Sunday, October 2, 2011

Changing 'Be the Change ...'

Within the theme of inquiring into quotations people famously never said - is this intrigue of how we change thought, sometimes unconsciously, and almost innocently. In our mindfulness of mind our disrespects are done with great respect. The name I have for this is 'Consciousness Co-Opting', where we lay claim to another's reputation to support our own in the bright shadow of positive projection. It is a form of false flattery, similar to forms of 'cultural appropriation', where we borrow another's culture, inappropriately appropriating it, to make our own point.

We do this, the attribution to another's greatness, because we are not confident of what we need and want to say ourselves. Hence, in the 'Be the change' quote there is a poignant reminder of our own vulnerability. Three times this last week I have seen prominent thinkers use the attributed Mahatma Gandhi quote, which commonly reads:

"This first, be the change you wish to see in the world."
"We need to be the change we wish to see in the world."
"Be the change you wish to see."

The quote (seemingly) cannot be attributed to the written works of the 'Mahatma', Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948). It can, though, be attributed to the recollections of his fifth grandson, Arun Gandhi (1934 -) with the modification of Arun's own call to be the 'agent of change' you wish to see.

To come back to the original source of the intention of the quote held during Gandhi's remarkable life, in a recent rescue of other things people never said, Brian Morton (NYT, 29 August 2011) offers this closest parallel for the mis-quote (without reference):

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.
As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Yet, I am not sure that this is as close to the sentiment at its source that we can get. In wishing perhaps for others to embody the respect and care for checking another's words I would wish for all thinkers (and myself), I took the few moments to look further.

To trace a mis-quote, it is often good to begin with an authoritative source. In Dunphy, Griffiths, Benn's (2003) excellent resource 'Organisational Change for Corporate Sustainability' there is a reference for the Gandhi quote: "I must first be the change I want to bring about in my world." (p. 269) taken from D. Chatterjee, 'Living Consciously (p. 45)'. In Debashis Chatterjee's (1998) Leading Consciously: A pilgrimage towards self-mastery, a wonderful homage to the Mahatma as leader, there is in fact that quote on page 45 (unattributed). On page 146, though, the trail does get exciting as the quote is restated, this time with a reference to 'Fischer (1962)' - with no page source.

Now following this lineage of respectfulness, journalist Louis Fischer's works are considered authoritarian sources of Gandhi's own words. In his 'The Life of Mahatma Gandhi" (1950) and the edited works that he diligently compiled as "The Essential Gandhi" (1962) are references to the primary works of the Mahatma. In the distilled essence of 50,000 pages of writings in 100 volumes, surely the mysterious source of the mis-quote would be there ....

In looking, page by page, line by line I had the pleasure to be re-acquainted, not only with the words and biographical path of great struggle, but with the philosophy of Swaraj (self-rule) itself. The famous mis-quote is (not unsurprisingly) not to be found.

Yet from Fischer's referenced sources (to the primary works) there were for me over forty (secondary source) extracted quotations 'in the style of' the topical mis-quote - reflecting beautifully the central sentiment of Gandhi's demonstrated action as persuasion. Just these few jewels that follow - were worth the journey alone (Fischer, 1962):

"[We} are the makers of our own state and .. individuals who realize the fact need not, ought not, to wait for collective action." (p. 91)
"All would assume leadership and dictate to others, and there would be nothing done in the end. But where the leader himself becomes servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership." (p. 107)
"... we can see that if we become free, India is free. And in this thought you have a definition of Sawarj. It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves. It is therefore, in the palms of our hands ..." (p. 123)
"Our contribution to the progress of the wold must, therefore, consist in setting our own house in order." (p. 154)
"I adopt the change [loin cloth and chaddar] because I have always hesitated to advise anything I may not myself be prepared to follow." (p. 159)
"Firstly, we must acquire greater mastery over ourselves and secure an atmosphere of perfect calm, peace and good will." (p. 168)
"My strength lies in my asking people to do nothing that I have not tried repeatedly in my own life." (p. 186)
"Instead of thinking of improving the world let us concentrate on self-improvement." (p. 273)

