11. Paradox

Shae. The concept of paradox — as-well-and, it all depends, it’s relative, with relative parameters — makes a lot of sense in the way I understand life. And… there’s that as-well-and, again… there are important anchor points, like learning to take care of life on our planet.

The Music we Play

Alexander. Two things are connecting for me by way of the evolutionary frame. One in terms of the paradox of fixed and constant, and the other one is the non-linear frame in terms of tunnelling and connecting. People in physics will talk about the second one in terms of wormholes. They are coming up with metaphors to try to explain how things are able to move across distances in a much shorter time than is possible in classical physics. So, yes, in terms of evolutionary framing around fixed and not fixed, if we use the metaphor that the universe is a large cosmic jazz ensemble that has been playing improvisational jazz since time immemorial, and there are different instruments playing and we are always in that patterning of coherence, then at times there will be discord or dissonance and other times there will be flow or consonance. 

So, this is the music of the spheres as it’s sometimes called; the evolutionary patterning of all things. When you take this metaphor to the human scale of being, we are all learning to play in this amazing jazz ensemble with everything else that is playing around us. It is just that humans have a knack for being tone-deaf and for not listening very well and wanting to blast out their own tunes without trying to create a greater harmony of expression. But when we learn how to be in greater syntony and flow, we come to understand that the music evolves and changes all the time. It’s improvisational jazz, always changing. Not only that, the instruments in our hands are evolving and changing, too, and in fact even our hands are changing and evolving, so where are the constants? It is all in the flow and warp and weft of the dance. It is all morphing — the instruments, the beings, and even the evolutionary frame, itself.

Broadly Relational Sentience

Alexander.  Here is where sentience comes in. I think we can get glimpses beyond the macrodeterministic parameters of our universe, beyond the veil that people like William Blake talk about in poetic terms. This is what happens when we connect with source, or the akashic field, or the implicate order… we do not generally have access to the implicate order, as the explicate order is all that is manifest, in Bohmian terms. But I believe we can access it, just not through direct consciousness engagement, but rather through our sense of accord, through syntony. Tuning and heightening our sense of appropriateness of flow opens a pathway for doing the kind of things that very skilled shamans and learned people might be able to do and that we would say doesn’t quite accord with the parameters of play that we know. 

I think this has to do with that aspect of being able to connect through a patterning that underlies everything but is not manifest in our common experience of explicate manifest reality. This is a kind of spatial frame (and there is a temporal frame, as well). Remember when we talked about memories of things yet to come (recuerdos del porvenir in Spanish)?  And also about the ability to bring in the frames of being that are actually future frames through a kind of translation or metalation of yet incompletely emerged informational realities. Frames is the wrong word, ways would be better — ways of being… that might be relational ways, or a future relational being that you can reach into. I think the possibility of doing this is inherent in our relationship to space and time that goes beyond strictly linear notions. Stuart Kauffman talks about “the adjacent possible” as a dimensional domain of reality that exists just on the other side of the probability space we inhabit. If we weren’t to have said, thought, moved or done just what we did, we could be there… but then we wouldn’t be in this domain anymore, since it would have become our adjacent possible now. This type of spatial veil has its correlate in the domain of time: the adjacent possible of temporal relations. A transcendent non-linear frame can be engaged, though not necessarily through conscious effort. Nevertheless, perhaps consciousness is required to observe and create the necessary space of the possible for relational multilevel sentience. Putting this stuff into words is a challenge.

Shae. My own experience of the broader frames (though I would say patterns) of relational sentience you are describing, is that it calls for conscious awareness in order to engage and focus, and yet also requires a relaxing into a broadly patterned consciousness. To hold the space of the possible for embodied sentience to tune to wider patterns, including those yet to come. Complexity Patterning is an approach to holding conscious attention on the spatial, temporal, and discursive dynamics occurring, now and possible, in the phenomenon of focus. This then can enable a more expanded sentient relationality and awareness. Complexity Patterning offers a sound foundation.

