Rehabilitating Our ‘/’ Chameleon
[N.B. For reading either before or after reading this essay, see the broader context-giving introduction. ]
The source of global social dysfunction, that is pointed to by all of my investigations, lies in our interpretation of this ‘/’, this ‘back-stretched connexion’ wherein we give meaning to conjugate relations such as habitat/inhabitant. That is, we can understand the ‘/’ in two different ways (a) simple something/nothing binary opposites, and/or, (b) spatially nested inclusion.
It is very easy to describe how the mind can go down these different paths. Here’s an example that has always stuck in my mind. My supervisor, when I was working in geophysics shared with me the humorous experience of watching a film starring Elizabeth Taylor, on an outdoor screen in the jungle in Nigeria. Everywhere that her face went, a lizard on the screen would follow, thinking that the mole on her face was an insect on the screen that was going to be dinner.
Maybe its because geophysics makes one think about ‘relative geometries’, but there’s an ambiguity that always pops up in thinking about ‘what the lizard is experiencing’. This ambiguity has popped up with increasing frequency in my investigations into ‘community dynamics’ and I often speak about it in terms of ‘sailboating’ versus ‘powerboating’. It can be brought to mind by the question;
Is the lizard (a) ‘following the object on the screen’ in an attempt to ‘catch it’, or is the lizard (a) ‘resituating himself within the landscape’ like the boy who moves so that a stream of water from the lawn sprinkler will flow into his mouth.
We know this option in terms (a) being ‘destination-oriented’, and (b) voyage oriented.
In (b), we accept our inclusion in the ceaselessly innovative spatial unfolding aka ‘the voyage’ and we let the unfolding landscape shape our behaviour while in (a) our intellect identifies objects that we would like to possess or places that we would like to go to.
What develops out of this are two different ‘models of who we are’ and two different ‘worldviews’ that are conjugate to ‘our model of self’.
There is some confusion in ‘science’ over which of these ‘is the actual case’. For example, in studies of the Nenets of Siberia, scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences have identified the movements and the survival skills of the Nenets as being (b) mode movements; e.g. these ‘people of the reindeer’ move so as to keep themselves ‘amongst the reindeer’. The reindeer can read all the signs and signals of weather and climate change so as to, in the same (b) mode, keep themselves amongst the exposed patches of lichen that they feed on (the reindeer DO NOT ‘follow’ the lichen exposures, except in a literary sense, … and neither do the wildgeese ‘follow the warm sun’; i.e. the continually resituate themselves within the changing landscape).
However, ‘Western scientists’ who also study these same Nenet people, interpret their movements and their survival skills as being the result of ‘knowledge accumulated over generations’. This renders the very same movements and behaviours in ‘intellectual terms’ as fits the model of self as a ‘local system with its own locally originating, intellect-and-purpose driven behaviour’. In this case, the actions of the individual are ‘coming out of themselves’ and being driven by their internal knowledge and intellectual processing systems. Of course, a child of a human or a reindeer fawn would simply keep resituating himself within the landscape, the most important feature of that landscape for the young one being the herd or tribe.
This is a ‘live argument, today’ among well-credentialed, highly respected scientists.
But as you will already have intuited, both (a) and (b) could be the way things work. We have the capabilities for both modes of behaviour. Thus it is ‘our choice’ (as individuals or as cultures, teams, communities, nations) to where and when we put ourselves into (a) [self-driving destination] or (b) [situation-attuning] behaviour mode.
And as we know from history, ‘property ownership’ was invented as a means of establishing a control-based ‘permanence’ which was incorporated in the definition of a ‘nation’ in the 16th century; i.e. the invention of the ‘owned property’ based, secularized theological concept of ‘sovereign state’. In doing this we ‘dropped anchor’ so that we suspended our (b) mode nomadic ways of resituating ourselves within the changing landscape, and instead sent out ‘work parties’ (or ‘war parties’) to fetch what we needed.
