A principle underlying the increasing complexity of the universe. At a critical point of joining constituent parts together, a new WHOLE pops into existence that isn’t like the parts. That may not sound THAT important, but this pattern built Physics, Chemistry, and Life itself; it shows no signs of stopping. More = Different.
‘I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
Imagine having a secret life… that is secret even from you. Well, you do. You have one normal, sunlit life and two fun-house mirror lives framing it like bookends.
1. You the colony, You the hive.
Imagine yourself as a towering robot of staggering complexity. You are a city on stilts. Your head parts the clouds. As you look closer you see organised systems processing virtual cataracts of information, maintaining homeostasis, making repairs and patrolling for enemies. Looking still closer you realize that these systems are made of tiny individuals, the citizens of you. They labor autonomously and harmoniously in coordination with billions of others. They die and are replaced by the next generation. Their ancestors joined forces from smaller and simpler associations to create ever more complex and diverse systems. Each of these deals involved risk and compromise. These bargains succeeded and prospered in the likes of you. Most of these citizens swear allegiance to you and the republic for which you stand. Most are on your side. But there are neutral, disinterested characters along for the ride because it suits them, they aren’t against you, but they have no loyalty to you. Their work serves your interests or you’d kick them out. Now and then there are criminals and revolutionaries bent on damage or worse. Sometimes they attack openly but other times they drift through, casing the joint, hats pulled low over their eyes, watching for the cops.
2. The Middle Life.
You as you already know you. What can I add, except that this is the only life you are supposed to notice. This is our “Matrix”: It isn’t evil, it’s simply that every nesting doll level of reality is blinkered so as to pour all their energy into the task at hand for that part of the infrastructure. It is almost impossible to think about things outside the middle life for more than moments at a time.
3. Tiny, Particulate You…
This is the hardest level to see and understand. The problem is that when you are a cell in a body or an atom in an element, you aren’t supposed to be bothering about the larger thing you are a component of. You do your job alongside untold others and a new level of organization emerges. Gravity masses atoms and matter emerges, cells cooperate and organisms emerge. When people gather and cooperate what emerges? Friends, lovers, families, tribes, towns, city states, nations, and unified nations…but just barely. This is our current ceiling. Right now we labor to construct a human network that unites nations and we stumble like a toddler again and again. This threshold is the battlefield now. It won’t be forever, almost every social construct in our lives was a controversial invention once. But ever more complex human molecules form naturally, building their own foundation till it holds the weight. If you doubt me, remember nations are a modern history invention. Through most of our cultural history there was no Italy or France, there were just territories and city states and local languages and dialects measured by the mile. But remember, the cells in our bodies once struggled to join forces, I believe that struggle and our own are contiguous. the struggle is this: Will a new self exist or not? We will blend at a higher level or will we not? There are fascinating similarities between hives and minds and cities. The “from the ground up”organization. The voting or deciding by swarm behavior. The individual self-organizing components and the amazing result that only emerges from their day to day actions. A self made of many. E pluribus unum, people: It’s on the damn money.
As I’ve written elsewhere, a “third mind” emerges from two close people. It is the thing you love or hate about being with them. And on up through human groupings by size the same thing repeats, the generation of a group mind. A mind with perceivable traits, even a sort of “personality”. But as the group size increases, it is harder and harder to perceive the part of this mind that is us. This is why people are all locked into the sense of being separate, isolated beings. Our experience is the human version of a single cell trying to comprehend the body it serves. That difficulty must not stop us from trying to make sense of this arrangement. If I’m right about this, some of the implications are cosmic.
- There are natural algorithms running human groups.
- These rules generate human castes such a shaman, head-man, warrior, worker
- There are rules in place for the general well being of the “hive” such as the balance between conservative and progressive. Protecting the inside but not going so far as attacking self (ie: cultural autoimmune disorders such as Hitler or Pol Pot)
- The length of human life span is the time tick the hive uses to maintain continuity but allow for change. Young people are open to change, old people are not. Change is allowed with a governor.
- There may be forces beyond our ken that cause hives to behave in ways we think are random.
- We do the bidding of these hive mind rules without knowing it
- Etc, etc.
