A List of Relevant Questions

The world is in trouble. There is serious work to be done. Quickly. What follows is my abbreviated short list of serious questions for this era. Structural change is required. To get there requires epistemological change. This list assumes that profit, revenge, ownership, and any notion of superiority including nationalism are not viable excuses for the destruction of billions of living systems. The committees that are formed, the projects that are funded, the actions taken, the policies made – all are in response to the questions posed. So what are those questions? Here are mine.

All of the questions below are of personal, institutional, and global concern. “We” in this document refers to anyone who will ask such questions with me.

Education: How can we best cultivate curiosity, information, and learning between generations to prepare ourselves to perceive and respond to the complexity of our world with less destruction than centuries past?

Health: How can we support health in human beings by making it possible for each person to eat healthy food, sleep well, know that their families are supported, be respected in their community, have relevant contributions (education and employment), breathe clean air, and drink clean water?

Ecology: How can we interface with the complexity of our natural world so as to create less harm to the interdependence of all living things?

Economy: How can we shift the economic system so that it is not based upon exploitation of nature and humanity –without crashing the globe into chaos? (note: no one gets rich on this version of economy)

Politics: How do we get the policy makers of our world to mandate cross-sector information for their decision making processes so that they have the possibility of taking into account complexity?

Media: How do we get a moratorium on binaries? How do we support public understanding, not trained in perceiving complexity, to become accustomed to it and demand communications institutions deliver cross-contextual information?

Culture: What is the approach to open the global discussion about the pending fate of humanity? What matters? What are we willing change? How can we survive together?

The danger we are in is woven across these contexts, so the questions posed must correspond to that transcontextual process. Possibility, not abstract hope, lies in the spread of contexts considered. Whereas stuckness is a product of fragmented discussion and problem solving, getting unstuck is a benefit of transcontextual analysis. Within this list the refugee crisis, the wealth gap, the ecological crisis, the healthcare crises (addiction, diabetes, cancer), racism, and institutional breakdown are placed within a scope of perception that addresses “the pattern that connects.”


23 thoughts on “A List of Relevant Questions

  1. Dear Nora,

    Your final sentence which states:

    “Within this list the refugee crisis, the wealth gap, the ecological crisis, the healthcare crises (addiction, diabetes, cancer), racism, and institutional breakdown are placed within a scope of perception that addresses “the pattern that connects.”

    implies that the “pattern which connects” can be known. I agree!! matt

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  2. How do we fall in love with the complexity, intricacy and sheer beauty of what is, when we are addicted to short-circuits, to Gordian Knot “solutions”? The worse the outlook gets (or the more obvious the difficult outlook becomes) the more we grasp at hope or at least kicking the can down the road. We forgot to grieve for all the species, all the landscapes, all the ecosystems that can no longer participate in any future at all.

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  3. Before I go over to sharing my vision, I ‘d like to thank you for the Leadership Paradox interview.

    It’s really difficult to give these seven points attention in turn as they are all interconnected; when you start thinking over one, you’re bound to trip over something belonging to several other points; so you start speaking about that also and find you can’t stop talking. But I will do my best to be concise, and hope for the sagacity of the reader to re-establish the missing links.

    Education: It’s not only the contents and aims of the present-day education that I find inherently destructive; it’s also the way it’s being done. There’s a whole knot of problems here, one of them the education turning into a service. A pupil is no longer looking for the teacher, a teacher no longer is in search for the pupil. An average student is after the sphere which they can contribute most not to but from. If a student thinks otherwise, if a student wants to be noted for the creative contribution they think they can make, the educational establishment keeps telling them that it is not they who need students, it’s students who need them. Therefore, not the talented students but those who comply are in demand. As a result, there is nothing interesting that can happen within the walls of a university college; the written papers of the students keep reproducing the destructive myths of positivism, materialism and mechanistic approach (it’s called scientific). I myself have a vision of an educational space where the applicants are tested for the ability to find new approaches. Not originality for the originality’s sake, but an ability, with good knowledge of old paradigms, to make a shift towards a new one. There’s a whole bunch of other things to be said here, like the detachment of the academic knowledge from the subject of knowing – no-one is interested in “what is it all to me” question; knowledge serves not the soul but technology, no matter whether it is industrial or academic processes we mean. I think there’s a cure for that as well, only this one is getting a bit lengthy.

