craving usually results immediately in grasping and clinging. Grasping refers not only to grasping after what one does not have and desires but also to a version for what one has and desires to be rid of.

10 Becoming
Grasping automatically sets off the reaction toward becoming, toward the formation of a new situation in the future. New tendencies and suppositions are formed as a result of the cumulative effect of the previous seven motifs, which themselves were set into motion by volitional action based on ignorance. Becoming initiates the formation of new patterns that carry over into future situations.

11 Birth
In birth, a new situation, as well as a new mode of being in that situation, is finally born. It is usually at this point only that one senses the causal chain and wants to do something about it. It is at this point, perhaps, that Western philosophers talk about akrasia (weakness of the will). The irony is that in normal life, the point at which one wakes up to a situation is past the point where one can do anything about it. Birth into a new situation, even an agreeable one, always has an edge of uncertainty.

12 Decay and Death
Wherever there is birth, there is death; in any process of arising, dissolution is inevitable. Moments die, situations die, and lives end.
Even more obvious than the uneasiness of birth is the suffering (and lamentation, as is said) experienced when situations or bodies grow old, decay, and die. In this circular chain of causality, death is the causal link to the next cycle of the chain. The death of one moment of experience is, within the Buddhist analysis of causality, actually a causal precondition for the arising of the next moment. If there is still ignorance and confusion, the wheel will continue turning endlessly in the same fashion.
The circle of conditioned human existence is called samsara, which is visualized as a perpetually spinning wheel of existence driven by a relentless causation and pervaded by unsatisfactoriness. There are many vivid traditional images for samsara: a ship lost at sea in a raging storm, a deer trapped in a hunter's net, animals racing before a blazing forest fire. According to one traditional story, the Buddha on the eve of his enlightenment worked through the twelve links of the chain seeking a way that the chain could be broken. Nothing could be done about the past; one cannot go back and remove past ignorance and volitional actions. And since one is alive and has a psychophysical organism, the six sense fields and their contact with objects are inevitable. Inevitable also are the feeling states to which the senses give rise and the craving that results. But must craving lead to grasping?
It is at this point, some traditions say, that the Buddha formulated the technique of mindfulness. By precise, disciplined mindfulness to every moment, one can interrupt the chain of automatic conditioning - one can not automatically go from craving to grasping and all the rest. Interruption of habitual patterns results in further mindfulness, eventually allowing the practitioner to relax into more open possibilities in awareness and to develop insight into the arising and subsiding of experienced phenomena. That is why mindfulness is the foundational gesture of all the Buddhist traditions.
At this point, we might return briefly to our theoretical formulation.
We asked how there could be coherence in our lives over time if there were no self. In the language of societies of mind, the answer lies in the concept of emergence. Just as any agency emerges from the action of individual agents, so the repetitious patterns of habitual actions emerge from the joint action of the twelve links. And just as the existence of the action of each agent is definable only in relation to the actions of all the others, so the operation of each of the links in the chain of codependent arising is dependent on all of the other links. As in any agency, there is no such thing as a habitual pattern per se except in the operation of the twelve agent motifs, nor is there such a thing as the motifs except in relation to the operation of the entire cyclic system.
The historical formation of various patterns and trends in our lives is what Buddhists usually mean by karma. It is this accumulation that gives continuity to the sense of ego-self, so evident in everyday, unreflective life. The main motivating and sustaining factor in this process is the omnipresent mental factor of intention.
Intention-in the form of volitional action-leaves traces, as it were, of its tendencies on the rest of the factors from moment to moment, resulting in the historical accumulation of habits, tendencies, and responses, some wholesome and others unwholesome. When the term karma is used loosely, it refers to these accumulations and their effects. Strictly speaking, though, karma is the very process of intention (volitional action) itself, the main condition in the accumulation of conditioned human experience.
In many fields of science, we are familiar with the idea that coherence and development over time need not involve any underlying substance. In evolutionary changes in the history of life, patterns of animal populations give rise to new individuals on the basis of the past (most.tangibly expressed in the nuclear genetics of the population) and on the basis of current actions (mating behavior leading to descendence and genetic recombinations). The tracks and furrows of this process are the species and subspecies. But in the logic of Darwin's account of evolution and the Buddhist analysis of experience into codependent arising, we are concerned with the processual transformation of the past into the future through the intermediary of transitional forms that in themselves have no permanent substance.
The agent motifs in the chain of conditioned origination are fairly complex processes. Each of these may be thought of as composed of subagents, or more accurately as themselves agencies composed of agents. In the mindfulness/awareness tradition, of course, the logic is focused upon immediate experience. Is there an experiential – or pragmatic-justification for increasing the layers of agency in the society of causality?

