From Modernity to After-Modernity (09)

Part 2. Theoretical considerations
Chapter 2. About the formation of consciousness

2.3.  The mind and 'Increased Complexity'

I'll start with an update of the graphs I gave in my last post.

A.    visualization of the cycle of life

B.    3 sets of arrows:

 black: the cycle of life:

1. reproduction of life or the path to the individual particle; this 1st principle of life is being calibrated by society to the existing context

2. the brain computes in order to protect the individual and by expanding to the primitive mind it engages a process of increasing consciousness

3. by expanding the individual's field of vision consciousness engages reality in a process of ever increasing complexity. This 2nd principle of life relies on society to calibrate the level of complexity to the constrains imposed by the all encompassing systemic reality

4. the perception of increasingly complex systems has to stay in touch with the systemic reality and more particularly with the reproduction of the individuals and their societies.

 green: interactions between the strong and weak poles of the two different sets of  polarities:

5. the brain's (strong) interaction with increased complexity (weak)

6. reproduction (strong) interaction with the mind (weak)

 red: the interactions of the strong and weak principles of life:

7. systemic reality (strong) versus individual consciousness (weak) and the mediating role of societies

8. Conservation and change or the mediating role of societies in the reproduction of life (strong) versus increased complexity (weak).

C.    5 sets of polarities are at play

1. The polarities of Life:   species  < ---- >  individuals     
2. The polarities of the species: reproduction  < ---- > increased complexity  
3. The polarities of the individual:   body  < ---- >  mind
4. The polarities represented by the behaviors of the polarities of the individual and of the species:  conservation  < ---- >  change
5. The polarities represented by the scope of the polarities of life:
(individual) consciousness  < ---- >  systemic reality (species)

It is my view that approaching consciousness from the micro-perspective of the study of the brain is reducing the the operation of consciousness to a very limited part of its entire scope of operation. In other words I feel that it is necessary to situate consciousness in its all encompassing context which is the cycle of life. Consciousness is indeed a property of life. The graph here above is a trial at representing the context of consciousness (the cycle of life) and how consciousness interacts with the other dimensions at work in the cycle.

This kind of holistic view of how things operate does not exclude the reductionist approach taken by science. On the contrary. It starts by positing what science posits all along that the mind and consciousness derive from the brain. But instead of positing brain-mind in the traditional frame of Western dualism I prefer thinking in terms of polarities. Approached as polarities brain and mind no longer appear as opposed quantities but more as being complementary.

The polarity brain-mind is one of the polarities at work within the cycle of life but its dance, from brain to mind and vice versa, is also interrelating with the dance of other polarities within the cycle of life that affects the outcome of the brain-mind dance. In that sense to understand the real working of consciousness we have to address the dynamic at play within the whole cycle of life and more particularly its:
  • 3 sets of arrows
  • 5 sets of polarities

A few preliminary remarks: 
  1. As I specified earlier science has not to this day provided an accepted explanation of the qualitative jump from the instinctual or primitive mind to its self awareness. I don't think that this should handicap us, in any way, on our path to understand how the mind engages a process of expanding consciousness. In light of, “the social brain hypothesis” formulated by Robin Dunbar who explains how the passage from groupings in the low tens to an order of 150 individuals on average allowed for the rise of tribal societies, it is most probable that the primitive instinctual mind gave rise to the emergence of self awareness at the moment of its intersection with a changing societal context. Such a changing societal context confronted the instinctual mind with something like a reflexion of itself in a mirror and that reflexion acted like an illumination in the mind at the end of a trance.
  2. Self awareness helped the individual to discover the principle of pleasure versus pain and the choice between them that is given to it by what is called human free will. Favoring pleasure while rejecting pain urges the individual to find a strategy to increase the probability of “feeling” pleasure over “feeling” pain. The experience of life over the long haul instilled the idea in the individual mind that knowledge is what helps the individual or his group to avoid pain and to tilt the balance toward pleasure. This is how knowledge acquisition was at long last established as a prime necessity within the human group or within society all over the world. 
  3. This principle of knowledge acquisition was already put in application by the brains of the earliest forms of life. The strategy to increase the probability of “feeling” pleasure over “feeling” pain was indeed at work in the brain without the individual particles having any consciousness of it happening. The fact is that our human body cells are multicellular eukaryotes that are outnumbered ten to one by bacteria (prokaryotes) mostly in the gut and that our cells are collaborating not only among themselves but also with the bacteria to reach a balanced state. The brain is visibly orchestrating the behavior of the individual so that such a state of balance is attained between cells and between cells and bacteria. The same kind of mechanism is shown by studies on the behavior of children that indicate that after stuffing themselves with sweets for some time they soon spontaneously inject substances that they normally abhor such as cod-liver oil or other. 
  4. With self awareness the same kind of balancing mechanism that earlier was available to the brain is now  made accessible to the mind of the individual that gets to chose, for example, between the feeling of pleasure over pain. It is the desire for pleasure and the desire to avoid pain that instills the idea in the mind of the individual that knowledge increases the probability to experience pleasure over pain. But it is the group, or society, that organizes a systematic process of knowledge formation. For this to possibly happen there must beforehand exist a communication and exchange of ideas and concepts between the individuals. Once more we observe that for something new to emerge its context must beforehand already contain all the ingredients necessary.