If we can begin to see and understand the rules, there is some chance of not always robotically expressing them. There are times when the rules that generate our behavior may be horrible or promote continued injustice. Robotic hive rules could easily lead us toward self destruction in an age of high technology. This was perfectly stated by Einstein in 1945:
“The release of atomic power has changed everything except our way of thinking … the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind…”
Recognizing the rules for what they are might give us a critical bit traction resisting them, or going around them. Hive rules drive ethnic hatreds and the kind of structural oppression of women we see almost everywhere. Getting mad at racists helps a bit to balance them, seeking equality for women is always the right thing to do, but these acts are like pushing against gravity; it will be there when you stop pushing. It’s time to learn the rules and stand a chance to fight the bad ones with real knowledge.
The basic question of existence is whether you will join with something to form a greater level of complexity.
The more complex question is: Where do you stop?
- Matter is the greater complexity of atoms.
- Chemistry is the greater complexity of matter.
- Life is the greater complexity of chemistry.
- Sexual reproduction is the greater complexity of life.
- Species are the greater complexity of sexual reproduction.
- Humanity is the greater complexity of species.
- Tribes are the greater complexity of individuals. City states are the greater complexity of tribes. Nations are the greater complexity of city-states. Did you think it would stop there?
A multicellular microbe is a negotiated community; deals were struck, some individuality was sacrificed, a brand new cooperation of diverse elements was required. A single human being is a negotiated community cubed, cubed and cubed. We are massive mobile towers of cooperative complexity.
At every stage, some will bond higher and some will hold back. They hold back not because they are bad or wrong, but because they are holding the line of the highest complexity they have any faith in, or can understand. Every simpler established level of complexity is both a platform for the future and a safe fallback. When a new stage of complexity is forming, all who don’t want to join see the new form as crazy and unreliable: A cockeyed, unstable monstrosity. Life does not saw off the branch it’s climbed onto.
The forces driving Brexit and American nationalism/ fascism are the same forces driving Islamic fundamentalism and all the other defensive retro-reality movements worldwide. There is a terror of a new level of complexity that is comparable to the fear of death. There is a sense that borders of self are broken, and floodgates have opened which will dissolve the recognizable and wash away what we love, what we are.
Don’t be discouraged, friends. Bond higher. If you don’t want to though, this is where your optimism ran out and you took up a new career as ballast. Your cement has set. The end of optimism isn’t a hard fact, it’s a choice. You are the current high point expression of all the daring recombinant synthesis that lead to your existence. This seems an arbitrary moment to lose faith in the road you took to get here.
- some recognizable “racial” traits?
- a leadership structure?
- a standard of beauty?
- a spiritual / religious framework? And some sort of representative (priest, shaman) role?
- stories they like to tell?
- unique styles of clothing?
- an attitude towards outsiders?
- some sort of roles for men and women?
- a story about death?
- richer and poorer? Or higher and lower caste?
- a warrior/defense group?
Fast travel to farthest space and deepest inner space by factoring each distance. Science has advanced since this was made but it still does a brilliant job of mind stretching. Balanced between quantum foam and infinite space our lives are utterly mysterious. This is very nice way of FEELING the Holon levels that stack to make the world. See my posts on Holons if that is a baffling sentence. Right here.
1977 POWERS OF TEN © 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC
Tension Force: Cohesion from Opposition
The tension force is the force that is transmitted through a string, rope, cable, or wire when it is pulled tight by forces acting from opposite ends. The tension force is directed along the length of the wire and pulls equally on the objects on the opposite ends of the wire. –Physics Classroom
Please imagine the totality of American politics as groups of people. Not just the official representatives, but all the voices contributing viewpoints from right-wing 1% super-PACs down to organic coop vegan hippies. Now assign all those people to one of two categories: Conservative or Progressive. Imagine the sum total of conservative opinion vs the sum total of progressive opinion as a tug of war. As they struggle against each other imagine the area between them vibrating with the force of their resistance.
That area is expressing the Tension Force of their opposition to each other. It describes the range of political reality for this community, in this time and place. The entire spectrum of opinion on the issues of the day are all in this area: Immigration, economic policy, male/female roles, war, etc. Now, imagine some quick snapshots of progressive and conservative forces in other countries contending against each other in the same way. Picture Sweden, Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Each has their version of the spectrum of these opposing forces. Open societies have a broader spectrum than closed societies but every country has its own. The area of tension force (TF) contains the questions being struggled over and the possible policies that might result. Economic justice TF in Sweden and Mexico are wildly different. Sexual politics TF in America and Saudi Arabia also starkly contrast. TF = the local reality that is up for discussion. Progressive and Conservative are the internal states of the ones pulling the rope. Across these cultures, the range of viewpoints radically differ but the nature and motivation of those pulling the rope are the same throughout the human world.
