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Evolution within Consciousness

Evolution within Consciousness

In my previous post in honor of the late philosopher of the mind and consciousness, Daniel Dennett, I mentioned that I would post a follow up. This post relates to a different philosophy of consciousness, from a different philospher, one where consciousness is considered to be fundamental and all phenomena to arise within it, rather than for it to be a trait that emerges out of material interactions in the brain. So the brain and the mind exist within consciouness, not the other way around.

That philosopher is Amit Goswami, and I have long been a proponent of his model, since reading his seminal book The Self-Aware Universe at the advice of an old friend. I’ve read and re-read most of his books, and having just completed my second or third read of his book on evolution, I am just going to post my goodreads review of it here. I hope it makes sense, and makes his arguments and line of thinking clear.

In this 2008 book, Amit Goswami applies his theoretical framework of science within consciousness to biological evolution and the origins of life. His hope is to reconcile creationism with evolution, in accord with his greater goal of reconciling science with spirituality. For the first time in this body of work, he repeatedly uses the term “God” (this book was published in the same year as another of his books, “God Is Not Dead”). He defines God as “objective cosmic consciousness” – unitive consciousness as the ground of all being.

He frames the problem of creationism vs. Darwinism as one of conflicting worldviews, both of which are ultimately untenable. The simplistic model of creationism is clearly contradicted by real world data, but the Darwinist model of random mutation and natural selection is also unable to explain much of what is observable about life. For example, it cannot explain life’s purposiveness, or the biological arrow of time with its progression from simpler to more complex life forms. Nor can it explain the subjective feeling of being alive.

The problem is basing science on a reductionist materialist ontology; this makes it impossible to explain subjective qualia of experience without running into paradoxes. In addition, with Darwinism, everything must arise from chance and necessity, so the theory runs afoul of huge improbabilities. How can organic molecules arrange themselves into complex life forms by chance alone? The doctrine of natural selection is inadequate because it too is paradoxical – it declares “survival of the fittest” but then defines “fittest” as that which survives. This is circular reasoning which fails to address the fundamental question – why survive at all?

Something is lacking in the materialist worldview on which Darwinism is based, and Goswami’s proposition is that what is missing is the idea of the universe arising within consciousness as a consequence of self-referential quantum measurement. Such a measurement can arise when there is a “tangled hierarchy,” where cause and effect are intertwined. This is a key concept in Goswami’s theory, an idea you may have already encountered in the work of Douglas Hofstadter. An example from biology is how DNA encodes for proteins but proteins are used to replicate DNA. Which comes first, if each depends on the other? Clearly the whole living system must arise as one.

In Goswami’s model this happens because consciousness itself – the ground of all being – actualizes the living system in manifest reality out of the myriad quantum possibilities available at the microscopic level. In other words, the biological complexity evolves in the uncollapsed wave function, unrestricted by the laws of entropy which make its manifestation via material interactions alone so unlikely. When the gestalt of a functioning living system is available in possibility, consciousness collapses the wave function into that state in a self-referential measurement, actualizing the living entity and identifying with it in the process. Thus arises a sense of self, an experience of being separate from the world. This explains the subjective feeling of being alive, and why life forms have a drive to survive.

Quantum measurement alone is not enough to explain how a life form can exist; somehow consciousness must be able to recognize the proper arrangement of biological matter to represent a living function. This is where Goswami reintroduces his idea of subtle bodies and psychophysical parallelism – consciousness simultaneously collapses correlated physical and vital bodies, with the vital body acting as a blueprint so that consciousness can recognize the possibilities of life available to be represented in material form. Our experience of feeling is the manifestation of this vital body.

Similarly, as evolution progresses up the Great Chain of Being, a mental body, correlated with our biological brain, gives us our experience of thought. Goswami explains how perception manifests from mental image representation in the brain. He presents an intriguing road map of the evolution of mind which is similar to that espoused by Ken Wilber, whom Goswami has referenced in earlier works. He suggests some tantalizing possibilities for future evolution, and also speculates that as a species humanity is stuck evolutionarily because we have not integrated our emotional and rational minds. He offers some ideas of how we could overcome this blocker.

Goswami’s thinking is unconventional, but it does connect physics and biology with spirituality using a consciousness-based resolution to the measurement problem in quantum mechanics. He postulates an objective cosmic consciousness as the equivalent of what religions call “God,” which fosters creativity in the manifest physical world with the aid of archetypes of form. He also postulates subtle bodies which exist in parallel with our material body, which give us our inner experience of being alive, of having feelings and a mind. This is what religions call our “soul.” This is an idealist as oppososed to a materialist science, akin to the idealism of Plato, and it does indeed reconcile the idea of a creator God with the nitty gritty of the physical sciences.