But, I don’t want to drill in too deep in any particular aspect of life at this point, but would rather ‘get this basic idea out on the table’, this optional mode of understand ‘where our behaviour comes from’; i.e. does our behaviour come from the interior of ourselves, in which case we will see ourselves as ‘local systems with locally originating, intellect-and-purpose driven automatons’? Or, does our behaviour come from the ceaselessly innovative spatial-relational transformation in which we are situationally included, and within which we are continually resituating ourselves?
As we know, the captain of the ocean-going engine-powered vessel, can hold firmly to his course, even in a storm, a destination-oriented behaviour that could easily be his and his crew’s demise, or, the captain and his crew of an ocean-going sailing vessel, can let their behaviours be orchestrated by the spatial dynamics they are included in, in such a manner as to continually cultivate and sustain balance and harmony and ‘ride out’ the storm. While the former is a process of ‘pursuing-an-object’, the latter is a process of ‘continual resituation’ relative to the unfolding spatial-relational dynamics.
One can almost ‘feel’ the different personas of the two captains in these examples, the (a) captain is a serious, hard-nosed workaholic determined to ‘make his numbers’ (ports and times) while the (b) captain is jovial and full of humour even in the face of disaster, since he accepts the natural dominance of nature; i.e. he is a man who believes that ‘man belongs to the earth’ and that we must ‘move’ in such a manner as to convert the unfolding spatial relational dynamics in the continuing present into harmonies, unlike the (a) captain who believes that ‘the earth belongs to man’ and there is so much to possess and so many places to go, in so little time.
So, we can conclude that our relative preference for these (a) ‘pursuit-of-objects and (b) ‘resonance-cultivating resituating’ modes of behaving impact our view of ‘who we are’ and also our view of the world; i.e. in (a) seeing ourselves as living in a vast shopping mall, and in (b) seeing ourselves as being included in the parenting medium of ourselves and all things. In the latter (b), the hard subject-object split of the former (a) is superseded by an inclusional conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation and the ‘pursuit-of-objects’ is superseded by a desire to let one’s movements cultivate and sustain harmony with the innovatively unfolding living space dynamics in which we are each uniquely, situationally included.
BUT, … our intuition suggests to us that the CHAMELEON, the Egyption God Theuth, like the real creature, our four-legged brother, is NEVER in (a) mode but ALWAYS in (b) mode; i.e. the chameleon, like the Nenets in the Russian scientific understanding, is continually ‘resituating’ to cultivate and sustain attunement (resonance, harmony) with the changing (innovatively unfolding spatial relational) landscape, as is the way of ‘nomadism’.
Meanwhile, if one looks up ‘nomadism’ in Encylopedia Brittanica, one finds only the (a) interpretation, making it appear that nomadism is an intellect-and-purpose driven behaviour;
“nomadism, way of life of peoples who do not live continually in the same place but move cyclically or periodically. It is distinguished from migration, which is noncyclic and involves a total change of habitat. Nomadism does not imply unrestricted and undirected wandering; rather, it is based on temporary centres whose stability depends on the availability of food supply and the technology for exploiting it. The term nomad encompasses three general types: nomadic hunters and gatherers, pastoral, and tinker or trader nomads.”
Now, really, (in spite of what the Encyclopedia Brittanica says), if you are a tinker or trader who goes to flea markets to sell his wares, … if the flea market keeps changing its location, the tinker will resituate himself relative to this changing landscape. If the locus of the continually changing flea market location, tracked on a GPS, spelled out ‘You guys are all sheep’, it wouldn’t be seen by the people participating in the flea market; i.e. they have no concept of ‘where they are going’ but are simply resituating themselves so as to be included in the thick of the trading action.
This ‘resituating within a changing landscape’ is not the encyclopedia definition of nomadism, a definition that ‘intellectualizes’ the movements, portrays them as being driven from the interior of the individual, and orients them to ‘destinations’ (temporary centres). Yet everyone refers to the Nenets, everyone including the Encylopedia Brittanica, as ‘nomads’ and refers to them as the ‘nomads of Yamal’ or ‘nomads of Siberia’.
