Spontaneous, Intimate and Aware!

The attainment of autonomy is manifested by the release or recovery of three capacities: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy.


Awareness means the capacity to see a coffeepot and hear the birds sing in one's own way, and not the way one was taught.

It may be assumed on good grounds that seeing and hearing have a different quality for infants than for grownups, and that they are more aesthetic and less intellectual in the first years of life. A little boy sees and hears birds with delight. Then the 'good' father comes along and feels he should 'share' the experience and help his son 'develop'. He says: 'That's a jay, and this is a sparrow.' The moment the little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.

Father has good reasons on his side, since few people can afford to go through life listening to the birds sing, and the sooner the little boy starts his 'education' the better. Maybe he will be an ornithologist when he grows up.

A few people, however, can still see and hear in the old way. But most members of the human race have lost the capacity to be painters, poets or musicians, and are not left the option of seeing and hearing directly even if they can afford to; they must get it secondhand. The recovery of this ability is called here 'awareness'.

Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future. A good illustration of possibilities in American life, is driving to work in the morning in a hurry. The decisive question is: 'Where is the mind when the body is here?' and there are three common cases.

1. The man whose chief preoccupation is being on time is the one who is furthest out. With his body at the wheel of his car, his mind is at the door of his office, and he is oblivious to his immediate surroundings except insofar as they are obstacles to the moment when his soma will catch up with his psyche.

While he is driving, he is almost completely lacking in autonomy, and as a human being he is in essence more dead than alive.

2. The Sulk, on the other hand, is not so much concerned with arriving on time as in collecting excuses for being late ... He, too, is oblivious to his surroundings except as they subscribe to his game, so that he is only half alive. His body is in his car, but his mind is out looking for blemishes and injustices.

3. Less common is the 'natural driver' , the man to whom driving a car is a congenial science and art.

He, too, is oblivious of his surroundings except as they offer scope for the craftmanship which is its own reward, but he is very much aware of himself and the machine which he controls so well, and to that extent he is alive.

4. The fourth case is the person who is aware, and who will not hurry because he is living in the present moment with the environment which is here: the sky and trees as well as the feeling of motion. To hurry is to neglect that environment and to be conscious only of something that is till out of sight down the road, or of mere obstacles, or solely of oneself.

A Chinese man started to get into a local subway train, when his Caucasian companion pointed out that they could save twenty minutes by taking an express, which they did. When they got off at Central Park, the Chinese man sat down on a bench, much to his friend's surprise. 'Well,' explained the former, 'since we saved twenty minutes, we can afford to sit here that long and enjoy our surroundings.'

The aware person is alive because he knows how he feels, where he is and when it is. He knows that after he dies the trees will still be there, but he will not be there to look at them again, so he wants to see them now with as much poignancy as possible.


Spontaneity ... means liberation, liberation from the compulsion to play games and have only the feelings one was taught to have.


Intimacy means the spontaneous, game-free candidness of an aware person, the liberation of the eidetically perceptive, uncorrupted Child in all its naiveté living in the here and now.

Usually the adaption to Parental influences is what spoils it, and most unfortunately this is almost a universal occurrence. But before, unless and until they are corrupted, most infants seem to be loving, and that is the essential nature of intimacy, as shown experimentally.


For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy.

But all three of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as 'togetherness'. This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.

[Eric Berne]
Games People Play, p.158, 159, 160, 162


Another consequence of the nature of the intellect of animals, which we have discussed, is the exact agreement of their consciousness with their environment. Nothing stands between the animal and the external world; but between us and that world there are always our thoughts and ideas about it, and these often make us inaccessible to it, and it to us.

Only in the case of children and of very uneducated persons does this wall sometimes become so thin that to know what is going on within them we need only see what is going on around them.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.61


Related posts:-
The Attainment of Autonomy
Silent Violence
Learn, to be mindless
Pre-rational & Trans-rational
The Real Thing
Leaving the Vessel

TRANSFORMER | Introduction

TRANSFORMER: Art Gallery in Disguise
The Contemporary Art Gallery as Breaking Machine


Within our culture the term ‘art’ is used to cover a variety of experiences, and this breadth is reflected in the various potentialities of the art gallery. This text hopes to explore one of these potentialities, namely its capacity to act as a space for transforming experience.