10. The Big Picture

Alexander. Ervin Laszlo describes the really broad patterns of change as macrodetermination. According to him, this is when you have “bounded indeterminism” such that your degrees of freedom are bounded by the parameters of the governing system. Another way of looking at it, if we turn the perspective on macrodetermination around, is to consider that we live in a universe that has certain parameters within which we have free play, like chess. If you want to play chess, there are certain ways you can move and others that you cannot. In our universe, we have laws of gravity for example, and we can figure out how those work and then work with them; we have the speed of light and we know what that is; and we know the speed of sound in certain environments such as air, water, or vacuum. Those kinds of speeds and densities are constants that we can explore; they are the parameters within which we live and work. 

Human Limits?

Alexander. We have certain things we cannot actually do. That is also macrodetermination, and within that we can play, we can change many things, we can decide to do many things, and we keep pushing the boundaries all the time. But there are some things that you actually cannot do. You cannot stick your hand into a rock and pull it back out (no matter what Alan Watts says), I have tried and it’s not a good idea. So, this is all true in this universe, but maybe it’s not the same in the entire cosmos. That is because the cosmos can hold other universes. Indeed, we might be in a multiverse, and in other universes the constants might be different, so they would have different bounds on their parameters of play and, in effect, a different macrodetermination. So, what patterns we can engage with are bound by the nature of this universe. What do you think about this idea of bounded indeterminism and macrodeterminism in the way I have described?

Shae. I want to say, Yes-And… I agree that our “constants” are somewhat fixed for us, rather than fixed as a backdrop to everything everywhere, for all time. I’m thinking of the contrast between the idea of what we experience as constants being “fixed” everywhere throughout the universe for all time, and the relativity of being “fixed” in our part of the universe at this time. I have been reading about this in a book by Thomas Hertog on the very last theory that Stephen Hawking was working on before he died. The book is about the origin of time, and Hertog explains that all of the laws of physics and indeed all of the patterns that are evident in our universe are only so in our patch of space, in our universe. So, “fixed” is a relative term. Hertog explains that Einstein found this very prediction from his general relativity theory not to his liking. So yes, fixed at the moment and fixed to a certain extent; an indeterminism that is bounded. Paradox at its finest…

We see clearly what can happen when we don’t pay attention to the parameters of the way that nature and the universe we inhabit actually operates in our part of the universe; we can easily destroy things. We can disintegrate life’s coherence when we don’t pay close enough attention. The time frame of human beings existing in the universe is so short, so what we experience as fixed may not actually be so over a longer temporal frame. I think that fixed is a relative term and I think dynamic is a relative term: dynamic to this extent at this time; fixed to that extent at that time. In this way, each is relative and could possibly change. 

Dynamic Patterning

Alexander. I don’t have a definitive answer, but given the patterning of the way the universe is operating and with which we are engaging at the moment as humans, we could say that these are the parameters of what we experience and are capable of knowing with our physical forms and sensory capacities. And… and there is an “and”… I think there is always more to learn and to know. There are many stories of people having experiences that appear to stretch the parameters of what we can and cannot know or even have access to as currently documented in the dominant paradigms of knowledge. Yes, in a fundamental sense, I think it is all fixed and not fixed at the same time; everything is paradoxical. 

  • Hertog, T. (2023). On the origin of time: Stephen Hawking’s last theory. Bantum.
  • Jantsch, E. (1980).  The Self-Organizing Universe. Pergamon Press.
  • Laszlo, E., & Laszlo, A. (2016). What is reality: The new map of cosmos and consciousness. Select Books. 

9. Complexity Patterning.

Shae. I describe Complexity Patterning as a metacognitive strategy for relational experience and understanding, and it is most effective when students’ own identity and experience of life is the first complex phenomenon of focus. I’m convinced pattern thinking is useful for the cultivation of the type of systemic consciousness you describe, because patterns are a metaphenomenon throughout the universe. Complexity Patterning, as a language for the complexity of life, does not have any kind of linear grammar: it’s a dynamic multilevel patterning that is open to any creative engagement. If students come up with their own patterning, it doesn’t matter; it’s their direct embodied experience of relational sentience and the awareness and knowledge they generate that is important.

