Archive for August, 2010

A few months ago, I wrote about how each dominant partnership gives rise to a philosophy that attempts to explain all aspects of existence in terms derived from its two member visions.

In that entry, I focused on the philosophy of science-and-democracy, whose core belief was that everything in existence could be reduced to simple universal laws like those of physics, and I identified Isaac Asimov’s Foundation stories as an epitomal early example.

I also suggested in passing that the philosophy of democracy-and-chaos, which arose in the 1980’s, was structured around a belief that “the democratic model of dynamic interactions among different interest groups” provided a better basis for understanding the universe than the mathematical formulas of science.

Since then, however, I’ve realized that I was mistaken — if only because any model based on “dynamic interactions” has to be an aspect of multiculturalism. The actual philosophy of democracy-and-chaos is both simpler and broader, and the best way I know to explain it starts with the Foundation stories.

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The closer I get to the present, the more difficult it is to make out exactly what’s been going on with the visions — and I’m finding creative imagination particularly challenging. This is partly because it’s still in its proto-stage, overshadowed by holism and multiculturalism, and has yet to take on a fully distinctive form.

But even the initial crystallization of creative imagination remains obscure. I’ve pegged it as falling around 1978-81, because I see those years as being equivalent to 1936-39, when multiculturalism emerged, but I haven’t been able to come up with any literary or artistic examples from that time. My suspicion is that visions based on inner experience, being the most esoteric, take longer than social or scientific visions to make a significant public impact.

I do see clear signs of a shift reflected in Alexei’s and my own work. In the late summer of 1979, as we were embarking on the final version of The World Beyond the Hill, Alexei wrote an introductory chapter that pulled together much of what we had been attempting to say since the early 70’s. It was so full of strange new ideas, however, that we soon realized it didn’t fit into our history of science fiction. We wound up detaching it from the book and submitting it separately for publication under the title “Science Fiction and the Dimension of Myth.”

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Every vision encounters a pivotal moment early in its development when it helps midwife the birth of the vision immediately following it and in the process becomes able to shake off the influence of earlier visions and discover its own true shape and purpose.

For holism, that moment came between about 1936 and 1939. Multiculturalism was born in those years as an extension of the holistic understanding of the natural world to human society, and in return it provided holism with the means to move beyond its original philosophical and scientific roots and become a complete vision of existence.

The proto-holism of the 1920’s and early 30’s was deeply concerned with abstract questions of matter, life, and mind, but it didn’t have much relevance to everyday life. It took the social ideals of multiculturalism to reinvent a holism that did not merely dream of getting back to nature but was ready to provide blueprints for how human beings might live in a more organic relationship to one another and to their environment.

That unsuccessful Frank Lloyd Wright project of 1939, in which seven unique houses were related organically to each other and to a central farming area, was one such blueprint. But there have been others since — all of them showing a strong family resemblance — as holism and multiculturalism have continued to develop and mature together.

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It often appears that once your attention is drawn to something, you start to see it everywhere. No sooner had I finished writing about the rat brain story earlier today than I found myself reading a Washington Post story about the notorious message board 4chan — which turns out to reflect many of the same organizational principles.

Created seven years ago by a 15-year-old, 4chan is a vast web of anonymous, uncensored message boards. No one’s in charge, but the site’s users have managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet. …

The 4chan “hive mind” has been credited with — or blamed for, depending on your perspective — urging tween idol Justin Bieber to head for North Korea as part of his upcoming world tour (as part of an online poll allowing fans to select which country he should visit), spreading a story that Steve Jobs had a heart attack (which caused Apple’s stock to fall precipitously) and starting a rumor that there was a bomb at New York’s JFK airport (triggering an evacuation). …

How 4chan — a site built for fun by a teenager that barely ekes out a profit from online ads — manages over and over again to outwit the systems that multibillion-dollar corporations use to make money on the Internet is one of the great mysteries of the capricious online world.

“The community self-organizes, decides on goals and achieves them in an ad hoc, undirected manner,” said [Joshua] Schachter, who invented the social bookmarking tool called Delicious. “I see it like the financial markets — sort of chaotic. It’s hard to understand, but incredibly vital to understanding out how people operate together on very, very large scales.” …

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As each socially-based vision develops and broadens in scope, the abstract model that it offers for society comes to be applied to other areas as well.

Case in point: Three days ago, I put up an entry suggesting that the “inverted pyramid” model underlying the democracy vision — in which authority comes from the base but power is still exerted from the top down — is giving way to a multiculturalism-derived model of society as a flexible network of relationships with no center of control.

Today, I find an article at Science Daily saying exactly the same thing — but with respect to a new study of brain organization in rats:

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As we plow our way through this hot and dismal summer of 2010, the democracy vision is collapsing about our ears.

It’s not so much that we’ve ceased to believe in the core values of democracy as that we’ve grown disillusioned with the ability of our supposedly democratic system to uphold those values. By almost any measure, we Americans are less free and equal now than we were a generation ago, and have far less control over our own government.

At the same time, our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have undercut our faith that Western-style democracy is a universal human norm which can be exported as easily as blue jeans and Coca-Cola. Perhaps the clearest lesson of those two misbegotten wars is that a system of free elections and majority rule — though adequate to resolve the minor differences of opinion that arise in a relatively homogeneous society — only creates turmoil when applied to the power struggles of well-organized and heavily armed minorities.

Even worse, that same kind of turmoil could lie in the future of the United States — where our increasing cultural diversity is already giving rise to seemingly irreconcilable tensions — unless we can develop a more flexible way of operating.

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