I’ve written a super long review here, the longest of mine yet for any of Amit Goswami’s books. Goswami’s ideas make sense to me, and I find his philosophy satisfying. I hope I have summarized his arguments here accurately and in a way that motivates the reader to check out this book, or any of his others. I recommend starting with “The Self Aware Universe”.

Saying Goodbye to an Eminent Philosopher

Saying Goodbye to an Eminent Philosopher

Dennett’s books among some others in my collection.

One of the great philosophers of our time just passed away recently. His name was Daniel Dennett, and he was a cognitive scientist and researcher into the philosophy of mind. He was famously an atheist and a proponent of Darwinist evolutionary biology. I have read a few of his books, and have them on my bookshelf in my curated collection of what I think are among the best or most important books on the philosophy of mind and the meaning of life. Probably Dennett’s best known works are Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained, the latter of which lays out his understanding of what consciousness is.

He was a proponent of the Darwinist idea of traits arising through natural selection because of their adaptiveness, with consciousness being just one more trait that an organism can have. In his view, consciousness was something like an illusory experience that gives us a summary view of reality to help us get along, arising out of the interacting neurons in the brain. He was a materialist who believed that to study conscisousness, you have to look in the brain, its ultimate cause. Below is an interview that will give you an idea of his train of thought.

I have great respect for Daniel Dennett, and admired his gentle and humane nature, and his deep thinking. I really appreciated that he ascribed consciousness to non-human animals, at least those with more advanced brains, and believed consequently that their suffering was real and we should take it seriously.

But I don’t agree with his philosophy. I think that with a materialist, upward causation model, you run into paradoxes when trying to explain consciousness. You can see what I mean if you watch the interview, where Dennett describes how human consciousness is more advanced than animal consciousness because our neurons have representations not just of our sensory data but also of the representations themselves. Layers upon layers. But how do you get to the actual meaning that is being represented; do you just add layers ad infinitum? The subjective experience of meaning is not explained.

I am a proponent of the ideas of a different philosopher, Amit Goswami, of whom I’ve written on this blog before. He has a better model, an idealist one, which puts consciousness ahead of matter instead of the other way around. It’s not a question of mind over matter or of matter over mind when both exist within fundamental consciousness. As the Beatles put it, “it’s all within yourself.” I have a follow up post based on one of his books, which will describe a different way of thinking about the evolution of the human mind.

But I give Dennett his due, as he was a great and wise thinker. I end this post with a link to a full-length album of avant-garde music featuring sampling from one of his lectures. Rest in Peace, o noble born.

How We Got Agile: An Origin Story

How We Got Agile: An Origin Story

My old copy of “the mythical man-month”

When I was a young man, a college student in the Computer Science program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, we were assigned a book to read. It was called The Mythical Man-Month, by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., and I still have my copy from the 1980s. The point of the book, which you might be able to glean from the title, is that you can’t simply measure work effort in “man-months,” on a scale such that you could conceivably get more work done by adding more people to a project. As an example, you couldn’t say that a project has a work effort of 120 man-months, meaning that with 10 men it will take 12 months to finish, and therefore with 20 men it will be done in 6 months.

If you had 10 men working on this hypothetical project, and added 10 more, you would not find that it completed 6 months sooner. It would, in fact, take longer than 12 months. The problem is, as you add more men (people) to a project, you need time to get new hires ramped up to where they understand the project well enough to be productive. You also multiply the lines of communication, which generates additional overhead keeping everyone in sync on specific information needed to make interacting components work together. In engineering, these pieces of information are called “specifications,” and they have to be tracked somehow. If you add more people to a technical project, you add more tracking effort. These complications are summarized in Brook’s law: “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”.

As a software engineer in the early 21st century, it fascinates me to read the author’s description of how specifications were tracked on the project he worked on – the IBM System/360 – in the 1950s and 60s. They had huge manuals kept in binders, and as changes were made, the responsible engineers would have to go in to the binders and update the appropriate pages – that is, take out the old pages and insert the new ones with the changed specs. This manual was the Bible of the system, and keeping it up to date was abolutely vital to the success of the project.

Modern day software engineers like me are not used to such meticulously maintained documentation. We consider ourselves lucky if there is any documentation at all for the software on which we are working. You’d think it would be easier, now that everything can be done online, but projects move too fast and the people working on them move around too much. No one is necessarily going to stay on top of documentation, and so long as software works as expected, that’s fine. It’s when it doesn’t work that you run into trouble.

Because personnel move around so frequently in the modern workforce, there is rarely anyone working on a software program who was there when it was originally programmed. But programmers still need to maintain it. Sometimes we are given requirements to modify existing software that has no documentation, with no one around who knows anything about it, and the only way to achieve that goal is through “reverse engineering.” This means poring over old code and documenting it from scratch, which is very time consuming. This underscores the point about the man-month: you can’t just insert a person into a project and expect them to get as much done in a given amount of time as a previous person on the project did. Certainly not if they are going to be reverse engineering the previous person’s work.

