Integral Manifesto Pt V(4) The Shape of Human Action/ Shape Shifting Through Time

Modeling the Sphere of Human Action provides a compelling way to re-interpret the various constellations of human actions, thought of as cultural stages in the Spiral Dynamics model. Consider the following diagram from

Stratified Democracy

The above is an illustration of “Stratified Democracy” and the “emergence of governmental structures over time” based on a quantitative description of the assumed distribution of thinking throughout the world population over time. The descriptions under the heading “political systems and power distribution ratios” can be seen as ranges of geo-social spatial values. From the perspective of this series, each of the “colors” are considered to be “spheres of authority” in the  realm of Human Action. “Purple” for example, while considered by the Globals Values Network,  to be a level in the evolution of cultures, this series considers “purple” to be one of a constellation of forms that constitute the totality of Human Action. Each constellation arises from its own set of geo-social spatial, technological and economic dynamics, and therefore can be seen, when the relative scales of its natural units are plotted in the Sphere of Human Action, to have a unique natural shape. The entire constellation of forms, is evolutionary in the sense of  generating “ecologically adaptive forms” — each subsystem must be both internally adaptive with respect to the three  domains of human action, to maintain its structure, and also have the capacity to adapt into the system that is the whole of Human Action.

We can map these different subsystems as hypothetical shapes in the Sphere of Human Action as follows:

Constellation of Human ActionIt is important to note that what is being portrayed is the relative scale among units — there are no absolute “values” to consider. If we look at the temporal narrative procided by Spiral Dynamics, wherein the arrow of time goes from beige, to purple, red, blue, organe, green and then yellow, you will note that in this particular hypothetical illustration, I have allowed t-units to scale increasingly throughout “time.” This would be consistent with the rise of the types and reach of various technologies, including languages and knowledges, from tool making nomadic families, through the agricultural civilizations, the great civilizations of the Renaissance, the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and on to today. Through “time” however, both e-units and g-units are in flux,  with e-units intially out-pacing g-units, until the “orange” phase, where the introduction of representative democracy gives rise to both opening of geo-social space and the industrial revolution enables a  significant redistibution of wealth, creating the middle class. At “green” t-units soar, completely outpacing and therefore supporting mutually re-inforcing forces between -e-units and g-units. This is the period of the digital revolution and information technologies, as well as significant advances in scientific technologies (including medicine), associated with t-units, the emergence of the pluralistic society,  associated with g-units, and the enormous accumulation wealth on a global scale, associated with e-units.

We can map the trajectory of g-units, e-units, and t-units directly onto the diagram of the waves of values in the following manner:

Strat&FlowThis provides us with a hypothetical picture of the relationship between the interaction between the natural units of Human Action, and the various types and reach of the subsytems supported in the Constellation that is the whole of Human Action. Here it is important to note, that g-units fall between beige and blue periods, not because there are fewer forms (there are actually more forms of collectivities) but because greater and greater numbers of people are aggregated into and constrained by collective identities. In earlier periods, “red” seems to be a dominant “form” –having broad reach– but it actually represent a great number of discontinuous tribes and bands of people, each with their own particular “shape” of action, lumped together as a single “meme”. This is an unfortunate error in the values-memes scenario, where lack of understanding about the distinctions between indigenous, nomadic, agricultural, and strongly place-based groups, tribes, bands… has led to a conflation of their uniqueness into a single “type”.

The dotted lines represent a hypothetical future scenario of what might be the case following very recent events. It is a scenario wherein through investment in technologies (rapid rise in t-units) e-units will be able to recover without sacrificing the proliferation of new actor-roles (represented by continual rise in g-units).

What about the normative aspects of the Sphere of Human Action? Consider the following diagram:

res_robIt illustrates how overall “movement” toward the lower right, is associated with periods of increasing “robustness” in Human Action. These are periods where connectivities and loyalties are aggregated and reified, there is a sense of assurance and stability in familiar forms of engagement and exchange, primary cultures become hegemonic and increasingly cooperative at the expense of periferal cultures who experience decreasing opportunities to appear as actors on the global stage. There is a sense of overall coherence and inevitability to the system, a sense that development is in one direction only– along the same trajectory taken by the primary powers. These are the periods in which “global managers” — attempt to optimize their gains. We shall see in later posts, that an over-reliance on optimization resulting from a over-maximized robust system, actually creates the conditions for the system’s eventual demise. On the other hand, overall “movement” toward the upper left is associated with periods of increasing “resilience” — the ability of the system to adapt to shock and surprise, because of its variability. Robust systems are predictable, but resilience systems have more alternative resources to deal with unpredictable events. Transformation towards the upper left– towards increased resilience– entails increased discontinuities, inventiveness, innovation and novelty of forms– associated ecologically with long-term resilience to collapse; yet from a normative standpoint, these are times of uncertainty.