    Health: My personal experience tells me that the problem of an individual’s health is the problem of Learning III in terms of G. Bateson; that concerns not only the so-called psychosomatic diseases, but any serious chronic ailment which becomes a part of an individual’s fate. We can consider an illness either a typical occurrence which has its respective cell in a universal classification (a combination of name and approach to treatment), or a unique meaningful event in the person’s life. There’s no way we can brand the former or the latter right or wrong while standing on the purely philosophical ground, nor are they mutually exclusive. Empirically, however, the former can be described as schismogenic, as it brings to life a class of bureaucrats empowered with the right to classify the rest of the folks. The ultimate unspoken-of aim of bureaucracy is foundation of an all-embracing language so that everything outside its scope could be announced non-existent. Bureaucracy is a way to use the language for actually killing the language, for it doesn’t allow for naughtiness of nature – and this naughtiness is in fact the essence of life. Following the latter way, the doctor will have to turn from a bureaucrat to a companion of a patient on terms of equality.

    Ecology: There’s a way how symbols – the ways we construct metaphors about our life – are simultaneously the symptoms and the triggers of a disease. Attitude towards religion influences the ecological interaction between man and environment. I will emphasise that it’s the attitude towards religion, not the content of the religion that makes the difference. Christianity of C. S. Lewis is far more “eco-friendly” than that of Tomás de Torquemada. (And by “religion” I mean not the formal aspects of a cult but rather the way one pictures themselves in this world; in this sense, atheists are also religious people.) This makes it very interesting because discussing this point we’re not risking to be accused of “intolerance”. Some researchers when speaking of the strife of mediaeval Christianity describe it as a fight of the field against the wood, thus rendering Christianity as something anti-environmentalist; but it’s not quite that simple. To see the connection between the metaphor and its symptoms one will need poetical way of thinking as I call it (not a very exact word, but I’ve got nothing else). This point is very closely related to the Economy point.

    Economy: I will try not to dwell on the problems we are having with the present-day economy; I will only share a couple of thoughts. We are still living in neolithic society, but the palaeolithic way of living seems much more friendly. We cannot return to the economy of hunters and gatherers because there’s very little to gather or hunt for. Can we fantasise a bit and think of re-inventing palaeolith with the help of technology? There have lately been some daring agricultural experiments showing that soil is better off when it’s not ploughed, and that the crops can do better when no-one is messing about weeds. (To tell the truth here, I’m not sure myself how trustworthy my sources are.) There are also experiments of helping undomesticated edible plants grow in their natural environment. Of course, this type of gardening will stop massive commercial production. Another thought: in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, G. Bateson describes the economy of Bali as an economy of plenty; although there are rich and poor, no-one can die of starvation. Can we copy at least some essential parts of the Balinese pattern? And yet another idea: Technology of today is so advanced that it would be possible to make a singular household independent of networks of water and power supply. Could we direct the development to further independence of economy of major suppliers, to quit big factories and re-establish a sort of mediaeval community of gilds?

    Politics: No matter how democratic the system is; if your life is divided into spheres of competence of other people calling themselves experts, you end up not only with the atomised society, but with the atomised soul. At the moment, there’s very little choice left to an individual to make decisions concerning even quite personal affairs; experts know better what health-care system you need or what education your children should have. We may call it expert, or institution, totalitarianism: the right to choose is freely delegated to a competent authority. The decision-making corps is comprised of persons coming from the same cultural environment, and there is no reason why they should change when entering upon an office. The inherent paternalism of the institutions fosters infantile thinking in an individual. If we only could quit paternalism, we could hope for more independent individuals to appear. This concerns the Culture point; if the culture of interrelations between people is changed so that everyone will have to watch their step from the ecological perspective, if the law can include a provision making the ecological approach mandatory (and I think I know how to do this – I am a little law-centred because I think that ecology of mind can in a way be traced back to some maxims of the law), then a person of office will be required to have more than mere knowledge – wisdom. Wisdom is what the present-day politicians seriously lack.

    Media: I really don’t want to talk on this issue in isolation from the rest as I think that media, although seemingly powerful, are in fact very dependent on the cultural context. They aren’t self-standing – they’re symptomatic. If the major shift in culture is to occur, there will appear new media, and I have no idea what they’re going to be like.