2.3.1. Societies and systems of knowledge formation

Among the ingredients for societies to engage in establishing systems of knowledge formation we saw earlier, in part 1, that the individuals must beforehand be able to communicate ideas and abstract concepts among themselves and we saw that this only happened after the human brain had evolved the Frontal Cortex which allowed for processing abstractions. Once humanity got the faculty to process language and abstract concepts it devised ways to groom and establish trust between larger number of individuals. This evolved the societal organization to a larger head count which after thousands of years of practice stabilized on the golden tribal number or Dunbar number. This was the moment knowledge formation was first systematized by human societies.

As we have seen knowledge formation resulted out of a given context that contained the combination of the right series of pre-existing ingredients:all forms of life have a computation engine (brain)
  1. the extension of the brain to the primitive mind to save energy
  2. the biological evolution of the brain to an advanced stage
  3. the emergence of self-awareness 
  4. the existence of language fosters the exchange of ideas – concepts between the individuals
  5. the individual desire to gain pleasure and to avoid pain
  6. the individual discovery that knowledge increases the probability to gain pleasure over pain
  7. the societal organization of a system of knowledge formation and its acquisition by the individuals

Societal knowledge formation and individual knowledge acquisition exploded the perception of the domain of reality. From being limited, to the field of vision of the eyes', reality suddenly expanded to abstractions from these visions by the mind. This process of observation and abstraction spread over tens of thousands of years and the observations addressed identical natural phenomena all over the world: day-night, female-male, earth-sky, weak-strong, hard-soft, black-white, sunshine-rain, fire-water, far-near, after-before, behind-ahead, brave-cowardly, bright-dull, cold-hot, cool-warm, fast-slow, fat-thin, good-bad, happy-sad, warm-cold, heavy-light, here-there, huge-small, live-dead, long-short, lost-found, never-always, old-new, old-young, open-close, past-present, push-pull, quiet-noisy, quick-slow, rise-fall, true-false, under-over, useless-useful, full-empty, part-whole, etc...

Some of these polarities played a more foundational role than others in the refining of a narrative. For example “useful versus useless” helped to select what really matters in life and it helped to frame the field of peoples' daily lives as what are the only really useful preoccupations. This was pragmatism at its best. Part and whole played an equal role and so pragmatism, on one side, positioned the individual as being a minuscule particle within the universe and his environment while on the other side simultaneously relating him to all the other particles within his environment and entertaining the idea in his mind that all particles are interdependent.

Knowledge formation by groups exploded the realm of the perceived reality by growing the distance between the observing individual and the field of his perception and so the path of perception expanded in the direction of the whole. But the farther the individual perception reaches the more abstract his observations are and the more detached they become from his daily life considerations. This is how complexification operates. Complexification grows a distance between what is the contained field of daily life pragmatism and what is an ever expanding field of exploration.

In other words pragmatism privileges the field of the known while complexity is attracted by the understanding of the unknown.

2.3.2. Knowledge formation and acquisition of knowledge

Societies established systems of knowledge formation which had to be followed up by knowledge acquisition by the individuals. This distinction between societal knowledge formation and individual knowledge acquisition is seen at work within all societies from the earliest to the latest. Knowledge acquisition, by trying to get a hold of the complexity gained in knowledge formation, is what expanded the realm of the individual's consciousness. Since the dawn of time knowledge formation was in the hands of the men of knowledge who then initiated the transmission of their knowledge to their fellow citizens.

In tribal societies and later under empires the men of knowledge initiated a limited number of apprentices, in  total secrecy, while spreading to all their fellow citizens a grand narrative of the diluted themes of the initiation. Under animism there was no distinction between different men of knowledge and each tribe had its own one. The men of knowledge nevertheless recognized some among then as being wiser than the others and they regularly recoursed to the advice of these sages.  With the advent of power societies the men of knowledge divided into ranks that classified the level of their knowledge. The system of knowledge centralized along the lines of power and the ranks of the men of knowledge largely followed the ranks established by the men of power.

Animism and the early imperial philosophies (Taoism and Buddhism) distinguished between 3 levels of knowledge:
  1. the common man to whom was transmitted a narrative by the men of knowledge through the practice of the arts: visual, music and dance.
  2. apprentices were selected by the established men of knowledge on the only base of them being  “naturals”. The apprentice was then initiated and later was eventually asked, by the members of a tribe whose man of knowledge had passed away, to officiate as their new man of knowledge.
  3. under animism the men of knowledge congregated regularly and sometimes recognized someone among their peers as a master from whom they took counsel. While a master man of knowledge, or a sage, is sometimes referred to there is no trace of an apprenticeship for such a mastership. When a reference to a master men of knowledge, or sage, pops up it addresses his brand of knowledge that relates more particularly to 'the whole' or how 'the whole' perceives its own reality as well as the reality of its constitutive particles. The animist practice of the master, or the sage, was perpetuated in Early Taoism and Early Buddhism and institutionalized later on with the spread of these philosophies as religions acting as tools of power.

