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Evolving Systems: November 2009 Core Group Meeting

Paul Grobstein's picture

The Emergence of Form, Meaning, and Aesthetics

November, 2009 Core Group Meeting

Background, Summary,
and Continuing Discussion


Dealing with uncertainty: from the I Ching to heaven?

Background (adapted from a longer .doc by Alice and Bharath):

Our last session suggested the possibility that the I Ching is a tool for managing (earnestly, even playfully) life’s uncertainty and challenges. It transforms the self and the world together, leading to the emergence of a new, less conflicted state.  Perhaps a number of other human concepts similarly function as tools and need to be understood in terms of the work they do in daily human life.  In this session, we will explore the notion of "heaven" in this context, considering both its potential values and its potential shortcomings as a transformative concept.

A meeting summary (by Mark)

Alice and Bharath began with these assertions:

They understand Growth as change in relation to a stable structure. A great obstacle for growth is the absence of a stable structure. They suggest that a concept of “heaven” (or some other absolute concept in the realm of the ideal) can provide despairing individuals with the stability that they require to be able to change.

Defining things carefully was part of the work of our discussion. Examples of “stable structures” included family and school. “Heaven” was identified as a) not of this world” and of having a “natural history” (that is, a history that exists apart from its mythic relationship to hypothetical deities), b) open to everyone, and c) uniting one with everyone.

As Alice and Bharath refined this model for personal transformation, they noted that other concepts - including the Tao and Reason - might also function as supplemental notions constituting stability in which growth can happen. Their interpretation of “heaven” is motivated by seeking a use value for this concept, based in how might this concept be helpful to people, as distinct from a truth value, which I understand to be an understanding of heaven as “the way that it is”—these things that have been ordained by God.

In open conversation, the model was both tested and expanded. “Love” was added to the list of Ideals that might serve as supplements. Indeed anything that would serve as a “freeing concept” was admitted to this class and it was decided that perhaps more than one Ideal Freeing Concept (my caps) might serve an individual, perhaps at the same time but certainly in sequence, through the course of her life.

In my notes I have identified several specific points that captured my attention and that may generate additional conversation:

In response to Hank’s query, Alice defined her own heaven as “creativity without struggle.”

Anne helped us explore that transformational role of the Ideal in this structure of Personal Emergence might become a trap, a limiter on growth.

In the discussion that followed, we tussled with whether what I’ve called Ideals here are actually Ideals or might be better understood in a more complex way as “ideals” that are actually, as Bharath called them, “just concepts”. We tried to work towards an understanding of the roles ideals can play as “outside” oppressors, versus “inside” notions to which we feel drawn.

In its headiest forms, our conversation engaged a kind of a provisional “ideal” that might be helpful for emergence, but not permanent. The image of a crazy Mickey Mouse driven train that puts down the tracks in front of itself led to discussion of the relationship between nouns and verbs and the possibility that the kind of change that we were talking about might be best conceived as being born again and again and again in relation to what I understood to be perpetually changing contexts and perpetually adjusting “ideals”.

In my own meditation since then, I have been wondering how this very complex model relates to the “stable structure” that was proposed as the original requirement for transformation. Have some of us (me included and perhaps even in particular) hijacked the original model to twist it to conform to our own understandings? Or are Alice and/or Bharath comfortable with this expanded (and perhaps contorted) model?

Continuing discussion (below)


HeavenHandout.doc23 KB


Bharath Vallabha's picture


If you would like, see vulnerability, heaven and reason for some thoughts. I have put them on a separate page, since they are a bit long and I thought it might clutter this page to paste them here.

Mark Lord's picture

from Buckminster Fuller:

"I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe."

alesnick's picture

following up

I think this summary over-emphasizes stability in our initial formulation.  We (from my perspective!) wanted to suggest that growth involves a dynamic between stability and change, and that institutions like family and school were sites of struggle around this dynamic.  We also didn't mean to speak in terms of ideals  or absolutes when speaking about heaven.  I understand that these terms are around, in relation to Plato and things, but my sense is that Bharath and I were trying to speak about the way ideas such as heaven, truth, love or the tao operate as part of very basic, old life processes, pretty much on par with breakfast, or washing.  In other words, "heaven" as part of "the basics,"  part of a tool kit of survival, which is also a toolkit of liberation. They are the same thing.  I also want to restate my suggestion that instead of the image of laying down train tracks in the world as you go, an image of making tracks into and from our hearts works better as a way to describe life.  Finally, it's helpful to see my try at describing my view of heaven set down in black and white.  I'd now say that I think of heaven as creativity without loss.

Anne Dalke's picture


I've mentioned elsewhere my current state of lostness in Robert Richardson's 2006 biography of William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. There's much here of relevance to the discussions of the Evolving Systems group; if nothing else, it provides a deep history for many of our conversations. For example, it turns out that Alice's proposal, a couple of months ago, that we add "love" to the key forces circling in the universe, as a key contributor to the evolutionary process, was anticipated by the great pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, who

"'distinguished among three basic kinds of evolution, the tychastic, the anancastic, and the agapastic--that is, evolution by fortuitous variation, by mechanical necessity, and by creative love--and he insisted that tychasm and anacasm are degenerate forms of agapasm'....He came early to accept Darwin's idea of random, fortuitous variation (what he called tychasm or tychism...), but he never accepted the idea that natural selection is sufficient to account for the evolution of mind. For the latter Peirce would require 'the gentle purposive action of love,' or what he called agapasm" (pp. 135- 136).

alesnick's picture


I appreciate having the word "constancy" to carry out of the discussion yesterday (thank you, Liz) and am curious about what it opens up that the term "stability" limits by contrast.  To me, the idea that what people need to grow is more constancy than stability makes more room for change, but maintains and affirms the importance of attachment.  So, the form attachment takes or prompts varies, but the constancy of caring and of life force itself persists?  I also wonder about the usefulness here of the association of stability with space and constancy with time. 

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