TRANSFORMER | Becoming Mindless

Becoming Mindless


We are born into a world that offers countless possibilities, and are quickly, through a process of socialization, taught to narrow these down. Psychologist R.D. Laing offers a description of this process: “We act on our experience at the behest of others, just as we learn how to behave in compliance to them. We are taught what to experience and what not to experience, as we are taught what movements to make and what sounds to emit … As he is taught to move in specific ways, out of the whole range of possible movements, [the child] is taught to experience, out of the whole range of possible experience.”1

Whether this process is a ‘natural’ or necessary one is a discussion for another place; what matters here is that this process happens, in some form or other. It is from this assumption that we shall continue.

We quickly learn to label experience, and in doing so to draw invisible borders. Something becomes a ‘dance performance’, another thing becomes a ‘theatre production’, and another a ‘live music event.’ Our ways of experiencing the sights, sounds, and ideas of the world are categorized, and are seen and understood through the conventions of these categories. And so, theatre brings with it the ‘theatre world’, art the ‘art world’ and so on - all with their various conventions and assumptions.

In boxing experience we risk becoming mindless to the breadth of possibilities that being alive offers; our continued socialization can make us forget the ‘countless possibilities’ of the world that we were born into. Psychologist Ellen Langer refers to this forgetfulness as being ‘mindless’ - “The mindless individual is committed to one predetermined use of the information, and other possible uses or applications are not explored … When our minds are set on one thing or on one way of doing things, mindlessly determined in the past, we blot out intuition and miss much of the present world around us.”2

Much art is concerned with combating mindlessness. We can look to the work of Bruce Nauman for examples of this approach; “Raw Material Washing Hands, Normal” is a looped video of someone washing their hands. In examining this everyday act, Nauman offers us a chance to re-assess our assumptions - to stop and consider an act that, for most of us, will be near automatic (and by extension one that we may have become mindless to). We are invited to ask; ‘What is this?’ ‘And why do we do it?’

Whilst the merits of asking these questions about an act as banal as hand-washing may escape some, through work like this Nauman is pointing towards a general notion of mindlessness. He is asking us to consider the assumptions that we make on a daily basis, and to consider whether we are comfortable with making them. In doing so his work allows us to consider the limits of our experience, and whether we want something different, or something more.

Mindlessness is often unavoidable however, and in many ways it can be seen as an adaptive device, inasmuch as it allows us to conserve time and energy – to ‘get through’ the day, without having to stop and consider the possibilities inherent within every act. It allows us to focus our energies on the things that we consider important, such as projects, activities or commitments. The danger is in becoming too mindless, and in forgetting too much.

TRANSFORMER | Sites of enchantment

Sites of enchantment


It is easy, within the daily flow of events, duties, and commitments, to become oblivious to the many moments of enchantment that are available to us. This isn’t to say that our lives are entirely devoid of enchantment; just as our ‘work’ time is characterized by delineated necessity, our ‘play’ time can be equally as plotted. We are offered a variety of conventional sites of enchantment, from the surround-sound wonder of the cinema, through to the poetic poignancy of the sunset; society points us towards these experiences, and we become accustomed to their value as sites of enchantment.

Yet the potential for enchantment resides within the humblest of things, something we are often reminded of through the sensitivity of the photographer, the painter, or the poet. Things we touch and experience every day; a door-handle, an elevator, an escalator, a lobby, a busy street, a darkened room, an empty building, a handshake, a hug; our own beating hearts. If we wish, we can find small wonder in most places. It needn’t be show stopping, or life changing. But this world – it’s smell, its feel beneath our fingers – is here for us, if we want it.

Children often revel in this ability to appreciate small wonder, blissfully ignorant to the various disillusionments of maturity, that promise to dull their senses. Laing comments, “As adults, we have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavour; as men of the world, we hardly know of the existence of the inner world: we barely even remember our dreams, and make little sense of them when we do; as for our bodies, we retain just sufficient proprioceptive sensations to coordinate our movements and to ensure the minimal requirements for biosocial survival - to register fatigue, signals for food, sex, defaecation, sleep; beyond that, little or nothing.”3

In adapting to society we become mindless to the many potentialities for enchantment – we have “tricked ourselves out of our minds, that is to say, out of our own personal world of experience, out of that unique meaning with which potentially we may endow the external world …”4 It is perhaps because the scale of experience that is available to us is so frightening and seemingly unmanageable that we choose to delimit it through various categorizations and assumptions.

