Overview: Project Themes
What is real?
For at least hundreds of thousands of years, we living creatures have found meaningful, if radically differing, ways of being.
The sense of the real — in actuality, its meaning — is correlated with happenstance. Patterns of relationships among particulars of our lives inform a social sense of belonging.
Factors of location, available resources, heredity, social groupings, biographical details and so on provide the sense of who and what a person is. Or they may convey the contrary measure of relational dysfunction, alienation.
Each person starts their life in infancy. There, each must figure out relations between things and learn to anticipate what may happen next. The first patterns of implication for a child to work out are simple basics of reaching for desirable objects, of walking, step by step to arrive at a goal, of holding on to what is desirable. Attention to such basics focuses on fundamental, linearly direct relations between things and locations.
In the table Manifest Orders, below, such elementary focus is labeled M1 relational. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget termed the earliest phase of childhood development, where such focus is first tried and tested, the sensorimotor stage. This phase of development is from birth until about age two. One might think that, once it ends, such childish things are put aside and discarded for more formidable doings.
But later skills are built from abilities that already have been learned. Once reliably made into habits, M1 attentional abilities are further enlarged to become basis for, and behavioral factors of, more complex possibilities, such as working with the possible interplay of several items at once. These more demanding scenarios are first encountered in what Piaget terms the preoperational stage, which occupies the years from about two until seven. There, usually among children at play, a more complex field of interactions opens attentional focus onto the need to keep track of several different items engaged at the same time. Such M2 surface contextual schemas are cognitively constructed from combinations of multiply understood M1 relational implications.
In Piaget’s concrete operational stage, from about seven to eleven years old, a person begins to develop the still more complex M3 depth contextual attentional focus that is adequate to articulate scenarios of concrete objects, their qualities and characteristics and the interplaying logics of their behaviors. And from age twelve on, according to Piaget, a person engages situations at the formal operational stage where they attentionally focus and learn to construe M4 causal actual circumstances. There, also, abstract thinking first begins to enlarge prospects of greater possibilities than are afforded in mere concrete actuality.
But, beyond Piaget’s scheme, in terms of Manifest Orders, we find that experience anchored at M4 often engages with entities that are more complex than merely passive concrete objects. Some entities are adaptive and can even respond in startling ways to changes and challenges.
M5 causal adaptive is the next more complex attentional focus whereby one anticipates responsively adaptive behaviors of entities that range from algorithmically cybernetic computers to plants, animals and automated offices.
And because most animals, especially humans, seem to have repertoires of intentional responses, at M6 individual situational, one focuses upon their likely scenarios of behavior, even to try signaling (communication) to find some common ground of action at a mutually accommodating M7 social situational consensus.
And where social liaisons occur, there too arise the prospects of M8 collaboration. Fruits of such communal efforts eventually find validation and verification in M9 metaphysical reasoning among societies of specialized thinkers, various kinds of philosophers, who deliberate which collaborative solutions to life’s challenges seem most coherently reliable.
As used herein, meaningfulness is the meta-prospect of any kind of relationship at all, including its seeming lack. Meaningfulness conveys a rich potential for construing connections and associations among items given in some circumstance. Meaningfulness relies upon an underlying grasp of organic structure. It gauges the wholly-appropriate fitness of part-to-part-within-whole that characterizes integrity.
Individual meanings may vary within associated patterns of incidentals, but meaningfulness, comprehensively, is a symptom, an aura of harmonized fit, of belonging, within some context — or not. Individuals initially learn patterns of attentiveness from their cultural context, then later influence those patterns as they communicate experiences with others during the course of their lives.
Over generations, cultural notions of “common sense” grow and adapt organically from attentive contributions of individuals active within community life of a group. Early nomads, because they comprise individuals operating at common attentional level M1, make up early C1 social cultures. By the Neolithic agricultural revolution cultures had socialized more complex M2 attentional behaviors into C2 cultural interactions. And in turns, as seen in the table Cultural Orders of Pragmatic Paradigm, below, human cultures later gradually emerged at C3 and C4 orders of inter-relational complexity. The C4 paradigm, though often challenged by voices from earlier still-lingering modes, operates largely through a common sense notion of causal determinism wherein everything is presumed to be understood in terms of mechanical causation that predictably operates through linear time.
But advanced physics of the early twentieth century encountered problems with such simple mechanical models of explanation. Increasingly, ordinary experiences have been found far more complex and fraught with prospective ambiguity than any C4 reductionist model has been able to convincingly articulate. Experience, being both context and vehicle of any model of explanation, attentionally engages adaptive responsiveness at least at M5. Western culture now opens to a C5 paradigm of cybernetic accommodation to dynamic, often recursive circumstances.