And researchers working with the Russian Academy of Science are answering questions such as ‘Why Siberian nomads cope so well with climate change’ in terms of (b), their continual ‘resituating’ within the changing landscape.
Do you see what I see?
This process we call ‘civilization’ that, for example, separates us from the Amerindian ‘savages’, involves a shift from the chameleon mode (b) ‘resonance-cultivating resituating’ in the continually unfolding living-space dynamic [the voyage], … towards mode (a) ‘pursuit-of-object’ oriented/organized/orchestrated behaviour. At the same time, the ‘persona of society’ is shifting in the same manner as the personas of the captains described above.
Now, this is actually what Nietzsche was talking about, this infusing of the mode (a) ego into science so that science became anthropomorphism in an ‘ego-charged’ sense.
It is possible to interpret how this actually happens in reading the following ‘philosophy of science’ comment by Henri Poincaré. What he is saying, essentially, is that we have built into the classical physics notion of ‘cause-and-effect’, the assumption that the immediate future depends only on the present (the present depends only on the immediate past). This is consistent with modeling ourselves as a ‘local system with its own locally originating, intellection and purpose driven behaviour’ that interacts with similar others in an absolute fixed and empty operating space.
Let’s replace the chameleon on the movie screen with Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’. Is Jean Valjean resituating himself in the changing landscape (so that some bread will ‘fall into his hands’ that he take home to the starving children), or is Jean Valjean in ‘pursuit-of-object’ mode; i.e. does he covet his neighbour’s property? How we judge Jean Valjean’s behaviour reflects on how we think of ourselves; i.e. whether our behaviour is (a) mode, or (b) mode.
If there were security cameras in the bakery, when we rewound them (when we proceeded from the present to the immediate past) we would see Jean’s mug, as he scammed a baguette and hustled off with it. We would not see the deteriorating social conditions over the past few years (the transforming spatial-relational living space dynamic), the rising taxes and rising poverty, even though France was one of the richest and most powerful nations in Europe. We don’t need to look at all of that if it is true that ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’. We need only establish the identity of the causal agent responsible for the making the loaf of bread ‘go missing’.
The fly in the ointment here is that this notion that ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’ is a simplifying ‘convention’ that is justified by ‘convenience’ since it allows us to capture dynamics in terms of the mathematics of ‘differential equations’. These mathematics allow us to generalize dynamics in such a manner that we can plug in the ‘initial conditions’ for a system and it will give us an animated view of how the system changes over time; i.e. it will allow us to ‘predict’ the future state of the system, so long as the simplification holds, that the present depends only on the immediate past. As Poincaré says it;
“Origin of Mathematical Physics. Let us go further and study more closely the conditions which have assisted the development of mathematical physics. We recognise at the outset that the efforts of scientists have always tended to resolve the complex phenomenon given directly by our experience into a large number of elementary phenomena. And to do this in three different ways : first, with respect to time. Instead of taking into account the progressive development of a phenomenon as a whole, we simply seek to connect each moment with the one immediately preceding. We assert that the present state of the world depends only on the immediate past, without being directly influenced, so to speak, by the memory of a more distant past. Thanks to this postulate, instead of studying directly the whole succession of phenomena, we may confine ourselves to writing down “its differential equation” ; for the laws of Kepler, we substitute the laws of Newton.” — Henri Poincaré, ‘Science and Hypothesis’, Ch. ‘Hypotheses in Physics’, subsection “Origin of Mathematical Physics”
Now, in our real-life experience, we know that the remote parts of space and time can directly influence the present. For example, if we take the same mountain trail every day, after many days of snowfall and blowing winds, we see how the landscape is transforming and we intuit the stresses within it that often culminate in ‘avalanches’ so that we may well resituate ourselves in that landscape (change our trail) for no visible reason in the sense of the present depending only on the immediate past. An observer who did not understand how the present can be directly influenced by the remote past (how stresses build towards thresholds where there is a sudden release of energy so as to remove the tensions) would think that our path-changing behaviour was ‘irrational’.
