How to train your dragon

A couple of years ago I wrote an analysis of the Lion king from a perspective of masculinity. This is a typical Disney movie where young Simba, son of the lion king Mufasa, ends up defeating his uncle and his father’s murderer Scar and fulfilling his destiny of becoming the king, and thus the circle of life continues. Nothing challenging here, as we seldom see in the streamlined Disney movies. No hyena, snake or, heavens forbid, lioness becoming the ruler of the land. No, there is a natural order that should not be questioned.

If we want something animated for the younger audience that aims outside the conventions Dreamworks does a much better job with titles such as:

Shrek – parodies of traditional tales and mocking Hollywood’s beauty ideals,

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron – an untamable horse teams up with an equally untamable boy,

Madagascar – some animals from a New York zoo escaping into the wild jungle (it even contains a parody of the Lion king),

Monsters vs Aliens – where the outsiders, the monsters which includes a giant woman, team up to battle aliens.

But here I’d like to focus on the more recent How to train your dragon (2010) that features Hiccup, who just as Simba happens to be the son of the reigning leader, in this case the chief Viking Stoik. But there ends the similarities, Hiccup happens to be a real disappointment to his father, he is weak, hapless and far, far from doing what really defines being a true Viking – to kill a dragon. 

From a gender perspective Hiccup seems to be struggling with fulfilling the traditional male gender role, as it is typically described and here illustrated by his father Stoick and by his friends who all try hard to be fearless badass Vikings. And his father very explicitly expresses his discontent with Hiccup who is not even allowed to go out and help during the dragon attacks.

Despite Hiccup’s debility he sneaks out to kill a dragon using his ingenuity instead of muscles. He wants to prove himself a worthy Viking and he want to impress on Astrid, who he has a crush on. Against all odds Hiccup manages to shoot down and capture a dragon in the forest, a Night Fury which is the deadliest type of them all. But when he is about to slay it he changes his mind and instead releases it. It looks as if his courage fails him, at least that is what he tells himself. Or is it for some other reason? Nevertheless, he seems to have lost his opportunity of becoming a man, at least according to the descriptions of masculinity above.

But if this macho and alpha-male ideal would be the only characteristic and possible way to define a man throughout history we would still be Vikings. Somehow we left the Viking-age, became devoted Christian traditionalists, after that rational scientific modernists and even postmodernists before feminism started to analyzing and question the gender roles and masculinity. But as Hiccup is about to demonstrate, the male gender role can be far more diverse than the macho image of chief Stoick.

The release of the Night Fury could be the result of a lack of courage, but might as well be a sign of intuition or compassion. And from that Hiccup slowly builds a relation with Toothless, as he names the dragon. But this relation is of course just as forbidden as the romance between Romeo and Juliet.

“Everything we learned about dragons is wrong!”

Simba had his friends, the lioness Nala, and his mentor Rafiki, to help him getting back on the right track, but Hiccup has no one except for Toothless and the track is leading towards challenging the core of the Viking culture, that dragons are the enemy and should be killed no matter what.

Hiccup, who seemed to lack courage, proves to have many qualities that helps him in his development. He is very responsive to Toothless’ signals, which is fundamental when gaining the trust and working with animals, he is resourceful and inventive, he understands the point of learning by reading, and he is really courageous as it will show. He gradually builds up a relation with the Night Fury on equal terms without trying to dominate the dragon. It shows that they are equally dependent on each other and with a harness and extra half tail Hiccup attempts to fly Toothless, which is of course as stupid and dangerous as it sounds.

It is sometimes said that nature experiments mostly with men. Men have a larger genetic variation, at least in terms of variation in IQ, men are more risk taking, more competitive and so forth. That’s an important reason to why you find most brilliant minds and idiot savants as well as most fools and idiots among men, the richest and the poorest, most leaders and most criminals, most celebrated and most outcasts. From a functional perspective the gender roles arose as a consequence of the rationality in keeping women safe and sacrificing men. When it comes to reproduction and ensuring the survival of the culture, vaginas are invaluable and penises expendable, although that principle now has played out its role.

This is us men. We might sometimes appear as stubborn, but we can be just as devoted, passionate or even obsessed if we get a really good idea into our heads. We take risks and sometimes crash and burn to earn our Darwin awards. But when we happen to succeed we can transform cultures and we can change the world. And besides, it’s in the intersection between maximum challenge, skill and devotion you find flow.

An example that resembles Hiccup’s adventures, and that can be placed at about the same time in history but thousands of kilometers south, is the deed of Abbas Ibn Firnas (810-887 A.D.), Muslim inventor, poet, musician, scientist and engineer from Córdoba in today’s Spain. When the Vikings were busy plundering and exploring the North, the scientific leading edge were to be found within the Islamic part of the world. Abbas Ibn Firnas made it to the books as the first aviator when he cast himself from an eminence, flew a considerable distance with wings made of bamboo and silk and landed heavily on his back which caused a severe injury (as Toothless, he lacked a functioning tail). But just imagine the inspirational level of the crowd when watching this polymath dare his life trying to fly with his own construction. This is how you do real engineering!

Back to Hiccup. Despite all odds a romance builds up between Hiccup and Astrid, but what does she see in him and what can he offer this fierce and brutal Viking girl? If bare skill, genius or devotion would suffice to attract a woman every gamer and nerd would easily get laid. No, Hiccup captures Astrid’s heart by showing her the true meaning of freedom and beauty, by showing her heaven and letting her touch the sky (after she have apologized to Toothless for being rude).