A naturalized evolution of the cultural memes would see the emergence and dynamics between subsystems– spheres of appearances of human action– as part of an overall constellation or ecology of types, which contribute both robust dynamics and resilience dynamics to the Sphere of Human Action. Systems such as Spiral Dynamics emphasize the robustness of the system — based primarily in the absolutely robust notions of mainstream integral theory– and fail to incorporate the equally important– perhaps the more critically important– notion of resilience dynamics. From the standpoint of evolution, whose over-arching dynamics tend toward variation of form, resilience, rather than robustness, can be seen to be the correct evolutionary imperative– not a series of nested sets that sum up to one single optimized form. Indeed,  Buzz Holling, the founder of Resilience Theory, made just this statement: That from the view of evolution, variety, is more important than stability or equilibria.

The supposed “pull” of the teleological imperative in iSD, relies exclusively on the role of top-down, integrating dynamics; and fails to incorporate the crucial roles of bottom-up dynamics that proceed at different scales and are never completely transcended, because they are always operating toward the direction of resilience. This is the most salient feature of the last generation. The exclusive focus on optimization of Human Action (as well as optimization in eco-system management)– forces that, as we shall later define them, are associated with a single type strategy– has led to the conditions of environmental crises, world financial crises, proliferation of terrorist acts, and global instability. The normative desire humans have for rationally coherent, theoretically robust world, carries with it a dire warning: “Be careful what you wish for!”

Finally, we can adopt the principles of the natural units of Human Action, to the many worlds described by James Rosenau, by assigning relative scale values to each of the worlds as summarized in the following table:

economic technological
Insular Local + (-) (-)
Resistant Local (-) (-) (-)
Exclusionary Local + (-) +
Affirmative Local + + +
Affirmative Global (-) + +
Resistant Global + (-)/+  * (-)/+  *
Specialized Global + (-)/+  ** (-)/+  **
Territorial Global (-) (-) +

This table demonstrates that each Rosenau’s worlds, has a particular “shape” in the sphere of human action, if we mapped it according to the relative scales assigned above. For Insular Locals, g-units scale greater than both e -units and t-units; Resistant Locals are “adverse” to growth in any direction; Exclusionary Locals affirm increasing scale in both the geosocial and technological direction, but resist movement in the e-unit direction.;Affirmative Locals are comfortable facilitation all scales of Human Action, they  affirm growth of e-units and t-units and forego scalar increase of g-units… and so on.  If we compare this matrix of worlds with thee diagram illustrating the direction of robustness versus resilience, it is easy to see that the model of the Sphere of Human Action suggests that future scenarios based on the worldview of Affirmative Globals are not sustainable, because although they maximizes the conditions of robustness,they fail the test of resilience. While a futures scenario based on the worldview of either  Exclusionary or Affirmative Locals would be sustainable, because of the resilience that would be provided; but living in a Exclusionary World entails so much discontinuity, that it is probably unimaginable with respect to human nature. We will return to various futures in latter posts of this series.

Integral Manifesto Pt V(3) The Shape of Human Action/ The Natural Units of Human Action

Like Max Plank reasons in Susskind’s imaginary narrative, I began to reason how the three domains of human action — geo-socio spatial, technological, and economic– could be conceptualized as “perfectly related natural units” of human action that could be dynamic operations in a complex system. I also realized that when natural units that are perfectly related are mapped as coordinates, they produce discrete shapes that morph dynamically, as variables are entered into their equation, as in cybernetic modeling. So, for example, the three sides of a right triangle are perfectly related, and therefore, as you vary one or two of the lengths of the sides, the other side(s) vary in a way that preserves the perfect equation: a(squared) times b(squared) = c(squared). I began to sample drawings that represented the shape of human action by scaling the three natural units in 3-dimensional coordinate space as in the following illustration:

shape of action

Questions flowed from envisioning the Shape of Human Action in this way.

  • What were the appropriate scales along the indivudal axes?
  • What is the meaning of increasing distance in the g direction?
  • What does increasing technological scale in the t direction represent?
  • What is happening in the “real” economy, with respect to the whole of human action, as it plots further along the e dimension?

Answering this question, meant assigning both values to the units, as well as meaning to a system whose purpose was to model real-world conditions and actual lived experience. I reaalized that the model had to map the kinds of distinctions and transformational dynamics that authors like Neil Brenner, Saskia Sassen and James Rosenau had written about the emerging epoch, as well as being able to contextualize the partial truths represented by other kinds of models like Spiral Dynamics. In other words, the natural units had to be multi-scalar, their values had to scale for fragmenting dynamics or discontinuities, as well as integrating dynamics or interconnectivities; these natural units had to provide for emerging identities, both upward and downward causalities, and the many worlds described by Rosenau, as well as the cultural levels– re-envisioned as speheres of influence– and their historical emergence as described by Spiral Dynamics. The solution was easy to see in their words; and so I define the natural units of the shape of human action as follows:

g-units scale “up” toward increasing discontinuity (less inter-connectivity)

e-units scale “up” toward increasing aggregation (greater inter-dependency)

t-units scale “up” toward incresing variability (more types, kinds, forms as well as greater reach)

In meaningful terms, increasing the value of g accounts for the opening of geosocial space, the emergence of new identities, the undoing of old connections and ties, the lossening of culturally embedded roles and expectations, the movement of peoples across previously impervious boundaries (both physical, social, and cultural), the shifting of power from the aggregated elites to the discontinuous and uncoordinated populous. From the standpoint of complexity theory, this is the condition for chaos and the emergence of novely. From a normative standing, increasing g-values represents the times when people feel uncertain and at risk of the unknown when more and more individuals “bump into” each other at the level of “raw” encounter, given that the old, familiar ways of characterizing and categorizing people are shattering. Society is perceived to be (and therefore reflexively, is) in a state of epochal flux and flow. In order for individuals to purposefully actualize or even reluctantly accomodate such shifting patterns of identity, the domain of g requires a capacity for forgetfulness and forgiveness, and the ability to begin anew.

