Midwifing the Birth of the Next Culture
There are clear signs that ‘we are now pregnant with the next culture’ and since midwives are needed to help with the delivery, there is now plenty of opportunity to participate in that role.
The details are as follows;
The currently dominant western culture is based on the notion of ‘unidirectional innovation’. This is the familiar ‘causal model’ wherein we assume that the dynamics we see in the world are ‘caused’ by the actions/interactions of local objects/organisms/organisations/systems etc. This is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives via our methods of organisation, in particular, which are most often based on causal visions, missions, values, strategies, goals and objectives.
This current culture’s view of dynamics is one in which ‘space’ is NOT a participant. In our current view, space is, implicitly, an infinite empty container (vacuum filled) which does not impede the dynamics of the planets or any other local objects ‘within it’.
If we put a factory in our home town, there will be people who know all about it in terms of ‘what it does’ in a causal sense; how it acquires, transports and assembles the materials it needs, how the production process works and how the necessary skills are developed to support and maintain it, how the products are marketed, sold, distributed, and all of the associated financial and service and support needs. All of this knowledge is in terms of unidirectional innovation or ‘what things do’ in a forward sense. We could inventory thousands of such forward processes in a community and there would be no doubt about our understanding of them all. But what sort of ‘understanding’ is this? As McLuhan pointed out, this sort of understanding is all related to ‘content’ and it doesn’t deal with the ‘medium’ within which these ‘content-dynamics’ are taking place.
“In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs.”
An ‘understanding’ that is constrained to ‘content-dynamics’ and which does not comprehend how the spatial world we live in is being transformed around us as we keep our focus on ‘what we do’ and ‘what things do’ is a very limited kind of ‘understanding’. In fact, we could call it a ‘mythology’ rather than understanding. Because, by focusing on ‘what we are doing’, and by ‘making plans to achieve desired results in terms of ‘doing’, we feel as if we are ‘in control’. But we are certainly NOT in control of bringing about a desired future state and what we are doing in that regard matters ‘not in the least’ as Mcluhan says, as regards how the space we are in is being transformed. We can produce the planned measures of cornflake and Cadillacs, and we can use our engineering skills to achieve our planned production of genetically modified food crops, but this will not inform us as to how space we live in is being transformed. Our forward construction projects could be likened to the project of that group of cells in a developing embryo which is charged with making a gill-like structure. We may want to believe that our behaviour starts with us and that we are in charge of this explicit mission, but the embryo doesn’t grow by way of the growth of its parts, and the included parts and their relationships are continually undergoing transformation that operates from the outside in on the space they are included in. While it is convenient to believe that we are in control and that our behaviour originates within us, we are included in spatial-relational transformation that does not depend on any ‘parts’, including us.
We initiates of our current culture are uncomfortable with the notion that innovation is also, and more importantly, being sourced out of the space we are included in, as in the embryo analogy. But the transforming environment induces transformation in the organisations that inhabit it and entire departments must dissolve and participants assume new identites. While the ‘fireman’ on a locomotive was the key ‘causal agent’ keeping thing moving forward, the diesel-electric changed that. The discomfort in conceding that one is oneself included in outside-in innovation is highlighted by the fact that the position ‘fireman’ (which no longer existed in fact) was retained in the diesel electric era. It is not possible to hold on to this notion of unidirectional innovation when we who pretend that we are in charge of it (that it ‘starts from our notional ‘local agency”) are ourselves subject to innovation [re-definition] from the dynamic space we are included in (both by bio-environmental dynamics and by socio-environmental dynamics)
However, we have found it convenient to ‘see thngs’ in the simplified terms of ‘unidirectional innovation’ and to depict ourselves and our friends and colleagues as ‘local organisms with our own local agency’ (it does good things for our ego to conceive of innovation, and the future we desire, as being sourced from out of the centre of ourselves). Nevertheless, it is a case of “choosing not that which is most true but that which is most easy”. To confuse the limited understanding constituted by ‘unidirectional innovation’ for reality is illusion, thus we may better call this current culture world view a convenient mythology’ rather than an ‘understanding.’.
