Integral Manifesto Pt V(2) The Shape of Human Action/ Working from the Whole: A Process Methodology

Books Discussed in this Section

Eugene Gendlin (1997) A Process Model . University of Chicago

Christopher Alexander (2002) The Process of Creating Life (Book Two of The Nature of Order). The Center for Environmental Strucutre, Berkeley, Ca.  and PATTERNLANGUAGE.COM

Loenard Suskind (2006) Cosmic Landscape. Little, Brown & Co.  New York, Boston.

There are quite a number of studies that link aspects of human action with complexity theory. Each of them falls short of what is required of our new paradigm, since they are written from within a single disciplinary forte, and therefore limit themselves to just one of the domains of human action. Most of these attempts focus on economies and economic dynamics, but many are emerging from the social and technological arenas. Each attempt struggles to reconcile the two-fold character of human action — to reconcile the rational, mathematical, and linear aspects we can “collect” from the study of human action, with our non-rational (or irrational), nonlinear, paradoxical natures. For example, a completely robust model of the macroeconomy can be derived from rather conventional analyses and prove to be successful to some extent in predicting economic indicators– but it will fail to predict the outcomes of  real-world socio-political events. Similarly, rather straightforward narratives about technology can me modeled in theoretical terms, but the real-life associations between humans and non-humans always add surprises and unexpected events that do not fit the narrative. Recent trans-disciplinary attempts have begun to treat hybrid systems, such as socio-economic, socio-technological, socio-political economy, and the like. In these instances, more of the territory is brought into the picture, but none have achieved a comprehensive, holistic model. It seems to me that the mistake all of prior efforts share, is their attempt to build the whole by interweaving the parts. Rather, I am attempting to begin from a view of the whole, and to derive the parts. I have started with a basic model representing the whole of Human Action — the three inter-related domains of geo-social space, technology, and economy– a static model that might generate the system and its dynamics, and subsequently, to subsystems and all the relevant features of the particular, right down to what has been hypothesized as the limiting quantum of action– the subject-to-subject encounter.

The process of reasoning from an envisioned whole down to the particulars that are in need of unifying through a holistic theory, is called abduction. Abduction proceeds from a fundamental insight into the nature of the territory that needs explication, accompanied by a holistic vision as to the nature of the goal — in this case, a new paradigm of Human Action.  Abductive reasoning is guided not by conventional logics — although the end product must comply with them– but is steered by a clear, precise, and accurate implicit “gauge” inside the thinker, that continually measures the working out of the details as they proceed to deliminate their part of the whole. For me, felt images are primary material, then a feeling for the process dynamics of their operation, then the logical relations, and finally the evidence comes into play– evidence which conveys both positive and negative feedback as to whether a certain direction one has taken (among options presented) is on the right track– or not.

This process, of working from the whole implicit in one’s insight, toward the deep structures of a system model that “preserves the whole”, and then onto the subsystems and their structures and internal relations, is similar to the creative process Gendlin describes in his exegesis on Process Thinking. Gendlin relates the situation in which the “whole” of the process (the territory, the path, and the goal, as it were) is already implicitly known, and whose explication can be guided by a “bodily felt feeling”, or more precisely, the “felt implicit process” that is directing the explicit work. Gendlin has identified many details of his process thought, including steps such as the emergence of direct referents and felt shift, doubling, crossing, absent context and present context, and slotted rituals— all of which will seem familiar to theorists who have worked this way. Gendlin also defines categories of transition “objects” that bridge the implicit with the explicit. Gendlin’s primary argument says that although the implicit is in some sense “vague” because it is unformed, has not yet been given an explicit shape, it is nonetheless more whole and more precise because it is that against which we measure our working toward an appropriate explicit formulation.