Since the start of the personal computing era and the long economic boom of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, computer software has been advancing at a faster pace than it did when Frederick P. Brooks worked as an engineer at IBM. The workforce has changed as well, with employees typically job hopping every few years, and often working as contractors through agencies rather than directly for the client that owns the software they are developing. So how do the software engineers of my generation handle project management in such a chaotic work environment?

The answer is “Agile” methodology, which came about around the start of this century. Agile is a lean or lightweight software development method that emphasizes individuals collaborating over plans and processes, and defines good software as software that works, not necessarily software that is well documented. At least, that’s the declaration in a famous “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” that was published in 2001.

The idea is that “Agile” is a mindset where you are focused as a team on communication and collaboration, continuous improvement, and responsiveness to change. In practice, it means breaking up the project work into short iterations called “sprints,” which typically last two weeks. Everyone’s tasks for the sprint are things that shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks to finish. So right there the idea of a “man-month” is out; no one would work on one thing for a whole month!

Breaking the project work into chunks like this makes it easier to show progress, and to evaluate how effective the team is from sprint to sprint, and change processes and workflows as needed. It also makes it easier to accomodate personnel shifting around from project to project. It’s a way of coping with today’s volatile workplace, which makes long term planning harder to achieve. A whole panoply of “frameworks” and “ceremonies” has developed around the original concept since it was first elucidated.

If you are in a white collar profession (not even necessarily Information Technology) you might have experience with Agile-related frameworks in your career. I was first exposed to Agile in the late 2000s, and have been at positions where it is used comprehensively since 2018. Every company does it a little differently, but I have always found it to be a useful way to structure project work.

The way I see it, Agile came about because a new generation of software engineers needed to adapt to a faster pace of work than what the generation of Frederick P. Brooks experienced in their careers. They needed to find their own solution to the problem of how to get people to work effectively when they are added, out of the blue, to a new project. If you look at the signatories of the 2001 Agile Manifesto, you will see that they are almost entirely Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Today’s Millennials and Gen Zers in the IT workforce have possibly never worked on a project that wasn’t using Agile.

I’ll have more to say about the different generations and Agile in a future post.

A Gen X Life Story

A Gen X Life Story

As the girl and I headed off to our 40th high school reunion at the end of last month, I needed a book to read on the trip. I picked The Gen X Girl’s Journal by Kari Thorsdottir, which had been on my reading list for a while. It seemed appropriate since we are both Gen Xers, born around the same time as the book’s author. Based on the book’s cover, I expected something like a memoir about the Gen X young adult experience, full of trenchant social observations and pop culture trivia. That’s what you expect from my generation.

What I got instead was a novel that very directly and subjectively describes the life of a woman named Annika, from her freshman year in college in 1985 all the way to current times, ending in the year 2019. It is somewhat of a conventional life – Annika joins a sorority in college, graduates into a white collar career, marries and has two sons, and struggles with balancing family life and work life. There are a couple of story arcs that achieve closure by the end of the book, which finishes with her 30th year college reunion, but for the most part the narrative just goes through the paces of an ordinary life, up until middle age.

The writing lacks literary embellishment, simply describing events and the characters’ thoughts and emotions from a third person perspective. It sometimes dwells on specific events, and at other times skips years in a single paragraph, reflecting how we typically recall our lives. Some moments stick with us, even as the years fly by.

I enjoyed the read, even though the story is so basic. I mean, I’ve read other memoirs of Gen X women born around the same time as me. Some have led more interesting lives, like commercial jet pilot Laura Savino; while others, such as professional writer Sari Botton, write with more literary flair. But in its unassuming way, Kari Thorsdottir’s book drew me into Annika’s personal experience, with all the intimacy of a journal or diary. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was based on the author’s own life, even though it purports to be a work of fiction.

As was the case with the other memoirs by Gen X women that I have read, I found that despite the significant differences that come with being a man, I still recognized and could easily empathize with Annika’s life experiences. She tread territory that was familiar to me, since she was born at the same time as me. That’s what it means to belong to the same generation; you share the same course through history. Anyone from my generation – man or woman – could easily see a part of themselves in Annika. And anyone from any generation would gain a better understanding of the Gen X life course by reading this book.

Here is the author’s link tree if you want to get a copy- https://linktr.ee/genxgirlsjournal

Syncing up the Book Reviews

Syncing up the Book Reviews

I joined goodreads a while back, but it was after I started this blog. Since I joined goodreads, I’ve been reviewing every book I read on that site. But since I’ve reviewed books on this blog as well, and some of those were done before I was on goodreads, I realized that this blog and goodreads are not in perfect sync.

My OCD couldn’t handle this, so I paraphrased my blog reviews on goodreads for all the missing books, to plug in the gaps. Is there any point to this? Just me obsessing on feedbacking my life experience into the Internet, which is, after all, going to outlive me. The Internet is where our civilization is containerized, consumed, digested and stored for future use, for at least the intelligent reasoning and meaning processing aspect of civilization that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere.

