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In our exploration of our collective consciousness and our shared existence, much can be understood in terms of how far down into underlying ordering principles particular thoughts and actions reach. The vast majority of our academic and political debates occur between ideas residing at similar levels of subtlety, with decreasing participation as depth increases. These conflicting positions are generally more compatible in some essential ways than their various adherents realize, but also generally defective due to errors of oversimplification and “overreach” of application.

Examples in science include the 19th century debate between particle and wave theories of light, reconciled in the 20th century into a paradigm that transcended the distinction; and the apparent incompatibility of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, reconciled by String Theory, which provides a subtler mathematical penetration transcending that apparent incompatibility.

The principal modern example in geopolitics was the “debate,” culminating in a half-century long Cold War, between Totalitarian Command Economies and Democratic Capitalism, between political economic centralization and political economic decentralization. The lessons of history clearly point to some subtle blend of market dynamics and state regulation, of representative democracy rather than either plebiscite or dictatorship, as a form that transcends either of the previous political ideological poles. Even so, depending on the history of the particular country, extremists at one pole or the other (or both) are likely to continue to obstruct and disrupt the approach toward that transcendent blend, insisting that their pure ideology, existing on a more simplistic plane of conceptualization, is superior. In such instances the dialectic is across levels of subtlety, and the preference should be , in the light of the paradigm I am developing here, for the deeper level of subtlety.

(There are many today who are convinced that the fall of Communism conclusively vindicates its extreme opposite, though even if it had fallen to its extreme opposite, it would only have proven that it was the inferior, in terms of competitiveness, of two extreme views, not that there were no forms superior to both. In reality, Communism didn’t fall to its extreme opposite, but rather to the hybrid form that had developed from the Great Depression onward, that all societies that had participated in the post-WWII expansion of wealth had already implemented and continued to develop, by far the most successful modern form, which blind anti-government ideologues seek to undermine by insisting that their never-tested and fundamentally flawed ideal replace it.)

Another way to conceptualize this historical dynamic is in terms of the Hegelian dialectic, or the Taoist dance of opposites. In the Hegelian dialectic, a thesis is developed and argued, generating an antithesis and counterarguments, resulting eventually in a synthesis, which becomes a new thesis, generating a new antithesis…, and so on, constantly penetrating into deeper levels of subtlety by means of this dialectic. In Taoism, yin and yang are in a constant dynamic tension with one another, each always bearing the seed of its opposite (as in the image of the Taiji Tu, the Taoist symbol of yin and yang).

But it is not just the dance of opposites; it is also the resolution of puzzles. Hegel’s thesis and antithesis are both attempts to understand something, their interaction leading to a deeper understanding. But there is a perhaps even more robust “dialectic” involving Dominant Paradigm, Emerging Anomalies, and Subsequent Paradigm Shift. Frequently, the traditional dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis both precedes and occurs in the interstices of this paradigm-anomalies-paradigm shift dynamic, with competing pre-paradigmatic views vying for dominance, and then, within a given paradigm increasingly beset by anomalies, competing proposed resolutions vying for dominance.

There is even a dialectic that can be discerned in the competition of these two views, between those who understand human history primarily in terms of class conflict punctuated with occasional revolutions, and those who understand human history primarily in terms of dominant paradigms undergoing constant refinement through a process of trial-and-error and responses by centralized regimes to historical exigencies. An example of this can be seen in the competing views on the rise of modern democracy, between those who view it as the result of the less powerful confronting and challenging the more powerful and gradually advancing as a result (the Hegelian dialectic), and those who view it as the result of the English Crown’s need to empower broader and broader swathes of the population in order to finance internecine European wars (the dominant paradigm, anomalies or challenges, paradigm shift view).

In academe as in politics, people debate these competing views, these competing paradigms, these competing theses, as though they are mutually incompatible, only grudgingly and gradually arriving at some evenutal reconciliation which recognizes a subtler reality beneath them, subsuming them, transcending them.

