Friday, 30 July 2010

Disassembling the network of assumptive implication (or how to make life easier)

How to disassemble or deconstruct the “network of meaning” surrounding a given stuck situation.

We live inside a network of “assumptive implication”, what we could call a “network of meaning”. In this network of meaning, any given thought is associated via a “this means” or “this implies” relationship with other thoughts. ThoughtA implies or means ThoughtB, B implies or means C, C implies or means D, etcetera, etecetra, ad infinitum. I have written in A->B, B->C, C->D in the previous sentence but there are also of course multiple cross linkages. A implies B, C, D, E, etc. and B implies D,F,H, etc. and C implies A,G,K etc. This set of thoughts together with their linking relationships forms something like a network or a web. This web or network is what I am referring to when I say we live inside a “network of meaning” or a “network of assumptive implication.” Any given issue or problem or stuck situation that we are working on could be said to be EMBEDDED inside such a network of meaning / network of assumptive implication.

The reason I am calling it ASSUMPTIVE implication is because ordinarily the relationship A means B NEVER GETS CHALLENGED. Although it may be a more or less reasonable assertion that A means B (maybe A REALLY DOES mean B), the fact that in our initial way of thinking A simply DOES mean B and it does so without question, means that the validity of the assertion is not open to being tested. Because of this we are unable to see any possible view of the world in which A does not mean B, and so we are prevented from being able to see all the many possible alternative ways of seeing the problem we are working on, and restricted to only being able to see the problem in ONE FIXED WAY (one fixed and quite probably rather restricted way). Could we allow ourselves to consider the possibility that: Actually A does not necessarily imply B – could that be possible? Actually B does not necessarily imply C – could that be possible? Actually C does not necessarily imply D – could that be possible?

In other words, it may be worth considering the possibility that we are blind to the assumptions that are embedded in our structure of implication. These A means B assumptions are so habitual that we barely even notice them. They are like "water for the fish". The structure of meaning that we are swimming in is so natural to us that the possibility that there could be other ways of putting this network of thoughts together, the idea that there might be new thoughts that could be added to the network that could have a transformational impact, is almost impossible to see any validity in.

We tend to think that we are thinking earnestly about the problems we are trying to grapple with, but our patterns of "thinking" are so transparent to ourselves, so habitual, that very often we do not even hear ourselves thinking some of the thoughts that are fundamentally shaping the way the world is appearing to us. From the perspective of our experience we don't even think that the brush off by the girl we fancy MEANS we're deluded about our chances. We simply experience the consequences (eg. the emotional state) that result from never doubting the absolute fact of that being the truth.

For example: I want to by a car, but I don’t have any money to do so. Not having any money MEANS I cannot buy the car I want to buy. So now we stop for a moment and isolate the first clause (thought) from the second clause (thought). The first clause (A) is: “I don’t have any money” The second clause (B) is: “I cannot buy a car” Lets imagine that without my ever questioning this, in my network of assumptive implication, I take it for granted that A means B. However does A really mean B? Possibly it doesn’t. Possibly I could borrow some money. In fact in many places car salesmen are so keen to sell cars that they can arrange finance agreements to pay for the cars they are selling.

The point of this example is not whether it’s good financial sense for me to buy a car or not buy a car, nor which one, nor how to pay for it, the point is that a SINGLE STRAND within a network of assumptive implication (network of meaning), when pushed on even just a little bit turns out to be less fixed than it was being assumed to be. It turns out that A does not necessarily mean B, but I have been assuming that A does mean B without even noticing that I was making that assumption. Inside of my web of meaning, my network of assumptive implication, it is so obvious that A means B, that it never even occurs to me that this is something that is open to question.

So if we were to take every relationship strand in my network, every Thought1 means Thought2 etc. and start to open up the possibility that Thought1 does not mean Thought2, all kinds of actions that I was hitherto blind to start to become apparent.

The network of meaning that the problem I am working on is embedded in can start to be seen for what it is. What becomes apparent is that I haven’t actually been working on the problem I thought I was working on at all. I have largely been unable to work on the real problem because of all the constraints imposed on me by the network of meaning through which I have been viewing myself and the circumstances of the problem.

What is needed therefore, is a methodology by which we can start to disassemble or deconstruct this web of meaning that we as individuals and groups and communities have in place, and hold outside of the realm of being open to question so far that we can’t even see it as being a matter of our own assumption. (Instead we imbue the world out there as being constructed in that way.)

What would such a methodology look like? How can we start to pull apart this network of meaning?

The first step is to ISOLATE the thoughts that go to make up clauses A and B.