No matter the specific issues of the moment, these forces are always present in varying but predictable amounts. Events befalling a community will temporarily affect the numbers of each but this settles after a time. This struggle is always there in every culture because these forces are the critical counterweights of every community. They hold up the tent by their opposition. Both groups are easy to predict and define.
It might look like I’m making a partisan political statement of good and bad here but I am not. This isn’t judging, it is about recognizing patterns. Progressives often wonder about the cognitive dissonance of American conservative Christians because logically Christians would support a peaceful “Love thy neighbor” approach rather than being in favor of any military action we take on. Likewise, that those who believe “what you did for the least of my brothers you did for me” would support a kind and generous attitude toward the poor rather than voting against every compassionate social program aimed at lessening the pain and dead ends of poverty.
Conservatives don’t think of themselves as warlike but as patriotic and happy to show it. They don’t think of themselves as harsh toward the poor, or helpful to the rich (though they are) rather, they say: “Nobody ever gave ME anything.” It just feels wrong inside them to be generous to the poor. For conservatives it isn’t what is written in the theology that matters, it’s being a member of whatever religion is the cultural bedrock. If America mostly worshiped Ba’al or Zoroaster (and if their parents did too,) conservatives would have bumper stickers reading: “Ba’al said it, I believe it, and that’s that.” or a little sticker of the holy fire, maybe with a family warming their hands over it. But in their outward behavior, they would express exactly the conservative attitudes they do now. It isn’t about thinking and deciding, it’s about playing your hardwired role.
Progressives have cognitive dissonances of their own. A progressive bumper sticker says: “If you can’t change your mind, how do you know you still have one?“. But if you ask that progressive to reconsider their viewpoints on pretty much anything, they are fixed and defensive. Flexibility and an open mind are guiding light values of progressives, but operationally they HAVE to have fixed points of view. Another Progressive cognitive dissonance is the near-sacred status granted to other people’s cultures, but not to their own. Progressives act like any show of a protective feeling towards their own culture is regressive and possibly even a hate crime, while protecting the expressions of other cultures as an absolute good. This is because progressives structurally counter xenophobia and anti-immigrant viewpoints. This isn’t about thinking and deciding, it’s about playing your hardwired role.
For conservatives AND progressives, the “Bullet Points of Reality” are not flexible or optional. Nor are these stances truly rational though we all think so in our own case. They can be expressed rationally but they are not chosen rationally. As your phenotype expresses eye and hair color, you also express your end of the political ball field. Your own political stance seems sensible because, OF COURSE IT DOES. The opposition is stupid because OF COURSE THEY ARE. This is why “swaying the opposition with logic” is a fool’s errand. Your logic isn’t logical in that person’s body.
There are nice people sitting under both umbrellas. But if you explore ideas with them you’ll find very little flexibility about any core issues. You will not encounter many people who like a strong, dominant authority figure in charge but also support flexible modern sex roles and generous social programs. When you see someone from either side expressing one of their templated points of view you are seeing a single building block of the local TF, one pixel if you will. They DO come in different “strengths”, there are hard and soft versions for both sides and a Bell Curve distribution for all. Even people in the gentle middle of the road are structural elements of the tension force…just like everyone else. Middle of the road is never an objective location btw, it can only be defined as the center point between the outside edges, whatever they are, of opinion. All of us add our weight to the scale of local and national politics.
A progressive in one age might suggest treating the slaves more gently but not suggest freeing them because it’s a hopelessly optimistic non-starter idea in her society. She might even feel that that much change is rash. A conservative in another time might take freeing them for granted, but not give a hoot if they then live or die. The baseline shifts but the roles don’t. This is worth stopping to consider: Your specific beliefs about how things should be handled right now are not what makes you conservative or progressive, but rather your opposition to whatever the other side says about the issue. Conservative and progressive define each other with the context of the existing tension force. It isn’t the issue, it’s the attitude. In this way, the local reality is defined.
It’s clear that these types are a predictable part of human population dynamics because every human group generates them automatically. In early hunter-gatherer tribes, this tension force already existed as individual personality characteristics; some individuals were curious and open to strangers and some attacked them on sight. The resulting intrafamilial compromise handling the tension between these sides was important, it was like the surface tension of the tribe. It had to be open enough to let some things in and closed enough to keep some stuff out. The tribe is an organism and this behavior is its self-management as it relates to the outside world.