Here’s a list of the book reviews that were added to my little ecosystem in the noosphere, where my thoughts may or may not add value to mental reality:

Memoir of a Millennial Childhood

Memoir of a Millennial Childhood

I recently finished this coming of age memoir, by Emi Nietfeld, a young woman born in the early 1990s. It was a fascinating read for me, since we have had such different lives, being a generation apart in age. I have read memoirs by women of my own generation, born around the same time as me, and honestly I recognize much of my own experience in what they recount. But not so much with this one.

Here is my review on goodreads:

A frank, revealing, and often harrowing coming of age memoir by a young woman, structured around her college admissions experience. The author comes from a disadvantaged background, facing many difficult constraints, including treatment for mental illness. In her mind, college represents an escape to a better future, but she becomes disillusioned when she realizes she must disguise her past in order to receive the acceptance she craves. I found this a fascinating read, since Emi Nietfeld’s life experience is so far removed from mine. I am from an older generation, and male, as well as having had a fairly ordinary family as a child. I did recognize in Nietfeld’s memoirs what I understand to be common themes for Millennial girls growing up: intense pressure to achieve and conform, confrontations with stubbornly dysfunctional adult institutions, and a panoply of self-destructive behaviors for stress release. I very much appreciate her openness and honesty describing her experience, which she does skillfully and even with a little humour, where she can find it. An eye-opening read and highly recommended.

As a long time student of generations, I have read a lot about the Millennial childhood experience, but of course that does not compare to actually living it. The closest I could come to that is, well, reading a memoir such as this one. I really was struck by how much the author’s experience aligned with what generational theory has to say about the Millennial peer personality, particularly the traits of: pressured, achieving, and conventional, if not so much sheltered *, since she had a tough family situation.

Nietfeld overcame the difficulties of her background, or at the very least made it out of childhood and into therapy, as she relates in her epilogue. She is active online, and you should easily be able to find her on social media, where she advocates for reforming institutions to better serve the needs of “troubled kids” in circumstances like the ones she faced. In particular, she is against the idea that a difficult childhood should be tolerated, or even accepted, as a means for someone to develop “grit” or “resilience” and emerge as a stronger person.

To me, this really stands out as a turning away from the attitude of my generation – Gen X. We believed that no one would look out for us, and that it was indeed up to us to develop the inner strength to withstand whatever abuses the world hurled at us. Emi Nietfeld’s response – that we should fix institutions to make them work, rather than avoid them as inherently unworkable – is the surest sign that she is a member of the Millennial generation.

*for more on the peer personality traits of Millennials growing up, see the book Millennials Rising by Neil Howe and William Strauss

Strategy Review: The Next American Nation

Strategy Review: The Next American Nation

Michael Lind published his amazing work, The Next American Nation, in 1995. It’s a book about how different versions of the American republic have emerged periodically, following revolutions every hundred years or so. Seeing as it came out just before one of my favorite books about such cycles, The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe, it’s kind of strange that I never read it until now. It is the most egregious example of a book that came out in the Third Turning that I am finally getting around to reading in the Fourth Turning (there have been many others). I should have been comparing Lind’s revolutions to the Strauss & Howe cycle decades ago! But no matter, I finally read it, and in this review I will discuss what I found.

Lind describes three historical versions of the American republic: the one after the founding of the United States, a second one after the U.S. Civil War, and a third one following the Civil Rights era. He also speculates on a possible fourth republic in the future (which could be now, since he wrote this over twenty-five years ago). It’s interesting that two of Lind’s revolutions coincide with Fourth Turnings from Strauss & Howe, but the third one does not, and also that Lind does not identify the New Deal as the founding of a new version of the American republic. I have seen the same pattern in another theorist’s version of waves or cycles of political change, and I’ll get to that point later in this post.

To Lind, it’s important to consider that the United States of America is a nation, and that it has (or should have) a national identity. It does not make sense to think of the United States as a federation of separate national groups (as implied by the “nine nations of America” idea), nor should it be considered a collection of people united by an ideal such as democracy, or individual rights, or free market capitalism. The United States is a nation, like any other, and it’s not even exceptional. It is not, for example, the only settler society consisting of people who are mostly descendants of immigrants from the past few hundred years. It is not the only nation with a diversity of ethnic groups and religions. It is a distinct and unique nation, to be sure, but so are all others.

As a nation, each version of the American Republic has four identifying characteristics: a national community, a common ethic, an elite class, and a national political creed. Lind’s book is very orderly, and he explains what he means and describes these characteristics clearly for each version of the Republic. I will do my best to summarize what he wrote.