But we are the ones that support and sustain this mythological world view through the culture, treating it as if it were ‘reality’. Culture is our way of seeing things and doing things, all of which rests dependently upon our basic assumptions about the dynamics of space and time, the source of our ‘representations’ of the world.
In the western culture ‘innovation’ is seen as starting from within local objects/organisms systems, as in ‘Darwinian evolution’ where the ‘gene’ or ‘cell’ or ‘organism’ is seen as ‘the unit source’ of innovation. This is key to our manner of thinking, and of understanding the world dynamic.
Just as we believe that we can mechanically modify genes in such a manner that they will construct a revised, more desirable result or product (‘genetic engineering’), we believe that as individuals, we too are like ‘genes’ in that we can mechanically organise ourselves so as to construct a revised, more desirable result or product.
Our science is all about making such ‘unidirectional innovation’-hypotheses and confirming them with experiment. For example, starting with the configuration of genes in corn, we can modify them so that they will be resistant to herbicides such as ‘round-up’. Since plants are in general, killed by round-up, when round-up is sprayed on the typical mixture of plants in a field of corn, the only thing that will be left living will be ‘round-up-ready’ corn.
We are that culture that has become expert at unidirectional innovation, creating the results that we desire.
The problem is that space is not an empty vacuum and that nature’s dynamic is better represented as an interdependent web than as a collection of particular things. Thus, our unidirectional innovating, successful though it may be in its own limited context, in the larger picture is changing a strand in the interdependent web (without our having explored and understood the interdependencies).
The relation between the web and the strand is in other words the relation between the habitat and the inhabitant and/or ‘space’ and ‘matter’ and Mach’s principle captures it thus; “the dynamics of the web condition the dynamics of the strands at the same time as the dynamics of the strands are conditioning the dynamics of the web.”.
This is the ‘bidirectional innovation’ that is the foundational assumption of the incoming new culture.
It is more consistent with our real life experiencing of nature’s dynamics. That is, while our science of ‘unidirectional innovation’ is good at designing and implementing desired physical structures, it does so in ignorance of the habitat-inhabitant interdependencies involved. Genetically modified corn has been found to kill the caterpillar phase of monarch butterflies and GM sugar beets remove the weedy fields that have been the nesting ground of skylarks.
Biodiversity suffers from this imposed unidirectional innovation, implying that, in nature, innovation is bidirectional and that the species within the interdependent ‘web’ of the ecosystem is the RESULT of ecosystem innovation rather than the CAUSE of it. (Mach’s principle captures the ‘conjugate’ [simultaneous-bidirectional] relationship of ecosystem-habitat to ecosystem-inhabitant).
Science has limited its inquiry to unidirectional innovation and since scientific experiment is designed to validate or refute a hypothesis, if the hypothesis is formulated in a unidirectional innovation context; e.g. ‘hypothesis: – ‘Genes can be modified to produce wheat that is resistant to herbicides such as ‘round-up’’, then the only thing that is being confirmed by the scientific theory and its experimental validation, is the hypothesis; i.e. a hypothesis based on unidirectional innovation. This says nothing about the impact on biodiversity and the health of the ecosystem; i.e. it recalls Marshall McLuhan’s observation that what matters is not ‘what we do’ but how our relations with one another and the habitat are transforming.
Meanwhile, within scientific fields of investigation, there has been a rising awareness of the limitations of the unidirectional-innovation paradigm. In a communication from Douglas Caldwell (author of ‘Do Bacterial Communities Transcend Darwinism) whose experiments have confirmed the prevalence of bidirectional innovation in evolving multispecies microbial communities, he notes that;
“Barry Commoner first realized the importance of the idea that innovation flows not just from DNA to cells but in the other direction as well.” and also that;
“Lamarck’s theory of evolution [bidirectional-innovation-based as contrasted with Darwin’s unidirectional innovation-based theory] has become part of mainstream science. Check out “The Ghost in Your Genes” (Nova – 2007). This work resulted (in part) from research on human beings (through the multigenerational effect of starvation as well as from the study of genetic disease occurring in only one of two identical twins).”