    Culture: This one is indeed the point where all these seven roads meet. If we are to produce an adequate answer to all those issues, it is all essentially about changing the culture. It all starts with how people talk to one another. People tend to think of themselves as separate rigid static entities, and they will affirm this view through their conversation. The desirable change would be to set up a style of conversation where the interlocutors have agreed that the only way they can affirm themselves is through being understood and responded to by the other. The basis of any conversation is “I know that you know that I understand you; you know that I know that you understand me; we both know the former and the latter”; thence I formulate my golden rule of communication: the only true communication act is the one that contains a relevant message about this communication act. The best aim to reach would be such communication wherein the parties are in a constant adjustment of the meta-communicative aspects of their positions with the help of the other party. This style at the moment is only to be found in a therapist’s office, and that’s often one way only. People would be much saner if they learnt how to do it.

    To conclude, I’d say there’s much left unspoken-of in this short overview. The trouble with the civilisation of today is that it’s nearly schizophrenogenic: no-one is supposed to question the rules by which we play, and when it comes to the rules by which the rules of the game are constructed, this is even more out of the question. And there’s no authority to address about the necessary change. What would be desirable is a certain shift in the legislation that would make responding to such demand mandatory (of course, we will need to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant demands of the kind). I have a suggestion how to formulate this ecological principle as I call it, but it would take a while to disclose, so I’m not talking about it now.

    This change must make a great shift within science. What I’m trying to do now is to establish a natural philosophy of sorts, a way of looking at things and how they are connected and, most importantly, how we think of the things and what it can tell us about ourselves. I’m looking into different disciplines and trying to see similar patterns which provide the best insights into the systemic thinking. In a way, I’m doing what Konrad Lorenz thought was an essential thing to do, making a connection between the natural sciences and humanities.

    My vision is that having a go at global changes is absolutely indispensable: a local initiative is good, but it won’t last if it doesn’t spread or isn’t protected by a new type of legislation. There’s a way to draw the ecological principle out of the science of law, and I’m ready to prove it. Basically, I think there must take place two changes: in the way we treat communication and in the law. To enable this change, I think we’ll need an “institution of wisdom”, which must be different from institutions we know. It must be a shelter for those disappointed in the way the world communicates. It’s not about setting up another institution among the rest of them. It should be a kind of agency that deals with relationships; while having no administrative power in its hands, it should have authority to license decisions and maybe offices.

    All this is rather an invitation to a discussion and not my final word. I have doubts whether it’s all right to see it this way.

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  4. This retired educator sees your first question as the essential one. Solve this, and the rest will not remain problems for long.

    Education: How can we best cultivate curiosity, information, and learning between generations to prepare ourselves to perceive and respond to the complexity of our world with less destruction than centuries past?

    No improvement in anything is possible unless this first challenge is met. The alternative is repetition of humanity’s same mistakes ad infinitum, each time with a smaller resource base.

    The first difficulty is dealing with the opposition that has kept our schools from addressing issues that offend the fixed ideas (or selfish plans) of the older generation. Without this opposition, our schools would long since have had age-appropriate courses in critical thinking at every grade level, and we’d be living in a much better world already.

    My solution: A backdoor approach, not labeled critical thinking, aimed at “incomplete thinking”, and taught with exercises that avoid controversial topics.

    The classroom exercises would involve building and analyzing non-controversial cause-effect chains. The aim would be to create mental habits that would tend to include, rather than exclude, every aspect of the causation of any event in students’ mental visualizations of the world. The short-term effect, that need never be dwelt upon, would be to make oversimplifications of complex situations clearly absurd, and clearly either the product of ignorance or an attempt at manipulation.

    Example: “What causes a car to start?”

    Initial response (actually that of my 11-y-o grandson): “Someone wants to go somewhere, and they put the key in and turn it.”

    My response: “But how does putting in the key and turning it cause the car to start? Nothing like that happens when I put a key in the car door lock and turn it.”

    Regardless of the student’s level of knowledge, this expansion of the chain of events causally linking an intention to a result will be seen to have many steps. Just to name a few, it involves electrical contacts made in the “ignition switch” (some may have heard of “hot wiring” a car), flows of current from the (charged) battery through several different circuits, including the solenoid on the starter motor that magnetically pulls in a slug of steel, causing a lever to engage a small gear on the starter motor shaft with a large gear on the internal combustion engine itself, as well as making a contact that supplies current to the starter motor itself, the distributor and spark plugs, etc. etc. etc..

