Friday, February 28, 2014

a legacy for Tao - VII

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

Mary Catherine Bateson

The Fundamentalist Error Today
It is probably no coincidence that at the same time that these old epistemological debates resurface, we are seeing a renewal of apparently religiously inspired warfare all over the planet, and we are seeing a resurgence of the kind of understanding of faith that was expressed by my fundamentalist student who believed in the literal truth-value of religious texts. We are seeing not only Islamic fundamentalism, not only Christian fundamentalism, but also Jewish fundamentalism, Hindu fundamentalism, and patches of Buddhist fundamentalism (although Buddhism has some built in protections). Fundamentalism is not limited to “religions” however – it arises in Marxism and psychoanalysis, and, most seriously in America today, in free market economic fundamentalism and the strict construction of the Constitution, constitutional fundamentalism.
So a pattern of thinking – this style of taking things literally rather than regarding any text as having multiple levels of meaning with the interpretation changing over time, always depending on the context – is becoming a widespread epidemic. Both Christians and Muslims are increasing in numbers, and in many places, especially Africa, the forms of Christianity and Islam that are spreading are the most literal and the most supernaturally oriented, without the polite reinterpretation of texts as myth or metaphor that is fairly common among believers in the West.
Much of this has developed since Gregory’s death, but I remember arguing with  him in the 1970s that fundamentalism is by definition a modern pathology. Certainly the ancients took the creation story as true. But, without the modern concept of scientific knowledge as a particular kind of knowledge that is established and modified in specific ways, truth had a different, more ambiguous meaning. Fundamentalism attempts to give to non-scientific ways of knowing the status that is given to science, but it omits the openness of science to new evidence that is essential to that status.
Although what is happening in the United States these days looks fairly strange from the vantage point of Europe, what is equally worrying is that so many educated people throughout the industrialized world have simply become deaf to religious language, and have no access to thinking about the meaning of religion in people’s lives and motivations. Fundamentalists think their beliefs are “true” in a simplistic way, while others think they are “false” in a simplistic way. Scientifically educated people have not only ceased to believe particular doctrines but they have lost the capacity to empathize with those who do, transforming methodologies and useful heuristics, like reductionism, into ontologies. We need to be equally on guard against multiple kinds of illiteracy, for aesthetic and spiritual illiteracy may be as dangerous as scientific illiteracy.
Some of the pathologies of contemporary life may be due to the loss of kinds of knowledge that are now unacceptable because of the way they are coded and mixed with muddle-headedness. The rise of fundamentalism in a secularizing world is reminiscent of the Gospel story,

44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
(Matthew xii:44–45)

44 Allora dice: Ritornerò nella mia casa donde sono uscito; e giuntovi, la trova vuota, spazzata e adorna.
45 Allora va e prende seco altri sette spiriti peggiori di lui, i quali, entrati, prendon quivi dimora; e l’ultima condizione di cotest’uomo divien peggiore della prima. Così avverrà anche a questa malvagia generazione.
(Matteo, 12:44-45)
where a man is cleansed of an unclean spirit who then comes back with seven others more evil than himself and, finding the man’s soul swept and garnished, moves back in with his companions. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. I think that the only defense against what I take to be a dangerous and erroneous set of attitudes towards religion is a much more flexible understanding of the possible meanings of faith, as contrasted with belief, in people’s lives, and in the lives of scientists. There is an apparent symmetry of mutual blindness.
There is still however a need for an integrative level of scientific description such as Gregory found in cybernetics. Perhaps our view is necessarily dependent on multiple alternative descriptions – we may even need a little help from some of the nine and sixty tribal ways to understand the world. It has been a mission of anthropology to collect and make available these multiple visions. What we ask of science is first of all, that it always include a degree of tentativeness and openness – and second, not that it be true but that it fit the evidence, which is very different. One could ask the same kind of questions of mythologies of many sorts. Do they fit? Do they offer an interpretative frame for the adaptation of a cluster of human beings in a particular environment?
Much of Gregory’s portion of Angels Fear was written at the Esalen Institute, in California, where Gregory went to live after his cancer, in the year before his death. In one essay written there, titled “Neither Supernatural nor Mechanical”, Gregory says he is horrified both by conventional scientific and technological views of the world and by the supernaturalism of Esalen. “The problem is not, however, entirely symmetrical,” he wrote, “I have, after all, chosen to live at Esalen, in the midst of the counterculture, with its incantations, its astrological searching for truth, its divination … My friends here love me and I love them … The beliefs of the counterculture and of the human potential movement may be superstitious and irrational, but their reason for being … was a good reason. It was to [generate that buffer of diversity that will] protect the human being against obsolescence”. The bracketing of a portion of the previous sentence indicates an insertion that I made in editing, for one of the strangely attractive features of Esalen is the comfort with which a huge miscellany of beliefs manage to co-exist. No zero sum truth there. Gregory feels sure that his counterculture friends are talking nonsense, but perhaps the nonsense is connected to something worth knowing, which might promote a degree of sensitivity or empathy with other organisms and a degree of perception and response to the pattern which connects.