The First American Republic, the one founded in 1789, Lind calls the Anglo-American Republic. The national community of that Republic was people of Anglo-Saxon heritage, and the common ethic was Protestant Christianity. So you can see he is straight up accepting that, in its founding, the United States was an exclusive nation for a particular ethnic community – those we would later call WASPs, the original privileged Americans. The First Republic was dominated by an elite class of Southern planters, and its political creed was the decentralized republicanism of Thomas Jefferson.

Massive immigration of non-Anglo Saxons (Germans and Irish primarily) throughout the nineteenth century undermined this order. After the Civil War came the Second American Republic, which Lind calls the Euro-American Republic. He states that the Civil War could be understood as a war between the Anglo-American South and the Euro-American North. The Second Republic’s national community was white people of European descent, and its common ethic was “Judeo-Christianity,” in that it was for the most part inclusive of Protestants, Catholics and Jews. In fact, it is from this “triple establishment” of religions that we get jokes that start with “a pastor, a priest, and a rabbi…”

The Second Republic’s elite was the Northeastern business and professional class, what might be called the new bastion of WASPness, or those who could claim descendance from the Mayflower. It’s political creed was a more democratically inclusive form of federalism, still decentralized but with more universal suffrage, and undeniably white supremacist. It was during the Second Republic that the frontier closed, and we got the “melting pot” concept – that America was forming a distinct culture out of the cultural elements of its many different immigrants. It was during this time that the concept of “whiteness” expanded to include all Europeans, not just Northern Europeans. Still, the Northeastern WASP elites dominated, and it is from them that we get what might be considered the quintessential elements of American culture: baseball, football, and how we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As already noted, Lind does not consider the Depression, New Deal, and Second World War era to be revolutionary or to have founded a new version of the American Republic. Instead, he identifies the next revolution as the Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century, and declares that the Third American Republic, which he calls the Multicultural American Republic, was founded around 1972 with the end of the Civil Rights era and the establishment of affirmative action and racial preferences. The Multicutural American Republic doesn’t really have a national community, being something of an amalgam of different racial nations, and it lacks legitimacy in the public eye.

The Third Republic’s common ethic is one of ethnic authenticity – being true to whatever your particular race-based subculture is. Its political creed is multicultural democracy, reinforced by racial gerrymandering. Its elite is a white overclass, which maintains what might now be called the “neoliberal order” (though Lind doesn’t use that term), and allows a small number of non-whites into their class through affirmative action, which Lind calls a “racial spoils system.” This is a compromise made so that the white overclass can remain the elites without risking the unrest of another Civil Rights movement.

Clearly Lind recognizes the long shadow of white supremacy and white privilege in American history. But he could hardly be called “woke” (to use the current parlance); in fact he is generally considered to be a conservative. According to his Wikipedia page, in his works he upholds “American democratic nationalism,” which is basically the form of his ideal Fourth Republic. It’s a Republic that guarantees individual civil rights more universally, backed up by a vigorous yet limited central government – a vision closer to that of Alexander Hamilton than that of Thomas Jefferson, which perhaps explains the popularity of the musical.

In the Fourth American Republic (still to come), the national community is both a cultural melting pot and a racial melting pot, united by American English and an identifiable American culture. Its common ethic is what Lind calls “civic familism,” which is kind of a belief in the importance of family as the foundation of a stable society. Family life is private, and can be religious or not, and patriarchal or not; it can be whatever works for the particular family (think “modern family”), so long as it provides a stable base from which the family members can then engage publicly as responsible citizens. At least that was how I interpreted his argument.

The Fourth American Republic’s political creed is a national democracy where civil rights are uniform, and the law is absolutely color blind. This harkens back to the original civil rights vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., with his famous quote about judging people by their inner, not their outer qualities. This is what the revolutionary civil rights era was trying to bring about, before the compromise of affirmative action twisted its meaning and gave us the unsustainable racial preferences system of today. Or rather, the unsustainable system of the time when Lind wrote this book. Recently, affirmative action is under attack by the Supreme Court, which Lind might consider a step towards the Fourth Republic that he envisioned. But I haven’t seen anywhere that Lind agrees with this assessment.

Lind provides a long list of radical reforms that would be needed to bring about his revolutionary Fourth Republic, all meant to bust up the oligarchy and create a level playing field on which the racially-blind working class can thrive. These reforms include immigration restrictions, tariffs, progressive taxation, college tuition subsidies and caps, and an end not only to affirmative action in college admissions but also to legacy preferences. He warns that without these reforms, we could end up as a “Brazilianized” society with permanent racial castes, or succumb to a nativist backlash and a demagogue who attempts to restore the good-old white supremacy of the Second Republic.

Looking at the state of affairs today, in 2023, I imagine that Lind would recognize some things coming to pass that he wrote about in 1995. The rise of MAGA indeed seems like a nativist backlash with tinges of white supremacy (make America like the 1950s again). Its enemy in the civil conflict, wokeism, is like an entrenchment of the racial preferences regime of the “Third Republic.” So we are facing both of these possible negative outcomes that Lind warned about, and not much chance of achieving the reforms he advocated.