    The knowledgeable mind’s eye can build as long and complex (or short) a connective chain as is useful for a particular student interacting with a particular example.

    In any case, the point will be made that simply saying that “A causes B” is not the end of understanding something, but only the beginning.

    Once the importance of the infinitely cascading tiny details is clear (and/or boredom sets in) , it is time to repeat the exercise by looking at a wider view of the picture: “Why did that person in the driver’s seat want to start the car?” Obviously, the same kind of analysis will then expose the other part of the chain of causation as having a multitude of components, which interlock in many ways with yet more chains of causation.

    A few such exercises can make it clear that any such chain of causation can be looked at under ever-greater magnification, or in an ever-wider context, and reveal ever more factors that are essential to the events in question.

    A few such exercises at each grade level, in each subject, could make the usefulness of such thinking so clear that . . . . well, let the reader construct her own chain of causation here.

    The mental habits thus developed would soon be available in the students’ – and teachers’ – minds for use on the kind of issues that your other questions refer to. It would be clear to all that we live in a fractal world with a level of complexity that is unimaginably higher than our limited minds can deal with. But equally clear would be the folly of accepting oversimple answers about who “the” enemy is, what “the” solution is, or why we want to buy a particular product in the market, or political platform “A” rather than platform “B”.

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    1. That sounds not bad, but, if you don’t mind my asking you, once your students are out into the wide world, what’s going to happen next? I mean, they will have to keep the same factories running, to use the same motorways and cars, to buy food from the same supliers – how does their knowledge help change that?

      You are one of those who understand, I am one of those who understand – how does this matter? At present, my understanding and insight only add to my suffering.

      No matter how well you know Kant – the world is being run so that you’ll have to obey those who wouldn’t understand a word of Kant. The common sense and general consensus are still very much behind Kant – they are governed by epistemology which would be dismissed by mediaeval scholastics as outdated.

      I’d liken it to a person I know. He knows very well that running is good for health, that meditation and yoga are great means of self-regulaiton, and that one’d better avoid alcolhol and junk food. Moreover, he likes reading books on all those subjects and enjoys long talks about them – his knowledge is ever growing. But he keeps eating fastfood and does nothing of the good things he knows to be good.

      A chronic disease has at its core a self-sustaining cycle. Unless you disrupt the cycle itself, if you don’t attend to the cycle as a whole, but merely want to eliminate some negative manifestations of the cycle that you don’t like, the homoeostasis of the disease will integrate your attempts into its system and thus neutralise them, eventually becoming even more persistent (take a very-well known example of sanctimony, for instance). There’s little chance that one day all these nicely educated young people will form a majority of the world population and just set things right; that quantity will become quality. Even if they are to become those who we say make decisions – in fact they do not make decisions; all decisions they make help the factory keep running.

      I mean, the suggestion itself is good, but I think it’s not a cure. We need a shift of the context – we need at least a short period of history where we’d be able to say: OK, that’s gone a bit too far, so we’ll have to cut, quit, and stop a lot. Re-organizing the context – that’s the rub.


  5. I agree when you say:

    “A chronic disease has at its core a self-sustaining cycle. Unless you disrupt the cycle itself, if you don’t attend to the cycle as a whole, but merely want to eliminate some negative manifestations of the cycle that you don’t like, the homoeostasis of the disease will integrate your attempts into its system and thus neutralise them, . .”

    But I believe that the addition of my suggested teaching/learning mechanism to the standard curriculum will in fact be disruptive of our current repeating cycle of errors.

    The structure of our society rests on the natural evolutionary development of the small groups that our species has instinctively and unavoidably formed and lived in for a thousand times longer than our entire recorded history. But in modern times, in larger groups, the thought/behavior patterns that big-brained simian groups instinctively demand and enforce have become tools of selfish dominance that are counterproductive.

    [In sketchiest outline] – Groups demand loyalty ‘ueber alles’, and among humans, the ‘alles’ that loyalty trumps almost always includes rationality. Irrationality is commonly an essential group demand, as declaring one’s willingness to be irrational or self-harming is a way of demonstrating dedication: “I love the group more than my own self-interest and my own rational mind! Therefore I am happy to accept these mental and/or physical scars to prove my loyalty.”