Tao bird

Lincoln Cemetery, Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, USA

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the two Truths of Tao

The search for the Self and Consciousness in the enaction perspective with consciousness and experience worlds without ground analyzed according to the Abhidharma contains within it a radical distinction between the ordinary, experienced and conventional truth and the ultimate truth, like the distinction between the expression of the Tao, the Te or The, and the ultimate  indescribable truth of Tao, a distinction between mundane and transcendental similar in many traditions, like the Ātman/Brahman duality in Hinduism and the Tonal/Nagual in Castaneda's reports:


The Middle Way

The Two Truths

The Abhidharma analysis of the mind into basic elements and mental factors already contained within it the distinction between two kinds of truth: ultimate truth, which consisted of the basic elements of existence into which experience could be analyzed, and relative or conventional truth, which was our ordinary, compounded (out of basic elements) experience. Nagarjuna invoked this distinction, gave it new meaning, and insisted on its importance.
The teaching of the doctrine by the Buddha is based upon two truths: the truth of worldly convention (samvrti) and the ultimate, supreme truth (paramartha).
Those who do not discern the distinction between these two truths, do not understand the profound nature of the Buddha's teaching.
Relative truth (samvrti, which literally means covered or concealed) is the phenomenal world just as it appears-with chairs, people, species, and the coherence of those through time. Ultimate truth (paramartha) is the emptiness of that very same phenomenal world. The Tibetan term for relative truth, kundzop, captures the relation between the two imagistically; kundzop means aU dressed up, outfitted, or costumed-that is, relative truth is sunyata (absolute truth) costumed in the brilliant colors of the phenomenal world.
By now it should be obvious that the distinction between the two truths, like the analysis of the Abhidharma, was not intended as a metaphysical theory of truth. It is a description of the experience of the practitioner who experiences his mind, its objects, and their relation as codependently originated and thus as empty of any actual, independent, or abiding existence. Like the Abhidharma categories, the description also functions as a recommendation and contemplative aid. This can be seen very clearly in the discourse of Buddhist communities. For example, many of the forms that Westerners take as poetry or irrationality in Zen are actually contemplative exercises directing the mind toward codependent emptiness.
The term for relative truth, samvrti, is also often translated as "convention" (within Buddhism as well as by academic scholars), which gives rise to much interpretative confusion. It is important to understand in what sense convention is meant. "Relative" or "conventional" should not be taken in a superficial sense. Convention does not mean subjective, arbitrary, or unlawful. And relative does not mean culturally relative. The relative phenomenal world was always taken to operate by very clear laws regardless of the conventions of any individual or society, such as the laws of karmic cause and effect.
Furthermore, it is very important to understand that the use of convention here is not an invitation to decenter the self and/or world into language as is so popular at present in the humanities. As the founder of the Gelugpa lineage in Tibetan Buddhism puts it, "... since nominally designated things are artificial, that is, established as existent in conventional terms, there is no referent to which names are attached which (itself) is not established as merely conventionally existent. And since that is not to say that in general there is no phenomenal basis for using names, the statement of the existence of that (conventional referent) and the statement that (all things) are mere nominal designations are not contradictory." Thus in Buddhism one can perfectly well make distinctions in the relative world between true statements and false ones, and it is recommended that one make true ones.
The sense in which the things designated, as well as the designations, are only conventional may be explained by an example: when I call someone John, I have the deep assumption that there is some abiding independent thing that I am designating, but Madhyamika analysis shows there to be no such truly existing thing. John, however, continues to act just the way a perfectly good designatum is supposed to, so in relative or conventional truth he is indeed John. This claim may remind the reader of our discussion of color. Although the experience of color can be shown to have no absolute ground either in the physical world or the visual observer, color is nonetheless a perfectly commensurable designable. Thus such scientific analysis can perfectly well be joined by the far more radical presentation of groundlessness in the Madhyamika.
Because this relative, conventional, codependently originated world is lawful, science is possible-just as possible as daily life. In fact, perfectly functional pragmatic science and engineering are possible even when they are based on theories that make unjustifiable metaphysical assumptions-just as daily life continues coherently even when one believes in the actual reality of oneself. We offer the vision of enactive cognitive science and of evolution as natural drift neither as a claim that this is the only way science can be done nor as a claim that this is the very same thing as Madhyamika. Concepts such as embodiment or structural coupling are concepts and as such are always historical. They do not convey that at this very moment - personally - one has no independently existing mind and no independently existing world.
This is a crucially important point. There is a powerful reason why some Madhyamika schools only refute the arguments of others and refuse to make assertions. Any conceptual position can become a ground (a resting point, a nest), which vitiates the force of the Madhyamika. In particular, the view of cognition as embodied action (enaction), although it stresses the interdependence of mind and world, tends to treat the relationship between those (the interaction, the action, the enaction) as though it had some form of independent actual existence. As one's mind grasps the concept of enaction as something real and solid, it automatically generates a sense of the other two terms of the argument, the subject and object of the embodied action. (As we shall discuss, this is why pragmatism is also not the same as thing as the middle way of Madhyamika.) We would be doing ii great disservice to everyone concerned - mindfulness/awareness practitioners, scientists, scholars, and any other interested persons - were we to lead anyone to believe that making assertions about enactive cognitive science was the same thing as allowing one's mind to be experientially processed by the Madhyamika dialectic, particularly when this is combined with mindfulness/awareness training. But just as the Madhyamika dialectic, a provisional and conventional activity of the relative world, points beyond itself, so we might hope that our concept of enaction could, at least for some cognitive scientists and perhaps even for the more general milieu of scientific thought, point beyond itself to a truer understanding of groundlessness.