Christopher Alexander describes this same kind of process methodology that works from the whole, with a sense of feeling-logics as its guide, in many different ways and at many different levels throughout his four-volume work The Nature of Order. His way of reflecting on the question of the whole process–“How in practice, can a person keep paying attention to the whole; how can one achieve successful differentiation and structure-enhancing transformations at every step of a living process?”– deeply engages the reader with his very beautiful writing

… wholeness and “deep structure” are enormously difficult to see. Especially in a complex, real-worl case, the task of finding the most structure-enhancing step available is therefore, in practice, extremely hard. Our current modes of perception are not always tuned to seeing whoeness in the world around us; and the exact definition of the structure of wholeness– the system of centers at all scales, with their attendan degrees of life and coherence– is cumbersome and hard to grasp when we try to grasp it by analytical means. yet in order to move forward, and to find aggreement in larger, communal projects, it is imperative that we do have a workable and practical method of seeing wholeness, and assessing the degree to which any proposed next step does increase the life and wholeness of any evolving structure. Otherwise there is no effective way of choosing the next step forward in any given process.

As to how this is to be done, Alexander writes

The living process can therefore be steered, kept on course toward the authentic whole, when the builder [of the model, ie.e the theoretician] consistently uses the emerging feeling of the whole as the origin of his insight, as the guiding light at the end of the tunnel by which he steers. I am suggesting that if the builder [theoretician] at each step of a living process, takes that step which contributes most to the feeling coming from the work, always cnooses that which has the more profound feeling, then this is tantamount– equivalent– to a natural process in which the step-wise forward-moving action is always goverend by the whole.

From which Alexander formulates an essential rule

In any living process, or any process of design or making, the way forward, the next step which is most structure-enhancing, is that step which most intensifies the feeling of the emerging whole.

From my own view of the Whole of Human Action , for all the internal relations (from a structural view) or alternately all the internal dynamics (from a process view) to “preserve the whole”, then there could be no externalized factor, no essential “unknown” that acted as a a kind of disparate part, or coupling mechanism. I therefore began to understand that in this whole system I was envisioning as Human Action, all structures must be co-creative, and all realtional dynamics must be internal to the system. In other words, the system, “Human Action” must operate “enactively” — a term coined by Varela and Thompson whose essential meaning is “to lay down the path by walking.”

This insight in turn, led me to realize that what I might achieve this dynamic and holistic model by representing the three domains of human action (the geo-socio spatial, technological and economic) as natural units of human action that were related to each other as in a perfect ly. Perfect relations are equations that require no outside information to solve their parts. Ohm’s Law (V=IR) for example, prescribes the perfect relations between voltage, resistance, and amperage– and constitutes all the dynamics of electric flow. In a perfect relation, all member-constants vary with each other is specific ways, but their holistic association never varies. Similarly, Einstein’s paradigmatic shift regarding space and time was intuiting their perfect relation, e=mc(squared).

It also began to occur to me that all newly emerging paradigmatic shifts bringing about holistic systems, might require the ability to bring the structural parts into perfect relation through a process methodology. Loenard Susskind wonderfully re-creates just this kind of ability in his imaginary narrative of Max Plank, working on the renormalization of the variables of length, mass and time, into the perfect relation whose pivotal missing link turned out to be not a variable at all, but the Plank constant. I will end this post with Susskind’s tale

Recently I made the most wonderful discovery of a completely new fundamental constant of nature. People are calling it my constant, Plank’s constant. I was sitting in my office thinking to myself: why is it that the fundmanetal constants like the speed of light, Newton’s gravitational constant, and my new constant have such awkward values? The speed of light is 2.99 x 108 meters per second. Newton’s constant is 6.7 x 1011 square meters per second-kilogram. And my constant is even worse, 6.626 x 10-34 kilogram-square meters per second. Why are they always so big or so small? life for a physicist would be so much easier if they were ordinary-size numbers.

Then it hit me! There are three basic units describing length, mass, and time: the meter, the kilogram, and second. There are also three fundamental constants. If I change the units, say, to centimeters, grams, and hours, the numerical values of all three constants will change. For example, the speed of light will get worse. It will become 1.08 x 1014 centimeters per hour. But if I use years for time and light-years for distance, then the speed of light will be exactly one, since light travels one light-year per year. Doesn’t that mean that I can invent some new units and make the three fundamental constants anything I want? I can even find units in which all three fundamental constants are equal to one! That will simplify so many formulas. I’ll call the new units natural units since they’re based on the constants of nature. Maybe, if I’m lucky, people will start calling them Plank units.


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One thought on “Integral Manifesto Pt V(2) The Shape of Human Action/ Working from the Whole: A Process Methodology

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