“Just as mindlessness is the rigid reliance on old categories, mindfulness means the continual creation of new ones. Categorizing and recategorizing, labeling and relabeling as one masters the world are processes natural to children. They are adaptive and inevitable part of surviving in this world. Freud recognized the importance of creation and mastery in childhood:

Should we not look for the first traces of imaginative activity as early in childhood? The child's best-loved and most intense occupation is with his play or games. Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, re-arranges the things of the world in a new way which pleases him?

The child's serious re-creation can become the adult's playful recreation.”5

As children we are adept at creating our own worlds, an ability – and an idea – that many of us eventually relinquish in adulthood. Yet the benefits of re-creation should now be clear; we are able to create new sites of enchantment, to see things differently and, perhaps, to appreciate being alive more.

TRANSFORMER | Breaking Machine

Breaking Machine


It is the art gallery’s potential as a site of re-creation, or transformation, that we are interested in. But, in the spirit of mindfulness, let’s examine our assumptions. Firstly, let’s jettison the label ‘art gallery’ for now, and see what happens. What are we left with? We have a building, one with special properties. When we place things within it they appear changed; or rather, the way we view them has the potential to become altered – widened.

In this sense our building can be seen as a machine – a breaking machine. It contains a vacuum, devoid of assumptions or associations, and when something is placed within it the vacuum strips it of these things. It is in this sense that the machine becomes a site of re-appraisal.

Anything can be placed within the machine – its context-breaking properties work on most things, from the most mundane to the most esoteric and complex. Because the machine strips things of their context (and, by extension, the assumptions that we make which are related to context) they can be seen in a different way to how we may normally see them.

Let’s try an object in the machine, something that most of us probably encounter on a daily basis: a tree. We enter the building and are faced with this tree. We wonder why it is here, and examine it to see if it contains any clues – perhaps it is different from other trees, and we may try and discern this difference. Eventually we may come to the conclusion that it appears to be a normal tree, much like all of the other trees that we see outside on a daily basis. We decide to stop looking at it, and move on.

What has the machine offered us? In removing the tree from its normal context – as an adornment in a city, or a feature of the countryside (amongst other things) – we are able to look at it afresh. This new context has allowed us, if only momentarily, to become mindful to this everyday object.

The machine also works with experiences; what if we were to place a gig inside? Or a fight? A kiss? A planetarium?

TRANSFORMER | Conclusion



The machine – the gallery – has the ability to become a place that encourages mindfulness. It recognizes how easily we can slip into mindlessness, and how various pressures can force us to lead lives that are dulled to enchantment. Its project is to shake us from our sedation; to confront us, with the assertion that, ‘in this space you will not be allowed to be mindless.’ This is the contract we enter, and a contract that we should be aware of.

At best it hopes that this experience of re-creation will remind us of our own inherent ability to re-create, and to remind us of what we once knew: that the original, and best, breaking machine is us.




1. Laing, R.D. The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, p.51
2. Langer, Ellen. Mindfulness, p.118
3. Laing, R.D. The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, p.22
4. Laing, R.D. The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, p.61
5. Langer, Ellen. Mindfulness, p.63

TRANSFORMER | Post-script

It may be that to have this space of transformation is only ever a concession to the uncompromising vision of the world sought by the likes of Dada and the Situationist International; in which the gallery system would be exploded, allowing the transformative effects of the gallery to flow out into their natural place: our everyday lives in the world at large.

In this vision, all spaces would be potential spaces of transformation, within a societal system that encourages mindfulness.


Solid                 -            Liquid
Creation            -            Destruction
Intentional        -            Random
Reasoned          -            Arbitrary
Known              -            Unknown
Truth                 -            Myth
Closed               -            Open
Control              -            Chaos
Positive              -            Negative

The artist plays with the structure, but does not create the structure. They do not make tautologies ("dependable systems in which everyone can agree on the terms and oppositions"), they break them. 

