Saturday, October 18, 2008

A fundamental principle for "Second Nature"

"Second Nature" is an exhibition currently held in ‘21_21 design sight’ in roppongi, tokyo until january 18, 2009. It is curated by Tokujin Yoshioka, a designer who also contributed to the contents of the exhibition with a chair that was grown from crystals. Also Ross Lovegrove shows some objects that use a minimal amount of materials through processes he has called 'netification' and 'coralization'. 

Yoshioka sees the beginning of an era of manufacturing where the product does not leave the assembly line as finished, but as open to adaptation and change by the end-user:

"a design is not something that is completed through being given a form, but rather something that is completed by the human heart. I also feel that incorporating the principles and movements of nature into ideas will become something important in future design."

His feeling is aligned with what I aim to set up a framework for: incorporating wild biological evolution and neocortically controlled, rationalized technology design into a new evolutionary process that takes happiness as the measure for survival. I won't elaborate on that much further, but I can give you the definition of happiness I like to attain. A concept of happiness that I believe is universal, everybody strives for, but that one can only attain when one has experienced this form of happiness. This definition is:

Happiness is the state of being when one's self is fully aligned with one's actions, the two mutually shaping each other in perfect resonance.

Here with actions I mean any intentional conscious move, incorporating motor actions but also thoughts, which are merely actions in the 'internal' realm, if you want to make a distinction between the internally and the externally perceived. After all, as confabulation theory explains, the brain is just another, but very complex, muscle.

My definition of 'self' requires more elaborateness of explanation, as I have developed it myself and haven't found it in any piece of literature yet. For you experts in self-psychology out there, please direct me to it in case it does exist; I'd be eternally grateful. I think it cannot be classified among either one of the four 'forces in psychology'; it does definitely not conform to Freudian psychology, not to behaviorism, not to humanism such as Maslow's psychology, and even not completely to transpersonal psychologies.  My main inspirations for this idea of the self did come from Eastern thought, namely from Buddhism, which arose originally from Hinduism, but has remained more pure, and is better explanable to Western minds, in my view.

As Albert Hanken explains in his excellent synthesis "Balanceren tussen Boeddha en Freud" (which translates as "Balancing between Buddha and Freud"), traditional Western psychology always analysed humans as being in a dualistic state, in a continuous tension between desire and satisfaction of that desire. Then Maslow introduced the need for self-actualization, which emerges when the lower, dualistic needs - needs that arise from a felt deficit such as hunger, sex, or social support, and that can only bring humans into a state of neutrality rather than positivity - have been met. Self-actualization is a monistic need, because an opposing force is not felt, which makes it more like a unidirectional, positive force.

Now I am not an expert in this at all, so I can only talk from intuition, but I feel
that the main lack in Maslow's theory is that the self he is talking about can still be a local type of consciousness; people can actualize themselves as in having the characteristics Maslow described of unity, meaningfulness, spontaneity, and so forth, but these arise from a self that is limited to being aligned to a local pattern, such as a culture or organizational structure. Instead of it being aligned to a more universal pattern it is merely aligned to an abstraction thereof. Of course this is very much related to Sartre's existentialism, stating that people create their own essence.

What happened after that, and is still happening, is a merging of Western science and ancient ideas from the Eastern mystics. As Stanislav Grof explains in "A Brief History of Transpersonal Psychology", humanistic psychology did not take 'altered states of consciousness' very seriously while it was more and more evident that an incorporation of these was necessary for a more holistic, comprehensive and cross-culturally valid psychology. Especially those states of consciousness Grof has termed 'holotropic' have "heuristic, healing, transformative, and even evolutionary potential", mentioning that "In holotropic states, we can transcend the narrow boundaries of the body ego and encounter a rich spectrum of transpersonal experiences that help us to reclaim our full identity".

But what is a 'full identity'? First of all, I want to avoid using the word 'identity' since to me that signifies more of a constructed concept, inherently too abstract and narrow, rather than a holistic representation of what we are. It is a self-concept, while I prefer to use the word 'self' in order to denote that it is not condensable in a concept at all, and doing so is only meant for communication purposes, not for bringing about directly an internalized understanding of what it stands for. That has to come through one's lived experiences and reflections.