Beliefs under power societies, including Buddhism and Taoism, divided their men of knowledge into ranks largely copied on the hierarchy of the men of power and their knowledge was segmented in different hierarchical levels. Each sect or branch had its own classification system. While I have spent some time trying to understand the knowledge classification of different sects I never felt interested to submit to the learning system of any particular one of them. I'm not interested to plunge in any system and imprison my mind. I don't believe knowledge possibly resides within a closed system. I feel that knowledge has to be open to new acquisitions and new systematizations. In other words knowledge has to be able to adapt to changing contexts and closed systems by definition don't tolerate deviations; they are meant to conserve the status-quo. Being an accumulation of 'knowings', transmitted over the generations within the boundaries of a worldview, knowledge naturally forms a body of knowings that assimilate to a system. The necessity of the system's adaptability to new ways of understanding imposes on a knowledge system, at the least, to be an open system that can integrate change.

Having said that, it seems to me, that an open system of knowledge formation should also take responsibility for any new knowing. What I mean by this is that knowledge has to submit to the precautionary principle that establishes the necessity of conformity to a series of foundational principles:
  1. a sub-set has to conform to the given of the set that contains it. In other words going against the given, of the bigger set that contain one's own sub-set, is antithetical to reality. It is going against the grain of the way of reality, or the way of nature or the Tao and can't but end in tears.
  2. new knowings have to submit to the precedence of the cycle of life over whatever individual or societal endeavor. This means that knowledge can't be let to hamper or destroy life in its present forms nor in its future manifestations. This was known to all societies as the necessity of precaution.
  3. new knowings must also generate outcomes that portend a more favorable context for the next generations. In other words it is immoral for one generation to pass on to future generations a context that would impose on them daily life conditions worse than the present ones. And it is particularly immoral to play dice today by adopting and spreading scientific discoveries that have not undergone the test of the precautionary principle. Regrettably this is the current immoral practice of Modernity that science unfortunately submits to.

To possibly satisfy this precautionary principle it is an imperative necessity that the different dimensions of knowledge are being integrated:
  1. a general systemic framework of what the whole of reality is all about and how the sub-set we live in integrates in that whole. Such a framework best identifies with the concept of worldview that I presented earlier and implies that a group of sages or master men of knowledge are in charge of its adaptation to an evolving context. It is important to remember that High-Modernity terminated the role of the men of knowledge while positioning everybody on the level playing field of the market for ideas where people with knowledge have to compete for eyeballs with all kinds of charlatans equipped with marketing techniques. This should have made easy to predict what would soon be the societal outcome but massification of the market pushed societies toward Late-Modernity. And what citizens in Late-Modernity discover is the great convergence of:   -  the “over-success” or better the excesses of Modernity that concludes in over-population, mass-consumerism, etc...      - the side-effects of Modernity: climate change, acidification of the oceans, erosion of the world's arable land,  pollution and chemical poisoning of air-water-food, etc…             So it is time that we came back to our senses but it is more probable, and this is the central thesis of “From Modernity to After-Modernity”, that collapsing societies will shrink population numbers and impose in the minds of the survivors a new worldview that is adapted to the new context. 
  2. a methodology like science, that approaches the study of the observable based on the principle of replicability of any new hypothesis, is put in application by a body of knowledge technicians also called scientists. The principle of replicability of any hypothesis that is at the core of the scientific method is certainly the greatest gift legated to humanity by Modernity. But the excesses of Modernity taught us that the financing of science can't be left in the hands of a group of interest. Financing or the decision making about what scientists should study has to conform to the principles stated in 1 and 3. 
  3. such a scientific methodology needs to be guided by a set of societal values, derived from the systemic framework referred in 1, among which the principle of precaution meant to preserve the cycle of life should take precedence. One other foundational principle of knowledge is that new knowings must generate outcomes that portend a more favorable context for the next generations.

Consciousness is the integration by the mind of knowledge the individual has acquired as well as all its implications for the individual particles, their societies, their species and all the other species, the system that contains them all the earth and its neighborhood, etc... To put this in perspective consciousness implies that the mind is able to emit a qualitative judgment about knowings and that once it has emitted such a qualitative judgment it is willing to argue about the wisdom of such knowings. In other words consciousness acts in the same way as the side-rails of a bridge. The rails protect the individual from falling into the abyss. Consciousness protects the individuals and their societies from falling out of the domain of systemic reality.