And in the context of these riches, there is one passage, a full and beautiful quote, that for me does represent, in particular, the source of the 'Be the change' re-quote most completely. Wanting always to know context of passages within the ground of a philosophy, it is worth quoting in full:

"When it is difficult for millions to make even the two ends meet, when millions are dying of starvation, it is monstrous to think of giving our relatives a costly education. Expansion of the mind will come from hard experience, not necessarily in the college or the schoolroom. ... The golden rule to apply in all such cases is resolutely to refuse to have what millions cannot. This ability to refuse will not descend upon us all of a sudden. The first thing is to cultivate the mental attitude that we will not have possessions or facilities denied to millions, and the next immediate thing is to rearrange our lives as fast as possible in accordance with our mentality." (p. 236) (Source: 24, June 1926)

It is in this passage, in the context of the assumption of equality, and the challenge of the renunciation of inequality, without self-privilege - that we find the reason for the re-interpretation of the message. To first set our intention in a humanitarian sense of global equality, and then second to 'be' in accordance with that, is to ask of us the task that Gandhi asked of himself first. The stark irony of the 'bumper sticker' re-quote is too painful to truly appreciate. The gap of equality, perhaps explains for me, the gap in all those references used so unconsciously with authority. We may neglect the source as it reminds us of what it truly asks of us. We reflect on the man and, in our so beautiful human vulnerabilities, neglect to hold his vision. In conclusion: -

We seek to 'be the change' ... and forgot to think first, for whom it is - that 'we are'.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Map is Not the Territory, and ...

I am continuously interested in this theme of the "Things people [in]famously never said ...". There is something in this phenomenon of 'sociological distortion' that is empirically interesting in the cognitive assessment of psychosystems.

My grandmother (who lived to be 100 years old) used to say: "Believe none of what you hear, half of what you read, and a little of what you see." .. but then I might be misquoting her (:-^). I think her context and sentiment in quoting this, in coming from a small country town, was around not passing on gossip. However, my use of her quote is for my own purposes, of supporting my own reflective theme of knowledge humility.

This approach, of taking a quote out of context, lending credence to oneself by association, and co-opting it for one's contemporary social interpretation (that I have just demonstrated) is a fairly harmless form of personal aggrandisement. We attract others of reputation to lend support to what we would have liked them to say on our behalf. The problem only comes when the rhetorical device works and a sociological truth is manufactured, often from a source that would deny it. Once spread by others, the genie is out of the bottle, and the container was lost.

Here (to add to the collection) is a new one. Another example of the Law of Karmic Distortion.

Often people who work in meta-theory quote Alfred Korzybski as saying:

"The map is not the territory." Korzybski (1879-1950)

This is often used as an expression of veiled humility, sort of a qualification to lend verification to the sub-text which says: "... and while we know we have a perfect map or model of reality, we also realize it is an approximation, but short of walking the terrain itself, it can be relied on."

The problem with the quote is, not that it is grossly inaccurate, but that it is the most insidious of re-representations, the edited fragment.

My understanding is that in outlining a formative version of the Theory of General Semantics, central to which is the proposition that words are not the objects which they represent, Korzbyski used the metaphor of maps, specifically one to get from Paris to Warsaw via Dresden, to represent the structure of his semantic argument about semantics. Ironically, the words of the metaphor are used to represent the theory itself, and the theory is overlooked by the quoters.

What does this matter? Well let's consider the original:

"A) A map may have a structure similar or dissimilar to the structure of the territory.
B) Two similar structures have similar 'logical characteristics. ...
C) A map is not the territory.
D) An ideal map would contain the map of the map, the map of the map of the map. , endlessly."

Korzybski, A. (1931) A non-Aristotelian system and its necessity for rigor in mathematics and physics. Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society, New Orleans, Louisiana (December 28, 1931)

Korzbyski explains that the problem is not really with maps, these are very useful. The problem is when the second criteria, that if a match of logical structure is forgotten, this makes our maps potentially unreliable. A meta-map that becomes disconnected in structure from the underlying territory that it represents does not need knowledge humility. It is in fact so 'bad' as to be (as Korzbyski warns): '... misguiding, wasteful of effort, . In case of emergencies, it might be seriously harmful.' (p. 750)

The disconnection of the quote from its context, makes it a dangerously partial representation. In changing the structure of the quote, the representation (i.e. the map of the argument reduced to one sentence) becomes, not lacking in detail, it becomes really a fabrication - and in terms of awareness of its semantic distortion, dangerous to rely on.