In the language of complexity theory, artists are those who play with constraints. Constraints define systems, allowing order to emerge from chaos.  A rule like 'i before e, except after c' adds structure and sense to language, allowing us to communicate in a more complex, and nuanced, way. But what if e came before i - what would that look like? What possibilities would this rearrangement open up? These are the concerns of the artist, of the one who plays with constraints.

The dance of the artist is, like that of Shiva, a destructive one. Structures move and shake from its tremors, and openings emerge; cracks and holes in which new possibilities can enter. The structure may crumble and fall, or it may absorb this new information and become enlarged.

"Without the random, there can be no new thing [...] creative thought must always contain a random component."

Artists then, are interested in the random. And randomness is synonymous with deconstruction, disorganization. In creating something we impose sense and order, and in destroying it we do the opposite.

The arts threaten the known world. They give lie to the idea that we can have a totality of knowledge - or, indeed, of anything.

The artist has a child's relation to the world - Bourdieu describes their existence as 'a sort of children's game' - which stands in contrast to the citizen, who takes the adult approach.  

Psychoanalysis, like art, looks beyond the accepted conventions of the everyday in order to examine and 'play' with its underlying assumptions. By digging deeper - exploring the depths - we gain greater insight into how things are and how to change them. It should come as no surprise, then, that many psychologists held up the example of the artist - autonomous, creative, self-making - as an 'ideal' mode of existence.

The artist lives in the liminal, complex realm - between order and chaos - where he plays with connections. He is more sensitive, the canary in the coal-mine, and creates art and ritual in order to transmute anxiety (produced by contact with chaos) into meaning.

I am really interested in the different ways that language functions.

It's difficult to see what the functioning edges of language are.

The place where it communicates best and most easily is also the place where language is the least interesting and emotionally involving - such as the functional way we understand the word "sing" or the sentence "Pick up the pencil."

When these functional edges are explored, however, other areas of your mind make you aware of language potential.

I think the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs.

Roland Barthes has written about the pleasure that is derived from reading when what is known rubs up against what is unknown, or when correct grammar rubs up against nongrammar. In other words, if one context is different from the context that was given to you by the writer, two different kinds of things you understand rub against each other.

When language begins to break down a little bit, it becomes exciting and communicates in nearly the simplest way that it can function: you are forced to be aware of the sounds and the poetic parts of words.

If you deal only with what is known, you'll have redundancy; on the other hand, if you deal only with the unknown, you cannot communicate at all. There is always some combination of the two, and it is how they touch each other that makes communication interesting.

Too much of one or the other is either unintelligible or boring, but the tension of being almost too far in either direction is very interesting to think about.

Art is interesting to me when it ceases to function as art - when what we know as painting stops being painting, or when printmaking ceases to be printmaking - whenever art doesn't read the way we are used to.

In this manner, a good piece of art continues to function, revealing new meaning and remaining exciting for a long time, even though our vision of what art is supposed to be keeps changing.

 After a while, however, our point of view as to how art can function changes radically enough that the work of art becomes art history. Eventually, our perspective is altered so much that its functions just aren't available to us anymore and art becomes archaeology.

[Bruce Nauman]
Please Pay Attention Please ('Talking With Bruce Nauman: An Interview, 1989')

It's like I'm reading a book... and it's a book I deeply love.

But I'm reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite.

I can still feel you... and the words of our story... but it's in this endless space between the words that I'm finding myself now.

It's a place that's not of the physical world. It's where everything else is that I didn't even know existed.

Dialogue from 'Her'

"From West to East" is a commonplace journalistic structure for an article. "From West to Female" is more like poetry. By jumping from one criterion, one binary, to another, it represents a real difference rather than the staged differences of the binary. It's fresh!

[language becomes] mere texture when dichotomy ends.

What the remapping of the binaries produces, I think, is something irrational: beauty. 

It also produces a sort of self-knowledge; the realisation that all truths are provisional, contextual, consensual, habitual. It's therefore good to break one's habits from time to time -- to "binary hop".

Only poets -- those incorrigible binary-hoppers! -- can really change the way we see, because only they (with their under-the-hood view of language) are willing to abandon cookie-cutting binaries, or pick them up and play around with them.