But there still remains several challenges for Hiccup and Toothless in order for him to gain the acceptance of his father and the tribe, and to permanently change the relationship between Vikings and dragons. It will take a mutual enemy and threat for them to team up and Hiccup will have to kill his first dragon.

As this is a movie, a tale, we can project any meaning onto it as we wish. We could also see this as a story of man’s relation to nature. Nature as something that is to be conquered and controlled, as something that we can have a relation with and work with, or as something that we are…?! The question is if we need a mutual enemy (aliens?) in order to team up or if we can find our way by ourselves.

Besides what has already been mentioned, there are several aspects that I think makes this a great movie. For instance the music by John Powel and the portraying of Toothless and the interplay with Hiccup (I’m a former dog trainer and I had a black German shepherd that somewhat resembled Toothless). So if you have or know any kids you should definitely rent it and see it together. And if you don’t have any, rent it anyway and take The Expendables II at the same time so there is no doubt that you are a real man!

With Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Dolph, Jet Li and Chuck Norris, you can always learn something about masculinity. The macho kick-ass part as well as the part of being expendable…

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Complexity vs Meaning-making

I’d like to offer a short illustration of the distinction between complexity and meaning-making according to the Model of hierarchical complexity and Robert Kegan’s subject-object theory, respectively. MHC is a content-free ordinal scale or theoretical construct by which we can evaluate the order of hierarchical complexity of a certain amount of information, which could be a text, a mathematical formula or a behavior, regardless of domain or content. MHC is based on three axioms that describe how an element of a certain order of hierarchical complexity is constructed by the non-arbitrary and successful coordination of two or more elements from a previous order. It is grounded in information theory and is typically used as a behavioristic theory where the stage of a person, or organism, is evaluated by means of that person being able to complete a task at a corresponding order of hierarchical complexity at a certain domain. Psychological or emotional reactions may come as consequences of taking on a task but is implicit to the theory, although it is used for mapping stages in the domain of attachment as well.

The subject-object theory, on the other hand, includes a subject, a frame of reference or meaning-making that the person is embedded in, and an object that the person has and can relate to. According to Kegan, the meaning-making is not only about information but is also about identification (subject) and has explicit affective and behavioral components. What we have as a subject will determine how we perceive and organize reality, how we identify and how we behave. As the subject at one order of consciousness becomes object of the subject at the next order, our meaning-making becomes increasingly complex. It can be described as a frame of reference, a holistic entity that captures our psychology and meaning-making, in contrast to MHC’s view on complexity as being something that varies depending on e.g. domain and support.

In order to further illustrate the difference between the two theories, of course in a very simplified way, I’d like to use a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting from 1997.

The youtube-clip is from an analysis of the movie from a perspective of masculinity, one that I recommend! There it represents a man speaking to a boy, but here I’m letting it illustrate the difference between a mature and experienced man (Robin Williams’ character Sean) and a complex thinker (Matt Damon’s Will).

And here is my, of course simplified, description of the difference between the theories and what they aim to capture, complexity and meaning-making:

Complexity is about organizing information, about which answers you can find and which tasks and problems you are able to solve.

Meaning-making is about organizing life experiences, about which questions you ask and which tasks and problems you find relevant to solve.

If you want to be a complex thinker, then read, listen, learn, think, evaluate, calculate, discuss and write. My suggestion is modern physics, philosophy, mathematics, why not history or any topic that you find interesting.

If you want to construct meaning in a complex way, then live, love, reflect, grieve someone you loved, face death yourself, dive into pain, joy, fear, conflicts, beauty, take on challenges, succeed and fail, lose and reinvent yourself, rebel against your parents and seeing your children rebel against you.

(It may appear as showing a disregard for MHC, but one should be aware that the subject-object theory is far more speculative, whereas MHC is more modest in its claims, better theoretically grounded and empirically supported. Only slightly more boring. 😉 )

And now for my main point. In the field of adult development we entertain ourselves with evaluating the stage or order of meaning-making or complexity, because it’s useful, because it’s cool and because we can (well, mostly because it’s useful). Some would argue that more complex ways of thinking or meaning-making is better than less complex ways. In this discussion I think it’s useful to think of it the following way:

The complexities of our thoughts and of our meaning-making are mainly consequences of the information we take in and of our lives’ experiences. They serve us by organizing reality in an appropriate way. Sometimes they are not complex enough for us trying to handle the tasks or life challenges we face, and then we sometimes see transformations taking place, something that could be supported as Sean does with Will’s. And sometimes this transformation leads to a higher stage of complexity or meaning-making. But we should always keep in mind that there is an appropriate way of organizing information and experiences, and it is not always and necessarily better to make it more complex.

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En funktionell syn på pengar och ekonomi

Vad är pengar? Vad är skuld?
Här är en analys, eller rättare sagt skiss, ur ett funktionellt perspektiv på pengar och det ekonomiska systemet (en deluppgift i kursen Hållbar omställning, något editerad – 5 sidor):
En funktionell syn på det ekonomiska systemet

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Conflict and integration

In Joseph Tainter’s description of complex societies (Tainter, 1988) he refers to a common dichotomy or distinction between two perspectives or schools of describing the development of our societies that I find very useful in many current debates. These perspectives are referred to as the conflict perspective and the integration or functionalist perspective and the distinction may be as old as the description of civil society itself.