2.3.3. Expanded complexity

Knowledge exploded the domain of the perceived reality  and the realm of our perception expanded uninterruptedly. One would have hoped that this expansion  stayed within the bounds of systemic reality but there is never a guarantee of that being so. Modernity demonstrated without ambiguity that knowledge formation can easily move out of the domain of systemic reality with the consequences that we are left to deplore in Late-Modernity. So expanded complexity is not necessarily a paragon of life enhancement. In other words complexity is neutral, it is nor good nor bad, and so it can eventually take malignant forms. This is why increases in complexity have to be kept within the bounds of systemic reality and more particularly they have to be accommodated to the necessity of ensuring the reproduction of the individuals and their societies, for without societies the individuals die and without individuals species go extinct. In the last instance the role of complexity is to push life a little bit further on the arrow of time. Increasing complexity is thus a life strategy participating in whatever it is that life is meant to achieve:
  • higher forms of intelligence but what is the goal?
  • to complete the loop of consciousness from the whole to its particles and back in order to increase the infusion of consciousness throughout the universe?

This idea that the local particles try to get to grips with what the whole is all about has been a fundamental quest since humanity emerged in self awareness. Life would have never emerged if beforehand the context did not contain all the necessary ingredients. The arrow of time unmistakably indicates that the universe is on the course of a qualitative direction that has nothing to do with randomness. If randomness were the rule of the game mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc... would have no application but the fact is that they apply and indicate that the course of the universe is ordered by rules and so we are driven back to the question we started with about the trajectory of the principle of life.

It is impossible to miss that life comes with a computation engine which expands into a primitive instinctual mind that engages a process starting with self awareness and leading to ever increasing levels of consciousness that project ever increasing levels of complexity. This cycle of life builds a gradation towards always more. For sure it has to conciliate this drive towards always more with the need of reproduction but what jumps to mind is that it is 'this always more' that gives its direction to the arrow of time and one can't thus avoid to question why 'this always more' and what is the outcome of the cycle of life. Seen the role played by an ever increasing consciousness in this whole process it is impossible to ignore the fact that what this increasing consciousness is reaching for is the whole-set that contains us; in other words it is the universe itself or better it is the knowledge or the consciousness of the universe that it strives to attain. Now if the parts strive to reach the whole what about the whole?  Is it striving to reach its parts to enlighten them as it was the conviction of the animist men of knowledge?

The propensity of the mind of the human individual never to be satisfied and content with his condition was reinforced by the idea that knowledge increases the probability to gain pleasure over pain. Both, in unison, unleashed a never ending search for more knowledge that unleashed ever more complexity. The initial motivating idea was that knowledge increases the probability of experiencing pleasure over pain and it  resulted in increasing the levels of consciousness of the men of knowledge.

Under animism it also increased the daily well-being of the common man (pragmatism). Under power societies knowledge became a tool of the men of power to maintain their control over the institutions of power. With power societies the target of knowledge morphed but the complexity continued to increase unabated at the service of the individualism of the men of power and their men of knowledge servants. This morphing was further aggravated with the emergence and rise of Modernity which bound the formation of knowledge to the reason at work within capital.

While the target of knowledge morphed its nature adapted to these new targets.  We started initially with  the idea that knowledge increases the probability for men to gain pleasure over pain. The morphing of its target under power societies reduced that scope to the satisfaction of the individualism of the men of power and Modernity reduced it further to the mechanical reason at work within capital. In this historical process the nature of knowledge which originally was to increase the probability for men to gain pleasure over pain has morphed into a mechanical principal to satisfy an abstraction and, as we'll see further down, that abstraction is unleashing a wave of complexity that distances humanity ever further from the other dimensions of the cycle of life with all the consequences we start to observe in Late-Modernity.

 2.4.  'Increased Complexity' and ' Reproduction'

Reproduction is the primary factor at work in systemic reality. It concerns the reproduction of the individuals as well as the reproduction of their societal domain. If reproduction, for whatever reason, is not satisfied the consequence is very simple: the individuals die, their societies collapse, and the cycle of life of their species is eventually interrupted. Reproduction is the hard core first principle sustaining the systemic reality of the principle of life. There is no escaping it. In that sense it trumps increased complexity.

We just saw that in Modernity increased complexity has morphed under the action of the abstract mechanical principal at work within capital. As I stated here above that abstraction is unleashing a wave of complexity that detaches humanity from the other dimensions of the cycle of life and among them the necessity of reproduction that is the foundation of the systemic reality of life. The reproduction of a species originates in the reproduction of its individuals. But as we have seen the reproduction of the individuals is made feasible by their group or society and so the reproduction of societies appear to be the determinant factor in the reproduction of the individuals. The only logical conclusion from such a state of affairs is that Modernity is engaged in a one way street that has led humanity astray; far away from the cycle of life and as a consequence the collapse of modern societies appears the most likely outcome of Modernity.

But what are the dynamics, between the polarities of the principle of life - reproduction – increased complexity, indicating us?