    And people *are* made happy by obeying their instincts. If we want change, we need to deal effectively with instinctive urges.

    Clever self-seekers know well how to take advantage of our group instincts. Consider L. Ron Hubbard, and the many similar examples we all know.

    Once an irrationality is demanded of group members and generally accepted, the entire group intellect is severely damaged. But a frontal attack on the irrationality so often fundamental to group unity will seldom succeed, as much of written history attests.

    So I’m suggesting a very indirect attack, not aimed at any group’s specific beliefs. Just widespread training in habits of thought that will cause people to recognize and (at least internally) question irrationality when they see it.

    As things stand, we (like your not-so-healthy friend) have developed mental techniques to turn off our rationality as needed, i.e. whenever our emotional desires or commitments feel more important than rationality. And we do this nearly automatically, without examining the phenomenon rationally, often not even allowing the existence of a contradiction to enter our awareness.

    What I propose is to make rational examination of the web of causation a very strong habit, generally perceived to be very useful in the most practical ways.

    Once this type of questioning/thinking is turned in certain directions outside of the classroom, though, there will (for example) be no more controversy about evolution, because it simply makes sense and explains so many observed facts. Also, its opponents are so clearly just displaying their adherence to their group’s unifying loyalty test.

    Similarly, most of the inefficiencies in our social organization (and injustice *is* inefficient!) will stand out vividly as realities that can be addressed with logic rather than triggering the emotional defense demanded for group-loyalty slogans. This will rob the selfish manipulators of their most powerful tool.

    Having a class examine “What causes a basketball to bounce” is a very useful entry point to a great deal of physics and chemistry, and not likely to upset anyone. “What causes my dad to hate [Democrats, Republicans, blacks, women, queers, foreigners, etc]?” doesn’t need to come up in class, ever. But it might well arise in a mind that habitually examines realities by looking for chains of causation that do *not* terminate with an emphatic emotional “because!”.

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    1. By most optimistic counts, it’s about 5% of all people in any job who really understand what they do; and it’s about 5% of all students in any class who really understand what their teacher is after, and sometimes one person, but more often none, who can take and develop the idea of their teacher to the limits where the teacher has intended it to go to.

      (Even if there were 100% of them, they would go to the same workplaces after their schooling and be taught there things as they have been done for a while, and no intellectual exercises they did at school are going to stop that.)

      Since the 19th century there has appeared a number of projects to oppose the irrationality of the crowds by fostering rationality, and I don’t remember any of them having succeeded.

      Rational knowledge alone has never been able to stop disruptive processes or destructive forces on their way. Do heavy drinkers or drug addicts not know that they’re ruining their health? Do the anankastic neurotics not realise that their fears are ungrounded? Are the obsessive-compulsive patients not aware that their obsessive repetitions is a folly? Even some paranoiacs do well understand that the the frame of their mind is a delusion! Has C. G. Jung given his word of warning in vain? Was the so-called rational psychotherapy ever successful to a tolerable degree?

      Crowd will always remain a primitive organism, no matter how intellectual the individuals are who comprise it. The conventional Truth of the crowd is on the side of the strong one. This is why all law theoreticians and thinkers who anticipated the constitutional state – to include the founding fathers – did well to understand that when it comes to justice, this matter cannot be governed by a simple majority of vote. It’s not about Force becoming Truth, but the other way round, Truth becoming Force. It’s not about a majority that can do as they like because they are more in number, but about a minority who are empowered to overrule majority in the name of justice. And the legitimacy of a judicial decision is warranted not by a democratic procedure but by the truth itself (the theory of law, which is a profound humanity, contains a lot on that subject). This is why the judicial branch of power, unlike executive or legislative, is not subject to plebiscite; no-one votes for judges, excepting judges of peace; a judge must be a trained professional.

      What you hope for is that by educating people, that is, creating the necessary majority, you may bring about the necessary changes. To me, that seems idealistic and utopian. What I hope for is that we might be able to spread the wisdom contained in the foundations of the law over the spheres where not justice but pragmatic and commercial considerations still rule; that is, to mandate that wise minority have power of decision-making. I’m not talking about a tyranny of hierophants; just as the human rights, the ecological principle must be formulated in a simple and clear way so that anyone could understand that it’s just and truthful.