“In essence, conflict theory asserts that the state emerged out of the needs and desires of individuals and subgroups of a society. The state, in this view, is based on divided interests, on domination and exploitation, on coercion, and is primarily a stage for power struggels. […] The state serves, thus, to maintain the privileged position of a ruling class that is largely based on the exploitation and economic degradation of the masses.”

Examples of proponents of the conflict school according to Tainter are Marx, Engels, and more contemporary examples are found in postmodern approaches such as post-colonial and feminism/gender studies. The conflict or struggle can today be seen in analysis of the relation between men vs women, upper class vs working class, ethnic Westerners vs immigrants, urban vs rural, politicians/state vs citizens/individuals.

In contrast we have the integrationist view:

“Integrationist or functional theories suggest that complexity, stratification, and the state arose, not out of the ambitions of individuals or subgroups, but out of the needs of society.” The major elements of this approach are: a) shared, rather than divided, social interests; b) common advantages instead of dominance and exploitation; c) consensus, not coercion; and d) societies as integrated systems rather than as stages for power struggles.”

From this perspective society and the development of all its aspects is mainly seen as a consequence of the outer conditions such as food production, competition and warfare with other societies, or as a way for achieving an optimal development as a whole. Proponents of the integrationist view are, according to Tainter, Spencer, Sumner, Durkheim, Moret, Davy, and Service. Please note that I’m not a sociologist so I can’t really verify Tainter’s examples here in detail. Nevertheless I would argue that “my field” of adult development psychology and also integral theory according to Ken Wilber lean towards the integrationist side. This since society and the culture provide support for the individual’s development in contrast to e.g. Freudian view where the individual is in conflict with the cultural demands.

Either schools or perspectives have strong and weak points and, needless to say, neither of them should be elevated to represent the true nature of a society. But instead of elaborating those, let’s give an example from the gender equality debate.

According to the conflict school (mainstream feminism and gender studies) we live in a patriarchy where gender roles were created in order for the male gender role to oppress the female. The main focus is on questions about power and inequality between the genders. From this perspective women traditionally have been kept at home so that men can dominate the public sphere and gaining all the politic and economic power.

The view on the creation of gender roles from the integrationist school gives at hand that they are fundamentally a result of the nature of reproduction, food production and war waging. Women are kept at home for the main reason that men are stronger and more expendable. It is for a society, as a whole, functional to sacrifice men and keep women safe, a view that is argued by e.g. Warren Farrell in the USA and Pelle Billing in Sweden where my experience is derived.

The dichotomy of the conflict and integrationist perspectives refers to views on society as a whole, but a reason I find it useful is that it can be applied to social interactions at various levels, such as analysis of economy and debt, organizations, families, relations, psychology etc. It can be useful to reveal blind spots, for example the case of gender studies in Swedish academia. As I said, I’m not a sociologist, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

References:

Tainter, J. A. (1988) The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge university press, GB.

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Ontological and epistemological complexity

What do we mean by complexity? How does complex differ from complicated? And what do we mean by simplicity? How do these concepts relate?

The notion of complexity appears in many subject areas, such as psychology and adult development, pedagogy, sociology, anthropology, economy, physics and biology. In order to bring some order I believe that a first distinction needs to be made, that between ontological complexity and epistemological complexity, and I’m not the first to do so. We could also refer to them as real and conceptual complexity, respectively.

Ontological complexity deals with the complexity of real things, real systems, real processes and organisms, such as the complexity of a tree, a colony of ants, an eco-system, an organization or a society. Here we find the classical complexity theories that emerged in the 50s and that is growing in popularity. Although there is no universal measure of how complex something is, the hallmark of high complexity is a high degree of differentiation and integration, i.e. many different parts and functions that work together to create a functioning whole.

A human body which is built up by atoms, molecules, proteins, cells, organs, etc., can be said to be very complex. And today’s society is often described as very complex since we have a great amount of different roles and functions that are coordinated in large organizations and entities. The various goods we ship across the world are very complex and requires the involvement of many parts and parties to be constructed. Today’s financial systems is also usually described as extremely complex in a negative sense in that it is impossible to overview and easy for crises to spread across the intimately interconnected and integrated world, as demonstrated in this TED talk. A computer manufacturer tried to track all components to ensure that all parts were produced in an ethical and sustainable manner, but they had to give up because there were so very many parties involved.

Epistemological complexity, in contrast, deals with the complexity in our thinking, i.e. the complexity in our ability to reason and the complexity of the problems we can solve. This is typically what we study in adult development and here we have a measure in the Model of hierarchical complexity, MHC, where we can say that a certain amount of information or a certain behavior can be evaluated at a certain stage of hierarchical complexity. Or the understanding that underlies a design principle. It is important to recognize that a certain level of epistemological complexity builds on and includes all previous levels of complexity.

Typically, I would say that the epistemological complexity is a pale shadow of the ontological, our understanding of the world is usually an insufficient and limited representation if it. Often, the most complex thing we can do is biomimetics, i.e. trying to mimic nature’s own complexity. But an important point here is to keep them apart. For instance, when we discuss the design of a city, a house or any artifact, we should distinguish between the two perspectives, the planned design and the actual design. Although there have been findings of fractal patterns in traditional sub-Saharan cities, it does not necessarily imply that those cultures understood the notion of fractals in a mathematical sense.

