Fibonacci Spiral in 3D Framing Psychosocial Phyllotaxis


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Articulation of Global Governance through the Language of Flowers?


There is extensive reference in plant biology to phyllotaxis, namely the spiralling configuration of petals, pine cones and pineapples, for example. There is a seemingly unrelated preoccupation with spiral dynamics in a psychosocial sense, namely the evolutionary development of individuals, organizations, and societies.

The latter focus is only related by implication to the role of the spiral exemplified by the shell structure of the marine nautilus and the inspiration it has offered for psychosocial evolution, as first articulated by Oliver Wendell Holmes. That particular inspiration has subsequently been recognized as a pattern for the New Zealand Education curriculum as well as framing the focus of the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability

Distinct again are the extensive commentaries on the so-called spiral of silence through which opinions distinct from the mainstream are progressively constrained, leading to a sense of isolation, possibly extreme. In a period of pandemic lockdown, accompanied by deprecation of challenges to mainstream discourse, the spiral of silence could be understood as related to separate concern with the “spiral of depression” — itself a characteristic feature of the pandemic.

More collectively relevant to the crisis of governance is recognition of the nature of a “death spiral“, most obviously illustrated by the behaviour of ants in an ant mill, effectively imprisoned by their instincts and lacking a coordinating force to guide them to safety, as argued by Ed Yong (America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral, The Atlantic, 9 September 2020). A poetic articulation of the condition was presented a century ago by W. B. Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(Second Coming, 1919)

The “death spiral” theme is currently evoked with respect to human civilization by various authors (Geoff Dembicki, This Guy Studies the ‘Global Systems Death Spiral’ That Might End Humanity, VICE, 15 November 2019; George Monbiot, The Earth is in a death spiral, The Guardian, 14 November 2018; Del Wolf Thiessen, Psychopaths Rising: Unholy Links to Civilization and Destruction — Our Evolved Death Spiral, 2014; Newton Paulo Bueno, A simple system dynamic model for the collapse of complex societies, Proceedings of the International System Dynamics Conference, 2011)

Potentially offering insight, as complementary metaphors, are other forms of “death spiral”:

  • death spiral in insurance: namely a condition where the structure of insurance plans leads to premiums rapidly increasing as a result of changes in the covered population. It is the result of adverse selection in insurance policies in which lower risk policy holders choose to change policies or be uninsured. The result is that costs supposedly covered by insurance are pushed back onto the insured.
  • death spiral financing: namely conditions when the holder of convertible debt  shorts the issuer’s common stock encouraging the debt holder to converts some of the convertible debt to common shares by which the debt holder’s short position is then covered . The debt holder continues to sell short and cover with converted stock, which, along with selling by other shareholders alarmed by the falling price, continually weakens the share price, making the shares unattractive to new investors and possibly severely limiting the company’s ability to obtain new financing if necessary. The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 was characterized by the stocks of subprime lenders falling into a death spiral and dropping from the major exchanges in steady succession.
  • death spiral accounting: namely the repeated elimination of products, in cost accounting and managerial accounting, resulting from spreading costs on the basis of volume instead of their root causes. It is also known as the downward demand spiral.
  • death spiral in aviation: namely a type of dangerous spiral dive, otherwise termed a a graveyard spiral, entered into accidentally by a pilot. They are most common at night or in poor weather conditions where no horizon exists to provide visual correction for misleading inner-ear cues.
  • fake news spiral: could be recognized in the woozle effect, namely when frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads individuals, groups, and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence, and nonfacts become urban myths and factoids — as has become evident in the misinformation pandemic associated with COVID-19.

Three variants of “death spiral” in figure skating are recognized: the backward-inside, forward-inside and forward-outside death spirals, originally named the Cosmic Spiral, Life Spiral and Love Spiral, respectively. A complementary process, as a form of “birth spiral”, can be recognized in stigmergy, namely the indirect coordination and self-organization between agents or actions through the environment (L. Marsh and C. Onof, Stigmergic epistemology, stigmergic cognition, Cognitive Systems Research. 9, 2008, 1-2; Guy Theraulaz, A Brief History of Stigmergy, Artificial Life, 5, 1999, 2).

Collaborative open source projects and social movements are now studied as providing insights into the emergence of large-scale peer production and the growth of gift economy, as notably articulated in a proposal for governance by stigmergy by Heather Marsh (Binding Chaos: mass collaboration on a global scale, 2013; The Creation of Me, Them and Us, 2020). A spiral features prominently on the cover of the latter.

The question here is whether greater insight is to be obtained from representation of the Fibonacci spiral in 3D, as an approximation to the so-called golden spiral. Specifically how might this assist in reconciling distinctions of relevance to psychosocial development — or its progressive constraint. Given the sense in which “flowering” is used metaphorically to describe the development of cultures, the further question is whether the metaphor can be articulated to a greater degree in the light of phyllotaxis — and the culminating process of petal loss as precursor to fruit and seed (Flowering of Civilization — Deflowering of Culture: flow as a necessarily complex experiential dynamic, 2014). The study of “stigmergic optimization” has notably recognized the role of the Fibonacci pattern (Abraham Ajith, et al, Stigmergic Optimization, 2006).

A potentially significant aspect of this exploration is the manner in which the Fibonacci pattern is related to the golden ratio — esteemed for the aesthetic framing it offers, most notably in the proportions of architecture and design. In particular the focus here is on how this sense of proportion might be fruitfully extended to the design of psychosocial structures, most notably the architecture of knowledge, the design of organizations and the strategies of governance.

Are there limits yet to be appropriately recognized, as can be variously argued (Gyorgy Doczi, The Power of Limits: proportional harmonies in nature, art, and architecture, 1981; K. J. Niklas, The role of phyllotatic pattern as a “developmental constraint” on the interception of light by leaf surfaces, Evolution, 42, 1988; Limits to Human Potential, 1976).

Part of the difficulty lies in the sense in which both the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio proportion (in its various manifestations) are abstractions which are not immediately suggestive of how they can be interrelated — usefully and comprehensibly. The experimental construction of the spiral in 3D may therefore be suggestive in this respect. The long tradition of “saying it with flowers” may imply significance as yet to be explored with respect to global governance.



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