Development through Alternation

9.9. Implications for the human self-image

Anthony Judge

The current sterile debate, reinforced by the differences between Western and Eastern cultural traditions, as to whether the significance of an individual lies only in his individuality and its transformative development or only in his social context and its transformative development, can be viewed in a new light of the arguments of this paper. Each of these opposing views clearly offers valuable insights, but the transformative development of the human self-image results from the process of alternation between them.

The change of focus can perhaps be best illustrated by the possible reinterpretation of the "stimulus-response" image of man favoured by behaviourists. This focuses on the way in which a given stimulus gives rise to a given response (as well as on ways of conditioning the desired response). In a simplistic concept of organization a leader may be conceived as providing key stimuli and ensuring appropriate responses. This asymmetrical approach was the original basis for government and corporate funding of research on the uses of media.

In a symmetrical approach a stimulus from one individual gives rise to a response, which is in turn perceived as a stimulus to which the original stimulator in turn responds. The two parties can then continue alternating between the roles of stimulator and respondent in a resonant exchange in which each takes initiatives and is conditioned by responses. Whilst this is fairly obvious, the interesting question is how the resonant exchange may be "tuned" as a vehicle for the expression of more significant possibilities. Clearly the classic asymmetric approach is just an extreme example of forced tuning by one party in his own interest. Courtship behaviour can be an example of more symmetric resonance which is progressively tuned to levels of greater significance, if it is successful.

Of greater significance in a social context is the manner in which the individual engages in resonant exchange with each of the members of the groups in which he participates. Each exchange is necessarily different, but the question is how these exchanges interweave in a process of mutual entrainrnent to constitute the resonance pattern of the group. And how may such a resonance pattern be tuned in turn and how many different resonators can "fit" together into what sort of pattern?

In such a context the individual is as much a non-localized pattern of propagation through the resonance network as a locus of interference within that network. Each individual is partly encoded by all the people with which he is in contact - "we carry a bit of everyone within us". This approach not only suggests possibilities for interpretation of the individual in relation to others but also for the individual in relation to the sub-personalities which constitute his psychic make-up. He is as much a resonance pattern between such subpersonalities as identified with any one of them.

There has been much recent work on the biological cycles by which human beings are characterized. Time-budget analysis has demonstrated the variety of alternative activities in which humans involve themselves at different stages of development (145). The arguments of this paper suggest that there is a case for exploring the nature of a human self-image based on alternation, whether between activities, roles or modes of perception.

Validating the phases through which alternation takes place then places extreme phases in a new context. In the light of Paul MacLean's work on brain evolution (153), some phases may indeed be governed, for example, by the lower lirnbic brain corresponding to the "reptilian" phase of main's evolution. (Political leaders are occasionally perceived as functioning primarily in this mode when grasping to retain power.) But the point is not simply to condemn such phases and attempt to "rise above them".

Although such attempts are also appropriate, eliminating such phases completely would effectively destroy important behavioural pathways in the psycho-social ecosystem through which learning takes place. In the natural environment also it is not simply a question of eliminating "primitive" species, but rather of ensuring their appropriate function in the ecosystem. In this sense the alternation phases need to pass through all the "species" necessary to the healthy functioning of man's psychic ecosystem.

Seen in this light the widespread attempts to define some groups or modes of behaviour as "good" and others as "bad" do not help to move beyond the resulting dynamics. Human beings are much more richly textured than such simplistic categories imply - as any literature shows. Whilst labelling some as "guilty" and others, especially oneself, as "innocent" is a necessary behavioural pattern under certain local conditions, it is also necessary to be able to operate in the opposite mode. If we do not understand how we are part of the problem, we cannot understand the nature of the "answer" required. It is even more desirable to recognize that it is not a question of being guilty or innocent, but rather of being guilty and innocent as a responsible participant in the current global condition of society. In this sense being human is the ability to live creatively with this paradox.

Personal space sub-component of Group A's integrative schema
Modern physics consciousness/assumptions
Boundaries are arbitrary imposed by observer's relationship to observed
Complementarity of incompatible explanations
"The sun does not necessarily rise or set"
Dynamics: breathing (as a metaphor)

Classical (Newtonian) physics assumptions
Boundaries are mechanically defined
Observers relationship to observed implies not ambiguity
"The sun rises"
Dynamics: exercise

Personal space sub-component of an integrative group schema

Conscious experiential involvement of observer in environment dissolving the observer-observed dichotomy
Japanese concept of hara (zen) and inner strength (and some western concepts of "maturity" and "wisdom")
Dynamics: sartori, samadhi, etc.

If nothing else, human beings are only partially defined by the static categories in each of the many conceptual "languages" which attempt such definition. The essence of being human is uncontained by the patchwork aggregate of these definitions - it is a "quality without a name". It can be more appropriately "defined", especially as a self-image by the person concerned, by the dynamics of alternation between the roles, categories, activities and modes of being by which people are usually characterized. A richer and more "global" understanding of being human lies in identification with the "dance" between these specific, "local" or temporary definitions. The "dancer" is not limited by such specifics through which he expresses himself. Experientially he is more closely identified with the process of "dancing". Hence the production of books on the conceptual frontiers of physics with titles such as: "The Dancing Wu-Li Masters". (60)

The relationship between the individual's different attitudional postures in the dance has perhaps been best clarified by David Bohm. Each of the series of conflicting images with which an individual identifies can be conceived as a lower-dimensional projection of a higher-dimensional actuality which is their common ground but which is of a nature beyond all of them thus constituting a challenge to comprehension. In this higher-dimensional ground an implicate order prevails in which what is is movement, represented in thought as the co-presence of many phases of that order. Any particular attitude or posture is ultimately misleading although necessary as a well-defined vehicle of expression of the movement characteristic of the undefined totality of that higher order (8, pp. 209-210). The special merit of Bohm's presentation is that he demonstrates that, far from being an inaccessible mathematical abstraction, "the experiencing of the implicate order is fundamentally much more immediate and direct than is that of the expliate order, which...requires a complex construction that has to be learned." (8, p. 206). His work is leading to a reassessment of the hoary mind-body question by combining his concept of "holomovement" with that of the holographic paradigm (155).

In effect it is not so much a question of the human self-image in the face of the undefined - certainty facing uncertainty. Nor is it only a question of "containing" the undefined by a configuration of responses. The challenge is to embody and express the undefined, as is intuitively recognized in the appreciation of the vitality of human spontaneity. The direction of human development may then be seen to lie in the progressive embodiment (or "marriage") of more fundamental forms of the paradoxical relationship between discipline and spontaneity. The current social development crisis may be interpreted as the crucible in which human beings learn to perceive themselves in such terms. The attitude called for by these uncertain times is thus one of disciplined spontaneity or spontaneous discipline. This is not achieved by the present schizophrenic alternation between "discipline" and "spontaneity" which makes of each mode a shadowy evil to be combatted by the other.