Reproduction is the conservation principle in the cycle of life while increased complexity is the change principle that augurs of the possibility of advancing on the arrow of time. Reality is not staying still on the arrow of time. Through ups and downs it is evolving into more complex, more knowledgeable, more conscious and more beautiful forms. So reproduction and increased complexity are meant somehow to reconcile. But the evolution towards more “advanced” forms on the arrow of time does not mean that all forms make it that way. Many fall on the way-side and go extinct sanctioned by the principle of reproduction in the polarities of life. Those that succeed to reproduce:
  • or succeed to keep at past levels of complexity that are compatible with their reproduction
  • or are ensuring higher levels of complexity that are compatible with their reproduction and augur the possibility of a future qualitative leap forward in complexity

The dynamics between the polarities of the principle of life, reproduction and increased complexity, appear to be the determinant parameter in the evolution of life:
  • or as a form of life you pass the test of the polarities of life and you cycle further on the scale of time
  • or you don't pass the test and you go extinct.

The arrow of time contains the entirety of all evolutionary steps the principle of life went through. Now we have always to keep in mind that our DNA-RNA somehow contains the memory of life's evolutionary path. That means the memory of all forms that passed the test of the polarities of life as well as all forms that did not pass the test. This leads me to think that all the forms that passed the test appear as participating in patterns that are somehow discernible by our biology and the same can be said for the forms that did not pass the test. The patterns generated by successful evolutionary forms and those generated by unsuccessful forms constitute the information our biology, and computation engine, rely on in taking decisions relating to the preservation of the individual's life as well as their decisions when confronted to an evolutionary mutation. I can't stop thinking that these patterns representing successful evolutionary forms contain the substance of what humanity has been calling beauty since so long without ever being able to define what it exactly means. Now that implies that lines, forms, colors, sounds, smells, and so on… that we consider beautiful are somehow contained in the patterns of successful evolutionary forms while those that we consider ugly  are somehow contained in the patterns of unsuccessful evolutionary forms. These patterns being stored in our DNA-RNA serve as our brains' background memory informing it about what works (beauty) and what does not work (ugliness) within our systemic reality. Our brains or other biological mechanisms, in all logic, are thus able to distinguish between beauty and ugliness and this information is somehow made available to the primitive mind from where it reaches our subconscious at least in condensed form. I'll come back more exhaustively to this question later on in part 5 in which I'll concentrate on the arts.

Another question that pops up at this juncture is how can a species maintain the levels of complexity of its cycle of life at levels that are compatible with its reproduction? In other words what are the mechanisms at play that control that compatibility? I have been examining here the arrows in the cycle of life that on my graph of life are presented as the black arrows. It seems to me that the answer to this essential question resides in the dynamics of the blue and red arrows that I'll examine now.

2.5.  The brain and Increased Complexity

This chapter relates to the interactions between individual and species or:
  • the brain; the path to probabilistic computation
  • increased complexity; the path to the whole
As the graph of the cycle of life indicates these interactions are being mediated by societies but I will address that particular aspect later on in Chapter 4: Societal Governance.

A first possibility that the graph implies is that the level of increased complexity needs to be located within a probabilistic range that is computable by the brain in its existent context? If the level of complexity were out of the brain's computable range I suspect that the individual would end up being so confused and discouraged by the situation he lives in that he would lose any will or desire to reproduce in such particular context. Now this looks suspiciously close to what we start to observe nowadays in Western countries and in Japan in particular where young people seem to think, with good reason, that their future is clouded by:
  • or the side effects of Modernity: climate change, acidification of the oceans, peak resources, erosion of arable land, 6th mass extinction, pollution of air and water, etc…  “Nature Bats Last” the website of  Dr. Guy McPherson gives an apt illustration of this kind of discouragement and disillusionment.
  • or the perspective of a singularity caused by Artificial Intelligence that could put science and technology in the hands of robots eventually owned by a tiny oligarchy of capital holders who would have triumphed, in the capitalist class war, over the workers or executers of their orders. For an illustration of this see “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era” by James Barrat  or this interview on YouTube with the same James Barrat.

In such an environment it is understandable that a growing number of young people, and not only young people, would no longer feel the urge to continue reproducing and would even feel it is their moral duty to stop the chain of reproduction. Many scientists are starting to ring the bell on the real possibility of such a popular disaffection… but who listens?

A second possibility that the graph seems to imply is that the path to the whole emerging from the individuals' consciousness must be compatible with the probabilistic range that the brain can compute. What is implied here is more of a cultural gap between what the brain can compute as a possible path to the whole but that the mind can't fathom as acceptable any longer. This could also come to mean that the dream the mind generates about the path to the whole is not compatible any longer with the brain's computations. In other words we could be entering the age of a cultural shock between the dream of the mind that our computation engine and the systemic reality it relies on find incompatible.