Tao from the sky

This view of the twilight sky and Martian horizon taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover includes Earth as the brightest point of light in the night sky at a distance of 160 million kilometers.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Friday, February 14, 2014

meta-Tao rigidity and flexibility

Jos Leys, Kaleido 4D
The next metapattern discussed by Tyler Volk and Jeff Bloom is the binary complementarity of rigidity/flexibility, in time, space and relationship:
Alexandre Arrechea, No Limit


Rigidity and flexibility can be binaries of space, time, and relationship. Rigidity implies strength and impenetrability, while flexibility implies adaptability and change. In a spatial sense, a tube, sphere, sheet, border, or layer can be rigid or flexible. Boundaries of time can be rigid sequences of steps or stages or can delimit actions and activities. Binary relationships can be rigidly established or provide for flexibility. Both flexibility and rigidity can serve to protect.


  • In science: Adaptation, acclimatization, organism tolerance to environmental change and variation, cell walls vs. cell membranes, "class of atoms that are inert", etc.
  • In architecture and design: flexibility in skyscrapers, rigid vs. flexible interior designs, car crumple zones and uni-body construction, springs, etc.
  • In the arts: rigid and flexible representations in dance and theater, malleable vs. static sculpture, etc.
  • In social sciences: rules, mores, cultural borders, national borders, social layering, personality typologies, institutional and organization, etc.
  • In other senses: athletic protective wear, yoga, martial arts, “letter of the law” vs. “spirit of the law”, rigid vs. flexible writing styles, flexible scheduling, open-mindedness vs. close-mindedness and dogma, etc.