      I’d like to address this passage specifically:

      “What causes my dad to hate [Democrats, Republicans, blacks, women, queers, foreigners, etc]?” doesn’t need to come up in class, ever. But it might well arise in a mind that habitually examines realities by looking for chains of causation that do *not* terminate with an emphatic emotional “because!”.

      If this looking for chains of causation starts with the presupposition that the hatred you’re talking of is irrational, biased, bigoted and altogether wrong – that is, if the thinker strives to lay it bare – that would be one thing. The problem is that the brain trained in looking for natural chains of causation that take place in the Newtonian universe might tend to look for similar causations in the universe of behaviour of living organisms. Not only would that be a huge epistemological mistake; this might also be an ethical mistake. In other words, there’s no guarantee that this causation unravelling will not teach people how to justify bigotry instead of exposing it. They might be forced to think that there are real, solid causes behind this hatred, and take to advocating it. They say the German Nazism was a very, very rational ideology – in a way.


  6. You’re right that there’s no guarantee, but I don’t think life offers many of those.

    And I would share your pessimism if we were talking about a training program in formal logic.

    Similarly for your “Rational knowledge alone has never been able to stop disruptive processes or destructive forces on their way.”

    I well know the difficulties of imparting training or getting new knowledge into anyone’s head (mine included!). And once new knowledge *is* stored away mentally, I know how hard it is for students (even for us perpetual students) to dig it out at speed and use it when required.

    But my proposal is simply for the wide use of a natural and easily understood conversational technique for exploring the details of events. This as an adjunct to the more formal ways we traditionally use to introduce new images and thoughts and get them into cerebral storage in an easily accessible and usable form.

    PV = nRT is fine as a calculation technique to quantitatively predict the behavior of a gas, but mutually piecing together a story about what is going on in a dribbled basketball will address the same issues *and* access mental pathways that stay unused when most of us try to apply a memorized equation.

    And afterwards, (1) the equation will make better sense and be easier to remember and use, and (2) the equation and its variables will also be associated with other physical phenomena like velocity, mass and inertia, that are not usually linked to the gas law at the beginner level, and (3) the student will have felt success in yet another exercise in examining the details of a situation and fitting them into a causal chain or web.

    And of course it is (3) that I would expect to make this into a habitually used technique for dealing with realities that require explanation, and linking them with other realities.

    Aside from wordy arguments, I have just one piece of independent real-world evidence to offer about the efficacy of teaching with storytelling and mutual interaction to make abstractions more concrete and usable, which is from the (still ongoing) blog of an ex-student that gave me a very pleasant shock some years ago: http://globalmitch.com/post/607599368/we-are-the-stories-we-tell-ourselves#_=_

    Mitch wrote that more than ten years after taking my class, when he was well into a very successful career – not in physics.

    If I were back in the classroom, what I’d do differently is just involve the students even more in building mental images of the processes under study (whether history or physics), and visualizing how causal linkages work and how they interact with human purposes and perceptions. From the quantum scale to the universal, with us in the middle, there is *so* much to learn!

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  7. Great write up, Nora! h/t for Cas Rose for sharing on FB (the place of engineered serendipity), otherwise I would not have found this article with great questions.

    Rather than giving one response overview on all, I’d like to focus on two of your questions:

    1. education
    2. politics

    ad 1. curiosity for learning can be created when learning pressure for tests, and going through a fixed/rigid curriculum is reduced and opens (leisure) time to dig deeper into the field where questions have not been answered in class

    ad 2. politicians, especially nowadays in a fast and often unpredictably changing world are expected to have the answers, and to act boldly (often in terms of financially supported programs). During the past #ulab MOOC and another project which was part of the German Ministry for Education and Science (Future City Dresden) the idea of establishing a system dynamics citizen-science center came up. Enabling citizens (including politicians and business leaders) to see the impacts of their actions in a larger context (rather than just putting the symptoms of the problems away). It is called CitizenScienceLab and is on ResearchGate.

    It may be a really tiny step, yet it is in the back of my head since summer of 2008 when I saw at a Finnish university what is possible when people get into dialogue and understand the complex dynamics of the systems in which we live, especially the time delays that are involved in large-scale changes.

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  8. Dmitry Sofronov, my apologies for failing to respond to your final point, which *is* an important one, and for breaking the post-response-post rhythm. Circumstances just didn’t permit a longer response then.