It is also important to recognize the similarities between the ontological and the epistemological complexities. The notion of differentiation and integration is commonly used to describe the process of increased complexity. Another key term is emergence, which means that that properties of the complex system as a whole can’t be explained by means of the parts or the interactions that build up the system. A number of ants can together perform complex tasks and create a complex colony without the individual ants to have the cognitive capacity for understanding what they are doing. The properties of a molecule can’t be predicted or explained by means of the properties of the atoms that go into it. Similarly, in MHC a foundational axiom is that a higher level or stage has to coordinate two or more parts or elements from a previous level in a non-arbitrary way so that a new and qualitatively different element is produced.

In ontological complexity, the distinction between complex and complicated is often emphasized. Complex refers to the characteristics that are explained in the above, while complicated is often associated with characteristics such as linearity and that can be reduced to its parts. A typical description is the following:

“… the main difference between complicated and complex systems is that with the former, one can usually predict outcomes by knowing the starting conditions. in a complex system, the same starting conditions can produce different outcomes, depending on interactions of the elements in the system.”

Complex problems are typically described as ill-structured or wicked, e.g. raising a child, when complicated systems are described as well-structured and solvable, although not easily, e.g. build a functioning car.

I would argue that complex in this sense corresponds to vertical complexity according to MHC in the epistemological case, and the complicated corresponds to horizontal complexity according to MHC. Horizontal complexity or development is usually described as “more of the same” or a quantitative increase in complexity, whereas vertical complexity or development means a qualitative shift or increase in complexity.

And finally for the simplistic part, for the epistemological simplicity I would like to offer an illustrating episode from the life of young Gauss. Perhaps one could find a correspondence for the ontological simplicity.

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Complexity and simplicity

Complexity and simplicity is a cliche that is sometimes referred to. But what does it mean and how can a higher complexity sometimes make life simpler? Let’s take a classic example from the history of mathematics.

Carl Friedrich Gauss was one of the giants within mathematics, amongst other things known for the normal distribution curve or the bell curve, got as a 10-year-old schoolboy the task of summing all the numbers from 1 to 100, i.e. to calculate 1+2+3+4+5+ … +96+97+98+99+100. After just a few minutes Gauss could give the correct answer: 5050.

But how did he do? Was he extremely fast at calculating?

No, he discovered a symmetry and used the trick of dividing the list of numbers into two parts of equal length, 1-50 and 51-100. He turned the latter part, and summed them element by element: 1+100, 2+99, 3+98, etc..

When you add the first and last elements, second and penultimate and so forth, you end up with the same result, 101. Since all the numbers are to be added and since both lists are 50 elements long, the result is given by 101 * 50 = 5050.

Have you seen this trick once, it’s possible to derive an expression for the sum S of all the integers from 1 to n, which is called an arithmetic sum, which gives

S = n (n +1) / 2

The question we now could ask ourselves is the following: Did Gauss make the problem simpler or more complex? Simplicity or complexity? Or both?

What was the complexity of the problem that Gauss got according to MHC? He was supposed to add a lot of numbers, 1+2+3+ etc.. The task of adding two numbers is order 7 primary. And to do that many times is still order 7 primary, though with a much higher degree of horizontal complexity. Gauss’ problem had thus a high horizontal but low vertical complexity. In principle very easy to carry out, but very time consuming.

But Gauss transformed the problem into one that is more vertically complex, to be specific, order 10 formal (according to a discussion we had on yahoo tech group adult development)! And to generalize the result to the formula with n instead of 100 is yet another order, 11 systematic.

The conclusion here is that Gauss instead of solving a problem with high horizontal complexity, he transformed it into a problem with high vertical complexity. He makes the problem simpler in that it requires fewer operations, simplicity, yet more difficult because it requires a deeper mathematical understanding, complexity!

This is a typical example of how a new order of complexity can emerge, by having a large horizontal complexity of the previous order. This is typically how you plan the mathematics teaching, consciously or unconsciously. The student is made to solve a lot of similar problems until they think something like “Now it’s the same routine again, there seems to be a pattern here!? What if this can be systematized? That would make it easier!

Often there is a reluctance and resistance to systematize and go up to the next level or order, but when the horizontal load on the working memory gets too big, it appears like the price to take the leap to the next level is worth paying. The following complex level coordinates and organizes the previous so that it becomes easier to manage. This may apply to individuals but perhaps also for entire communities.

  • To domesticate the soil is more complex than hunting and gathering.
  • To come up with a written language is more complex than to pass on information orally.
  • To computerize administrative operations is more complex than do the work with paper and pencil.
  • For companies to use social media is more complex than using the one-way communication.

In all cases, new problems are created that are vertically more complex but are still worthwhile because it saves a lot of time and work, at least in the long term. How many have cursed over the new computer application that is not compatible with the current OS? How many have not been annoyed over negative comments on the company’s Facebook page? Or cursed crop failure? Yet we seem to be willing to pay that price. We have otherwise been required to keep up with the competition.

Life has become more complex but simpler.

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Ultimate concern

– What do you want? What do you really want? she asked me.

We had talked for hours, for months, about life, structures, wisdom, patterns in nature showing up in our mind, about noetic insights, about doubting everything and finally doubt itself, about life, death and everything in between, and about what is of ultimate concern. One third of what she said I could follow, one third I felt it might understand within some time and the last third I realized I would never grasp. But now it seemed that her patience with me had run out.

I interpreted the question as regarding what was of ultimate concern for me. We all have holy principles that we refuse to give up. In our lives we typically embrace values or ideals such as love, relations, goodness, glory, beauty, seeking enlightenment, wealth or happiness. But sometimes these values or ideals come in conflict with each other, and that’s when we have to choose.

