Reimagining Principles Enabling an Existential Ecostery


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Engendering Out-of-the-Box Awareness and Its Transformation


Imagining principles: How is it fruitful to imagine “principles” — and then to engage with them? There are many elaborations of fundamental principles to which people are encouraged to subscribe as a key to appropriate behaviour and understanding — notably of world order. It cannot be said that that such constructs now work in the way it has been hoped that they might. Examples include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Ten Commandments of the Bible, or the elements of a Global Ethic. Human rights are now readily used as a decorative fig leaf to disguise agendas thereby hidden. As noted by Geoffrey Robertson, America tends to treat international law as binding on everyone except America (and Israel) (Edward Snowden’s fear of flying is justified, The Guardian, 24 July 2013).

The concern here is the possibility that there may be subtleties to the articulation of such principles which merit attention. Are there questionable assumptions in the very use of “Declaration” and “Commandment”? What indeed “is” a “Principle” in the cognitive or imaginal space of an individual in a purportedly free society — an “individual” whose very nature is to some degree reframed by any engagement with a “Principle”, presented as an “ordering principle”?

Exploring such questions has the quality of “telling the old, old story” — even a “never-ending story”. An earlier effort took the form of reviewing the quality of principles according to the number of them distinguished in a set — from one-principle declarations to 20-principle declarations (Distinguishing Levels of Declarations of Principles, 1980). This included a concern with highlighting their “integrative” quality (Integrative Dimensions of Concept Sets: transformations with minimal distortion between implicitness and explicitness of set representation according to constraints on communicability, 1981).

Principles may also be associated with “pillars“, “poles“, “axes” and “spheres” (of influence) in discussion of global strategies involving different “sides” — a strange “geometry” through which integrative comprehension is questionably facilitated to a degree with regard to the subtlety of “values” (Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2008; Metaphorical Geometry in Quest of Globality — in response to global governance challenges, 2009). Despite their claimed significance, values themselves remain essentially elusive, as previously explored in the Human Values Project.

Gentle indirection: The concern here is inspired by the possibility — and need — to “do things gently”, perhaps as suggested by F. David Peat (Gentle Action: bringing creative change to a turbulent world, 2008). This could contrast with the manner in which principles are conventionally declared and imposed by authorities as necessary principles of order. Is there an elegance which is integral to the appropriate design of a pattern of principles — just as it is valued in the architecture of buildings, especially temples? Is there some form of cognitive aesthetic to the design process, as partially discussed separately (Enacting Transformative Integral Thinking through Playful Elegance, 2010)? The approach might be provocatively compared to “trout tickling“, or to Sufi tales regarding construction of a door-less cage — so elegant that a magical bird might be attracted into it.

As an “old, old story”, does it call for the self-reflexive subtlety so skillfully embodied in the explorations of Douglas Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, 1979; I Am a Strange Loop,  2007)? This has more recently been enhanced by further recognition of the cognitive role of analogy (Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, Surfaces and Essences: analogy as the fuel and fire of thinking, 2013). Do these have collective implications, as separately discussed (Sustaining a Community of Strange Loops: comprehension and engagement through aesthetic ring transformation, 2010)?

Aesthetic indications: The requisite approach might be better understood through the allusions of various poets:

  • John Keats: When a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason (on the desirability of Negative Capability)
  • Omar Khayyam: And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press / End in the Nothing all Things end in — Yes / Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what / Thou shalt be — Nothing — Thou shalt not be less. (from the Rubáiyát)
  • Horace: They go together, the wisdom, the wine, the enjoyment of the day; the wisdom that does not strain to know too much, to know what cannot be known; the wisdom that is content to live in the radical uncertainty of the mortal present (as presented by Harry Eyres, Horace and Me, 2013, p. 28)
  • T S Eliot: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know it for the first time. (Little Gidding)

The approach seemingly called for might also be compared to various articulations of the philosophy essential to Eastern martial arts, most notably as in the classic by Eugen Herrigel (Zen in the Art of Archery, 1953). Consistent with this is the articulation by James P. Carse (Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986). This is also suggestive of the culture of Castalia, as imaginatively cultivated by Hermann Hesse (The Glass Bead Game, 1946).

Design: Tentatively framed in this way, as a challenge of “designing without designing”, the exploration here concerns the possibility of:

  • imagining the configuration of a variety of the most fundamental qualities — expressed dynamically rather than statically — without overdefining the vehicles through which they might be most fruitfully expressed and experienced
  • imagining the distinction and refinement of such a variegated fundamental set, given the conventional constraints and distractions of language
  • imagining how identity might be elicited, sustained and challenged within such a configuration
  • imagining how the very underdefinition of these qualities might sustain a sense of openness to the attraction and strangeness of possible future learning and its surprises

Such imaginative design is seen as fundamental to eliciting an “existential ecostery” — as contrasted with a “monastery”. An ecostery is a place of confluence in time of ecological values, knowledge and wisdom. The cognitive challenges of such a “place” in “time”, which are the preoccupation here, develop use of the term by The Ecostery Foundation and by ecostery communities. The exploration is speculatively used to adapt “university” to “unistery” in discussion of the cognitive implication for the individual of a potential University of Earth.

In a period of dramatic unemployment worldwide — even without including the increasing proportion of the aging excluded from the “workforce” — “what is one to do” when “there is nothing to be done“? Are possibilities to be recognized through invasive global surveillance and its enabling of unconventional local intervention?



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Jul 2013.

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