Tension force scales up and down automatically with population size. This coined idea of Political Tension Force isn’t a mystical power controlling us from outside, it is an emergent property of something we do naturally. As individuals, we show a range of open or closed responses to strangers and different cultures and behaviors and political tension force is just the scaled-up expression of masses of people holding a similar range of instinctive opinions as a “hive mind”. These hive minds express the dominant traits constructed from the local tension force. In a simple, colorful way we could compare it to how defensive an insect hive is. Maybe North Korea is like killer bees and Canada is like calm honeybees.
Small towns and big cities naturally lean more conservative and more progressive by type as a logical outcome of caring for few or caring for many. Liberalism is about the problem of caring for many, conservatism is about the problem of caring for few. In every generation, the same basic proportions of opponents are born. Is there some system maintaining the population density of the opposing sides? Whether there are sophisticated species level algorithms controlling any of these functions I don’t know. This isn’t science, it’s mere observation. It’s possible though because our homeostasis includes many diverse human elements also delivered in the same consistent proportions, year after year.
I suspect conservatives will tend to be the slightly larger group because the forces driving human behavior don’t throw caution to the winds. Resistance to change is a braking system preserving the identity of the culture. A modest conservative majority keeps whatever structure has been accomplished here from suddenly destabilizing. Yet over time, successes have piled up on the progressive side in a way that starts to seem inevitable (if extremely gradual). Generally, conservatives are reasonably happy with these outcomes as long as they were born into that outcome, rather than watching a cultural transition to it. As deep as the entirely natural dislike is between progressives and conservatives, we absolutely need each other for our communities to maintain balance and internal integrity. One maintains, and the other reforms. This is a system for preserving our structure but opening it for editing out things that are too cruel or unjust.
To imagine chaos and collapse, picture either side completely and absolutely empowered. The other side is disenfranchised and subverted. Picture one team in the tug of war disappearing and leaving the other in complete control. They don’t stop pulling, instead, they begin to pull against themselves internally because that is all they have left. In the natural course of seeking balance through opposition, they begin to tear into their own “flesh” in search of otherness. Neither can stop opposing because that is the mechanistic yet essential role they play. A lack of opposition is a state dangerously out of balance. It develops a cultural auto-immune disorder attacking its own healthy tissue. This unbalanced state is essentially what political correctness is for both sides: Deprived of healthy push back there is a spike of “purity madness” on the left and “loyalty madness” on the right that begins searching for enemies within. Blacklists, loyalty oaths, and purge trials do a good job of generating some opposition. It’s grimly funny, but in doing so they ACTUALLY begin to create the opposing force and to re-establish a kind of balance.
Social media, purposefully, in order to sell ad space, separates us from each other so completely by our TF role that it generates an unbalanced runaway state like this within both groups. “Safely” sealed in our bubbles, each side scales up the rhetoric because they encounter no opposition to extreme views but will likely be punished for expressing more moderate views. The real problem is that these hard voices and positions are grown in us in this abstract half-real mono-culture of social media but are expressed towards our real neighbors in our real communities where we have to get along and get things done. The other side is as demonized as an enemy in war. Scorn and contempt for differences become automatic. This kills representative Democracy.
If we are such simpletons that we accept these hateful terms as a given that can’t be changed, we are doomed.
Accept the need for opposition and the sanity of the opposition even as you fight them. If their talk is so extreme that it leaves sanity as an unsettled issue, remember that opposition itself is the thing we need. Respecting the people voicing that opposition is the most effective way we have at this moment to cure the political autoimmune disorder induced in us by those who profit from our collapse.
That kind of respectful action will not come naturally to anyone right now unless they recognize the Yin/Yang essence of Tension Force. Consider sharing this mental model of how we work with others as a way to shape a paradigm of healthy conflict. Getting people to merely acknowledge this need for opposing beliefs improves us considerably. It makes people pause before setting fire to the house we all share out of bitterness and spite. We need a healthy political macro-biome and every one of us can play a part in achieving that.
© Hugh Miller Feb. 2016
- Extremely sharp spear points
- Long spears that let the holder stay well back from danger
- Throwing spears with atlatl, a flexible extension that gave the throw far more power and accuracy by using a snap motion just before release
- Bows and arrows
- Cutting and scraping tools for butchering
Continuing my theme of the hybrid SELF that forms when people interact: The third mind. I’m not trying to create the idea of some kind of mystical entity. The third mind is simply a lens or filter for understanding ourselves.