– I want the truth, no matter what.

But as soon as we choose we pay a price. It’s called ‘ignorant bliss’ because knowledge and wisdom cannot be combined with happiness. That’s why I’m a researcher and that’s probably also what I should be.

– You will hate yourself, you will lose all hope for mankind and for the future.

She was right, of course. Everything I held dear, all fairy tales, all meaning, all I could stand on, cling on to, was wiped out. How mistaken I was, thinking transformation always lead to something good. First there was a terrifying silence, a vast darkness, disappointment and a loneliness. I died, but not for the first time. Then I found myself no longer being afraid. After a while my eyes started to get used to the darkness and to my own shadows. I could talk to them, listen to them, understand them, forgive them and make peace with at least some of them. Then I started to be able to sense and see the shadows of others.

It is often said that we should embrace our own divinity and let the light shine through us. Some do this very well and they become the radiant leaders, ideals and objects of other’s admiration. Not necessarily and not always, but often the brightest stars cast the darkest shadows. And shining brighter won’t make them go away. These shadows, if any, frighten me.

The dark night of the soul is often regarded as a pit stop on the path to spirit. And sometimes the soul is sacrificed in order to find spirit. For me, being in contact with the soul is more important than with spirit and divinity. For me they are each other’s opposite, or at least, they are found in opposite directions. In order to find the soul one has to go back to where one came from. We had it once and we lost it, but we don’t remember how and where. And even if we do find it, we will still bear the scars.

I’m not a good man and I’m certainly not divine. I have no such ambition. But one thing I can assure you. I love you dearly from the bottom of my soul. To the bottom of your.

 

I once betrayed my soul at the altar of the greater good
Although the distinction was hardly noticeable
an abyss in my heart, torn and astray

But not this time
One foot in the light and one in the shadow
not solid, but holding my ground

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The limitations of the evolutionary meaning-making

or Peak oil and why integralists tend to overlook it

A week or two ago I recorded a podcast with two Norwegians, one was the host James Alexander Arfinsen who has been doing a lot of podcast interviews with people involved with issues of sustainability and integral perspectives on social and personal development and transformation. The other one was Anders Asphaug who has written a few extensive articles in Norwegian on the topic of Peak oil and permaculture, and the topic of the podcast was Integral perspectives on Peak oil.

And actually, James and I made an earlier attempt to cover the extensive topic, or rather the crossing of two huge bodies of knowledge or discourses. However, I wasn’t comfortable with the result, perhaps since I felt that I couldn’t embody and bridge the gap between them by myself. But with this new attempt with Anders that could act more as an expert in Peak oil while I could focus a bit more on the integral part that I feel more comfortable in, although it is still very limited. And I think it worked great, we talked for three hours which after editing resulting in two hour-long episodes. The podcasts are in Scandinavian (Norwegian/Swedish) so I thought I’d just give a brief overview of my main points in English.

When James and I did a research of what had been written on the topic of Peak oil in integral contexts we found two references, one was by another Norwegian, Svein Horn, who had made a presentation on the topic of integral perspectives on Peak oil already in 2009. Apparently he wrote a follow-up article that was submitted to Journal of integral theory and practice, but it seems not to have been accepted for publication. It seems to have ended up as a book chapter. The other reference is an article on Integral world, Twilight in the integral world, an alternative forum for integral thought and critique that is outside the core of the integral movement, written by Tomislav Markus. Markus criticizes the leading integral theorists such as Sean Esbjörg-Hargens for how little they say about the ecological crisis and at for not at all recognizing the issue of Peak oil.

So, why is it so? Why don’t the leading edge thinkers of the world, at least as I think that should be the ambition for integralists to strive for, acknowledge the issue or problem that I and many more think is one of the most challenging and acute of our world to address? The question is complex and should of course be open for discussion and a multitude of perspectives, but I’d like to start with three possible reasons that I see from my horizon. I elaborate these reasons in the end of the final part of the podcast, after providing some constructive thoughts on how to apply the integral framework and principles as tools for understanding and addressing the issue at hand.

Firstly, as an engineer my observation is that the integral movement typically consists of non-engineers. They are typically people with backgrounds in psychology, cultural studies, i.e. the humanities and the social sciences, perspectives that emphasize the left quadrants of the AQAL model. But Peak oil is not foremost about perspectives, it’s about physical resources and processes, how much oil that is actually in the ground, how quick we can get it out and with which amount of energy input. As an engineer or physicist I focus typically on the physical and material world that can be described by laws and mathematics and that, although complex and uncertain, have definite and final answers. In integral contexts there is a larger emphasis on meta-theory and perspectives rather than descriptions on reality itself. When there is a conflict in the issue of Peak oil it is typically between physicists and economists (another area that is not exactly packed with integral people).

Secondly, most commonly integralists rely on the quadrants for identifying important issues or aspects of them. But in which quadrant do we find Peak oil? The quadrants come from Ken Wilber’s approach of describing evolution as something that isn’t a purely psychological affair (UL), and neither a purely cultural (LL), not a physiological or behavioral (UR), nor only an affair of evolving societal structures (LR). According to Wilber evolution is better described by taking all these perspective into account and seeing it as an interplay between these four aspects or quadrants, a process of tetra-evolution. If would perhaps feel most natural to place Peak oil in the lower right quadrant since it’s about the outside and surrounding physical world and not about individual entities or individuals. On the other hand, the lower right is where we typically put the human economic, political and social structures.