But our experience is that we DO behave in this manner, we resituate ourselves within the changing landscape so as to sustain our harmonious relationship with it. If mathematical physics had a theory for how people respond to nonhomogeneous ‘field effects’ that reside in apparently homogeneous matter, then such science could have a go at explaining this ‘non-rational’ behaviour. In fact, Poincaré suggested that science such as classical mathematical physics that employed this simplified ‘cause-and-effect’ (present depends only on immediate past) model was only good for ‘mechanical’ dynamics and not for complex natural dynamics;
“It is therefore, thanks to the approximate homogeneity of the matter studied by physicists, that mathematical physics came into existence. In the natural sciences the following conditions are no longer to be found: homogeneity, relative independence of remote parts, simplicity of the elementary fact; and that is why the naturalist is compelled to have recourse to other modes of generalisation.” – Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis
Well, as we know, in spite of what Poincaré says, we use the cause-and-effect model, which depends on this ‘present depends only on the immediate past’ assumption, all of the time, in all kinds of social situations. It’s simplicity is a great convenience. It is far easier to find Jean Valjean guilty of stealing the loaf of bread, to see him as being in ‘pursuit-of-object’ mode, than understanding his behaviour in terms of ‘resituating’ within a transforming landscape. But, really, is the rise in people ‘becoming criminals’ that associates with a rising gap between a rich class and an impoverished class due to more people succumbing to ‘coveting their neighbour’s property’ or to the behaviour of individuals and collectives as being orchestrated by the dynamics of the space they are situationally included in? There is no sign of the changing landscape when we visualize them in pursuit-of-object mode. All we need is the difference between the present and the immediate past state of things.
Our feeling experience informs us of these growing ‘tensional fields’ as the gap grows between the rich and the poor, but tensional fields are ‘invisible’ and our common popular science of cause-and-effect orients to visible material structure and the dynamics of local material objects as if these objects have their own local behaviour.
These ‘invisible tensions’ that are ‘upstream’ (have a primary influence on the transforming spatial relations in our living space) are ignored, so long as we understand behaviour in (a) mode, so that a society that orients to (a) mode (pursuit-of-object) mode is liable to engender a lot of invisible tensions that will over-ride their attempts at management based on pursuit-of-object (a) mode.
This is why there is a rise in the politics of ‘anarchism’ (e.g. Howard Zinn, Amerindian ‘decolonizing’ initiatives as encouraged by Taiaiake Alfred et al).
But many people (not the above-mentioned) see ‘anarchism’ in terms of the violent, revolutionary overthrow of control-based governance systems. This is a ‘structural interpretation’ or ‘mode (a)’ interpretation of the problems of authoritarianism (a mode (a) organizational architecture which ignores the natural primacy of invisible tensional fields). The rising dysfunction in our mode (a) based social architecture can be overcome simply by the general acknowledging of the natural primacy of (b) ‘resituating’ mode of behaviour over the (a) pursuit-of-object mode. The violent, revolutionary overthrow represents more of the dysfunction that comes from putting (a) pursuit-of-object mode into an unnatural primacy over (b) resituating within the changing landscape mode of behaviour. [e.g. see 'Mapping from 'Students Storm Tory HQ' to 'Inclusionality']
In conclusion, the ‘Chameleon-God’, Teuth, has quite a bit to say about the current condition of our society.
Is the lizard that is chasing Elizabeth Taylor’s mole around the screen more like the boy that lets his movements be orchestrated by movement of the jet of water coming from the lawn water sprinkler, or is he more like cougar stalking the fawn?
When we reflect on this question, it becomes apparent that both answers are always possible, but that if we choose the (a) pursuit-of-object mode of behaviour as the answer, we immediately lose track of the potential influence of the transforming space that the actor is situationally included in. The cougar and the fawn might be ignoring the forest fire that is about to seal them off on all sides, or they might be on a small island in a raging river that is about to be inundated by rising water.
We can therefore say that the (a) behaviour is only non-problematic if space is actually an absolute fixed operating theatre populated by many separate (independent) objects that move and interact relative to that space. But if the landscape one is included in is undergoing spatial-relational transformation (as when one is in a small vessel in the ocean in a storm), then ‘resituating’ in order to sustain a harmonious relationship with the dynamic living space one is included in must take first priority.