Friday, February 15, 2013

the Tao of programming: Book 4 - Coding

Geoffrey James, 1987
Book 4 -Coding

Thus spake the master programmer:
"A well-written program is its own heaven; a poorly-written program is its own hell."


A program should be light and agile, its subroutines connected like a string of pearls. The spirit and intent of the program should be retained throughout. There should be neither too little or too much, neither needless loops nor useless variables, neither lack of structure nor overwhelming rigidity.

A program should follow the "Law of Least Astonishment". What is this law? It is simply that the program should always respond to the user in the way that astonishes him least.

A program, no matter how complex, should act as a single unit. The program should be directed by the logic within rather than by outward appearances.

If the program fails in these requirements, it will be in a state of disorder and confusion. The only way to correct this is to rewrite the program.


A novice asked the master: "I have a program that sometime runs and sometimes aborts. I have followed the rules of programming, yet I am totally baffled. What is the reason for this?"

The master replied: "You are confused because you do not understand Tao. Only a fool expects rational behavior from his fellow humans. Why do you expect it from a machine that humans have constructed? Computers simulate determinism; only Tao is perfect.

The rules of programming are transitory; only Tao is eternal. Therefore you must contemplate Tao before you receive enlightenment."

"But how will I know when I have received enlightenment?" asked the novice.

"Your program will then run correctly," replied the master.


A master was explaining the nature of Tao of to one of his novices. "The Tao is embodied in all software - regardless of how insignificant," said the master.

"Is the Tao in a hand-held calculator?" asked the novice.

"It is," came the reply.

"Is the Tao in a video game?" continued the novice.

"It is even in a video game," said the master.

"And is the Tao in the DOS for a personal computer?"

The master coughed and shifted his position slightly. ``The lesson is over for today,'' he said.


Prince Wang's programmer was coding software. His fingers danced upon the keyboard. The program compiled without an error message, and the program ran like a gentle wind.

"Excellent!" the Prince exclaimed, "Your technique is faultless!"

"Technique?" said the programmer turning from his terminal, "What I follow is Tao - beyond all techniques! When I first began to program I would see before me the whole problem in one mass. After three years I no longer saw this mass. Instead, I used subroutines. But now I see nothing. My whole being exists in a formless void. My senses are idle. My spirit, free to work without plan, follows its own instinct. In short, my program writes itself. True, sometimes there are difficult problems. I see them coming, I slow down, I watch silently. Then I change a single line of code and the difficulties vanish like puffs of idle smoke. I then compile the program. I sit still and let the joy of the work fill my being. I close my eyes for a moment and then log off."

Prince Wang said, "Would that all of my programmers were as wise!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

meta-Tao sheets

The third metapattern introduced by Tyler Volk and Jeff Bloom are sheets, patterns with bidimensional extension in space.


As physical forms, sheets maximize transfer across surface areas, maximize surface area to volume ratio, and extend or grow two-dimensionally. In general terms, sheets represent capture, contact, and movement across a plane. In addition, when put together, they can form layers and can act as borders. Spheres and tubes can be made of sheets.
Two-dimensional layer crystals of carbon: structure of graphene.
Two-dimensional honeycomb hexagonal network of carbon atoms (spheres) on a plane. A monolayer of carbon atoms is called graphene, multiple layers of which form graphite.


  • In science: leaves, surface tension, membranes, individual layers of the Earth and atmosphere, fins, airplane wings, skates and rays, films, snow coverage, etc.
  • In architecture and design: walls, open areas as in large convention centers, fans and windmills, sails, turbines, etc.
  • In art: canvas, shapes, etc.
  • In social sciences: movement within a space, separation, etc.
  • In other senses: clothing, rain coming down in sheets, bed coverings, parking lots, etc.
Space-time curvature in the presence of mass.
Oh Sheet! © Thomas Barbèy


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