In the fuller version of his thoughts (and in a more accessible source) Korzybski re-iterates the argument slightly differently, highlighting how explicitly changed the mis-quote really is:

"Two important characteristics of maps should be noticed.
A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. ..." (p. 58)
Korzybski, A. (1933) Science and Sanity (4th ed.) The Institute of General Semantics, Lakeville, Conn.

This is a better quote. It represents the structure more fully, yet not completely. The associated warning becomes more pronounced here, reflecting that a map with a different structure to the territory, if used to orient ourselves in our travels:

"It would lead us astray, and we might waste a great deal of unnecessary effort.
In some case, even, a map of wrong structure would bring actual suffering and disaster,
as, for instance, in a war, or in the case of an urgent call for a physician." (p. 58)

To make up the [in]famous mis-quote, Korzybski's own structure is changed, from two important characteristics, to merely one. It is in our active distortions that the potential for suffering and disaster in reliance occurs. This is the source of concern as to why such seemingly small omissions do matter. The fourth criteria of Korzbyski, that the map should be qualified by meta-relfection, is by its absence, the cause for this form of distortion. Interestingly, the mis-quoter might say, to add insult to inquiry in the irony: "What are you worried about, isn't it just semantics?"

To be fair, the wider effects of social distortion on our capacity to know and discern, are brought about, not by those navigating the territory honestly and passing on possible directions heard, but by the casual map-makers working without responsibility in remoteness. If we assert a representation, we almost have a duty, to at least make the inquiry of its structural integrity, before it is passed on for all eternity.

In apithological ethics, this is called the philosophical coherence of 'Rhetorical Responsibility'. In humility, if we use an authority to support our own polemic, an effect is that others might be convinced by our semantics. If the representation is false, then all might be lost, not just by us, but by all. Not only is there wasted effort, there is something else here, which is a diminishment in our faith in knowledge and its purveyors. This is notwithstanding the loss of an act of simple respect, that in using someone's life's work for our own purposes, it might be respectful to at least read, even a few words in context, of what the author themselves wrote for us. Perhaps this applies even more, when the author saw the great gift the evolution of information from our knowledgeable past gives to us daily, for our own day to day survival.

Have I here made a faithful representation of Korzybski's work in this summation? Surely not of the theory of General Semantics. Yet I hope I have looked at this small part respectfully. For only one point from all this work is really offered, being that ...

... might we each pause briefly to look at the structure of our own arguments, before we unknowingly send others off with false directions?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Value and Valuing

I was reading journalist and author Arthur Koestler's 'five' part trilogy again recently. That is The Sleepwalkers (1959), Act of Creation (Book I and II) (1964), The Ghost in the Machine (1967) and Janus: A Summing Up (1978). The work as a whole covers an investigation of immense ground and circles back on itself, yet within it is the story of the how humans discover and how we discover our humanity. The awareness of knowledge hubris is a theme in the conclusion to all these books.

I found last night one section in Act of Creation on the aesthetics of snobbery, that I had not recalled before. Koestler observes how in the act of great creation there is often some divine inspiration, a release of one plane in the conjunction of two to produce surprise novelty, whether in the sciences or the arts. He talks about how even life-time experts in the aesthetics of greatness of an artist cannot recognize a well-executed fake by one from the master. He says:

"Let me repeat: the principal mark of genius is not perfection, but originality, the opening of new frontiers; once this is done, the conquered territory becomes common property. .. Genius consists not in the perfect exercise of a technique, but in its invention."

Koestler then speaks to the affectation of greatness and of great art. We feel that seeing these objects we may be magically imbued with the creators' essences. "It is not the eye that guides the museum visitor, but the magic of the names." (p. 410) And so people view these works appraised as great and project their own likes and dislikes upon them.