Michael Lind has written several more books since The Next American Nation, and frequently has opinion pieces published online. I haven’t read any of his other books, but from what I’ve seen of his online presence, he continues to beat the drum against oligarchy, and promote what he thinks are the best options for the working class. For example, in this piece he argues that we need to ditch neoliberalism and wokeism as tools of the elites, and need a coalition of pro-worker factions from both political parties to work together. He does not believe that we can achieve the Fourth Revolution by having one party or the other dominate in government; that will simply entrench the status quo, since those parties are captured by the elites.

As already discussed, it is notable that Lind considers the Civil Rights movement to be the Third Revolution that founds the Third Republic, rather than the New Deal, as identified in Strauss and Howe generational theory. I think this is because Lind is focused on understanding a nation as a cultural entity, supported by an instutitional framework, perhaps, but not defined by it. Strauss and Howe, in contrast, define their Crisis eras as periods of institutional transformation, or as they put it, changes to the external order. Roughly halfway between each Crisis, they identify another transformative era that they call an Awakening, in which what changes are social values – in other words, the internal order.

According to Strauss and Howe, the changes that Lind calls the Third Revolution were really changes to the internal order during the last Awakening. The “Multicultural Republic” that resulted is still the New Deal Republic, but with its institutions questioned and weakening, under assault from the new multicultural values. The reason this Third Republic (as Lind calls it) lacks legitimacy is that we haven’t yet fully passed through the Crisis era, from which a new institutional framework will emerge that incorporates (to a yet unknown extent) these new values. Once all the political dust settles from the Culture Wars battles now being fought in courts and legislatures, we’ll see how “woke” we end up becoming. When the political conflicts are finally settled, the new “Fourth Republic” will be accepted as legitimate, perhaps grudgingly by many, but legitimate nonetheless – at least in the sense that no one has the energy left to fight against it.

The other theorist who similarly identifies a new order emerging from a period later than the New Deal is Philip Bobbitt, with his theory of the market state as a new consitutional order coming out of the end of the Cold War. I tried to summarize his theory in a blog post some time back. I’ve actually posted quite a lot about the market state, and eventually come to the conclusion, in my own words: “that while Bobbitt is correct in his broader theory of periodic changes in the constitutional order, with the “market state” he has really just identified the priorities of the market-driven social era of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.” Bobbitt, like Lind, intuited a profound social change occurring in his time, and fit it into his theory in a way that made sense to him.

I think that Lind and Bobbitt both miss the New Deal era as a revolutionary period because of the focus of their respective theoretical frameworks. Lind is focused on national culture, while Bobbitt is focused on military strategy. To them, the New Deal may have seemed like a bureaucratic adjustment to the republic or constitutional order that came out of the Civil War, not an epochal event in itself. To Strauss and Howe, it was indeed epochal, part of the previous Fourth Turning, as defined by their generational framework.

It’s clear that Lind realized profound changes happened to American culture coming out of the 1960s and 1970s, a commonplace observation in social history. He labeled it the founding of a new Republic, whereas Strauss and Howe would have called it the beginning of the end of the Republic that came out of the New Deal era, with the real founding of a new Republic happening a couple of generations later, in the aftermath of the Fourth Turning that they predicted (and which we are now in). From a high enough view, I suppose, the difference is immaterial. The world is constantly in flux, and you can draw your lines wherever you want to try to make sense of it.

What’s important is that these different theorists identified a common pattern in the way social change plays out. Societies tend to go from an ordered state to a disordered one, as one would naturally expect, given entropy. At some point, after the order has broken down far enough, an impetus to restore order kicks in, and society is reordered, but in a new way. Because Lind identified the same pattern that Strauss and Howe did, his American Republics closely match the saecular orders of generational theory’s turnings, even though they don’t match exactly.

In The Next American Nation, Michael Lind lays out a hopeful vision of how the United States could remake itself along the lines of true racial equality and respect for individual civil rights, living up to an expansive interpretation of the ideals expressed at its founding. To get there requires a raft of sweeping structural changes to our social order, which seem impossible to achieve, after a quarter century of partisan politics and government gridlock, with cultural conflict and imploding civic trust making any semblance of order seem like a far away fantasy. What history tells us is that the conflict of this Fourth Turning cannot last forever; at some point its fuel will be expended, and like any fire it will burn out. Only then will we see order emerge from the ashes, but whether it resembles Lind’s Fourth Republic or not, we cannot know.

You Really Should Read “The Self-Aware Universe”

You Really Should Read “The Self-Aware Universe”

In multiple posts on this blog I have referenced a theory of unitive consicousness as the best explanation for how it is we are alive in the Universe. If you’re interested in learning more about this theory, the place to start is the book below, which I summarize in this brief review.