This should not come as an overly strange hypothesis. It looks indeed strangely similar to what we observe happening in Western advanced societies: a disaffection with reality that is compensated by the virtuality promised by games or more generally by narratives. But a world based solely on narratives gradually supplies less and less goods and to hide the immensity of the lies these stories rely on they have to further and further detach from reality to keep the attention of the citizens. But then the elites who control the flow of lies are challenged by other elites who peddle their own narratives and so we enter into an unknown territory when all narratives become simply unbelievable. I think this is largely the condition the Western world has now reached in this phase of Late-Modernity. Nothing appears believable any longer and the citizenry has had enough of all the lies and trust in the institutions of power is at an all time low. What happens when the trust in the institutions of power and their political operatives is gone? The real decision makers, the capital holders, take what they think are the necessary measures to protect their interests and this invariably ends with the organization of false flag operations to instill irrational fear in peoples' minds to make palatable the promulgation of authoritarian answers to that fear. In Late-Modernity such authoritarian  answers mean, for example, the purchase of peoples' votes through the financing of necessarily onerous elections, the propagandizing of the news, the systematic spying on the citizen, the militarization of police and lastly the eradication of all services and social policies... and finally the citizens end up being naked, resourceless, and frightened. 

 2.6.  The Mind and Reproduction

A mind that acquires knowledge reaches a more complex understanding of reality and by the same token it is building a model of reality that integrates higher levels of complexity. The really interesting question here is if the mind will succeed to keep this rising complexity in check by confronting it to the systemic reality or if it will be taken for a ride in an abstraction of reality that detaches itself from the systemic reality?

To avoid any confusion let me restate that this systemic reality covers the system representing 'the whole' set that constitutes our universe. Within this set exist a multitude of sub-sets and each of them is being composed, in turn, by a myriad of sub-sub-sets. Each sub-sub-set is then further composed of sub-sub-sub-sets… and such a subsidiarization reaches to the domain of the microcosm. Our earth is such a sub-set and each living species is a sub-set of the set earth. In that sense we say that a sub-set is given a range of possibilities, and also a range of impossibilities, by the bigger sets it is a part of. This means that the domain of what is possible, for us humans for example, is something that is given or imposed to us by the bigger sets that contain us. Our freedom is thus forcibly limited to our acceptance that we are what we are; a small spec of animated matter, conscious eventually, but that is no more than a particle of something larger which itself is no more than a particle of something even larger.

There is no way to extract ourselves from our systemic reality. Life is the most sacred of principles inside that reality and life is regulated primarily by the principle of reproduction. Reproduction is the strong principle of life while complexity is its weak principle. Reproduction is strong for the simple reason that if reproduction does not occur life vanishes while complexity only affects the quality of life but not its existence.

The interrelation between the mind and reproduction is thus a matter of life and death. Life is all there is that counts and when life is gone all the rest appears as  being nothingness. If the mind of the individual loses trace of the necessity to reproduce then as a consequence his gene pool will be lost. Nature avoided this by equipping the particles of its sub-sub-sub-sets with instinctual mechanisms that trick them to search for pleasure and so reproduction was always realized without the individual knowing anything about it.

But with the rise of consciousness the mind started to take care of functions that were regulated instinctively in earlier stages of evolution. This is when the mind starts to reserve the power to chose between life and nothingness. It is at this point that we discover the importance of how the mind handles complexity. Will the mind be taken on a ride by an abstraction or will it succeed to confront complexity with the systemic reality. If it is taken on a ride it could end up wasting the gene pool of its body while if it confronts complexity with systemic reality it is going to preserve its gene pool. But this presentation is more theoretical than practical. The facts show indeed that for most individuals the mind absorbs all the positions contained in the societal culture of the day as well as the worldview of society at large and as a result the near entirety of the individuals follow the flock.

The culture and worldview are overwhelming the minds of the individuals. Citizens share similar ways of doing and thinking with the people they love and the other people around them but in Late-Modernity this kind of belief system and worldview have vanished from the societal scene and as a result their minds are dis-quietening, their levels of anxiety are increasing, and lastly the gluing of all citizens together, as a group as a society, is coming apart. Sociologists and politologists say that the sharing of a worldview is like gluing the minds of the citizens and such a gluing has the effect to solidify societal cohesion which means that societies reproduce far easier. The fact that citizens are coming unglued means that their societies lose their cohesion and are engaged on a path to collapse.

The interrelations between 'the Mind and Reproduction' illustrate the essential role of worldviews in the reproduction of the individuals and their societies. With the collapse, by the end of Early-Modernity, of the role of the men of knowledge worldviews started to fragment and by Late-Modernity worldviews have atomized. That's when every individual believes he knows better than any one else about anything. That's when men of knowledge, scientists, and believers are confronting each other for gaining eyeballs on the level playing field of the market for ideas.

Societal fragmentation and atomization are amongst the most salient characteristics of Late-Modernity. State institutions lost the trust of the citizenry and even the trust between citizens completely vanished. As a consequence morality crashed. Empathy and cooperation began to feel alien and the air of the times definitely stinks. In such a context nobody should be surprised that corruption reaches everywhere, that cheating is rampant, and that the lives of the poor, the marginal, are considered trivial even to the courts of law.

