Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

Status message

You are currently in UIA's online document archive. These pages are no longer maintained. To search the full archive click here.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !

5.6 Embodiment in patterns of alternation


1. Resonant exchange between opposing views

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 more creatively in the light of the arguments of Section KD. Unless it is to be assumed that some major schools of thought are totally misguided, 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 the mass 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 its own interest. Courtship behaviour can be an example of more symmetric resonance that 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 entrainment 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?

2. Embodiment in patterns of alternation

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 whom 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 and modes of awareness that constitute his psychic make-up. He is as much a resonance pattern between such sub-personalities (as modes of awareness) 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 (Carlos Mallmann and Oscar Nudler, 1982). The arguments of Section KD and the interrelated modes of awareness in Section HM 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 awareness.

In this sense no one mode of awareness, however "spiritually developed", can carry, encode or embody as much significance as the pattern of alternation between the set of such modes. Developing that pattern enriches the quality of life. It is the erosion or destruction of that pattern which diminishes the quality of life, for both the individual and the group.

3. Transcending frozen learning cycles

The confusion arising from the plethora of approaches and concepts may well be due to the tendency to "freeze" this alternation and to "lock" obsessively onto particular phases of it. As stated by Ken Wilbur (1982, p.11) in introducing the Spectrum of Consciousness: "But, odd as it may sound, I have no quarrel with the particular state of our science of the soul, but only with the monopolization of the soul by that state. The thesis of this volume is, bluntly, that consciousness is pluridimensional, or apparently composed of many levels; that each major school of psychology, psychotherapy, and religion is addressing a different level; that these different schools are therefore not contradictory but complementary, each approach being more-or-less correct and valid when addressing its own level. In this fashion, a true synthesis of the major approaches to consciousness can be effected - a synthesis, not an eclecticism, that values equally the insights of Freud, Jung, Maslow, May, Berne, and other prominent psychologists, as well as the great spiritual sages from Buddha to Krishnamurti."

4. Ecosystems of societal learning

Validating the phases through which alternation takes place then places extreme phases in a new context. In the light of Paul MacLean's (1973) work on brain evolution, some phases may indeed be governed, for example, by the lower limbic brain corresponding to the "reptilian" phase of man's evolution. Political leaders, for example, 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"; they too have a role to play in the psychic ecology.

Although such attempts are also appropriate as constraining exercises, eliminating such phases completely would effectively destroy important behavioral 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 as "pests", 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" or "misguided", do not help to move beyond the resulting dynamics. Human beings are much more richly textured than such simplistic categories imply - as any fictional literature or drama shows. Whilst labelling some as "guilty" and others, especially oneself, as "innocent" is a necessary behavioral pattern under certain local conditions, it is also necessary to be able to operate in the opposite mode. If man cannot understand how he is part of the problem, he cannot understand the nature of the "answer" required to his condition. It is even more desirable to recognize that it is not a question of being either 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.

5. Dance of the categories

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 the 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 (1979) and of others on new styles of corporate strategy with such titles as When Giants Learn to Dance (R M Kanter, 1989).

6. Experiencing the implicate order

The relationship between the individual's different attitudinal 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 mode of awareness 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 (1980, p.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 explicate order, which...requires a complex construction that has to be learned." (1980, 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 (Ken Wilbur, 1982).

7. Reflexivity

Morris Berman (1989) queries the constant pressure towards better conditions to be found "elsewhere" or "otherwise" through "alternatives". He suggests that even the much sought "paradigm-shift" is part of the same pathology of escape. "Paradigm-shift is still part of the salvation mentality, a patriarchal mind-set that tells the hero to persevere, find a new form of consciousness that will give him redemption." It is this illusion of which it is necessary to be aware.

For Berman: "Part of our goal, undoubtedly, is to learn what it means to live without paradigm, but I also sense a much more complex possibility, viz., developing a radical new code that is itself about coding, and is not merely a shift in coding. This is where reflexivity -- the awareness of coding as coding, or Gurdjieff's "self-remembering" on a cultural scale -- becomes so important."

From this perspective, science, feminism, Buddhism, and the many other isms may be useful as tools under particular circumstances, but are dangerous as ideologies that an individual (or a group) is unable to set aside when appropriate. To clutch at such "transitional objects", regardless of what form they take, is to lose balance. He shares with Jacques Attali (1981) the view that real liberation is about resiliency, not about "truth".

For Berman: "How things are held in the mind is infinitely more important than what is in the mind, including this statement itself". Some form of coding is of course always necessary for social and psychological life. The art of spiritual development is then the cultivation of awareness of constructing and using codes, and the having of that awareness as part of that code.

Reflexivity does not mean making everything conscious. It should include the recognition that the code, of which one is aware, "is fed by sources that lend themselves only to indirect awareness". This inhibits the process of entrapment in particular worldviews. "...one's worldview, in effect, becomes Mystery: there is some sort of larger process operating that we cannot directly apprehend, but that permeates our bodies and moves toward healing."

This inherent dissatisfaction with any particular code, and continuing awareness of the ontological dilemma, accords with the role of doubt in Zen. The Zen tradition encourages the meditative attitude by an intensity of such questioning. "Doubt or questioning is seen as an indispensable key to awakening. It is the vitality of the meditative attitude, the driving force which heightens the sense of the mysterious to the point where it unexpectedly reveals what until then had remained withdrawn and unsuspected." (Stephen Batchelor, 1989).

8. Disciplined spontaneity

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 it 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 combated by the other.