The quadrants are very useful in proposing aspects of transition, we need to transform our cultures, our psychology, our economic system and our consumption patterns, and this is also one of my conclusion in the podcast. But in my view we may easily overlook the resource basis and issues such as Peak oil since it appears to fall outside the quadrants. It might be placed in one of the zones of the integral methodological pluralism, but that more complex version of the quadrants hasn’t really had any impact in these issues.

Finally, and here is the most important reason in my view, when I learned about Peak oil I started to follow up the references that the proponents of Peak oil relied on, theorists and presenters such as Nicole Foss and Chris Martensson, and reading the books they read. These books, typically about a coming collapse of our complex societies and how and if we can avoid it, are written by authors such as Jared Diamond and Joseph Tainter who gives a different view on the history of humanity from hunter-gatherers to the current global society than that we are familiar with from reading Wilber. First I tried to assimilate these new thoughts and theories into the AQAL framework that is commonly applied in integral contexts (that I have described in Swedish in a number of posts), but without success. It seemed to me that these two perspectives, although they aim to describe the same history, gave two quite opposite views on our development and e.g. the role of complexity in our society.

Wilber, on one hand, emphasizes human development as something that is inherently driven by humanity itself, the tetra-evolution of psychological, cultural, behavioral/physiological and structural. The integral view of humanity is a story of progress and of transformation from rudimentary to complex forms of thinking and being, therefore sometimes called the evolutionary meaning-making. Throughout history humanity has evolved from archaic to magic, to mythic, to rational and industrial, to postmodern in the age of global information and perhaps further into the post-postmodern integral age. The main cause or driver of this evolution is sometimes referred to as the evolutionary impulse. When a crisis is viewed from this grand perspective, or rather this narrative or meaning-making since it in turn consists of many perspectives, we tend to interpret it as a transformation towards a higher stage of wider embrace or of higher complexity. “There is no coming to consciousness without pain” as Jung said, and if we see pain it’s easy to from this perspective draw the conclusion that we see a development or coming to consciousness.

In contrast, the peak perspective with its collapse-theorists’ background, Diamond is a geographer and Tainter is an anthropologist and historian (both very multi-disciplinary), focus on the environment and its resources as main drivers of human development, and human activities as a consequence of this. In Diamonds book Guns, germs and steel, he argues for the availability of natural resources, crops and animal to domesticate and climate zones as advantages in favor of the Eurasian continent as main reasons to why Europeans colonized the rest of the world instead of the opposite. Tainter’s notion of The collapse of complex societies rests on a historical view on previous civilizations that actually have collapsed due to a depletion in natural resources that are needed to sustain the society and that complexity in the form of administration and societal functions that are not associated to survival and food production. A common but inappropriate response to the crises that occur, according to Tainter, is to further increase complexity which will give an ever decreasing result or return on investment.

Although they sometimes look at the same data or phenomenon, these two grand perspectives on human development, as well as on the future, are often in contrast to each other, or they are at least to me. For example, although there is a shared view on what complexity is, a high degree of differentiation in social roles, functions or parts that is integrated into a functioning organism, organization, structure or goods, it is interpreted as either a measure of progress and desirable outcome or something that by necessity costs energy and is a burden to the society.

A more concrete example is the view of the Arab spring a couple of years ago, where people in northern Africa revolted toward their leaders. An integral interpretation is that this crisis is a developmental one, where the people hungers for democracy and revolts towards the dictatorship that stands in the way of this cultural progress. An interpretation from the peak perspective, on the other hand, emphasizes high oil and food prices at that time as the igniting spark as well as the long term challenge. For example, in Egypt decreasing oil production gives decreasing incomes which means that the government can’t afford to subsidize gasoline and food to the people, which will revolt, not primarily from hunger of democracy but from hunger of food. Oppressing a people is much easier if you manage to feed them.

Or the case of the industrial revolution where Wilber emphasizes the innovations, the techno-economic, psychological and cultural transformation, while the Peak proponents would emphasize the discoveries of coal and further down the industrialized road today’s total dependency on oil for our civilizations to function. Fossil fuels are not inventions, they are gifts from past times that where given to us. All we had to do was to dig a few meters then, and now a few thousand meters. It’s easy to see that one of these grand perspectives gives a significantly brighter view on humanity, on life on earth and on the future.

A simplified way of illustrating these two narratives is by means of two graphs or functions (yes, my background is in mathematics). The integral or evolutionary meaning-making is represented by an exponential function that starts slowly, picks up speed and then explodes into what seems to be an omega point. This is typically what we see when we plot any measure of human development or complexity as a function of time.

The peak narrative is here symbolized by a Gauss-function or bell-shaped curve that typically serves as illustration for global (as well as local) oil production. The curve starts the same way as the exponential function, but flattens out, reaches a peak and then decreases. It has a birth, a growth, a flourishing golden age with a peak and then a decline followed by death, like the rise and fall of the Roman empire. In this discourse the exponential curve is typically seen as a naive view of an ever growing economy on a finite planet, cells multiplying in a bottle, and of a sign of hubris or illusion of own immortality.

These two grand perspectives or narratives can in many cases be referred to as examples of meaning-making, which refers to the fact that people often build their worldviews, identities and act from these perspectives, this according to adult development theorists such as Susanne Cook-Greuter and Robert Kegan. Therefore, questioning them as overarching frameworks or narratives can be hard.