What I understand transpersonal psychology, but also quantum physics, to mean with the self, is that people are not separate entities, but parts of a universal dynamic energy field. Karl Pribram introduced the hologram as a metaphor for how the brain works, and this metaphor is also used by modern physicists to rationalize mystical ideas and describe how the universe works according to quantum physics. The remarkable aspect of a hologram is that each part of it contains the whole, so there is not really a distinction between the whole and its separate parts. For example, if you cut a holographic sheet in half, you will get two holograms that are halved in size, but still contain exactly the same, whole, image. General systems theorist Ervin Laszlo speaks of an Akashic field that is absolute and contains all the information in the universe, our experiences being only moments where we tap into this field. This is very much related to the Buddhist notion of 'Atman is Brahman', which roughly means that the soul or essence, called Atman - literally, the breath -, of each person is connected to a universal, metaphysical, divine field called the Brahman, but is also equal to it. In stating that there actually exists something beyond our perceptions, it is also related to the Vedic idea that Swami Prabhupada called 'Krsna' and was the basis of the Hare Krishna movement in the 1960's. He preached that people should free themselves from the material world's conditionings and revert themselves to the metaphysical to gain true happiness.

It may already be apparent, but I am not satisfied with this definition of self as being indistinct from the whole, the main reason being that it is biased towards the mental, and treats the body like a material burden instead of a means to derive the deepest meaning we can derive in our lives. It seems to be more of an antagonistic statement to Newtonian-Cartesian materialism than a full incorporation of it, too. Since metaphors are all we have, I would now like to briefly pose my own view, entertaining a metaphor I have already introduced in an earlier post on this blog, called "Who Are You".

There I posed the metaphor of the 'fractalic universe', with my vague definition of a self being a "dynamic, active, ever-evolving self-organizing pattern within an infinitely complex larger pattern". This metaphor is in my view more precise, since it takes into account people as unique beings while at the same time being part of this whole. Before continuing I must first say again that this is merely a metaphor; nothing like this whole exists since we cannot perceive it, it is only a construction of the mind to put people into the stance that is the most fulfilling, thus the most useful. I take the pragmatist stance of truth being what is most useful, that truth being only a crutch to cope with the complexity of being.

What makes a self unique is its embodied transformative creativity, i.e. the way an entity contributes with his whole being in bringing his perceptions in alignment with a vision of the future that transcends the current mode of being. An individual self tries to align his perceptions with his thoughts, and in my definition one is only happy when this alignment is complete.

I will talk to you from my own experience to make this less abstract now. I have gone through a period where I studied Buddhism and meditated until I truly saw that I had to transcend my ego and become selfless in order to do the things I deeply wanted to do. But in a selfless state, it was not satisfactory to just do things completely selflessly, for the divine whole that is larger than me. I did accept the current world and did not desire for a better one, but I did see that the accepting stance was not enough, since I believe that we can transform the world, and moreover that there is no end to this transformation. I do not believe in an immaterial, absolute highest point to attain, and that beyond that the only thing to do is to get others to this highest point. I believe that we as humanity embody this highest point, and that we need to seek ways to uplift it actively, through interacting with our whole being, our thought-like actions and our motor actions - as stated before I do not see a body-mind dualism, and therefore see everything as actions, but can occasionally still distinguish between two different kind of actions that I now called 'thought-like actions' and 'motor actions' only for the sake of communication. So after experiencing states of selflessness, I started looking for ways to be a unique and active part of cosmic evolution, to transform the world, and so I slowly developed my mission. At the same time, the mission always keeps on changing with each action. I see all consciousness as integrative, the only thing we can do being continuously re-integrating our experiences into a comprehensive and cohesive framework and projecting that onto our perceptions through continuous interaction. I see everything I do as circling around the mission I attain at the present moment; it is the measuring tool I use for everything I experience. Then I think complete happiness is the process of selflessly and completely embodying the intention to carry out this mission, and we are shaping our world so that everything in it contributes to this purpose. The purpose can never be fulfilled, since there is no absolute point to attain; it always keeps shifting as we continuously transform our selves.

Happiness is in the process, and that, as roughly sketched as it is now, would be the kind of happiness that a hominized evolution would take as its measure for survival.

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