We constantly fail to notice that A does not necessarily mean B in part because we are not even noticing that we are thinking A and B. So the first step to deconstructing the network of meaning, is to identify and isolate the thoughts that we are having. Which thoughts should we isolate in this way? I would recommend to start out by taking any thought that comes. The isolation of some thoughts may have more impact than others, but which thoughts are going to provide the most new freedom of action is not easy to predict ahead of going through the process. Some thoughts that appear to be empowering, such thoughts as those we think of as “good thoughts”, may turn out to be restricting our actions in ways we had never appreciated. “I’m a kind and loving person”, may turn out to MEAN, “I can under no circumstances ever get angry, even when I get a ridiculous speeding ticket for doing 31 mph in a 30 zone”. Again please don’t get hooked by my examples. I’m not advocating either getting angry or not getting angry. Neither of these. What I am advocating is that where we are having a problem with something, we could start to deconstruct the network of meaning inside which the problem is embedded.

The “this MEANS that” relationship has become so hard wired in our thinking processes that we are failing to even notice that it is happening, that it is shaping the view we have of any given problem, and that consequentially it is constraining any possible action we can see that we could take about that problem or project.

The isolation of this entire collection of thoughts allows us to start to disassemble this “NETWORK OF MEANING”. The validity of any A means B relationship can in this way be easily challenged, and re-evaluated so as to be much more rigorously tested and reliable, rather than this whole set of meaning relationships going passed us as though they could not possibly be untrue.

Here are some more examples of A Means B type thought relationships:

If I try to stop taking my anti-depressant drugs and then decide I can’t cope without them, that MEANS I’m a failure. If I take an exam and get a bad mark, that MEANS I’m stupid and I’m never going to amount to anything. If I try to chat up a girl and she brushes me off disdainfully, that MEANS I’m not attractive (or it MEANS she’s a bitch, or it MEANS I forgot to put on deodorant etcetra, etcetra) Incidentally, for some men being brushed off disdainfully MEANS “game on”… and I’m not advocating that meaning either!

In each of these examples there are only 2 thoughts connected together by a “MEANS relationship”, but in our thinking process there is a whole NETWORK of thoughts which are connected together in all directions in this same way. When we get to work on a problem in our lives, it is initially EMBEDDED inside a whole network of assumed A MEANS B relationships (where A and B are two thoughts which in fact don’t necessarily have an A MEANS B relationship).

Sometimes implications may be more or less valid. But many implications may in fact be not at all valid. By isolating thought A and thought B and C, D, E, F etc, it allows us to uncover the whole network of assumed meaning that we have not previously been even questioning the validity of.

In this way we become able to DISASSEMBLE THE ENTIRE NETWORK OF MEANING inside of which a problem is EMBEDDED.

The accomplishment of this process allows for unprecedented freedoms to take actions that we have previously been completely blind to the possibility of.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Learning to speak for ourselves and protecting the testimony of others

A couple of weeks ago I went to baptism by the sea being conducted by a local Christian group. I was very kindly invited by some neighbours who are members of the group and lovely people. It was mostly a pleasant enough event. After the singing and the testimonials and the dunking in the sea there was a barbecue. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the people were friendly and some were even charming.

During the testimonial section of the proceedings, where the new converts described how they had come to their decision to make their “commitment” to Jesus and so on, I found the situation slightly disturbing and went for a little walk down the beach. I came back in time for the dunking, which was fun.

I’m not entirely sure exactly what made me want to take my little time out from the proceedings during the testimonials. I think it had something to do with the interjection from one of the Christian group’s leaders in between each of the converts who were telling their stories. The testimonials of the new converts seemed to be fair enough, but the process whereby in between each testimonial this leader from the Christian group commented on what the person had said, and what it signified, as though the convert’s testimony was not sufficient to stand by itself seemed to be discourteous. I suppose I found that commentary discourteous to the courage that it clearly took for the converts to tell their stories and declare their commitment. Of course sharing in a communion, sharing in a fellowship is important. But I wonder if we don't need to be more careful when it comes to guarding and protecting the testimony of the fellows in our fellowship.

To understand how I feel about this, you probably need to know some background.

My interest in religious and spiritual practice stems from a commitment to find common ground across all faiths or absences of faith in our (us human being’s) relationship with the eternal. As I see it, we all have a relationship with the eternal. That is to say, we all have a relationship with everything, with the universe, or the multiverse, or (G)god, or all time and all space, or The Mystery or whatever you want to call that space. We all have a relationship with everything-nothing. Whatever you want to call that thing or non-thing that we are all a part of, we all have a relationship with it. How could we not?

Not only do we all have an individual relationship with it, but we also all have a collective relationship with it. In our relationships with those we are closest too, in our families, in our community groups, with our friends and relations and neighbours, and with our colleagues at work. All of us in all of our inter-relationships also have a collective relationship with this eternal mystery, the origin of all, the open unfathomable unanswerable question.