Recently, I broadened and deepened the colorful thesis/paradigm described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change (and the related posts on “the evolutionary ecology of natural, human, and technological systems”) by adding in the concept of Emotional Contagion, and by doing so, continued to reconcile with new interweaving threads the social theoretical and social movement tapestries of thought being simultaneously developed on this blog. Another development of the thesis/paradigm might include recognition of the ways in which that pulsating, reverberating, expanding and contracting fractal flow of memes across our collective cognitive landscape involves a progression into ever-increasing subtlety and complexity, penetrating deeper into the ever-more fundamental algorithms generating ever-broader swathes of the complexity around and within us.

Just as the character Algono, in The Wizards’ Eye, was reaching ever-deeper into the potential of human consciousness, finding the algorithms by which change occurs, and then the algorithms by which those algorithms themselves change (as, for instance, scientific paradigms do, as we delve deeper into their implications, discover their anomalies, and transcend them), and so forth, into levels beneath levels, we are, or could be, forever reaching down into the deeper currents that subsume the shallower ones.

To put it another way, this act of reaching down into deeper currents is the act of finding the subtlest algorithms generating the greatest complexity, in much the way that a simple algorithm generates the Mandelbrot Set fractal. (Videos exploring the Mandelbrot Set: The Mandelbrot Set: Images of Complexity. See also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foxD6ZQlnlU&NR=1, capturing the combination of self-similarity and complexity across scales; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEw8xpb1aRA, emphasizing self-similarity across scales, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eD9IRS9_tc&feature=BFa&list=SP6848FE2899BA0E73&index=10, emphasizing the complexity across scales. See YouTube “Mandelbrot Set Zooms” or “Fractal Zooms” for a wide variety of different projections, no two exactly the same. Also, see http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~wayne/mandel/gallery/, for a wide selection of different still images from the Mandelbrot Set.)

The implication is that, in both thought and action, our challenge in The Dance of Consciousness is to reach into ever deeper currents, finding ever-subtler algorithms of change that affect ever-broader swathes of the encompassing complexity of our existence. When we discuss the actual, practical problems that confront us as a people –problems such as unemployment, the collapse of the housing market, climate change, and illegal immigration– the most useful and effective policies for addressing them are invariably the policies based on more rather than less systemic understanding, reaching deeper down into the currents beneath the superficial phenomena under discussion. This effort, one aspect of which I have outlined in The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, is what I will call “Transcendental Politics.”

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(The following is a modified excerpt from my novel A Conspiracy of Wizards; see An epic mythology).

The Vaznallam faces wavered and vanished, like images in a pond dispelled by a pebble. Algonion found himself alone in the spherical chamber, surrounded by diffuse light and geometric symmetry; alone in a sanitized asylum devoid of warmth. He lay there on his back in the hard, cold curve of unmelting ice…, in what he thought may well be his tomb, still weak and starving, not knowing what his fate would be, supposing it would be death. But time dragged on, hours, days, weeks, he couldn’t tell, and instead of dying he grew stronger, until he gradually emerged from his morbid stupor. Still too weak to rise, he gradually realized that, miraculously, he was being nourished by the very air he breathed, as though it were the Earth’s own breath reviving him.

Whether the Vaznallam decided to make a pet of him, or a curiosity for study, or had in fact discarded him from their thoughts altogether, his small enclosure, perhaps merely resounding with residual vibrations, undertook his education. At first he mistook it for torture.

It began when his body was still weak.  He noticed, through the throbbing in his head, that the triangular panels were no longer the translucent white of ice, but rather softly violet. Then, gradually, indigo. The headache grew worse. Then blue. Still worse. Then green. He turned away and closed his eyes, trying to understand the relationship between the shifting colors of the panels and his pain, and as he did so, his physical distress lessened. He looked again and saw yellow, and eased his anguish more by trying to guess the next color. Closing his eyes, he considered the sequence, and with a sense of discovery realized the answer was orange, replacing the now mild discomfort with a surge of euphoria. But when he looked, the panels were resolving into differentiated colors, an interspersion of red and violet, and the agony blossomed anew.

Each time he resumed his effort to solve the puzzle of the pattern, the discomfort gradually eased, giving way to pleasure when he succeeded. But when he looked to confirm his success, a more complex pattern than expected appeared, along with the return of pain. And so again and again, always such that the solution logically followed from the entire sequence, from translucent white to the most recent arrangement. But each time, the pattern proved itself to be subtler than expected in the very moment of its resolution.