“Consciousness is the agency that collapses the wave of a quantum object, which exists in potentia, making it an immanent particle in the world of manifestation.”

Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe (1993)

This simple and powerful idea is at the heart of the book The Self-Aware Universe, in which physicist Amit Goswami proposes a monistic idealist interpretation of quantum mechanics, and connects science with mysticism and religion. He explains the physics in simple terms for the layperson, with ample figures to help with understanding. His proposed theory does away with the paradoxes of quantum physics which arise when a purely materialistic theory is applied. It also reintroduces meaning and morality to existence, huge problems for materialistic science to grapple with and a major reason for the rift between science and religion, a rift which is so damaging to society.

Goswami attempts to heal this rift with his new approach to science which acknowledges the reality of consciousness. He explains his philosophical approach with reference to past philosophies, and cites experimental results which support his view. He goes into dense discussions of the experimental data and how best to interpret it, but also has light-hearted mock encounters with historical philosophers to provide background.

This book is a must read for anyone serious about understanding the nature of reality, and their place in the Universe.

An excellent synopsis of Goswami’s theory of the self-aware Universe can be found here:  The Self-Aware Universe Synopsis.

Opening the Heart for a Healthy Life

Opening the Heart for a Healthy Life

When Aileen and I first reunited, she gave me a book about heart disease, written by Dr. Dean Ornish. It is titled “Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease.” She had already given it once before – to her husband, Gavin, after he developed heart problems. Based in part on the advice from this book, he switched to a vegetarian diet, which helped. He also took pharmaceutical drugs, and after much medication management is now back to eating meat. It’s not like he necessarily followed Ornish’s program exactly, but reading it and heeding some of its advice was a help.

I read the book when Aileen gave it to me, and while I also have not followed the program exactly (or much), I certainly valued what I learned. Mostly the program for treating heart disease is just common sense advice: reduce stress, get exercise, absolutely do not smoke tobacco, and eat a proper diet. In fact, nearly half of this book is healthy recipes.

What I really valued about the book was its many anecdotes of individuals reversing heart disease, and the way their path to healing was tied to the bigger picture of their life. It wasn’t just about making physical changes, but also changes in attitude and in their emotional life, even in their spiritual life. It was about how beliefs and feelings affect physical well-being.

Ornish calls his program “opening the heart.” He specifically discusses opening to one’s feelings, to the needs of others, and to a higher purpose. What I got out of it is that heart disease, whatever its physical manifestations, is a result of closing oneself off. It is a disease of isolation.

The idea that the key to reversing heart disease is “opening” the heart ties to the concept of chakras, which are the centers where vital energy flows in alignment with physical organs. Charkras can be open or closed (“blocked” is also used), and when closed or blocked, disease will result in the corresponding organ(s).

The chakra aligned with the heart is the seat of emotions and love; that is why you have that feeling of your heart expanding when you experience intense love. This can even happen when you vicariously experience love while watching a mushy romantic movie. You are experiencing your heart chakra opening, blossoming even (think of how chakras are often depicted to look like flowers). Watching mushy movies is good for your heart!

But walling off your emotions, being unwilling or afraid to care about yourself or others, will close down your heart chakra. The vital energy aligned with your heart will be blocked, and the organ itself will begin to show signs of disease. Emotional isolation – loneliness, or anger and fear directed at others – leads to an ailing heart.

As the name of Ornish’s program implies, opening the heart (chakra) is the key to maintaining heart health. He does not specifically mention chakras, either because he discounts them or because he does not want his book to seem like it supports alternative medicine. But I think that the similarities between his medical program and the concepts of chakra medicine are no coincidence. A deeper truth about the nature of human life is being revealed.

How can it be that there is some kind of vital energy, and how could it possibly interact with our physical bodies? There is no measurable quantity of physical energy associated with our feelings of vitality, feelings like what I described above, when your heart expands with joy and love. But those feelings are real – our experience of them is direct evidence of this vital energy.

The best explanation of how our vitality – our aliveness – is connected to our physical forms lies in the the primacy of consciousness model of reality. I have brought this model up before, in a post on “mind over matter.” There, I described how my mental experience manifested in parallel with events in the physical world, mediated by unitive consciousness.

A similar phenomenon occurs in vital experience, which manifests in parallel with our physical bodies. The correspondence of the chakras of our vital bodies (there are seven chakras total) to specific parts of our physical bodies is mediated by unitive consciousness, which is the agency which keeps us alive. Our experience of our vital bodies is internal and private; it is our feeling of being alive, not accessible to others, who can only see our physical bodies. Other people will notice when consciousness ceases to correlate our physical bodies with a correpsonding vital body, of course – that is when our physical bodies become lifeless; that is, when we die.