Many of us may not care that we have a relationship with the eternal, and I think that is fine. As we grow older we may come to care more, and I think that is fine too.

Ultimately I think it is ALL FINE… and for me that is sort of the point. From the perspective of everything-nothing, from the perspective of all of it, from the perspective of the universe/multiverse, from the perspective of the totality, from the perspective of all time and all space… from that perspective how any of us come to make our peace with our relationship with all of it is not a problem. God is not suffering worrying that some of us don’t love her. In fact I expect she finds it amusing if not entertaining. We are not a problem for (G)god. We are a part of all of it. We are the set of atoms and molecules that she put in the place occupied by our body. We are the network of conversations and interrelationships that we are embedded in. How could she possibly have a problem with us? We are this particular part of everything.

And from our own point of view, it is not as though there is any problem with being a part of everything either. Besides anything else there isn’t an alternative. We are a part of all of it, whether we like being that or don’t like it. Some of us may not like it, but that is alright too. Things are how they are, man! (Wink.)

Actually there is ONE alternative that I can see to being a part of everything, and that is BEING EVERYTHING. Or to say that same thing in a slightly different way, the alternative to being a part of everything, is to be God. Now for most of us, becoming God any time soon is not a realistic career path. And it is for this reason that I think that we human beings need to reconcile ourselves with being a part of everything and reconcile ourselves with not being God. Because that is what we are. And that is what we are not.

So the summary version of everything I just said is that there is no problem with our relationship with the eternal. There isn’t anything that needs to be “done about it”. The notion that human kind has “fallen” from a state of grace and that we became sinful when originally we weren’t is completely contrary to all the evidence. All the evidence points to human beings climbing gradually upwards along the slow path of evolution from the slime of the primordial soup to the barbarisms of our human history to the condition that we find ourselves in today. Today we still perpetrate crimes against humanity, but today at least we are aware that they are crimes against humanity – and that is something completely new. Humanity has risen to today’s pinnacle of being able to recognize when it is committing genocide, in contrast to the past when genocide looked like land clearance. Many of us are still murderers and often the murderers are running countries, but the advance of being able to recognize those of us that are evil is a huge step up that has taken 10 thousand years of human history.

And we are not finished yet. We stand today on a new frontier beyond which the prophets of our own time are pointing the way to higher levels of consciousness than the vast majority have ever before experienced. Whilst we face great challenges on the road ahead, the future calls us ineluctably to rise even higher into unimaginable realms of new transcendence.

Incidentally, just to be clear, none of what I am talking about here has anything to do with BELIEVING anything. It doesn’t really bother me what anybody “believes” because either their beliefs are aligned with the nature of reality in which case there is no problem, or their beliefs are not aligned with the nature of reality in which case they are going to suffer and eventually either die or give up those beliefs whichever comes sooner.

The nature of reality requires of us that we align ourselves to how it is. There isn’t an alternative. Trying to get it to align itself with how we think it should be does not have a good outcome. You can’t argue with gravity. When we just make up how we think it ought to be, we suffer until we correct our false notions. Consequently none of us need worry too much about the “beliefs” of others which don’t concur with our own. Either there isn’t a significant difference or else one or other of us is going to suffer more, and the one of us who is suffering more is going to find out soon enough without that one needing to be told they are wrong by the other one. Beliefs that are not aligned with the nature of reality either get corrected, or the people propagating those beliefs get eliminated. That’s how evolution works. In the end reality always wins.

I suppose you can’t argue with gravity, but you can build a helicopter. And it’s not always easy to know whether you are doing the first of these or the second. Sometimes you may die before you find out which you were doing, but that is all really beside my main point today.

My main point today is that when I am among Christians of the kind that were on the beach that day, I would tend to say (if I was asked) that I am not a Christian because I am not a Christian according to what such a group as this mean by that word, and if I was to say I am a Christian to those people I think it would be likely to cause a misunderstanding. What "being a Christian" means amongst this group of people is primarily that you are willing to adhere yourself to a particular set of doctrines including such things as the infallibility and literal truth of the writings included in the Christian bible, and secondarily that you are willing to be led in your indoctrination into this doctrine, by leaders in the group who have been legislated as having the authority to teach that doctrine.

However I am a Christian in the sense that Jesus was a Christian. And what I mean by that is that I am ready and willing to give up my life as a priority to giving up my opportunity to speak on my own behalf when it comes to speaking the nature of my relationship with the eternal. The opportunity to do this belongs to me. In and amongst the many wonderful things that I am grateful for every day, it is quite probably the greatest gift that (G)god gave me.