Unfortunately poets can't organize anything, and can't make any lasting systems. Because to organize, you need to reduce and repeat. You need a dependable system in which everyone agrees on the terms and the oppositions.

And there we have the tragedy of human life. The people who can change things can't organize anything, and the people who can organize things can't change anything.

'Binary hopping'

I think what artists do, and what people who make culture do, is somehow produce simulators where new ideas [...] can be explored.

There's a very interesting book by Lakoff and Johnson, that famous thirties singing team, it's a book about metaphor, it's called Metaphors We Live By. They give a very clear example of the effect of metaphor. They say we use in our culture the metaphor, argument is war. All of our language about argument "she defeated him", "he attacked her position", so on and so on, they are all arguments that relate to fighting.

When we think about the process of arguing, we tend to then reconstrue our possibilities in terms of that metaphor.

What Lakoff and Johnson say is suppose that somebody had said argument is dance, suppose that was the dominant metaphor. So instead of it being seen you have the process where one person defeats another, it becomes a process where two people together make something beautiful between them. We could have that metaphor for argument, we don't.

But do you understand that a shift of that kind produces an entirely different kind of discourse. How the shift from one way of dealing in activity that we all engage in to another changes that activity.

Suddenly our language of possibilities is renewed and different.

What I'm saying, I suppose [is that] we're saddled with a whole set of metaphors [...] about how the world works, how things organize themselves, how things are controlled, what possibilities there are.

Generative art in general is a way of not throwing those out, we don't get rid of old metaphors, we expand them to include more. These things still have value, but we want to include these things as well.

My feeling about artists is that we are metaphor explorers of some kind. ... An object of culture does all of the following, it innovates, it recycles, it clearly and explicitly rejects, and it ignores. Any artist's work that is doing all those four things and is doing all those four things through the metaphors that dominate our thinking.

[Brian Eno]
'Evolving metaphors, in my opinion, is what artists do'

To stop for a bit and watch someone who is doing something, even the most obvious and customary thing in his life; to look at him in such a way that he begins to suspect what he is doing is not clear to us and it could also not be clear to him: this suffices to make that security tarnish and falter.

[Luigi Pirandello]
One, No One & One Hundred Thousand, p.108

Silence […] is a scandal to speech, an offence to the adequacy claimed by the empirical orders of language. What I have called the managerial motive in language is, more desperately, the insistence of those who use it that there is nothing it cannot name.

Poetic language refutes this observation by transgressing it. Bourgeois language insists on finding signifieds for every signifier, and containing the entire field within the rule of law: the law is the homogeneity of signification. Julia Kristeva has suggested a psychoanalytic understanding of this law and of poetic language as its infringement.

[…] if experience is, in practice, divided into official and unofficial, authoritative and occult; what corresponds to this division, in language, is the distinction between discourse, with its official diction, and the several poetries, with their several ‘contradictions’.

It is the aim of management to accommodate every apparent contradiction within the standard diction by neutralising the offensive words.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 96

If philosophy and science helps us understand the world better by building it up with new explanations, art helps us understand the world less, by taking these explanations and punching holes in them - not just to confuse everyone, but to build another kind of knowledge; and as a political statement, to tell people ‘stay curious.’ 

That thing you thought you understood, maybe you don’t anymore. That process of undoing knowledge is a productive process, and one that we should always be open to.

[Anthony Huberman]
'Anthony Huberman on For the Blind Man…' 

[...] deconstruction is always already at work, even in those texts that would seem most expressly committed to a 'logocentric' order of assumptions.

[Christopher Norris]
Derrida, p. 57

The general proposition of the eighteenth century, indeed of all previous centuries [...] is that there is a nature of things, there is a rerum natura, there is a structure of things.

For the romantics this was profoundly false.

There was no structure of things because that would hem us in, that would suffocate us. There must be a field for action. The potential is more real than the actual. What is made is dead. Once you have constructed a work of art, abandon it, because once it is constructed it is there, it is done for, it is last year's calendar. What is made, what has been constructed what has been already understood must be abandoned.