I am not disregarding any of them, nor do I claim that one is more complex than the other. I do really want to honor both perspectives. What I am saying is that I think that they are both partially right(!) but they are both limited. The integral meaning-making does not acknowledge how dependent we are on fossil fuels for our development, on the biosphere and the half-meter fertile soil for our survival and the fact that our current way of life and our current development is not sustainable. The peak meaning-making often fails to acknowledge the fact that we have stages of development in a psychological sense as well and that we are at different stages, states and so forth. This means that we are cognitively and emotionally better equipped to handle the complexity of the current crisis today and can learn from previous disasters. On the other hand, we have never before faced such a complex and global crisis.

To all who call themselves integralists, I’m truly sorry for questioning the foundations of this meaning-making. I sincerely believe that everyone should be allowed to be at whatever stage they are and that higher is not better per se. But when it comes to the future of our planet I would really want to see the integral movement and its leading thinkers to play a more active and more relevant role and not only to represent a safe haven of meditation and personal healing and growth, although that has a value that cannot be underestimated.

To me there is integral and there is integral. Integral in the first sense is believing in a certain story and identifying with a certain framework and community, only reading the good news, seeing the signs of progress that can be assimilated into the current framework or meaning-making and resting in what seems to be the best of worlds. The world needs this kind of people.

Integral in the second sense is killing your dearest darlings, acknowledging the limitations of the evolutionary meaning-making, letting go of all maps and authorities only to start from scratch again, being a constant beginner’s mind, engaging in fundamentally new perspectives, even those who cannot be reconciled with the integral framework, and embracing uncertainty and even death head on.

This second version of integral is the approach that I have found being most useful when trying to bridge the integral and adult development perspectives with the sustainability, collapse and peak perspectives. I may be wrong in my analysis, it may be a non-completed synthesis, it may be limited too and not very appealing, but this is where I’m at. And if this resonates with you as well, feel free to join in!

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Sustainable development on Wikipedia

Yesterday I participated in a small conference at National museum of nature history in Stockholm with the aim of discussing sustainable development in relation to Wikipedia. The Swedish articles on and around sustainability and sustainable development are to say the least thin and this initiative by Dan Frendin from Kalmar together with a few representatives from the Wikimedia foundation aimed towards getting started with structuring and writing introductory articles in this subject area.

I happened to be in town and saw this as a good opportunity to meet with Dan, whose blog I’ve been following with great interest, and to find out more about Wikipedia as a tool for communicating issues of sustainability and perhaps using in educational settings. Dan let’s his students write articles as a part of their examination and one article on male circumcision have been read over 18 000 times.  This is a very interesting form of examination that we consider to use in Lund. It is probably more stimulating to write an article that will be of practical use and read by a lot of people than a report that ends up on a bookshelf or at a harddrive.

Sophie Österberg from Wikimedia started by introducing Wikipedia and the writing process, getting started with an account and basic principle on how to write, use references and discussing the articles. Sophie or any of her colleagues can be invited to make these kinds of introductions to a group or class.

Dan also brought a group of visitors from Uganda and South Africa and plan to use Wikipedia as a platform for building knowledge on e.g. anything you need to build a sustainable village. An interesting initiative in this regard is the project Wikipedia Zero which aims at providing free downloading of articles and data in Africa, which is otherwise very expensive.  A lot of people have mobile phone but few can afford downloading data from the internet.

A few of us started to structuring the Swedish article on sustainable development, we took departure in the English version and discussed issues such as three or four dimensions of sustainability, hard vs soft sustainability, anthropocentric vs other perspectives and so forth. The main point with Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute and everything is evaluated with respect to quality from the Wikipedia community.

So why not joining the process of knowledge construction and presentation!?

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Turquoise consciousness

What does turquoise consciousness mean? In this blog post I’m pushing the boundaries as a researcher here about what I can say with certainty. For natural reasons there is not that much data supporting any claim that can be made on this issue. This is also a short description and I am probably assuming one or two things about all theories that I don’t write out explicitly. So just let this speculation be a discussion opener and let’s stretch our imagination a bit. Anyway, let’s play with it!

Turquoise consciousness is often referred to as two closely related lines of thinking, Ken Wilber’s integral theory and Clare W. Graves’ Spiral dynamics model in Don Beck’s interpretation. They both use colors to label the stages in their respective developmental models. In Wilber’s case the stage following the teal stage and in Beck’s case the stage, or vMeme, following yellow. Both those cases show in my opinion pretty sweeping descriptions and are in neither case backed up with that much data.

In terms of Spiral dynamics, yellow (flex-flow) is the first vMeme that is not attached to any particular value system or vMeme. Rather, it can be said to be a synthesis between all previous vMemes, thus it can be referred to as a value metasystem. The yellow vMeme can see through any of the previous lenses or perspectives. Furthermore, as it is described, it arranges these vMemes in a developmental order. The following turquoise vMeme is described as a more complex and more integrated version of the more cognitively oriented yellow vMeme. It typically emphasizes a collectivism, global identification, spirituality and subtleties of reality.

Nevertheless, according to Wilber, teal and turquoise roughly correspond to the action-logics strategist and alchemist, respectively, in Bill Torbert’s version of Jane Loevinger’s stages of ego development. This is pretty well described by Susanne Cook-Greuter, who named them autonomous and construct-aware, respectively. She also elaborated the description of what an action-logic is, which in my interpretation is very close to the concept of meaning-making, which is how we construct and organize reality in our mind. Meaning-making is the story that we tell about who we are, about the nature of reality and how we should and do act. And as Robert Kegan shows us, this meaning-making can be more or less complex in its structure, hence different orders of consciousness or stages of ego development.