Caldwell’s own work extends the application of bidirectional innovation to ‘information flow’ so as to open the way to a more general model that encompasses, in a self-consistent manner, ‘life universal’; “the nested proliferation of all physical, chemical, and biological objects – including thought, language, and mathematics.”
Regardless of the details of the emerging ‘theory’, there is an increasing incidence of examples that signal the arrival of ‘the next culture’ where there is general acknowledgement of the inadequacy of the (mythological) ‘understanding’ based on unidirectional innovation (‘causal constructions’ etc.) and the greater adequacy of understanding based on ‘bidirectional innovation’.
Since we are the developers and sustainers of ‘culture’, we have the opportunity to get off our butts and participate in the ‘midwifing’ of the new culture.
What we have to remind ourselves of, is this; what we normally think of as being the cause of a spatial dynamic, is instead the result of the spatial dynamic. I say ‘remind ourselves of’, since it is not coming from ‘belief in a new theory’ but from our real-life experience that we have been ‘over-riding’ (suppressing) with our over-simplified unidirectional innovation-based theory.
For example, think of a situation in which you cracked a joke that caused an outbreak of laughter. If we ‘zoom out’ and take another look, we can see that you were included in a social dynamic and that you were very aware of being included in that dynamic and that you felt the opportunity to trigger the release of latent energy potentials in the group. In this sense, your action (cracking the joke) was the RESULT of the dynamic, not the CAUSE of it. But it is ‘simple’ and ‘convenient’, to start our inquiry from you (the notional ‘local organism’) and what seeming to originate from within you (your own locally originating [internal-purpose-driven] behaviour).
However, you can see something going on here that relates to the notion of ‘The Ghost in Your Genes’ in the Nova production; i.e. there is something that you are included in that ‘comes before’ your notional internal purpose, so that one can’t really assume that the starting influence of your joke-cracking action lies inside of you. If the buildup of potential energy was not there in the spatial relations in which you were included, you would not have been induced to crack the joke. One would not try to ignite a fire by throwing a match into the environment unless there were dry combustibles in the environment loaded with potential energy that was ‘ready to go’ (to be released as kinetic energy).
In this context, we can say that the tossing of the match or the cracking of the joke on the part of the ‘inhabitant’ is the RESULT of the habitat dynamic rather than the cause of it.
There you are and you can feel the buildup of tensions in the social space that you are included in and you just know that with a few words, you can trigger an explosive release of those tensions. When you do, the group will erupt in laughter so that it appears as if you ‘caused the outbreak of laughter’ but really, the social dynamic in which you were included is ongoing so that your action (cracking the joke) was the result of the dynamic rather than the cause of it. Those tensions were the spatial-possibility niche that opened up providing a shaping receptacle for the blossoming of creative/assertive potentiality as became manifest in the telling of the joke. The joke was not a unidirectional innovation born of ‘first cause’ in the interior of the joke-teller. This bidirectional innovation scenario is what Heraclitus referred to as ‘the backstretched connexion’ (a conjugate relation in which one conjugate is invisible). As he said;
‘The unity of things lies beneath the surface; it depends upon a balanced reaction between opposites’ [bidirectional innovation]
‘An unapparent connexion is stronger than an apparent one.’
‘The real constitution is accustomed to hide itself’
‘They do not apprehend how being at variance it agrees with itself [literally: how being brought apart it is brought together with itself] : there is a back-stretched connexion, as in the bow and the lyre.’
The ‘jig is up’ and the unidirectional-innovation that has been foundational to ‘how we see things’ in western Enlightenment society (the prevailing culture) is giving way to ‘bidirectional-innovation’ (as described above).
We are the ones who are the midwives of the new culture. We can sit back silently and watch it happen, by saying nothing as the unidirectional-innovation precepts of the old culture continue to be used to formulate plans that we will be obliged to work within, or we can be outspoken about the inadequacy of such plans and point to the greater adequacy of understanding based on bidirectional innovation. The system does not have to be actually demolished and a new one built in its place. Through our new culture awareness we can evolve in the manner of ‘to every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose’; i.e. the new garden can rise up out of the old garden without uprooting everything.
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