Late-Modernity brews an atmosphere of general suspicion and of pessimism that pushes every individual to retreat inside himself. Today, in 'the advanced West' the atomization of the worldview expands to people's daily lives. There is no historical precedent of such a kind of societal reality. Late-Modernity is the first example of a societal atomization. We already know some of its consequences as observed in the West: decreasing rates of marriage, increasing rates of single mothers, increasing rates of millennials well in their thirties who continue to live with their parents, decreasing populations, the flight from real life into the virtual, and a general loss of empathy for other human beings. A trend is shaping that does not bode well at all for the future!

2.7.   Consciousness and systemic reality

I have already mentioned the role of consciousness in the cycle of life. But the interplay between consciousness and systemic reality more fundamentally relates to how the individual positions himself inside reality.

Consciousness is an individual characteristic that results from the dance between the brain and the mind which are the polarities of the individual. Systemic reality is the global context wherein takes place the dance between reproduction and increased complexity which are the polarities of the principle of life. From this we can say that the conscious individuals are permanently testing the boundaries of systemic reality while adapting the levels of complexity to what systemic reality tolerates.

But we have seen that consciousness resides mostly in the minds of the men of knowledge while the large majority of citizens are subconsciously driven to follow the flock; so the men of knowledge are the ones who are really testing the boundaries of reality and history shows that they are ready to test these boundaries with the use of all kinds of hallucinogenic methods like the ingestion of mushrooms or plant mixtures that eventually bring them into a trance that illuminates their minds with the truth about the universal absolute reality.

But this brings us back to the observation that the men of knowledge vanished from the societal field sometime by the end of Early-Modernity (19th century?). What this implies is that, starting with High-Modernity and continuing in Late-Modernity, the boundaries of systemic reality are no longer being tested in 'advanced societies' with the direct consequence that the levels of increased complexity are no longer being adjusted to what reality can tolerate. In other words this could mean that increased complexity has shifted out of the domain of systemic reality. But this is putting things too mildly. The acceleration of change following the double revolution that a financialized globalization introduced in the 1970th, I mean:
  • the transfer of productions from advanced high wages countries to undeveloped low wage countries
  • technological development kept inside the advanced countries.
That double revolution, that was instigated by capital, boosted the rhythm of change to such levels that complexity increased exponentially, like mechanically, and within the span of  less than 3 decades the increased complexity had vastly flowed out of systemic reality. Let's illustrate this with a real life occurrence like Western obesity for example. 

Financialized globalization means that credit was used to pump up investments and total world levels of debts increased to reach over US$ 220 trillion by 2015 while the world's total GDP figures stand at US$78.28 trillion. This gives a ratio of world debt to world GDP of roughly 250% in 2015 but more interesting even is where this debt is concentrated. “In a comprehensive report on global indebtedness, economists at ING found that debt in developed economies amounted to $157 trillion, or 376% of their GDP. Emerging-market debt totaled $66.3 trillion at the end of last year, or 224% of their GDP.”(1) Such an exponential debt growth is unsustainable and total debt levels will have to be cleared. That means that we are going to experience a monetary reset that will liquidate the excessive levels of debts while destroying a good deal of the existing savings. This will plunge the world into a great depression from where the economic elites hope a new path to growth will emerge. But interestingly it is the developed economies that are going to feel the biggest pain. This could be considered a first example of an increased complexity that surpassed the absorption levels of the real economy. But this is not what I have in mind. The increase in credit I mentioned was largely ploughed in:
  • capital investments that resulted in new technologies, production automation, and a drastic fall of the prices of consumer goods that resulted in the largest consumption binge ever.
  • consumption credit to financially power that largest consumption binge in which the poorest of the poor were invited to indulge.
This exponential increase in debt was feeding both consumer demand and the production of goods. Wallmarts, Carrefours and other big box super stores ended up monopolizing the distribution sector competing to offer the lowest prices that appeared also to be affordable by all. This not only targeted white goods and other electronic gadgets. Food, the indispensable product, became the target of capital that nearly monopolized its production in large factory-farms and industrial transformation units. The subsidization of corn plantations by the US federal government resulted in extremely cheap corn that agro-industries converted in their raw material of choice from which they extracted purified substances that entered the entire food chain and then the bodies of Western citizens in the form of fast foods, soft drinks, pre-cooked meals, snacks, etc… Instantaneously the rates of obesity shot up. The same happens in countries that started to import these industrial foods at a later date. Their rates of obesity and diabetes went up dramatically. Obesity is indeed often accompanied by sicknesses like diabetes and both reach epidemic proportions. The costs to treat these epidemics are staggering but governments and industrial lobbies do all they can to hide the responsibility of corn based extracts. Scientists nevertheless concur that all this corn chemistry is playing a determinant role in spreading these new epidemics. Involved in the process are the financial industry that issued the loans to manufacturers and consumers, the state institutions that subsidize agricultural production, the farm lobby, the export lobby, the chemical and agro-industries that refine and manufacture these industrial foods, and finally the distributors. A lot is at stake in term of employment, invested capital, and the system that is in place can not be removed with a magic stick nor replaced by a friendlier one. There is none other existing! It will take a lot of time for Western populations to eventually be served healthier foods.