In the negative instance of meaningfulness, it seems, we now pay the piper for centuries of exclusively reductionist C4 Western thinking. An atomized anti-meaningfulness haunts our kaleidoscopic contemporary world, where a new era now unfolds into more complex and disruptive cybernetic prospect.
Many suffer other-reality in vain and seemingly pointless mirrorings of divergent media-fueled fantasies where even the tried-and-true notion of fact often seems suspect. To animate staged radio talk confrontations, rudderless and unanchored selves flail in a media-borne sea of schizo-tribalistic opinion. In this hall of electric mirrors, little seems relevant until displayed on, or shouted from, some virtual media platform.
In schizo-tribalism, unique specifics of a person’s life can seem feeble and unrelated, divorced from any sort of organic belonging until bathed in ersatz validation such as conferred by reality TV or postings on Instagram or Snapchat. The core crises of contemporary C5 cultural sensibilities are schooled in concerts of anti-meaningfulness to then reek of existential un-belonging.
Communi -ty depends upon -cation
Cultures depend upon human communication. They emerge amid communal transactions that happen via age-old, still evolving, sets of transactional media (See the Table of Cultural Evolution of Pragmatic Paradigm, below). Such media may dominate, shape and facilitate an era by favoring specific tendencies of concerted action within social groups.
Individuals always have communicated intentions to others. Such signification is essential to the cooperative work that underpins any vital culture. But each communications medium exhibits specific properties that peculiarly characterize and skew (a la Marshall McLuhan) potential meanings that guide scenarios of cooperation, tool making, commerce, resolution of conflict, and all other factors of collective life.
Enhanced and more fluent media technologies facilitate ever more complex orchestrations of joint endeavor. And they foster each next emergent plateau of cultural accomplishment. But at each plateau, their expressive capacities and characteristics infect and shape the so-called "spirit of the age". And so, the cultural process flows on.
Promise or threat of a new era?
Now we find that cultural fount gushing prospect of a rendingly novel, communications-borne potential: artificially augmented pluripotency.
Nanobiotech, in concert with artificial general intelligence (AGI), promises to revolutionize what heretofore has been the essentially personal and private character of attentiveness. Interplay of powerful technologically-endowed cognitive facilities bodes prospect of a multi-sourced, transhuman, digitally-architected, subjectively unrooted, prosthetic type of pluripotency. Such artificial endowments will confer abilities above and beyond any natural prowess, particularly among privileged enclaves of human power groups. Their threat lies in the specter of an unprincipled rootlessness underlying their debut, liable to exacerbate existential crises already woven-in among current Western C4 cultural manifestations that now build toward C5 social holarchies.
Part of a widely anticipated onset of technological Singularity, this rapidly approaching collective convulsion very likely will prove to be exceptionally disruptive. And such wrenching disruption historically has engendered crisis in civilization itself.
Advances of technology, along with enhanced understandings of biology and emergent systems, will rouse a new order of attentive competence unattainable to any that lack appropriate technological augmentation. The greater part of living humanity could be relegated to a taxonomic out-caste, becoming mere Vox Animalia — protesting animal voices.
Able to wield multiple streams of thought in common with other artificially pluripotent beings, orchestrated via artificial intelligence systems, such transhumans will know multi-layered concerts of conceptualization and expression, along with multi-focal attentiveness. Will they choose recklessly or well? In benevolence or with indifference? Will their aspirations seek to further organic wholesomeness, cultural integrity, or will they incite new levels of rootless existential anguish?
It is possible, in the case of some more harmonious rendition, that we might approach a profoundly benign cultural threshold, as given in Hermann Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game). But, conversely, if wholly divorced from any sense of of organic belonging, sentient life likely will veer into never-ending and virtually-recursing nightmare. Our choices pivot on how we make sense of living on this planet, in this cosmos. Truly, future reality will be whatever we think it is.
Cultures, in symbiotic synchrony with emergent individual potentials, gradually have evolved from primordial sentience into ever more convolved and capable orders. They tend to emerge with novel architectures of enlarged and habituated communal sensibility — despite unfortunate occasions of failure into cultural atavism.
Featuring a notation built upon and evocative of that of the personal Manifest Orders, the Table of Cultural Orders of Pragmatic Paradigm, below, summarizes stages emergent from an interplay of individual sensibilities within and across social groups. Guided by particular and peculiar properties of communications media that happen to dominate an era, such interplay of transactions has driven, slow, if erratic, evolution of cultural potentials up through the ages.
Now, as globally we build C5, also we set in motion behavioral vectors that subsequently will guide emergence of C6.
Karma. It happens. And, seemingly, ever more rapidly
Derivation and discussion of the tables Manifest and Cultural Orders, below, can be found in two essays:
"Evolution of the pragmatic paradigm: The agency of graphic media in cognitive development"
"A Fractal Model of Self and Culture: Imagining World Qualification"
C6 ? ? ?