True, one could ignore the situational harmony in one’s conjugate habitat-inhabitant dynamic relation, but there is this sense that ‘man belongs to the earth’ which makes it natural to give priority to it. Nietzsche would say that it was ‘the will to power’, a poor choice of words it seems to me, but he makes clear that it is the ‘evolutionary force’ that pervades all of nature, from the inorganic through the amoeba to man. It is the ‘anti-Darwinist’ conjugate endosmosis-exosmosis relation of William Rolph which Nietzsche ‘bought into’.But this is opening up into other stories that are better left for other times.
I will include a brief comment that describes ‘how pervasive’ this (a) or (b) mode choice is in our current world issues; i.e. a comment made to the American Thinker website in regard to ‘The Global Warming Court Battle’ . In reading this, think in terms of how the remote parts in space and time can directly influence the present, the (b) understanding.
Posted by: emile
Nov 15, 02:22 PM
Mann-ipulating the averages: — the average temperature of the earth or the average wealth of people on the earth, hides the spatial distribution, and it is the spatial relationships that source the dynamics of equalization that are the salient feature of ‘climate’. E.g. la niña and el niño arise from changes in the spatial distribution of thermal energy and have profound effects on ‘climate’. Similarly, the earth’s polar ice-caps come and go. Each ice sheet, glacier, permafrost zone is like a deposit/withdrawal ‘bank’ that issues temperature-moderating currency. As scientists at the Russian Cryosphere Institute point out, the changing RATE of temperature-moderating currency issued by these banks, along with their regional ‘closing down’ trends, has a dominant shaping influence on the earth’s ‘temperature curve’. This means that the remote past (periods of accumulation of ice) are directly influencing the present, nullifying the simplifying assumption that is foundational to ‘cause-and-effect’ — ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’. For the RCI scientists, variations in temperature-moderating melting power make it a moot point as to whether rising CO2 concentration is the ‘cause’ or the ‘effect’ of rising temperature. They rise together during periods of declining melting power (as the slabs of ice in your ice-box get smaller, the temperature rises AND your opened carbonated drinks lose their fizz). The discoverer of deterministic chaos, Henri Poincaré, observed that when the simplifying assumption that ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’ no longer holds, it is necessary to ‘take into account the progressive development of a phenomenon as a whole”. But that’s not as much fun as ‘identifying’ ‘the causal agent’ and having a neck-stretching party.
Finally, the (a) ‘pursuit-of-object’ mode of behaviour is a simplified view of behaviour that associates with imposing an absolute space frame on our visualizing of our experience and assuming that the world is a collection of local objects within that absolute space (fixed and otherwise empty operating theatre). It is ‘idealization’ that must not be confused for ‘reality’ (the reality of our natural experience).
Sure, the cougar does stalk the fawn and that is (a) ‘pursuit-of-object’ mode of behaviour, but it is surgically extracted BY US, THE OBSERVER from the transforming landscape. No doubt the cougar would be breaking off his engagement with the fawn if the flood waters were on their way, while the humans might be fornicating or otherwise in a ‘pursuit-of-object’ behaviour mode with the music system blasting in the fixed and non-participating (substitute-) space of their comfortable air-conditioned home, only to find out, perhaps too late, that that was not ‘the full reality’ of the situation.
The ‘Chameleon’, while a powerful God in Egyptian mythology, has a bad reputation in early Christian theology; i.e. it was the symbol of Satan, because of its ability to ‘morph’ and appear in different forms.
It appears time to ‘rehabilitate’ the ‘chameleon’ in each of us, to recover and revitalize our ‘resituating’ mode of behaviour so that the tasty morsels can come to us, rather than ‘turning ourselves into ‘pursuit-of-object’ machines that become oblivious to the unique particulars of our ‘situational inclusion’ in a ceaselessly innovatively transforming living space dynamic.
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Reference: For more on Theuth or Thoth, see ‘Thoth, God of the Slash’ by Seth Warren