Emergence

Is a principle underlying the increasing complexity of the universe. At a critical point of massing component parts together, a new WHOLE pops into existence that isn’t like the parts. By itself that would be a party trick, but this pattern constantly builds, it goes on and on. More = Different.

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?

  1. Matter is the greater complexity of atoms.
  2. Chemistry is the greater complexity of matter.
  3. Life is the greater complexity of chemistry.
  4. Sexual reproduction is the greater complexity of life.
  5. Species are the greater complexity of sexual reproduction.
  6. Humanity is the greater complexity of species.
  7. 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.

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You know when you are at a family gathering and someone mentions something that you know is just an argument waiting to happen? Someone has stepped on a landmine and internally you race through your options: Should I placate, distract, argue, or maybe just run? My thought experiment is about race and culture, subjects that make almost everyone feel this way. At a minimum they make you brace for impact.
These hot button words make people dumb because they either snap into combat mode with arguments locked and loaded or they go all “deer in the headlights”.  It literally initiates a fight or flight reaction which means there is no thought or learning taking place. But I need to get at what these things are and mean, so here I go.

 The Experiment:

  Aliens randomly gather 200 men and women and take them to a faraway island or hidden valley and wipe their cultural memories while leaving personality, basic knowledge and survival skills intact. They leave them alone for 500 years and then return to check on them.
Would they have:
  • 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?
  • music?
  • 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?

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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

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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

Imagine American politics. Not just the official representatives, but all the voices contributing viewpoints: From right wing 1% super-PACs down to organic coops. 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 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 issues of the day are all in this area: Immigration, economic policy, male/female roles, war, etc. Now, imagine some quick snapshots of other countries contending against each other in the same way.  Picture Sweden, Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Each has their version of these opposing forces. The area of tension force (TF) contains the questions that are being struggled over and the possible policies that might result. Economic equality and justice TF in Sweden and Mexico are wildly different. Sexual politics TF in America and Saudi Arabia also have a stark contrast. TF = the local reality that is up for discussion. Progressive and conservative are the internal states of the ones pulling the rope. In all these cultures the issues are radically different but those pulling the rope are the same.

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 Fade in:

We pan in to see an early stone age man.  
This is a fantasy to properly set the stage so please indulge me.  Imagine this early stone age man with no clothes or tools. It’s as if he just popped into existence this minute with nothing but teeth and strength and a brain. Like a “for reals” version of “Survivor Man”. He is living much like a bear or any other animals smart enough to scratch together a living and come in out of the rain. But he has no tools to help him cope. 
This IS a fantasy because animals like monkeys and crows routinely use simple tools to access food. This means that they are thinking beyond beaks and fingers, that they can visualize an external means of extending their grasp or strength. I expect people have been automatically reaching out for sticks to knock down the high fruit as long as they’ve been here. But this guy is just a way of picturing the human predicament in the raw. It’s cold and wet, it’s hard to catch food. Hell, it’s hard to do pretty much anything. 
 

Cut to: 

 Several cavemen hunters standing on the crest of a hill dusted with snow. They are wearing treated skins carefully sewn with a bone needle and thread spun from flax fibers. Among them they have:
  • 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
 These late stone age men have become creatures that can resist rain and stand colder temperatures. They can walk over hard sharp stones without pain. They have  deadly stingers that can shoot meters away. They have another tool that makes them daunting.  They can say things to each other like “He’s behind that tree!” or “go down there and wait” or “Now!”. This language is closer to innate than his lance or clothes but is in a created code. The code contains invented nuances that are certainly honed and shaped to make them “sharper”. 
 
If I described any two animals with such dramatic differences between them as our early and late cavemen, the only sensible guess would be that they are different species. Our “Modern Cavemen” have taken on things that nature never gave them directly. They have staked out the human pathway: To adopt technologies that change us in practical terms, into a different sort of species than any human group that doesn’t adopt it. Not only ARE we cyborgs, we always have been.
 

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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.”
“Which one?”
“What?”

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.

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 Connecting some of the subjects here recently: The Blending Problem, Holons, etc. here’s a natural, earthy synthesis. It proves nothing, I think you see it or you don’t. It’s fascinating too how paradoxical individuality is from this point of view. Every individual is a colony but every colony is built of individuals. bee
 
From Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy:

“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:

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Every human blends a wide range of psychological variables. Each variable in this list is a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on each spectrum in this list. I don’t think this is some complete list, just some that I was mulling over. And they don’t follow some meaningful rule concerning their position to the left or right. I mean for example that “daring” and “submissive” are not in any sense related because they both appear on the right. There may be some overlap between some of these characteristics that could justify a connection but it’s imperfect and I’m not intending that meaning. I also don’t think that good is on one side and bad on the other.

Every trait on this list is a spectrum.

It seems human groups naturally create a spread of these traits because I can’t think of any culture outside of science fiction where there is a real uniformity of these characteristics.
The old sci-fi tradition often portrayed a trait as a species. Remember Star Trek? Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans, Ferengi? Each of these takes all the variables for a self and mashes them through a single psychological template.

Imagine how profound (and awful) the effect would be on a culture if they exclusively doubled down on the most extreme range of the traits above. In theory, you could have an entire population very unbalanced in a certain direction. But it never seems to work out that way, does it? Perhaps the whole thing is absolutely random but there could be within us a sort of community algorithm to keep a healthy range of steady but flexible groups. Some flexibility in the system would allow different tribes to investigate the effects of leaning more this way or more that way as a group. I don’t mean the tribe would look at it that way, just that cultural differences would naturally emphasize different traits and there could be an impact on survival as a result.