    The phenomenon you described at the end, a rational-looking justification for an emotion- or instinct-based decision, is very real and dangerous. But I think that my proposal is the best way of minimizing its occurrence and power.

    First the wordy argument: A detailed visualization of a series of causally linked events carries its own sort of conviction. Such visualizations match observed reality in useful ways, and they improve with continued use, as well as linking up with and supporting each other. This gives them a mental flavor that is very different from that of an emotional habit or an instinctive drive.

    That recognizable difference creates discord between the rational front-end of the visualization you described and the qualitatively different final step of “Smash the dirty [whatevers]”. Like switching from reading a textbook to a novel, or vice versa. There may or may not be a good reason to switch, but we certainly notice the change. When the rational examination of events is a strong habit, we will feel the need to explain such a discontinuity in what is supposed to be a visualized chain of causation. The discontinuity itself *must* have a cause. what is it?

    In my own experience, this can lead to the personal development of a very powerful tool – an internal “instant replay” camera to permit the close examination of a series of mental/emotional events (internal causal chain) that usually goes by too quickly to be available for conscious evaluation. It doesn’t take very many replays of previously invisible high-speed but irrational associations and decisions that are clearly childhood leftovers or worse, before another drive takes over and we do some mental housecleaning.

    But far simpler than that mass of words: We all experience daily verification of the ability of simple training and acquired habits to constructively modify even the strongest and most essential instinctive drives: Toilet training works.

    And clearly, our modern minds need toilet training, so we don’t litter our living rooms with harmful waste.

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    1. You’re making quite an interesting point! I think I too owe you an apology for being a bit sceptical. It’s just a good number of people I know, nice, intelligent people, physics, engineers, doctors, of a great thinking capacity and not entirely devoid of an artistic taste, but their heart definitely in the wrong place, who will believe in a lot of nonsense and be susceptible to worst sorts of propaganda.

      Now I can see that what I think should be done and what you think should be done can play along very well. I’m starting to realise that what bothered me most (and, to be honest, I thought that problem could be resolved only through persuasion – I’m afraid I was thinking of a mild indoctrination of sorts) bothers me no longer. Your idea indeed contains the answer to the problem of un-indictrination.

      I’ve got a couple of other interesting ideas, but no time now; hopefully, I’ll write more tomorrow, maybe in my blog.


  9. Dmitri, like you I’ve had discouraging interactions, in my case with longtime online friends, intelligent and well-informed, who seemed suddenly to become blind to some very serious issues when focusing on the Hillary-vs-Trump choice. Once they chose a side, they responded quite narrowly and irrationally to facts, and were willing only to enter into highly polarized discussion of how good one side was and how bad the other. And how bad anyone must be who did not wholeheartedly agree with their one-sided views. “Join our self-blinded group or else”

    I’m glad to hear you say “I’ve got a couple of other interesting ideas, but no time now; hopefully, I’ll write more tomorrow, maybe in my blog” – I’ll look forward to that.

    Just now I was talking with my wife about this conversation, and she said “Well, what you’ve been saying is just “Ask why 5 times” – old stuff. And I looked that up and she’s right! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys

    But I suppose that that’s one major blessing of the Internet (it’s where *she* learned about 5_Whys years ago): making us aware of what others are thinking and helping us refine, crystallize and extend our own and each other’s thinking. Which has certainly happened for me, here, being challenged to articulate previously too-vague thoughts. Just a few years ago, we’d all be thinking in isolation and taking our isolated and undeveloped ideas with us when we left the stage. Maybe now we can all do our little bit to help each other go beyond where we would have, maybe even get the critical mass for some organization that could contribute to real change. Maybe I’ll even talk more with my wife!

    And I guess I’ll need to sign up with WordPress instead of just checking in via my FB account (though that’s where John Kellden’s post steered me to this place), since I can’t seem to like any posts without logging in that way, or I would have.


  10. No-one can be Zen unless they’ve emptied their cup.

    This is a sort of summary to this discussion I’d like to suggest without claiming to be the authority of last resort. I’ve just given it a thought and now want to share.

