Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Considering Frameworks, Contexts, and the Naked Hokey-poky

Please forgive my absence from my own blog here. I've been involved with a rather intense season of thinking lately. Some of my thinking has been carried out over at the 13.7 blog's commentary section. While I like that blog as a whole, I especially like the work Stuart Kauffman is doing. Perhaps the one thing I relate most to in his work, is the sense that there's something more to reality than our current frameworks can give voice or vision to. He's sensing this problem of an insufficient framework, predominantly from his context of science, while I'm seeing it predominantly, from a context of religion. For reasons I'll explain later, you could enlarge our respective contexts and describe his as one of Physics, and mine as one of Meaning. In the meantime, I want to address the ideas of frameworks and contexts.

So what am I meaning by frameworks- or contexts? Well, I think we've come to see that reality is not only made of parts, it's also made of wholes that parts make up. Our organs for instance, combine along with other parts to make a whole that is our body: within the context/framework of biology, the heart pumps blood, while in the context/framework of romance, the heart pumps luuuuv.... Simply put, context/frameworks are the overarching "logic" of a whole that organize the meaning of its underlying parts. For instance, seeing someone off in the distance standing and moving their body in random and distorted ways doesn't make sense to us- at least until we get closer and hear the music.... What changed in our ability to make sense of this randomly moving person? Context, right? Because you have a framework about dancing, you were able to involve music in your assessment of the situation and call it normal. (Still, your framework might not allow for our once-randomly -moving-figure-now- dancer, to be naked in public, but at least the dancing part fits:-)

Our Frameworks are important because of this: As human being, we don't see with our eyes, we see with our ideas. What our bio-eyes and brain do, is process the stuff which light illuminates. What our mind's eyes and thinking does on the other hand, is make sense of what is seen by either set of eyes, and to do this, we need ideas. What you're able to see depends on the ideas by which you choose to see with, and- you don't really see something until you experience the sensation of "ah- now I see." Do you see what I'm saying? In other words, your bio-eyes pick up photons illuminating a moving thing on the horizon. Your ideas saw a naked person doing the hokey-poky to a song you remember from your youth when you were roller skating with your friends at the roller rink, and the d.j. got everybody to shift from their personal random boogies to a group event where each in unison dipped their body parts in and out and....

So this is what I'm trying to get at by talking about a context of Physics and one of Meaning: More than a branch of science, Physics is an over-all framework from which to approach the world; Physics at heart is looking at the world in terms of cause and effect. In this sense, even though other branches of science differ from the branch called physics in scope and content and the like, science, I would say is always looking through a primary lens of cause and effect- or Physics. As does our culture at large.

Yet as I'm pointing out here, ideas are central to our seeing; a seeing that doesn't entail from light and optics, but entail from thinking within Meaning: we rely on a different illumination to move about our environments than any other species. Meaning is very different than Physics. So while Physics can make sense of animals acting in their environment, it's an insufficient framework from which to fully understand the human animal living in world. Without a sufficient framework to consider Meaning, we can't sufficiently grasp our Humanness.

And as one who comes from a context we've called religion, I would note that a lot of our religious thinking is at heart Physics based, and lacks a sophisticated vision of Meaning.

Also of note is this: Stuart Kauffman and I, while not knowing one another, each have been dealing with the insufficiency of our beginning frameworks when it comes to their ability to see the reality at large; and as we worked for better solution, we both were drawn into the idea of Creativity: I love his idea that sees the Universe existing as Ceaseless Creativity. I would offer that the GoD Jesus points to is this Ceaseless Creativity; so we're mistaken to think as we typically do, that GoD's ultimate concern is obedience. To me, our mistaken idea is embodied in the parable of The Three Talents where the person Jesus confronts is the one who merely buries his alloted talent; while the ones who create with theirs are admired....

But that's a post for the future.