The Pattern Underground

continuum Tao

Zentralfriedhof, Wien

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

observation of internal Taos

Vladimir Kush, Earth Well
After the description of the subsystems of the consciousness system, Charles T. Tart continues with the discussion about self-observation of its own consciousness internal states, a topic which  deeply involves the concept of "observer":

Observation of Internal States

Observation of internal events is often unreliable and difficult. Focusing on external behavior or physiological changes in useful, but experiential data are primary in d-SoCs. We must develop a more precise language for communicating about such data.
Observing oneself means that the overall system must observe itself. Thus, in the conservative view of the mind self-observation is inherently limited, for the part cannot comprehend the whole and the characteristics of the parts affect their observation. In the radical view, however, in which awareness is partially or wholly independent of brain structure, the possibility exists of an Observer much more independent of the structure.
Introspection, the observation of one's own mental processes, and the subsequent communication of these observations to others have long been major problems in psychology. To build a general scientific understanding requires starting from a general agreement on what are the facts, what are the basic observations across individuals on which the science can be founded. Individuals have published interesting and often beautiful accounts of their own mental processes in the physiological literature, but analysis of these accounts demonstrates little agreement among them and little agreement among the analyzers that the accounts are precise descriptions of observable mental processes. Striving for precise understanding is an important goal of science.
One reaction to this has been behaviorism, which ignores mental processes and declares that external behavior, which can be observed more easily and reliably, is the subject matter of psychology. Many psychologists still accept the behavioristic position and define psychology as the study of behavior rather than the study of the mind. That way is certainly easier. One hundred percent agreement among observers is possible, at least for simple behaviors. For example, in testing for susceptibility to hypnosis with the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, the examiner suggests to the subject that his arm is feeling heavier and heavier and will drop because of the increased weight. The hypnotists and observers present can easily agree on whether the subject's arm moves down at least twelve inches within thirty seconds after the end of the suggestion.
Behaviorism is an extremely valuable tool for studying simple behaviors, determining what affects them, and learning how to control them. But it has not been able to deal well with complex and important human experiences, such as happiness, love, religious feelings, purposes. The behavioristic approach is of particularly limited value in dealing with d-ASCs because almost all the interesting and important d-ASC phenomena are completely internal. A behavioristic approach to the study of a major psychedelic drug like LSD, for example, would lead to the conclusion that LSD is a sedative or tranquilizer, since the behavior frequently produced is sitting still and doing nothing!
If we are to understand d-SoCs, introspection must become an important technique in psychology in spite of the difficulties of its application. I have primarily used peoples' reports of their internal experiences in developing the systems approach, even though these reports are undoubtedly affected by a variety of biases, limitations, and inadequacies, for such reports are the most relevant data for studying d-SoCs.
I believe psychology's historical rejection of introspection was premature: in the search for general laws of the mind, too much was attempted too soon. Mental phenomena are the most complex phenomena of all. The physical sciences, by comparison, deal with easy subject matter. We can be encouraged by the fact that many spiritual psychologies have developed elaborate vocabularies for describing internal experiences. I do not understand these psychologies well enough to evaluate the validity of these vocabularies, but it is encouraging that others, working over long periods, have at least developed such vocabularies. The English language is well suited for making reliable discriminations among everyday external objects, but it is not a good language for precise work with physical reality. The physical sciences have developed specialized mathematical languages for such work that are esoteric indeed to the man in the street. Sanskrit, on the other hand, has many presumably precise words for internal events and states that do not translate well into English. There are over twenty words in Sanskrit, for example, which carry different shades of meaning in the original. Development of a more precise vocabulary is essential to progress in understanding consciousness and d-SoCs. If you say you feel "vibrations" in a d-ASC, what precisely do you mean?