Alexander. There is a paradox in there. The perennial aspects of life: on the one hand, you express as constant, and on the other, ever changing. There are aspects of the Complexity Patterning, the spiral patterning, for example, that help us remember the patterning of our own being. To remember the song of Self as also remembering those bigger patterns that bring us back into a relationship. In Spanish, remembering is recordar… to bring accord, for ourselves, with everything. Religion has that element from Latin, as well: religare… to bring us back into connection with spirit, to re-connect, to re-member and re-story our relationship within the great hoops of life, or however one may wish to put it. 

There are certain aspects to Complexity Patterning which call in this re-membering relationality. The paradox is that if we imagine any forms of patterning as fixed structures, they become a straight jacket of thinking, but to say there is no structure, just an oceanic flow, becomes the opposite, with no form.  It is this balance between constancy and change which allows for scaffolding of the patterning: the scaffolding emerges and changes, and emerges again and flows. As my friend David Schulhoff put it, “it is the shuffling of the deck between hands that creates the play of emergent order each round the cards are dealt.” 

A Patterning Ontology

Shae. I think with a patterning ontology, that’s what patterns do in the universe: they enable change within a certain amount of constancy through the holding of shape and form. A pattern will hold enough for energy and information to become a something, and it will do so long enough in time for the something to gain qualities and experience. Patterns are also open enough for flow and change; that is the nature of patterns themselves, as far as I understand them. And different patterns have different qualities. With spheres holding more firmly than a mycelial patterning, which is branching and distributing and communicating, and a spiral pattern has some holding qualities and are moving along at the same time. So, the different shapes and patterns have different qualities in the balance of that capacity to hold and enable and allow, all at the same time. Which is the paradox of existence, the dance that we live every day, not doing everything the same but the same enough to enable us to do something else — but not doing it the same enough that we get stuck. It is an interesting paradox all the time.

Complexity Patterning

A Dance Indeed!

Alexander. Yes, keeping the groove from becoming a rut, but allowing for some path-dependence so that we can stay in the groove.  A dance indeed! It recalls a quote from Erich Jantsch who said that “to live in an evolutionary spirit means to engage with full ambition and without any reserve in the structure of the present, and yet to let go and flow into a new structure when the right time has come.” Ha! Anything else is dogmatism or passivity. If you say, “I’ll just let it happen,” that is abandonment of engagement. And yet, to really fully determine some co-creative act you can end up going off in a different direction. Still, evolution always goes off in different directions, so how do you flow with it confidently? This is again the call for syntony. The dynamics of emergence are always coherent on some level. If you look (or sense) closely enough, you will see that things are always in some way connected, even if they express as a stochastic process. And somehow, we can see how it is part of what went before. It usually happens in retrospect because if you are looking at bifurcations you usually can’t say what the outcome will be, but later you can say, “okay, I can see how we went through that quantum leap there,” like with the development of telephony in India where they didn’t develop landlines first and simply leapfrogged straight to cellular telephony in the uptake of that technology. Being able to see those evolutionary patterns is important, and that’s where cultivating one’s syntony sense comes in handy.

8. Consciousness and Relational Identity

Shae. The paradox of individuality and relationality is also an interesting aspect to think about in terms of evolution. A complexity approach engages the dynamic complexity of both-and instead of either/or. Ironically, there is a strong drive to be different in Western society, and there is also a powerful pressure to conform as well, and people who are different can experience discrimination.

Alexander. To also think about that from an evolutionary context, well maybe we weren’t always so individually oriented; perhaps that kicked in basically five thousand years ago, or take it to the dawn of the Anthropocene, say ten thousand or eleven thousand years ago, when some humans started to develop a sense of individuation that was stronger than relationality. In pre-Sumerian times, the mythos was of an integral type; that we are in and of nature. Indigenous peoples maintained this perspective. Now, in many cultures there is a strong individuation that places us above nature — in a position of superiority from which to control and dominate it and all that goes with it. Francis Bacon talked about individuation in these terms, through extortion and extraction, by stealing the secrets of nature. 