It is then Koestler trigger me to an insight into my own concerns in this. He remarks how the snobbery of art appreciation, rather than its genuine effect through appreciation comes from the confusion of two value frames. The true judgment of value and the valuing of value-judgements. Koestler comments:

"Snobbery ... is a hotchpotch of matrices, the application of the rules of one
game to another game. It uses a clock to measure weight, and a thermometer to measure distance. The creative mind perceives things in a new light, the snob in a borrowed light; his pursuits are sterile and his satisfactions of a vicarious nature." (p. 412)

I then asked why does this occur (and why did it bother Koestler so)? In apithology, we know the expression of pathology arises from the doubt of grace. When we feel we are not able to gain an appreciation for something, it being too intricate to know or too distant to discover, we fear we will lose the grace of its expression. Fearing this greatness might be unavailable to us, we grasp to its artifact, and look to others to affirm the value we cannot see for ourselves. Our fear of deficiency is confirmed and so compensated for, the art itself becoming invisible under the introjection of acclaim.

This is why greatness without pretence is the best judge of genius. Being respected by one's peers, and ignored by all around, is a much greater respect than drawing queues of people around a block to glimpse something proximate that is forever distant. In moments like these I give great thanks for the many peers around me, without whom in their greatness, I would have no sure judgement for my own attempts at stumbled origination. To create takes courage and to appreciate takes devotion. Not all of us can feel into this path, to create value so as not to confuse value.

My own response in this area is the distress I feel when in crowds of people who are trying to have an experience of greatness, knowing there is something there to get, and not getting it. In these moments I find the authenticity of non-appreciation much better than the false acclaim without a moments look. One day in Paris' Louvre I saw Leonardo's Mona's smile for the first time - and knew somatically and completely the reason for the reputation. Behind the ten-deep crowd of viewers we shared a smile, and after a moment I left in increased respect and moved on to the much-ignored passions of Christ in Botticelli's creative recall in an empty gallery, which the tours having not the time or cultural interest, had passed by. Art is more than personal, it is a view into the divine.

I have a van Gogh reproduction on my stairs. It is of Starry Night. It was a gift on a birthday many years ago from lover and friend. Like Koestler's portrayal of a friend with a Picasso that became more valued once discovered as an original, it recalls for me each time I see it those faded days. This begs the question of whether the painting is more cherished simply because of the artist's reputation or the givers giving. Compared to the other original art I have, especially those where I knew the artist, it is a but a parchment, yet it holds a symbolic cherished value - in distant appreciation and remembered affection. Within the art is the act of giving, and that is what is mostly valued.

So why create in any form? Because it brings us closer to the appreciation of the works of genius. For in the works of greatness we create for others, we give a bit of ourselves ...

- and shop a little in the gallery-giftshop stocking the grace of all mankind.

Picture: Teddy Royannez

Friday, April 15, 2011

Autopoiesis and Praxogenesis

I am particularly taken with the work of Chilean biologist, Humberto Maturana (1970, 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981 ...). When you see a body of work that leads to a coherent alternative epistemology described with economy and elegance, it is these artifacts that inspire the researcher.

Of course, there is the opposite effect of becoming intimate with such work too. Maturana's writing is described as difficult, that having a new perspective, it generates new language, and so a new form of reading without assumptions is required. New thought, involves new mind, and a seeing with new eyes - yet with a tired set of old eyes, what do we often see? What we find is the question the work uniquely answers, is often asked and answered - without making any real use of its true benefits.

And yet this is poetic, as the extent of beneficial value in a change to the world may be initially evidenced by how completely it is ignored or actively reframed. For if there was no thought barrier there to change, why the quest? Joseph Campbell (1991) poignantly describes the Hero's Return in such terms, saying:

"You try to find a means to deliver what you have found as the lifeboon in terms and in proportions that are proper to the world's ability to receive. It requires a good deal of compassion and patience. Look for the cracks in the wall and give only to those who are ready for your jewel."(p. 82)

This made me reflect how in the truth of Maturana's theory of structural-coupling in autopoiesis is the effect that the history of experiences, the forms of paradigms of practice, the way language is seen, and the pre-assumptions of perceptions (i.e. reliance on the observer description) - means this work cannot be adequately seen. Yet it does not change its truth.