In science the word observation usually refers to scrutiny of the external environment, and the observer is taken for granted. If the observer is recognized as possessing inherent characteristics that limit his adequacy to observe, these specific characteristics are compensated for, as by instrumentally aiding the senses or adding some constant to the observation; again the observer is taken for granted. In dealing with the microworld, the particle level in physics, the observer cannot be taken for granted, for the process of observation alters the phenomena being observed. Similarly, when experiential data are used to understand states of consciousness, the observation process cannot be taken for granted.
For the system to observe itself, attention/awareness must activate structures that are capable of observing processes going on in other structures. Two ways of doing this seem possible, which we shall discuss as pure cases, even though they may actually be mixed. The first way is to see the system breaking down into two semi-independent systems, one of which constitutes the observer and the other the system to be observed. I notice, for example, that I am rubbing my left foot as I write and that this action seems irrelevant to the points I want to make. A moment ago I was absorbed in the thinking involved in the writing and in rubbing my foot, but some part of me then stepped back for a moment, under the impetus to find an example to illustrate the current point, and noticed that I was rubbing my foot. The "I" who observed that I was rubbing my foot is my ordinary self, my personality, my ordinary d-SoC. The major part of my system held together, but temporarily singled out a small, connected part of itself to be observed. Since I am still my ordinary self, all my characteristics enter into the observation. There is no objectivity to my own observation of myself. My ordinary self, for example, is always concerned with whether what I am doing is useful toward attaining my short-term and long-term goals; thus the judgment was automatically made that the rubbing of the foot was a useless waste of energy. Having immediately classified foot-rubbing as useless, I had no further interesting in observing it more clearly, seeing what it was like. The observation is mixed with evaluation; most ordinary observation is of this nature.
By contrast, many meditative disciplines take the view that attention/awareness can achieve a high degree or even complete independence from the structures that constitute a person's ordinary d-SoC and personality, that a person possesses (or can develop) an Observer that is highly objective with respect to the ordinary personality because it is an Observer that is essentially pure attention/awareness, that has no judgmental characteristics of its own. If the Observer had been active, I might have observed that I was rubbing my foot, but there would have been no structure immediately activated that passed judgment on this action. Judgment, after all, means relatively permanent characteristics coded in structure to make comparisons against. The Observer would simply have noted whatever was happening without judging it.
The existence of the Observer or Witness is a reality to many people, especially those who have attempted to develop such an Observer by practicing meditative disciplines, and I shall treat it as an experiential reality.
The question of its ultimate reality is difficult. If one starts from the conservative view of the mind, where awareness is no more than a product of the nervous system and brain, the degree of independence or objectivity of the Observer can only be relative. The Observer may be a semi-independent system with fewer characteristics than the overall system of consciousness as a whole, but it is dependent on the operation of neurologically based structures and so is ultimately limited and shaped by them; it is also programmed to some extent in the enculturation process. Hilgard has found the concept of such a partially dissociated Observer useful in understanding hypnotic analgesia.
In the radical view of the mind, awareness is (or can become) different from the brain and nervous system. Here partial to total independence of, and objectivity with respect to, the mind/brain can be attained by the Observer. The ultimate degree of this objectivity then depends on whether awareness per se, whatever its ultimate nature is, has properties that limit it.
It is not always easy to make this clear distinction between the observer and the Observer. Many times, for example, when I am attempting to function as a Observer, I Observe myself doing certain things, but this Observation immediately activates some aspect of the structure of my ordinary personality, which then acts as an observer connected with various value judgment that are immediately activated. I pass from the function of Observing from outside the system to observing from inside the system, from what feels like relatively objective Observation to judgmental observation by my conscience or superego.
Some meditative disciplines, as in the vipassana meditation discussed earlier, strive to enable their practitioners to maintain the Observer for long periods, possibly permanently. The matter becomes rather complex, however, because a major job for the Observer is to Observe the actions of the observer: having Observed yourself doing some action, you then Observe your conscience become activated, rather than becoming completely caught up in the conscience observation and losing the Observer function. Such self-observation provides much data for understanding the structure of one's own consciousness.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

trip the Tao

What a day
I can barely keep my eyes wide open
I don't wanna see straight
What a day
Feels like my breath is heavy again
And I'm totally faded
Come to me
Come to me
I am waiting for you
Come to me
I can't wait
Follow me, follow me
As I trip the darkness
One more time
Follow me, follow me
I awake from madness
Just in time
What a day
Seconds, minutes and hours spill over
There's no time here in space
What a day
I see beauty in everything
But the world is still fading away
What a day
I can barely keep my eyes wide open
I don't wanna see straight
What a day
Seconds, minutes and hours spill over
There's no time here in space
Come to me come to me
Come to me come to me
Come to me come to me
I am waiting for you