I’m thinking of how, from an evolutionary perspective, we moved into that individuating period, and how maybe now we are moving into a period of integration. It’s mycelial; like being more like a mycelium than being a billiard ball bouncing around on our own. People are remembering that there exists an anima mundi that infuses all things with life; a sacredness that is different in spirit and engagement than the place where we put a price tag on everything and we can cut living things down simply because they happen to be in our way.  This is an entirely different holding of interrelation and interbeing from the very Western rut of strident individualism and self-righteous independence. I believe younger generations are moving aways from that and toward this mycelial notion of manifest interbeing and an underlying anima mundi — even Western generations are moving. Maybe now as a species, and just in time, we are re-connecting and re-membering our wider interconnectivity. 

Mycelial Branching Patterning

Shae. Thank you for mentioning the mycelial nature of extra-individual connectivity. One of the four patterns of Complexity Patterning is a branching tree/mycelial patterning. It is a metaphor for the dynamics of connectivity in the complex phenomenon of focus to which it is analogous. I wonder whether consciousness, as a broad phenomenon, could be thought of in terms of mycelial connectivity, as tree intelligence is connected through mycelial webs, and the largest structure seen in the cosmos, the branes of the BOSS Great Wall, is a vast web of connectivity which, interestingly enough, can best be modeled using a slime mould-inspired algorithm according to the European Space Agency.

Image by Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato – Andrew Pontzen and Hiranya Peiris, UCLA press release, 27 August 2014. flickr.com

Where is Mind?

Alexander. You were mentioning heading off to the Science of Consciousness Conference. It will be interesting to see if consciousness is seen as limited to being associated with the human mind.  I am thinking of the fascination, especially in the Western mind, with the life of the mind with many books on consciousness dedicated to this subject — even Gregory Bateson’s book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, is mind-focused. What if consciousness is not relegated to the life of the mind? We tend to see consciousness through the life of the mind, to associate consciousness with the mind. Perhaps there is a bigger perspective of being, and it is not only the consciousness of being but the being itself, in and as a field of consciousness. Just as our larger being doesn’t stop at the edges of our body, our larger being is in connection with the things that are not physically tangible, but are amenable to our presence. Colin Turnble’s books on The Forest People and The Mountain People talk about a sense of being that is coextensive with whatever they can perceive. For them, their sense of Self includes all that is within their perceptive field, so it includes all things that are there now, and it changes as they move around and their social and geographical coordinates change. Who they are changes as they move through the land. Isn’t that wonderful? Each of them is their entire world. That is who they are! It makes so much sense.

Shae. Australian Indigenous people think of identity that way as well, as related to where, when, who and why they are in relationship with, at any given time. It is a very rich and complex perspective of identity and being. A Complexity Patterning view of identity is aligned with these views, through understanding ourselves as an individual and at once broadly embedded dynamic patterning, in broad relationship with everything around, in, and through us. 

Alexander. Yes, what we are in relationship with is so important, because it is in relationship with us! Often we Westerners see relationship as one-way; as ‘I am in relationship with this thing’, but how it might be in relationship with us is unimportant or simply unrecognized.  And yet, there is a conversation there… Relationship truly is a dialogue, and we have to be in the conversation — we have to be introduced to all the things seen and unseen that comprise our reality, and we really should try to foster good relationships with them!

Shae. I like the idea of being introduced! It acknowledges the sentience of all beings. I experienced an Indigenous Australian ‘singing me in’ to introduce me to his Country in accordance with the protocols of relationality with the sentience with the more-than-human world. Rich relationship with everything around us helps us have healthy and clear expressions of consciousness as engaged sentience. To feel and love the trees, plants, and other animals as kin. My aim is to contribute to such relational sentience through pattern thinking and understanding in educational settings.

