"Nothing is permanent but change" - Heraclitus
I see patterns.
This work may only end up being about a pattern that I see, and this worries me somewhat because seeing patterns that do no exist is a strong indicator of schizophrenia. But the thing is ...it's such a big pattern! The more I examine it, the more it makes sense, the more it can be seen it in every aspect of hummanity. Ultimately my self diagnosed mental illness will rest on whether you can see the pattern, and that will depend on whether or not I can explain it adequately.
The pattern concerns how individuals make decisions, and how these very same factors affect how groups make decisions. When talking about the decision making process in a person, the philosophical debate usually centers around issues of free will or determinism. The psychologist could bring up the unconscious or talk about base motivations, attachment styles or any other myriad of explanations from developmental theory. There will also be issues of gender difference, cultural factors, and demographics of age and economic capacity. In groups, these factors boil down to a discussion of Left-wing and Right-wing positions, the progressive liberal, or the conservative stoic. Politics in the broader sense refers to positions of ideology often in conflict, but nevertheless tempered by the practicality of compromise, deal making and group unity. Where in all these factors could there possibily be a pattern?
Perhaps the best place to start is with a koan:
...how is it that person can understand themselves, if the thing they are understanding is also that which does the work of understanding?
A koan is a piece of logic that on the surface appears contradictory, but which through the process of examination is said to bring about enlightenment. For instance, the quote from Heraclitus above "nothing is permanent but change" is an example of paradoxical logic. With a koan, it is not about ending up with a resolution to the paradox, it's about the process of finding that there is no resolution, and being ok with that. To make a recursive point, the answer to a koan is realising there is no answer.
What is this thing called the "self"? Usually people will insist that the self they understand, their own self, is an unchanging sense of identity, set up from birth or during childhood, and residing inside of them. All of which is crap of course, because psychology can point to numerous examples of external cues that can greatly influence a persons self, infact the vast sums of money spent on advertising is based on this premise. It's also possible to show how the self can change markedly over a long period of time or as a result of traumatic events. Consider the effect of a near death experience or learning that you have cancer. In addition, more contempory debate on the roles of nature or nuture now talks about the interactive effect of both genetic and environmental factors in shaping us. So the the original assertion about an "unchanging sense of identity, set up from birth or during childhood, and residing inside" just simply will not hold up.
As an analogy, the self is like standing between two mirrors, where you can see a reflection of yourself extending back to a point of singularity. When you stand still, this point is still and can be positioned in an absolute sense. This is kind of what the self is like, it appears to be a static end-point on an infinite horizon, however it is determined ultimately by the position of the observer. The problem is that the observer is also the subject of observation. The self is an illusion of our ideas and beliefs reflected in the outside world, ...reflected in other people.
However, the self can still be understood as the component through which a person makes decisions. For this work then, the definition attached to the "self" is that it is a process through which we make decisions. It is not a thing in the mind, but rather a function of concsiousness. A function that appears to change over time, and which is impacted upon by external events. But nevertheless, a function that is all about recieving data about the world, organising this into meaningfull information, building representational maps or schemas of the world, and then working out how best to intereact with this external world. So the self is collecting information, organising it for later use, and then using it to make decisions.
So, how does a "self" understand itself? This is a recursive problem, which means that any explanation of decision making is going to be biased somewhat because of the decision making process itself. It is apon this contradiction that the first half of the book is built. My intention is to help you step aside from the biases of the self through an examination of areas associated with how people make decisions. The work being done here is really about moving off to the side of your ego a bit, in order to examine decision making. What's required, as always, is a small modicum of curiosity.
This is a conglomerate theory that begins with a look at communication, and how it is connected to a theory of concsiousness outlined by Clare Graves, a theory that predates and predicts the current developments in the world, and which resonates with Marshall McLuhans line that "the medium is the message", two independent yet connected prophecies born out by the age of the internet.
Somewhere in the middle of this work, we take a look through the broad lens of history, and use an original pedagogical tool which shows the different ways that groups make decisions. This analysis is broken down into a 3x3 matrix of decision making mechanisms, and which is explained alongside the evolutionary factors that helped to shaped these institutions.
The pattern is then revealed in full, a pattern that connects the "self" of an individual with the organisational structures of the group. Here we look at chaos theory, or non-linear dynamical systems theory, and how it is juxtaposed against the linear (cause and effect) limitiation of mainstream scientific thought. The central thesis examines how the self is said to be "self-emergent" from dynamical system which consists of overlapping and interacting positive and negative feedback loops.
Referencing material from contemporary authors in psychology, most notably the work of Louis Cozolino, the first feedback structure is described as an explosive ("positive") feedback loop connected with the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (ANS), commonly known as the "fight or flight" response. As a permeated field of lived knowledge, this feedback loop is connected to amygdala function, and can be viewed as an emotional organisation of experience. Working like an index of possible actions, these emotional schemas of understanding about the world are quick to action and resistent to change from new information.
The other structure through which experience is organised, is based on the balancing functions of the parasympathetic ANS, a so called "negative" feedback loop. This aspect of decision making is connected to the operations of the pre-frontal cortex, the centres of executive reasoning, abstraction and concept. This parasympathetic system tends to be more maleable with the addition of new information, and is also the central domain of long term planning.
Neither one is better than the other. Neither can function without the other, and often the illusion a person has is that they are interpreted as the same process. Emotional organisation of experience dressed up as concept, where some one knows "because they just know!". And alternatively, where a set of abstract concepts seem to "feel" correct.
They appear to be independently evolved, with the amygdala being common to all mammals and the greatly enlarged pre-frontal cortex a feature human development. It's almost like nature had a good idea with mammals and decided to replicate it. Whilst appearing to be independent, these two systems are so fundamentally connected, that seperation is not possible. The best word to describe them is interdependent, and the most usefull set of terms to draw on comes from chaos theory. Here we glimse the pattern, because the aspects of the sympathetic resonate strongly with the basic operations of right wing conservative politics, whilst the parasympathetic seems to be concordant with left wing liberal politics. At a superficial level this appears only as a correlation of concepts, but it may also be something that can be measured as a fractal.
The central thesis is that the individual is fundamentally connected to the group by way of a dynamical (chaotic) system, where the organisation at one level is fractally self similar to the organisation at another. Like zooming in on the edges of a Mandelbrot set, there are patterns that reoccur here, patterns that suggest a much bigger framework which has only been glimpsed at before now. This is a grand theory of consciousness, which suggests an underlying set of parameters. A theory with metrics that could be derived mathematical. A theory of concepts that can be subjected to evidence gathering. And a theory which is ultimately falsifiable.
However, the purpose of this work is to facilitate a witnessing of the self as part of a much bigger interconnected system, to show the possibilities of better decision making when egoic attachment is understood, but not in control of, the decision making process. And here's one more koan for good measure, by letting go of the attachments around decision making, we may be able to make better decisions.