That, anyway, is the theory of life based on the primacy of consciousness model of reality, a model on which I have expounded here in several posts. How this model can be applied to the life sciences, and to medicine and health, is covered in an excellent book by Amit Goswami called “The Quantum Doctor.” I’m currently rereading it, but I’m sure at least some of what it says lines up with what Dean Ornish wrote in his book on heart health. Per Goswami, our beliefs and feeling affect our physical bodily health because they are all connected through the agency of consciouness. Ornish might not have said so quite as explicitly, but he was on to the same thing.

The science is clear on the matter – health can be influenced from above, by intention and emotion, as much as from below, by chemicals (drugs) and surgeries. Keep all of that in mind to live a full, healthy life.

Very Excited About Our Tulips This Year

Very Excited About Our Tulips This Year

In front of our house there is a little round planter area which is full of tulip bulbs. They’ve done really well this year, as you can see from the picture to the right. They’ve created this lovely riot of pink blooms, with some red thrown in for highlight, which you can admire every time you step out front.

They reminded me of this book I read a while back, called Tulipomania, about the infamous tulip bulb market bubble in the Netherlands in the 17th century. The book starts with a history of the tulip, which originated in the steppes of Central Asia, coming to Europe via the Ottoman Empire. It’s a very hardy plant, able to tolerate extreme cold and dry weather. We certainly don’t put any effort into caring for ours; it’s like they just obligingly come up every spring to give us a show.

As for the tulip mania of the 1630s, well, it’s possibly the best known example of a market bubble in economic history, though there have certainly been others. As the book explains, a market bubble occurs when a good is artificially priced much higher than its actual worth. Supposedly, according to economic theorists, markets will naturally adjust prices based on supply and demand. These theorists are assuming that people behave rationally, and pay for stuff based on its worth to them, relative to other options. However, it might not be correct to assume that people are always rational, as a survey of history will reveal.

A rare tulip of the sort that set off tulip mania.

The story of tulip mania is an interesting one. It seems that before the bubble, and after it as well, there was a market for rare bulbs that produce exquisitely beautiful, multicolored tulips. The variegated patterns on these flowers are the result of a virus, which can be preserved in a bulb when it is propagated by division. So it was possible, though very difficult, to breed these rare tulips, and tulip connoisseurs were very interested in acquiring these bulbs; hence their high prices. They were like luxury tulips.

Somehow, when the general public got wind of how much these bulbs were selling for, they decided they wanted in on the racket. Of course, they couldn’t all buy these rare bulbs, since by definition there aren’t many of a rare thing, so they just bid up the prices of the common tulip bulbs. You know, the boring red and yellow and purple ones that you can see filling fields in the Netherlands if you do a quick image search. These shouldn’t be worth a whole lot of money; they’re a basic commodity, like potatoes. But somehow the Dutch masses convinced themselves they were all tulip bulb brokers and these common items soared in price. It was a classic case of “irrational exuberance.”

The bubble didn’t last too long, because the fundamental value of the ordinary tulip varieties simply did not justify the high prices. That’s what makes an asset price bubble a bubble; sooner or later the exuberance wears off, and the holders of the asset who bought it for its inflated price can’t offload it for a profit. Demand for the asset drops sharply, and pop! goes the bubble. The asset owners are stuck “holding the bag,” as they say. They get wiped out.

What stands out about tulip mania is how plainly it is an example of a price bubble, since it involves a basic commodity, and the price inflation was so disproportionate to what one would think was a rational expectation. I mean, surely the farmers who were selling their bulbs at these inflated prices knew they were ripping off the speculators, right? Were they being immoral? Arguably, they were being rational – any given farmer would know that if they didn’t sell their bulbs to someone willing to pay so much, some other farmer would. Any given speculator knew that if they didn’t buy and flip some bulbs, some other speculator would, and reap the profits. It was a case of herd psychology, everyone just playing along with the madness.

A similar herd psychology is at work in the kinds of bubbles that most commonly affect our lives, which are in the stock market, such as the dot-com bubble, or in real estate, such as the 2000s housing bubble. When credit is easy and exuberance is high, everyone just kind of goes along with the trend of rising valuations and carefree spending. No one wants to spoil the party. If you’ve seen the movie The Big Short, you know that the guys who saw that the housing bubble was going to burst were going against conventional thought. When the bubble did burst, it was hard to pin the blame on anyone. I mean, you could single out obvious actors, like the credit rating agencies in the case of the 2000s housing bubble, but can you prove they were guilty of fraud, and not just of herd mentality? No, you can’t.

I think this kind of mania is possible because, ultimately, money and the value of stuff is a fiction in our collective heads. If we all agree that a digital coin is worth ten thousand bucks, that’s what it’s worth. If later on we all agree that it’s worth a hundred bucks, it becomes worth that much, and too bad for you if that’s all you’re invested in. We could even all agree that the tulip bulbs in our front yard are worth ten thousand bucks apiece! Just venmo me and they’re yours.