  1. Mike, thanks for another great post.

    check out the part about different epistemic values (of "frameworks") and incommensurability creating rational disagreement, while arguably providing a BETTER means of comparing theories. This is just my summary:

  2. Alex,

    I looked at your post and commented there. ( and I encourage others here to look as well.)

  3. I too have come to the conclusion that creativity is basically the 'essence of the divine' - and is something we are obviously capable of invoking and working with. I think the idea of existing as subordinates, servants, under a divine creator is a relic of an outdated framework... I think derived from the physical reality of past times, when there were a lot of kings and rulers about affecting the lives of individuals.

    I agree wholeheartedly that perception creates one's reality, and that you choose your perception based on your 'database' of ideas about the world.

    I believe the majority of frameworks that people ascribe to in order to interpret meaning are insufficient... Taking a step further back, it's problematic when a framework is interpreted as a static construction. They becoming lacking because people don't allow their fundamental beliefs about the world to fluctuate and grow.

    You draw some fundamental distinctions very well. I like the emphasis you put on meaning and it's contrast to physical causality. Seems like we're stuck in this causal mode of thinking (humanity as a whole)... where we are thinking in very linear terms. We need to expand to web-thinking, where we're constantly drawing in information from different sources and re-engineering things. I think this is the primary usefulness of the internet.

    I recently came across Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration, which had great relevance for me. I think what we're talking about can partially be described by positive disintegration on a widespread social scale.

    Excellent post man - keep it coming.

  4. Stephen and Alex, thanks for the encouragement! Literally speaking, it's very meaningful to me. I'm also excited by the work the both of you are doing; it's obvious you two bring a lot of care to the human life.

    If we are to see a future more congruent to our Humanness, we will first have to have the ideas with which to see that with won't we? It's important to recognize though, our ideas have to not only inspire, they have to be credible to us before we'll put our faith in them.

    So I like the thinking you guys are bringing to the table- it all fits so well, and gives me hope as to what can unfold.


  5. Stephen- I got to browse your link to Dabrowski.

    I see things in ways very similar to him. Along these lines you could read Tillich and Rollo May who each differ from Sartre's existentialism where he doesn't give much weight to one's essence. I would ask however, without some sort of essence, how does one experience dis-integration and integration that our selfs or "selfing" accomplishes?

    This sense of what a "self" is or does which you illuminate here, is core to my theological thinking, and I think you'll find it fascinating if you look at Jesus's work through this framework of self that you bring up here.

  6. Good point Mike, I don't remember the page on Dabrowski mentioning very much about the essence that remains and that would persist through multilevel disintegration. It seems logical that once recognizing this process of 'selfing' he would draw his attention to essence.

    Not an entirely encompassing theory of course, but it is interesting when combined with other ideas, and especially Christ's.

    I will have to look into the thinkers you mentioned. I have a book on Sartre I picked up a long time ago, but his work never resonated with me too well...

  7. Stephen, a conversation that I engage Christians in goes like this.

    We hold a belief that God's core concern is obedience. (I get a nod of recognition.) Now, I have a background that includes design and engineering. So when I look at this belief, I would say, that if one's core concern truly is obedience, then you don't "make" something that has a will separate than your own. Yet in reality, I continue, God not only makes a will separate from his own, "He" makes them by the billions, and more amazingly, each one is a unique will! You and I are "made of the same stuff" yet there's something in you working to organize the stuff into you, while there's something working to organize stuff into me! Same stuff: unique outcomes! How is this even possible?!

    So- from my engineering pov, I would say that God is either stupid, or "She's" concerned about SOMETHING ELSE besides obedience... What's this something else?

    I would say from here than, that the Christ Event ultimately speaks to this Something Else. And would offer that this Something Else involves the very dynamic you are spotting in Dabrowski's work.

    A note on essence: If we think of self as essence, we are mistaken to think of it as something has this unchangeable, or ultimate reality. This is why Sartre styled existentialist's do away with profound essence.

    Still, as you noted yourself, without something dynamically essential, there would be nothing to integrate, and more, to Become.