Mind as Relationality

Alexander. Relational intelligence, yes: the cultivation of relational intelligence can be enabled through practice, through experience. That is, relational intelligence as a means of fostering greater systemic consciousness. It is the systemic consciousness/being… the relational intelligence for fostering systemic consciousness. I am looking at this as a conscious, intentional capacity and capability of being and of interbeing, but I’m wondering… as you were saying with a good proportion of our body made up of non-human cells (microbes and bacteria), we are both human and more-than-human, so our thinking should really shift from interbeing to intrabeing. Expanding our Self identity so as to encompass all of that involves taking to hear that we are all of these things, like Caroline Merchant’s example of the person saying, ‘I am not a human trying to save the rainforest; I am part of the rainforest trying to save and defend itself.’ Ultimately, we are an expression of the entire universe, so how can that sense of identity be encouraged? Instead of saying ‘this doesn’t have my DNA’ (that’s so reductionist!) or even saying ‘I end here where my skin ends’, we are invited to recognize that each of us is an interspecies being and that others are not really ‘other’. Then we get into the understanding that there are no others, which is a big jump for Western mind. Yes, relational intelligence is something to be cultivated in school and educational systems, and I can see it clearly in your postdisciplinary patterning framework.

Bateson, G. (2000). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. University of Chicago Press.

Merchant, C. (1976). Environmental Ethics and Political Conflict: A View from California. In Seeing with a Native Eye: Essays on Native American Religion, Walter Holdon Capps (Ed.).  Harper and Row.

Turnbull, C. M. (1961). The Forest People: A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo, Simon & Schuster.

7. Time is a Complex Phenomenon

Shae. I think people can naturally have a transtemporal consciousness and the mechanistic idea of time as only expressed by a ticking clock can have the effect of dampening such sentience, of lessening the expression of consciousness. I certainly saw that with my secondary students.

I am reminded of autochthonous understandings of time, which are also resonant with an understanding of time within quantum field theory, where deep time of all evolution can be accessed now; it’s not that the past didn’t happen or that time is an illusion, because there are effects on the body of all matter, but it is more a view of how the deep past continues in the present. And filaments of the future to come are also already present now. This is so even with the dynamic indeterminacy of life patterning into being all the time. An example of this tricky transtemporal concept that I like to share with young people is related to the stars we see in the sky. Some of them were active billions of years ago, but we are just experiencing them now as it takes that long for the light to reach us; it is a now of all time as well, not just a slice of time in a linear sense. Indigenous sensibility in sentience engages with deep time this way, with evolution as continuing now. We don’t generally see three million years into the future by looking at the stars though… That is an entirely different thought experiment! 

Memories of Things Yet to Come

Shae. Your comments about developing knowing, and indeed re-membering things-to-come are interesting. It is a kind of future thinking in the same way that you can access the intelligence of your ancestors, way back through your bones and through time… it is not really time travel because it is all now, and the emerging now, but as you say, it is like shifting of focus and frequency. I imagine an antidote to the panic of our own individuality and the drive to ferocious empire building and wealth hoarding is the teaching and learning of complex time that includes the deep time of past and future as threaded through the present. 

To understand individuality in terms of fleeting being, and simultaneously in deep time, past and future – and all of the complexities in between — may release the terror of having to achieve everything in your own lifetime since, truly, you just about flash by in the big time of generations and evolution. I understand from my experience of teaching and learning of complex time that there is a very Western chronophobia, a terror of time, and it can be, needs to be, released. I really believe lots of mental health problems for young people are related to this temporal issue. The ubiquitous nature of mechanistic linear time is not the appropriate temporal environment for humans to thrive. Time appears to be relegated to the background as something that is not thought about much within education, and yet I saw students in a kind of temporal rigidity that froze them from being able to live in the fullness of their lives.

Complex Time

Shae. We need complex time as a foundation for a freedom that is vastly different from the freedom to exploit and exercise power over others. Yes, I believe transformational education requires a strong temporal dimension! One of the four patterns of Complexity Patterning forms a temporal patterning. It engages with the complexity of rhythms and temporalities within our own experience. Using patterns as metaphors assists with engaging in broader sentience, and in this case, with temporal sentience.

Alexander. Yes, understanding complex time is assisted with metaphors, as we don’t normally experience it directly. 

Brown, S. L. (2023). Teaching complex time through pattern thinking and understanding. Time & Society. Special Forum: Teaching Time.