    Since my first encounter with Mr Bateson’s books some seventeen years ago or more I never stopped thinking on the same issues in what I think rather a Batesonian clue, the last five years being especially intensive; the result was a book I finished last year – a desperate attempt to catch it all in a nutshell. I showed some chapters of it to my friends; they all found it extremely difficult to read. It’s beyond my power to make it a light reading though; it’s not just about a new way of thinking: it also follows this new way of thinking. So, you see, an attempt to understand it with the help of the old instruments of learning will land you in a kind of a vicious circle.

    When I outlined my ideas on what’s there to be done – well, I wasn’t expecting general cheers, but my presumption was that everyone else has been doing a similar job and that we share the same frame of this line of thought, and that my own frame would be easily discerned. I was wrong – now, I’m not saying we’re not sharing the same frame of thought, but I was wrong in the supposition that discerning this frame in the other one would be that easy and should be that readily expected. I see it like at this point of the road, at the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree, some of us are like the four hobbits who have to decide whether they should trust Strider or not, and some of us are like Strider who may be tired of years and years of living undercover and want to be trusted unconditionally.

    But I made yet another mistake, a bigger one:

    No-one can be Zen unless they’ve emptied their cup.

    It’s difficult to speak about this without resorting to the old language designed for saying things we’re trying to oppose. The moment we start using it, we’re in the enemy’s camp.

    What to do then?

    There was a suggestion that we should start with the language itself. First we invent the language suitable for expressing that sort of ideas, and then,.. but I’ll dwell on this no longer, because basically it’s the same thing. To invent the language we need to express what we want to be saying with it. The cup is as full as ever.

    (I’m not saying the one who suggested it was wrong; I just want to catch the general epistemological mistake behind this discussion by its tail and draw it out into the daylight.)

    Tom Parsons shares his opinion on the education – and I don’t think his suggestion is bad; it will be helpful – in the new context we are after, but we need first to have this context. It’s the aim, not the means.

    I liked what Ralf said because it’s an example that gives one some optimism – but, again, we must ensure that similar changes are universal. And I’m very much afraid that this cannot be done by force. Unless this universal change occurs naturally – in the way similar to that in which the humankind shifted through history from one mentality to the next one – there has never been an authority that said, oh ok, we need to make a transition from High Gothic to Renaissance, the time is upon us, and we shall make all other people heed what we say– these changes occurred nevertheless, and were universal too. There was a movement that insisted that through understanding of how history works man can direct the flow of history – that’s the Bolshevists. I don’t think anyone here wants to replicate their experiment in any way, even with the best intentions.

    Finally, there comes the one from Greg Bernstein:

    “The root is cosmology. Everything else is hacking at heads of the hydra. We must change the story of our place in the universe,”

    and this is really close to what I was trying to say in this post and in my argument with Tom Parsons. Curing a chronic disease – and this is exactly what we’re talking about – means the re-making of one’s own self, changing the context, the destiny – the very nature of the sufferer. We were meant to be someone in the history of the planet – universe – to play our role without knowing the script, and at the moment it seems that tonight’s show is close at the end. We may be right in our guessing at the climax of the play, or may not; we might like it or not if we knew it, but this isn’t even important. What we want is is a better understanding, which may mean freedom from playing out the scenario we don’t know.

    First, I’d like you to have a look at this:


    This is an article about music, and might seem to have nothing to do with what we’re discussing, but it’s all about re-thinking the concept of happiness. I have to quote what I said in the comment to it: happiness is relatedness in which self-assertion is possible through communication without losing your own self (not like in a crowd of fans) through helping everyone else assert themselves too.

    Playing in an ensemble makes our brain work in an unusual way – it really finds this meaningful pattern that unites. Unfortunately, not everyone is a gifted musician, not all of us enjoy playing in an ensemble – and we can’t make music mandatory without spoiling the idea.

    This makes me return to what I’ve already said. I think it’s essential to create a bubble – a certain oasis – a centre of crystallization – which will promote a new way of communication; this – I know that for sure – can make the brain function in a way similar to that of a band musician. Once I was a success doing this – learning to do this will involve a lot – and this process may become the beginning of the new culture, of re-contextualization of humankind in the history.


  11. Interesting list of questions. I would like to add one. “What kind of leadership – follower roles if any would be a fruitfull for the future?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Ulric, Did you happen to see my blog post on leadership paradoxes? I think you will really like it. I am hosting a session in Berlin on leadership in interdependency in April… best, nora


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