There really is no “You”.
“Um, But I’m right here.”
Friendship: Every person you know and love has a bond with you like a chemical signature. You think you visit them but you don’t. You visit US. You are a different you with Tom and Petra and Janine. When you visit Janine you think you are seeing her, but you are seeing US.
You know that great way you have fun with her, cooking together and joking around? It isn’t exactly like that with anyone else. That isn’t you and it isn’t her. That’s the third mind. The US. The thing is, your friendship isn’t you and her. It’s what she brings out in you and what you bring out in her. Your friendship is the magic spot where those unique things overlap. This is really reminiscent of the Observer Effect in physics. You can’t study the thing without influencing and effecting it. There is no abstract, pure Janine. You can only know her the way she is when you are looking at her. She can only know you the way you are when she looks at you.
You get together with Janine and your mutual friend Petra. You don’t really know the way Janine is with Petra. You know how Janine is with YOU and Petra. You are standing there with Janine before Petra comes inside. You make a funny literary reference and she laughs and reminds you to keep thinking about that thing you talked about earlier. Why? Because when Petra is part of this molecule the sense of humor is different, maybe earthier, and you’d never really bring up that sort of serious thing for discussion because it would be the wrong kind of discussion. You guys LOVE Petra, you love being together. It’s wonderful, but it’s wonderful in a different way. So you tidied up business with the You and Janine molecule before the well understood transition into the 3 of you molecule.
The personality “You” was evoked in a unique way with one other person and then in another unique way only possible with that exact combination of the three of you. And if you leave, Petra and Janine have a different relationship. If you let yourself ride this idea it’s a hoot because there is no real you, there’s just what can be brought out of you by different people. And since the same is true for them there’s no real anybody anywhere. There are only the unique creations of relationships. In “The Four Loves” C.S. Lewis wrote a beautiful thought on our subject which I have to paraphrase here. Talking about the death of a friend: “If Jim dies I don’t just lose my unique friendship with Jim, I lose the way Jim used to laugh at Robert’s jokes.”
Friendship can be a lovely, lifetime thing in many cases because there is this enjoyable facet of you that you only get be in their company and they evidently have their own version of that joy. One note and another note being played at the same time are not those notes. They are a chord. And the easy, warm cruising of friendships across time is helped by its episodic nature, you don’t ALWAYS have to be that expression of yourself but you can return to it…like an old friend.
You might argue that the real you is when you are alone but you are wrong, and stop being so argumentative!
That is the you evoked by being alone. By being in relationship to no other. And it’s actually rather limited. You can’t be that warm, loving guy or the funny guy or the good listening guy. In some ways being alone is all the things you can’t be. Now for creative types (and introverts) there can be a special and productive relationship to being alone but it’s still a selective filter that isn’t real in any other situation.
The principles of the third mind are laid out simply above and they don’t change with strangers or those closest to us. What changes is the impact or “side effects”.
Romantic love adds an element that only happens in its domain. Limerence. That dazzling infatuation which when reciprocated turns the third mind into a nearly visible glittering ball between the two people. This is where the third mind transforms into a different entity, almost literally an entity pulling intense emotions and hormones to the surface from the couple. It grows larger and practically seals the lovers inside. Of course this is the human mating dance. This is the REAL honeymoon, a time of being swept up in something huge and electric and magical. When people look back on this phase, the third mind can seem like anything from a horrible deception to a lost golden age. If it does the job nature intends, a family follows.
Family: With family relationships we are playing with forces that help to define us. Mom and Dad are together in a tight pair bond, founded in romantic love. When baby makes three there’s a deep change in the orientation of the parents. Very much a team but a team that doesn’t have a lot of hot sex anymore and a team embarked on a shakedown cruise with a new person. Before the baby is old enough to a political player in the family there’s this period of adjustment to the altered definition of the pair bond. “We are now people who discuss what poop looked like.” This can also be a time where new facets of self come up in Mom and Dad because parenting builds a new floor onto the edifice of YOU. Your way of relating to the kid becomes a bit of new wild card. It’s natural and fine for Mom and Dad to be on somewhat different pages about parenting. But what it does here can be an alteration of the third mind in a way that adds stressors and subtly distances them. It only deepens when the child is a distinct personality, becoming triangulated and heating up any of those parenting issues. At times each feel parent will feel double teamed or manipulated and new kinks in the flow develop. Whatever the couple’s third mind started as it has morphed and tilted. Not necessarily in a terrible way, but forever. There is no going back. And something strange starts to happen here. It can feel like the power of this mind exerts such pressure that you begin to actually possess the characteristics projected onto you. As if the third begins to alter and edit you often in ways that are not pleasant. If people have a common complaint about family it’s probably this: The weird way you can’t help either becoming a certain person around them or putting all your energy into resisting it.