This example of food production in the West illustrates how increased complexity can easily put humanity on a one way path that systemic reality sanctions with sickness and death. This also suggests that societies avoid the recourse to the precautionary principle at their own risks and perils. Other examples could have indicated that the risk imposed on us is a lot higher with societal collapse as an outcome and possibly the extinction of the human species. Climate change is the best known such example.

It is often in times of extreme urgency that humanity discovers where it went astray. The interplay between consciousness and systemic reality indicates without any possible doubt that the introduction of increased complexity in our societal systems has to be checked for its absorbability by humanity. And if for whatever reason humanity can't exercise this precautionary principle our systemic reality will take care of it by punishing us. There is no escape route from systemic reality. It may leave us in the illusion for a certain time that we can do this or that but in the end it always comes back to re-balance any excess we may have engendered. Before High-Modernity change was operating at a slower pace and the levels of increased complexity were better manageable so the risks of divorcing consciousness-complexity from systemic reality were less likely. But this did nevertheless not spare some societies and most civilizations from the deadly consequences of an in-balance that resulted in their collapse.

So the question that should keep us awake is the following. What kind of mechanism has to be put in place, and at what level, so as to avoid a divorce between  consciousness-complexity and systemic reality?

It seems to me that the answer lays partially in  what I wrote in “2.3.2. Knowledge formation and acquisition of knowledge”:
  • knowledge has to submit to the precautionary principle that establishes the necessity of conformity to a series of foundational principles.
  • to possibly satisfy this precautionary principle it is an imperative necessity that the different dimensions of knowledge are being integrated.

I think this gives us a general framework to understand how things work but it does not answer the question how to apply such an understanding in daily life. We know from the get go that this can't be left to the domain of personal responsibility. To gain wide traction it should be put in execution by societies. But under what kind of a societal mechanism? This will constitute the substance of part 4 of this series of posts.

2.8.   Conservation and change

This is the best known pair of opposites in politics; conservation (conservatism) versus change (progress) and as with all opposites they vie to fight it out to the death of one of the sides.

But reality is at once more subtle and more complex.

The interactions between conservation and change mirror the interactions between reproduction and increased complexity.

The principle of conservation is meant to ensure the necessity of reproduction, for, as I wrote in “2.4. Increased complexity and reproduction”: “If reproduction, for whatever reason, is not satisfied the consequence is very simple: the individuals die, their societies collapse, and the cycle of life of their species is eventually interrupted”. So we could say that the principle of conservation is a necessary societal attitude to ensure individual and societal reproduction.

The principle of change is meant to ensure the need of the set 'universe' for more complexity. The injection of complexity in life, and more particularly in the systems that sustain and ensure the reproduction of life, is what pushes life qualitatively further down the arrow of life. Complexity enriches. It adds new layers of substance over the original. In life complexity adds new layers to the brain that multiply its computational power which allow a species to enrich its communication systems and refine its societal organization. In other words we could say that the thirst for change is a societal attitude that ensures higher levels of societal organization which favors increases in individual consciousness.

Conservation and change in no way destroy each other. They represent 2 principles that are necessary to the cycle of life. Conservation is nevertheless the stronger one of them because it ensures the reproduction of life without which a species disappears. While necessary increased complexity does not embody the same urgent necessity as conservation. Life can do without or with low levels of increased complexity. The sole consequence would be to reduce the speed of change or eventually to bring societies to a standstill which is not mortal.

The ideal levels of conservation and change would be a combination that, for one, ensures the reproduction of the individuals and their societies within the boundaries of the lowest conservation denominator while allowing the highest increases of complexity pushing societies on a fast lane of change within the boundaries of what the individuals and their societies can safely live with. Such a balancing act is a matter of societal organization. But history shows that such a balancing act was most often realized by maximizing conservation and limiting change at the prize of slow motion societal change. Perhaps such a prize is necessary to ensure the reproduction of societies over the very long haul. Tribal societies were in extreme conservation mode. The societal was all there was while individualism was inexistent and as a consequence the tribal mode of society resisted for some one hundred thousand years. The longest surviving civilization, the Chinese, largely continued on the same path with extremely limited place for change and survived for some 5000 years till this very day. The little change that was allowed started a very slow evolution in societal arrangements and when China was confronted to, still primitive but individualist and adventurous, Europeans the consequence of such a slow change was to paralyze the Chinese in their resistance and as a result China was at a loss and suffered a few centuries of humiliation.

I'll elaborate more extensively on the mediating role of societies in part 4.


1. “Number of the Week: Total World Debt Load at 313% of GDP ” by Sudeep Reddy in The Wall Street Journal. May 11 2013.

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