Nowadays, action-logics or stages of ego development according to Cook-Greuter are more often used since they are more thoroughly researched and described. She identified some themes of the test responses that were evaluated at the higher stages. She also ascribed an increasing ability of perspective-taking to each stage, but I find these not that stringently defined so I won’t go into those. Here, several models or theories are discussed and it’s good to keep in mind that they show different aspects, or perhaps developmental lines, of the psychological development. Wilber’s is in my view not that well defined but typically talks about perspective-taking, Spiral dynamics is about values (content), ego development is about complexity in meaning-making structure, perspective-taking, content in themes and so forth, Kegan’s is complexity in meaning-making structure and MHC is about structure in conceptualized information. So when I mean stage of development I’m probably closest to Cook-Greuter or Kegan’s descriptions, but it’s also interesting to see what content, values, that show up at the respective stages.

Anyway, here is my suggestion on the issue at hand:

The two stages or vMemes yellow and turquoise can be divided into two sub stages each. The first yellow stage, denoted yellow 1, mean that you can coordinate and shift between worldviews or identifications, but not order them in a developmental sequence. This is in accordance with Robert Kegan’s fifth order of consciousness (see this diagram) where he refers to subject as trans-system. In Kegan’s descriptions and examples of this order there is no developmental or hierarchical sequence between the systems. According to MHC a metasystematic coordination doesn’t necessarily need to be nested and hierarchical, it can consist of two or more systems being compared and put next to each other. An illustration of this is the value system model called Common cause, which is non-developmental and non-hierarchical although it evaluates multiple systems of values and coordinates them. Common themes in ego development test responses are balancing personal and social perspectives. This also shows up in Kohlberg’s descriptions of the corresponding stage 5.

The second yellow stage, yellow 2, is the one commonly described in Spiral dynamics, with an emphasis on and identification with a developmental process, where one vMeme is a step on a developmental or evolutionary ladder. This theme also shows up in ego development test results. I would say that this stage typically has its focus on the development upwards, but it’s of course a pretty extensive process that takes years. A possible difference between yellow 1 and 2 is the ability to take a vertical perspective.

The first turquoise stage I am proposing, turquoise 1, is based on another theme that Cook-Greuter refers to and places at the construct-aware stage. Compared to the previous stage, I’d say that this has integrated more shadows and is more coherent from bottom and up. Loevinger denoted this stage ”integrated”. A theme that Cook-Greuter describes here is an identification with a developmental or evolutionary process that coordinates the personal development with the cultural evolution, and seeing that one’s own development is an expression of a personal trajectory as well as a cultural, structural and behavioral. Cook-Greuter’s description resembles Wilber’s notion of a tetra-evolution in all quadrants. I’m proposing this to be a coordination at the paradigmatic order according to MHC. And why not a corresponding sixth order of consciousness according to Kegan’s subject-object theory?! (Remember where you read this description first!)

The second turquoise stage, turquoise 2, is based on the theme after which Cook-Greuter named this stage, construct-aware. At this stage it is realized that language, meaning and identity is something that is being constructed. The construct-aware person can take the entire meaning-making as an object and is not attached to and controlled by it. For instance, the previous identification with the evolutionary process is here released and the construct-aware realizes that stages of development are mere constructs, which can be quite provoking for the previous stages. For the second yellow stage and the first turquoise stage it is meaningful to advance to the next stage on the developmental ladder, but turquoise 2 has stepped off the ladder, it is in free fall and thus meaning-free. This is a huge paradox, yellow 2 and turquoise 1 will sacrifice anything to get to the next stage, but turquoise 2 realize that it’s not always worth it. It is after all pretty nice to have structures to which you can attach your ego and get direction in your life. Nevertheless, there are benefits of this increased sensitivity in the silence and the shadows, and the cognitive abilities such as perspective taking remains of course. From this stage it is obvious what Cook-Greuter says: ”higher is not better, not happier”.

For further descriptions I would recommend Susanne Cook-Greuter’s Nine levels of increasing embrace or any video series by her.

One remark from these four stages is that the first three, yellow 1, yellow 2 and turquoise 1, are sequential in that they are increasingly complex. The last stage here, turquoise 2, on the other hand could possibly occur earlier than that. It might be possible to take the entire meaning-making as an object and recognize it as a construct even before one has acquired a developmental meaning-making structure. Or at least in theory.

In the coming ESRAD conference in Freiburg May 31-June 2 we are considering a session where Spiral dynamics is discussed in relation to e.g. other theories of development. There are several aspects in this short analysis that could be further elaborated, but this will do as a discussion opener and thought experiment based on a comparisons with different theories and own experiences rather than on data from sentence completion tests or Spiral dynamics. Apparently Cook-Greuter has been discussing a split of the construct-aware stage into two, I don’t know the rationale or details. If someone knows it would be nice to hear…

Note that Cook-Greuter has also proposed a stage following the construct-aware, the unitive stage.

References:

Beck & Cowan – Spiral dynamics

Commons et al – World future’s special issue on the model of hierarchical complexity (2008)

Cook-Greuter – Nine levels of increasing embrace, Postautonomous ego development (doctoral thesis)

Hy & Loevinger – Measuring ego development 2nd ed

Kegan – The evolving self, In over our heads

Torbert – Action inquiry

Wilber – Integral psychology, Integral Spirituality

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