Let's consider for a moment the implications of autopoiesis, structural coupling and praxogenesis. With regret I will use a simplified form, as otherwise there is no alternative to quoting the original work from Maturana and Varela (1970, 1974, 1999) in its entirety, which is sufficient and complete in itself.

a) the entity forms and has internal changes as part of its functions that maintains its identity; - formation of entity
b) the entity's functions have perturbations requiring a change in structure to maintain identity; - entity and structure structural coupling
c) the recurrence of the perturbations means the entity changes with changes in the state of its medium; - entity and medium structural-coupling
d) the entity has interactions with the space of relations of its functions and responds structurally; - sensory perception
e) the recurrence of the interactions and the structural response triggers a entity-level response; - sensori-motor action
f) the recurrence of the embodied action has spatio-temporal correspondence to changes in the medium of the entity; - semantic coupling
g) the embodied action of the entity effects perturbations or contributions in the medium of the entity; - entity-medium co-enaction
h) the entity and another entity create interactions in the space of relations of each of their functions; - semantic sensation
i) the entities establish a mutual (consensual) domain of recurrent interactions with corresponding structure changes; - entity-entity structural coupling
j) the embodied action of the entity corresponds to embodied actions in the structurally coupled entity; - mutual co-enaction
k) the recurrence of mutual embodied action effects perturbations or contributions in the medium of the entities; mutual entity-medium coupling
l) the recurrent interactions between entities in a shared medium becomes a linguistic domain; - semantic co-enaction
m) the entity recursively interacts with the linguistic domain of its embodied mutual interactions; - self-observation
n) the entity recursively interacts with the semantic description of its embodied-co-enactions; - self-awareness
o) the entity responds in embodied-action with the semantic description of its co-enactions; - self-determination
n) the entities respond in embodied-actions in their consensual domain with the semantic description of their co-enactions; - self-enaction
p) the mutual embodied actions of the entities effects perturbations or contributions in the medium; - semantic-medium structural coupling
q) the recurrence of the embodied consensual action with recursive reflection enables medium aware actions; - entities-medium co-enaction

The effects continue, as entities, their domains of interactions, environments of creation, co-enact and interact in an ecology of evolving simplicity - devoid of observer descriptions as a necessity. As sensori-motor coupling, leads to embodied action, which creates enactive co-enaction - the context for interactions is altered recursively. The result is that the origin of formation is found in the qualities of the structure of the domains of cognition. A first orientation to a particular phenomenon becomes a sensory predisposition, which enacts recurrent actions, and recursively the world is made thus in the direction of embodied perception. The origin of existence is found, when seen as the entire sequence as one event, in first actions (i.e. genesis in praxis ~ praxogenesis). The embodied actions causes the environment of perception. Evolution is, we find ultimately, caused by orientation.

The simplest example I can think of is of two birds nesting, the interaction of their actions within that domain in seeking and feeding on insects to feed their young mitigates the effects of the insects on the trees and enables the recurrence of nest building sites and these interactive domains become, over time, an ecology of forms.

The distinction made in Maturana's characterisation is that evolutionary natural selection is a consequentialist description in the domain of the observer. As the environment does not cause a change in the entity, only triggers a change that is mediated by its cognitive structures (Mingers, 1995) , evolution rather than being environment dependent, is entity dependent. Evolution and environmental enaction is dependent on entity cognitive structure.

In Niklas Luhmann's Ecological Communication extensions of autopoiesis into the social domain of radical constructivism clarifies how the 'environment' is an object in the linguistic domain of the social system. The one thing not described when we speak about the environment is the physical medium in which we are situated that is outside language. This is a description in semantic-coupling that is unavailable to us from within. The sustainability-environment debate is a conversation that occurs solely within the language of the social entity. Luhmann, mentions, but does not deal with, psychic-autopoiesis (the co-enaction of individual cognitions), and fortunately this is now being dealt with in the field of psychological panarchy.

The implications of this are simple, profound and radical.

Our semantic domains (i.e. talking about the environment) as a product of our cognitive domains (i.e. thinking about the environment) will determine if our viable medium for living (i.e. our actual environment) becomes hostile or benign for the conditions of our existence.

In answer to this question of our mutual co-enactive fate... perhaps the future history of our species (as observed by a later passing observer - or our children's, children's, children, depending on our proficiency) will be our only Witness.