Children grow up with the family mind, a sort of interactive group sense of self: A growth medium made up of ourselves and a variety of subjective, overlapping reactions to us.
Marriage: God knows there are lovely, happy and vital marriages out there. And where they exist they probably have a rare relationship where the couple feels a great ongoing enjoyment with what gets brought out of them into the world by the other. This mutual bringing forth: “I love her and I love who I am when I’m with her.”
It’s easy to imagine the reasons things that can become stultifying and even miserable in some marriages. First, unlike friendship, this relationship has no easy come and go. It is your default and almost fulltime existence So it’s more serious from the start but also, people change. Especially as they grow up through their 20s and 30s and 40s. You could hardly help and nor should you, being different after all that. But that means that the unique signature of your personalities as they evoked each other when you married is gone. Perhaps not wholly but substantially. Even without inner change over time, the signature shifts as people reveal their more intransigent sides, as issues become wearisome and people become resigned.
But finally there’s this: It becomes deadening when you only get to be one version of you year after year. Especially if that version of you is largely defined by a long history of ups and downs, tensions and compromises. Inside ourselves we know we are a 360 degree personality and this arrangement lets you express only a familiar, comforting, reliable constellation of all the possible YOUs for the sake of another person’s security and happiness.
It’s no wonder people struggle. There’s this tremendous investment in a situation that feels gradually less like home because you aren’t really getting to be yourself there or at least the version of you that you’d like to be. And fixing a marriage that feels very stuck is so challenging because even the medium for discussion can only be within the petrified and weary third mind.
There is no one real YOU, there are thousands.
“A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole. Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion.”
There is an idea gaining credibility that just as hives behave as individuals made up of the independently moving “cells”, that primate brains are almost like hives unto themselves…vast collectives of caste system individuals handling tasks that cumulatively produce the neurological reality experienced by the individual. This can’t be described as a final proven fact, but the model holds up, right down to the notion of specific cells that are needed being produced. algorithmically to changing needs. This extends to decision-making, which is the main subject of Honeybee Democracy. The bees exercise a collective intelligence that mimics not just small-group decision-making but the cognitive deliberations of our own brains:
“We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.”
Like many biologists, Seeley sees a bee colony as not just a collection of individuals but as a sort of super-organism. He continues:
When I’m teaching and a certain magic number of at least 4 students come together I can feel a transformation take place. Before that, I am just ordinary me, talking to individuals one on one. When that critical mass is reached I become a different person, I am the Teacher, rather than just myself. I put on my version of a super-suit. Suddenly I possess a remembering, performing, adapting and extemporizing mind. Suddenly I possess a confident game show host personality of almost infinite confidence and patience. It’s an instant flow state and I enjoy it very much, I’d enjoy being this guy more of the time but he is inaccessible when I am alone.
A corollary effect happens to the class students. A circuit of exchange forms between us and we are like two people pumping one of those old railway handcars together. With enough people participating and with a basic level of openness, of receptivity, there is a tipping point for them as well where they become somehow attuned to a common positive frequency that is attuned to mine and we become a self-maintaining energy flow machine. I give them energy in the form of good teaching and their attention and enthusiasm gives enthusiastic energy back to me that absolutely powers my teaching. We work together to achieve lift-off and the key in both of us is happiness, not long term, but an upbeat feeling, a positive charge.
Shared Energy is the Root of Relationship
If students come to class with the idea that this is all drudgery, beneath them, they pull me down with them. They hold onto my ankles and prevent take off. I can feel the lifeless lack of connection and my job becomes harder. I am doing all the lifting and in the end, I am not happy and energized, I am drained and flat. A bored, unreachable class is just dead weight. When the magic doesn’t start, I don’t turn into The Teacher, just a guy bailing out a stalled sailboat. When things go well though, a bigger, better me is summoned from oblivion and cheerfully possesses my body for a couple of hours. What we are is mysterious and flexible, there are unseen versions of us just waiting for a particular random meeting to be born. There are genies in this bottle.