Meanwhile, sounds filled the air, or his mind, a scale at first, that, like the walls, demanded resolution. He hummed or chanted the solution, the next tones in the sequence, only to reveal that the progression was always more complex than the one he had discerned. This continued as he regained his strength, the only way to relieve the suffering being to solve the patterns, though no solution was sufficient. Thus motivated, he solved them ever more rapidly, heightening their complexity all the while, his mind anticipating the increasingly intricate patterns of light and sound, his body emitting the tones and timbres demanded of him.

These two challenges were all that occupied him. Until he was strong enough to move.

Without ever allowing himself to be distracted from the riddles of sound and sight, he noticed a stiffness gradually growing in his limbs. The cramp eased a little as he rose, balancing himself in the curve of the ball, and a little more as he stretched, but came back more forcefully when he sat, and even more so when he tried to recline. He rose again, and found that certain movements provided more relief than others, some approaching physical gratification. As with the patterns of color and tone, each solution, avoiding streams of pain and encountering those of pleasure, revealed a more complex puzzle, continually refining his movements.

He was soon using the entire inner surface of his cell, stepping and rolling along the curve, turning and twisting in the air, gravity always seeming to migrate toward where he made contact, as though the globe were rotating beneath him, as though it rolled to and fro along a larger curve in which it was lodged. Sometimes he evoked aspects of nature; a stalking cat, a swaying tree, an uncoiling serpent, a blossoming flower. As he perfected the forms, or as they perfected him, he almost began to feel that he was becoming these things, that his limbs were leafy and supple with sap, his body as lithe as a jungle predator’s.

These pushes and pulls swept him along, as though he were being carried by a current which flowed unseen. At first he resented the manipulations, thinking what a fool he was to let himself be made to dance on Vaznallam strings. But the thought itself provoked unease, as did all thoughts other than the ongoing resolution of the sensory riddles, until his mind was empty but occupied, focused only on the progression of patterns.

At last he accepted the forces that were moving him, for he understood that he had always been moved by such forces. He had always, in a sense, pursued pleasure and avoided pain, even when subtly so, when the pleasure was self-sacrifice in aid of others; when the pain was knowledge that indulgence today would cost too much tomorrow. Whether in mundane or extraordinary circumstances, he had always responded to a world not of his own making, in ultimately predictable ways. But now, mind and body flowing with the deepest and purest of currents, it was not the chimera of freedom that he sought, but rather the grace of surrender….

Algonion’s dance of mind and body melted his own shell of illusions. As he had continued to discern the sequences by which the patterns changed, he began to discover the pattern by which those sequences themselves changed, this subtler pattern evolving as well according to a pattern of its own, and so on, propelling him into ever deeper currents, constantly approaching the essence underlying them all.

The walls of his cell had long since ceased to exist, or ceased to matter. The sounds and patterns and sensually charged air converged, filling the space surrounding and permeating him. He merged with the tiny triangles of swiftly flowing colors, with the tapestry of tones and tendrils of tactility that he emitted and moved to, anticipating them into the limits of complexity, feeling rather than calculating each next instant. He found himself immersed in a blissful space, a woven effervescence of light and sound and sense. He would never have thought of leaving, perhaps never have thought at all, if not for Sarena’s dreams calling him back. For he suddenly felt her more intensely than ever before, felt her amidst the flowing configurations, a presence so compelling that it awoke him from his trance. And as it did so, the Paths opened up to him, the currents that course everywhere, along more dimensions than merely those of time and space.

He perceived surfaces within surfaces, forms within forms, particles in motion and the structures they comprised. He saw beyond his enclosure, saw that his small sphere rested inside a larger one, tracing intricate designs in the shallow bowl of the latter’s base. And he had glimpses of the past and future as well, some of which he knew Sarena would eventually share; currents surging through myriad possibilities, the stronger the possibility, the stronger the current, forming endless variations of the ellipse of life; some spiralling off into extinction, some drawing together into a single point of light.

He saw the streams that had joined to form him…, the trickle of his early life suddenly fed by gushing streams, a confluence of currents….

(See “Flesh Around A Whim” for a later adventure of Algono’s, in which the chaos of nature’s imps puts this training to the test, and takes it to a whole new level. Also: The Hollow Mountain, The Cloud Gardener, and Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”, The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.)

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