On the other hand, increasing the value of e entails the aggregation of various human resources and capitals associated with labor and economies. The aggregation of human resources beginning, as Arendt claimed) with the division of labor inthe family, and the extension of hierachical laboring to communal laboring and finally collective labor, through the creating of inter-dependencies of all types along with powerful abstract mediators (currency, commoditites) that allow capital growth and accumulation at increasing hierarchical scales, from a share economy, to a barter system, to mafia-style commitments, and all levels of exchange economies– commodities, currency, securities. Along with increasing aggregation and interdependence, this domain of e requires a robust network of interconnections to function, so that proper amounts, value and order of exchanges can be adequately traced with sufficient guarantees for reciprocities and reliable “accounting” of events. The domain of e, in other words, requires sufficient capacity for memory and retribution.

In the domain of technology, increasing the value of t-units represents proliferation of technologies, with respect to both diversity of kind, and extent of reach– just as in the metaphor we assigned to technology previously, as the river both widening and branching at the same time. And just as the main channel of the river, current technologies tend to cut deep grooves of habit and stasis in the realm of human action; but also, like the ever-branching arms, technology continually breaks down old routes and breaks into new routes. Eventually arms can become major channels, drawing more and more “water” resulting in old channels drying up and becoming fossil evidence of bygone eras, or silt up until they are completely invisible.Unlike the other two domains, t can increase dynamics in both directions, through openings and the creation of new opportunities, as well as through the proliferation of old form to such extents as to create (temporary) closings. Because of its exploratory, inventive and uncertain nature, the domain of t requires sufficient capacity fo inquiry and exculpation. We can now begin to speak of the dynamics involved in the internal relations of these three domains. Whereas t relates to both  g and e through feedback and feed-forward loops, with the ability to increase and/or diminish momentum in the other domains, g and e themselves  alone might seem to be related as complimentaries , i.e. the more you have of one, the less you have of another– in which case it would make sense just to reduce them to one scale, with rising g-values representing movement in one direction, and rising e-values representing movement in the opposite direction. However, this would be too simplistic a model, since it may be the case (as I will argue in subsequent posts) that in the realm of human action, under certain conditions,  increasing g-values results in a geo-social “fabric” that can accomodate increasing e-values, and alternately, increasing e-values can result in conditions that allow for rapid increase in g-values. In other words, under certain condition, g-dynamics and e-dynamics may be nutually interferring, while under a different set of conditions they might in fact be mutually supporting. The difference in conditions might well turn out to be how technology is engaged as the third dynamic. We can represent these dynamics as a simple flow chart:

Flow Chart­_BG

It is important to recognize that the unit-values are performative, not ostensive units — in other words, the terms and their values represent not some thing but something going on: they are descriptive of activies such as adding or subtracting social ties, investing or liquidating money, connecting to a public utility grid or cutting the power line once and for all and high-tailing it to the backcountry. This willl become even more evident in the later posts on actor-network theory.

With this in mind, we can create logical formulations that represent the internal relations between the natural units as follows:

g=t/e     e=t/g      t=eg

The following are scenarios that give the reader a sense of the internal dynamics of this Sphere of Human Action:

  • As new openings in geo-social space emerge, and individual as sel as collectivies realize more degrees of freedom, technological innovation also increases with new kinds and forms of technologies being developed, and, as a result, economies become more distributed (e-units decrease). According to our formulations above, the conditions for this scenario would be where growth in technological scale lags behind growth in geo-social spatial scale, since for e to decrease where e=t/g, g-units would have to scale faster than t-units. In this case, there are counter-acting dynamics between g and e units.
  • A prolonged period of accumulation of capital in a global economy, along with a proliferation of technologies to support the globalization of finance, results in a “shrinking” worldspace, the hegemony of western economic values and techne, and the marginalization of indigenous peoples and subcultures. If g = t/e, then conditions for this scenario are when technological scale lags behind economic scale. Increasing the reach of technologies to individuals and subgroups, to an extent where t-units succeed in out-scaling e-units, allows for the proligerations of new geo-socio spaces, and the excelleration of new identities arriving onto and the propulsion of subcultures onto the global stage.
  • If t=eg, then the simultaneous growth and redistribution of capital resources (in its widest sense) creates a fertile condition for the exploration and invention of new ways (technes) of being. Alternately, envisioning new ways of being should create the condition in which both geo-social spaces and economic distribution can mutually support each other.

I believe the reader will find each of the above scenarios, accurate depictions of dynamics occuring in the world today.

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.