Teaching is a highly specific instance of this kind of group energy exchange but I mention it because I imagine you’ve had this experience too and can relate no matter what side of that event you were on. This is invisible human magic, it has thousands of parallels in our lives but there is something elemental in it that everyone seems to miss. We give up a little bit of our autonomy and independence in order to cooperate, I say give up, but “offer up” is better because it is freely given, it’s a contribution. When we share ourselves, these contributions blend and there is something new to work with, an original concoction. A potluck of personalities and moods begin harmonizing and creating energy together that could not exist alone.
In a classroom, this kind of exchange is never intimate or deeply personal, we are more like random pedestrians running together to roll a stalled car out of traffic. In the classroom, we have an hour of feeling like a unified group with shared energy, intent and goals once or twice a week. When we gather we are like a very insubstantial, temporary individual made of multiple people. It pops like a soap bubble as we part company.
The Third Mind or, Becoming Mr. Blobby
When any two people meet they have this encounter and they generate an insubstantial, blobby bubble self like this by interacting. A third mind is created when any two meet. This mind talks to itself, finds a mood, energy, a temperament, a personality; a self. If excitement and energy are generated, this mind can consider amazing things, dream up and risk trying new things, and entertain itself enormously. As the two contributors part, this mind dissolves though it can be remembered with love, disgust, or disinterest by its agents.
This third mind is the basic social molecule. it is the fundamental social molecule, the catalyst of everything new. The magic of interpersonal chemistry decides much of what happens next. Families start here, as do cold, indifferent workmates. The basic social molecule of two, in a way, has to be intimate, not necessarily good or welcome but intimate. One on One is the molecule of intimacy. There are things two can do that are amazing, but two cannot do everything.
As the number of people meeting rises, the new mind naturally appears, shifting and changing with the new ingredients. This self is less intimate but capable of generating different kinds of energy. The polarity of two opens up with 3 and beyond. Certain kinds of projects and tasks can be energized and tackled by small groups in a way that feels supernatural. We can taste being greater than the sum of our parts at times, we can feel the larger energy unlocking new abilities.
More Powerful, Less Stable
Complexity is still possible with small groups. The excitement of an ensemble working to put on a show or start a business can be electric. There is often a feeling of “auto-organizing” of becoming limbs and organs specializing and working in concert with the virtual body. Of course, many organizations create third-minds that are inert, jealous or contrary. The only guarantee is that SOME mind will emerge at the moment of engagement. The energy that happens when motivated minds meet, this third mind, or these “virtual creature” minds can be enormously powerful but keep in mind, the power is essentially amoral. The power will flow if the “batteries” are present. If the mind is engineering reform or art or charity or terrorism…the energy is there.
Emergent human social behavior is not all good and positive. This energy can go dark and bloody in any mob. Hutus and Tutsis would not have massacred each other without this electric build up and overflow. The Nazis couldn’t have existed without it. When a demonstration becomes a riot it is this.
One of the scariest days of my life was in San Francisco after the 49ers won the Superbowl. The streets were full of people celebrating and in a moment that felt strangely like clouds covering the sun, the mood twisted. There were transitional moments: people shouting words of happiness that sounded oddly angry, people looking a little too hard to see if you were celebrating too. At this moment it was like they were looking for outsiders, looking for something to push back against. Soon things tipped and it was like wild animals except that wild animals do nothing like this. It was like a torrent of human craziness and anger, feeding on itself and igniting like flammable gas. And all because “We won!”. Except not really. I don’t think it had anything specific to do with the winning, except that there was a kind of build-up of a charge. A critical mass of charged up, energized humans bumped into each other like pressurized molecules. This is why large gatherings of people always have a risk component and why well planned large events feature effective guidance of group energy, logistics management, and at least a skeleton of police exuding the “remain orderly” pheromone. It’s just a guess but I bet losing teams have way fewer fan riots than winning teams.
“For, in fact, what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.” Pascal – Pensees, Section II.72
Lots of posts on this blog have referenced this concept but not explicitly by name. (for example see Everything is at least 3 things)
Introducing the Holon. This gem was created by the wonderful Arthur Koestler, one of the very under-appreciated thinkers of the 20th century. Once you have this beautiful lens in place so many things snap into delightful clarity.