There are also structural, age-based ranges for a number of important psychological factors concerning the community’s ability to preserve it’s form but also change if it needs to.

  1. The very young imprint the culture, taking it at face value.
  2. The young adult/teenager range is the most progressive, the most likely to question things being this way. It’s a cultural version of questioning your own parents.
  3. Families, mated and settled are the meat in the sandwich. They essentially express and live the culture in a moderate conservative way. Naturally, they tend to embrace it but the cracks and stressors show up here too. In worrying about their own children they worry about all children and what world they will live in. Again, this tends toward conservatism but enough worry can turn this.
  4. The old of course tend to be convinced that everything is going terribly wrong and we ought to back the hell up. They are the paragons of cultural retention.

These behaviors are emergent from the developmental moment of each but across a culture the impact is factorial.

I think this is rather like the age-based division of labor in insect hives.  We have a non-random, predictable political range (“tension force” if you read my other stuff on conservative/progressive).  I suspect evolution is a little bottom heavy with more people in the conservative mode but always with enough wild-ass adventurous and rebellious types to keep stirring the pot.

I have a half-assed thought that neuro-atypicals such as Autism spectrum and ADHD people may figure in population dynamics as a necessary element. Autistic people famously helping to advance technology with their obsessive interests and keen observations and ADHD people (I like to think) because their restless love of novelty may contribute in its own way.

I also believe that high functioning psychopaths and narcissists have a place. Their utter lack of concern with others and cold desire to get all the goodies CAN act as an organizing mechanism creating political or religious movements or starting big businesses, etc. Someone sufficiently convinced of their right to rule over others can collect followers like a magnet collects iron filings.

Does it sound like I’m imagining some sort of overseeing entity? Not really. I’m not so much describing what drives this process so much as pointing it out. We don’t understand what drives the balanced population dynamics of hive insects for example. How do they maintain the right population numbers of different castes and such? We know they do, and we don’t know how. If there are principles driving these real-time population adjustments at the hive or even species level, we don’t know what the hell they are or even what mechanism could accomplish it. Science has to patiently build scaffolding closer and closer to any mystery before the answers it finds are truly scientific and not guesses. Along the way, it has to settle all the preliminary questions underlying the big question. We are a long way from solid answers here. Perhaps understandably, most scientists don’t like or respect weird mysteries because there isn’t anything they can say that wouldn’t be wild speculation. They tend to respond neutrally if at all, often suggesting that there’s no evidence for the mystery itself. What is certain though is that human life is coordinated somehow at the community level as well as for the individual. The most practical way I can pursue answers is by looking for patterns of coordination at the obvious level of the world around me. The patterns may start to reveal something of the mechanism as we study them and their relationship to each other.
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When I’m teaching I can feel a change take place when a magic number of students is present. Before that, I am just talking to individuals one on one. When that critical mass is reached I can become a different person, the teacher, rather than just myself. 3 is apparently too few, it doesn’t make the change occur. 4 is at the edge, as is five. but somewhere in there, I can enter a state other than my normal mind. It is a remembering, performing, adapting and extemporizing mind. It’s a flow state for me and it is inaccessible when I am alone. And I enjoy it very much. But a similar effect happens to the class itself. With enough people and with a basic level of receptivity there is a tipping point for them as well where they become somehow attuned to a common frequency and it is as if we are a kind of energy flow machine where I give them energy in the form of confidence, good organization and information and their attention and enthusiasm gives energy back to me that absolutely heightens my delivery. There is a magic to the internal feeling for the exchange which is basic to its success. If students come to class with the idea that this is all drudgery, they pull me down with them. They hold onto my ankles and prevent take off. I can feel the lifeless lack of response and my job becomes harder. I am doing all the lifting and at the end I am not happy and energized, I am drained and flat.

This highly specific sort of exchange has a thousand parallels in the rest of our lives. Every two people when they meet have an exchange somewhat similar to this one. The magic of interpersonal chemistry obviously decides much of what happens next but the receiving of energy and flowing it back is basic to every encounter. I have certainly noticed that the sweetness and energy of other people seem to have a great deal to do with how I offer them energy and bounce back theirs. Some days the world seems harsh and grubby and no love or friendship seems able to jump the gap but then, on a sweet high energy day when I am open to people and taking them in with an open spirit, incredible things seem possible and on these days it seems obvious and easy. Obviously, something like my teaching experience seems to happen at shows and concerts and speeches. It seems to me that this is one of the points that we never properly own and take responsibility for: How much we determine the tone of everything that happens, how much energy and engagement really matter. We may be just one charged particle but if we are near a few others, amazing things can happen.

the-third-mind

A third mind is created when any two meet; this mind talks to itself, finds a mood, an energy, a temperament, a personality; a self. This mind if excitement and energy are present, can consider amazing things, can tinker with subtleties and complexity. As the two-part, this mind disintegrates though it can be remembered with love or disgust or disinterest by its agents. It is a social molecule. As the number of people meeting rises, the new mind comes into being with different energies possible. Certain kinds of projects and tasks can be energized by small groups in a way that feels supernatural. 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 “organizing” of becoming limbs and organs specializing and working in concert with the virtual body. Of course, many meetings create minds which are inert or dull or suspicious and sour. It’s simply 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 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.

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“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.

 It begins with this; everything is a two way street. Everything looks downward into its constituent parts, and upward into a larger world it is only a constituent part of. Everything is both part and whole, thus the “holon“. Every level of reality is self contained (and self absorbed). Generally these levels are like parallel lines apparently never meeting. A bit like dimensions in the (possible) multiverse, happening in the same place and the same time but unaware of each other.

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