I get to stand on the sand beside the ocean and speak for myself. I get to choose my own words. I am not beholden to anyone who is presuming to have the right to translate what I say into some greater message that the world needs to hear. No one needs to hear my message. No one needs to agree or disagree. No one needs to witness it. No one needs to like it. No one even needs to understand it.

And the same goes for you and me. Together we can stand on the sand beside the ocean and speak for ourself. We can put our arms around each other. We can hold hands and watch as the sun goes down over the hills. We can whisper secrets into each others ears, and smile knowing smiles of understanding deep in our hearts.

We stand together, all of us, equal before Ggod. None of us have more right than any other to speak of her mysteries or indeed to deny her existence. Whatever you have to say about her non-existence, I am happy to listen. We all know deep in our hearts that when the truth is finally told, we none of us know anything. The Christians call this "The peace of Ggod which PASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING." When I look into your eyes at sunset and smile a deep contented smile, you can be sure that that’s what I’m smiling about.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Be Your Own Therapist

If you are viewing this anywhere other than my blog, you probably won't see the video.
To see the video, go here: Be your own therapist

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Location of Thinking

Ordinarily and naively when we think about thinking, we think of it as something that happens “in our heads”. And indeed we think of the process of learning as a process of taking information that lies outside our heads in places like books and websites and copying it so that we have at least a summary version of that information “inside our heads”.

The direction of information flow appears to be going from “outside our heads” to “inside our heads”. A typical experience of the western education system seems to encourage this idea about what constitutes thinking and learning and understanding.

Now as the quantity of available information that could be moved from “outside our heads” (OOH) to “inside our heads” (IOH) gets exponentially larger, individuals, groups, communities and even society at large tend in the direction of a state that gets called Information Overload, Information Meltdown or Information Overwhelm.

Whereas for a long time it seemed as though human beings were lacking information, and anything that could be done to increase the amount of information available to any given one of us was a good thing, that is no longer the case.

However the spectre of Information Overload may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for it leads us to begin to question our original model of learning. What if learning was in fact NOT a process of moving information form OOH to IOH? What if the kind of thinking we do IOH is actually the least reliable, least creative and least useful kind of thinking there is? What if we are at the threshold of a new paradigm for thinking: a paradigm in which thinking is something that we do in an information space that exists very much in the world – in the space BETWEEN our heads, or at the very least in the space that lies in front of them?

Here is the proposal:

We start from scratch and think of thinking as being a process that occurs in an information space which has nothing or very little to do with “our heads”. An information space is constituted in reality by things like people in conversation with each other, or students writing essays or reading books, or a lecturer giving a presentation to an auditorium or presenting a television series on BBC2, or a mathematician working with a piece of paper and a pencil, or collaborative participants editing a Wikipedia entry, or a group of engineers using a whiteboard to find a solution to an engineering problem, or a bloke sitting at home typing at his computer or using a piece of thought-processing software to explore a subject.

In all of these examples, I know, we can point to the existence of heads. People have heads, no question about that. Their heads come at the top of their bodies… or usually they do. My point is that for the most part the heads in question are largely irrelevant to the process of thinking.

Thinking is something that happens IN THE WORLD, and after it happens it may sometimes make its way into our heads… like an after-thought.

The value of this new way of thinking about thinking, a paradigm in which thinking is something that happens in an information space that occurs in the world, is that it affords us a much more powerful relationship with thinking. From this perspective, thinking starts to look like a transformation that we apply to information objects in the world, which alters the condition and relationship of those information objects from one state to another.

Instead of learning being a process of moving information from outside to inside, the direction of information flow during a learning process now goes from one information space in the world to another information space in the world, or else it occurs by the transformation of an information space so that the significance or layout or the organizational structure of the information has been altered. For example a lengthy treatise has been summarized. In the process of the summarization a subject that was previously inscrutable is transformed into one that is relatively digestible. For another example consider the transformation that information undergoes when it is converted from a reference-book type format and converted into a training course format. In many ways we might say the reference book contains the “same” information as the training course, but now the impact of that information is completely different. In this way we might think of learning as a process of transforming information so that it is “ready to hand” (that is to say more quickly accessible or organized for quick access by a particular person).

In all these examples there may well have been, during the process of “learning”, a corresponding modification in the contents of the head of the person doing the summarization, or carrying out the re-organization of the information, but perhaps we can think of this as being largely incidental.

If we follow this line of thinking through to some of its conclusions, we might start to consider that the power of any given thinking activity is not a function of IQ or necessarily any particular kind of individual abilities, but rather a consequence of WHERE we are attempting to do our thinking. In the light of this, the question of where we are doing our thinking starts to look like it is a matter to which we should pay a lot more attention than we have heretofore been doing.