Glimpses, fragments, intimations, mystical illumination - that is the only way to seize reality, because any attempt to circumscribe it, any attempt to give a coherent account, any attempt to be harmonious, to have a beginning and a middle and an end, is essentially a perversion and a caricature of what is in its essence chaotic and shapeless [...] a tremendous great stream of self-realising will, the idea of imprisoning which is absurd and blasphemous.

That is the real fervid centre of romantic faith.

[Isaiah Berlin]
The Roots of Romanticism, p. 114-5

At times we need a rest from ourselves by looking upon, by looking upon, ourselves and, from an artistic distance, laughing over ourselves or weeping over ourselves.

We must discover the hero no less than the fool in our passion for knowledge; we must occasionally find pleasure in our folly, or we cannot continue to find pleasure in our wisdom. Precisely because we are at bottom grave and serious human beings - really, more weights than human beings—nothing does us as much good as a fool's cap: we need it in relation to ourselves—we need all exuberant, floating, dancing, mocking, childish, and blissful art lest we lose the freedom above things that our ideal demands of us. 

It would mean a relapse for us, with our irritable honesty, to get involved entirely in morality and, for the sake of the over-severe demands that we make on ourselves in these matters, to become virtuous monsters and scarecrows. 

We should be able also to stand above morality and not only to stand with the anxious stiffness of a man who is afraid of slipping and falling any moment, but also to float above it and play

How then could we possibly dispense with art—and with the fool? --And as long as you are in any way ashamed before yourselves, you do not yet belong with us.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 107

The romantic theoretician – it is, of course, imprecise to speak of theory or thought in this context — lets the image do its own thinking. Abandoning himself to permutational or antithetical play with the ideas of others, he inflates linguistic designations of these ideas to an ambiguity rich in allusions.

Thus there are no romantic ideas, but only romanticized ideas.

This romantic way of dealing with things is based on the practice of constantly escaping from one sphere into another, to the alien “higher" third factor, and of blending ideas from different spheres.

The point around which the circle of the romantic play of forms turns is always occasional. Therefore, the romantic quasi argument can justify every state of affairs.

Today the French Revolution is what Burke thinks it is: abnormal idolatry and a senseless crime. Tomorrow it can also be “the natural force, the elective affinity of life oppressed and in fetters,” which breaks the bonds of moral considerations and forms, and so on.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 144-5

Accessing the drives and rhythms that symbolic law and order typically repress, psychoanalytic practice, like the poetic text, revitalizes or reactivates the semiotic chora, a connection to the maternal body or to femininity. 

Such practices let loose the disorganizing energies of the body, the pleasurable rupture of sense and nonsense. They take productive advantage of the dialectical discord between semiotic and symbolic and thus keep this discord oriented toward dissent and protest rather than inner collapse. Although the semiotic resists the symbolic order, or cannot be contained by it, the two are always entangled and imbricated in language; drives both support and subvert the symbolic operation, bringing bodily rhythms and forces to signification, both impelling and pulling apart its organization and stases.

This disruptive potential of semiotic drives and rhythms is associated with negativity as a force of revolt, an excess, most archaically, the force of bodily expulsion, but more generally the forces that continually spur the dissolution of one's own organization.

Negativity maintains life, keeps it going by circulating energy, rendering the subject always in process. Through its movement, the subject is not a rigid identity, but always developing, reconfiguring itself through the interplay of drives and language, in the tensions between body and mirror image and between mirror image and self.

While Kristeva advocates for ‘poetic revolution,’ (meaning the ongoing process of reconfiguring language and oneself by exploiting the heterogeneities between semiotic and symbolic elements), she is sometimes read as a conservative thinker because of her commitment to maintaining a symbolic order and social contract.

The danger of a too strong or too weak symbolic order is that it encourages a return to abjection or melancholia, to the point prior to ego-formation, to a dissolution of the borders that maintain social life and creative subjectivity, contributing to the ego's collapse into an empty abyssal void and discouraging semiotic creativity.

Such a fragile, fragmented, disintegrating ego, always in search of objects to heal the rift of being, dreaming of a return to unity but suffering the nightmare of upheaval and collapse of identity, is especially susceptible to the traumatic impact of encountering the stranger, the unfamiliar other or alien who provokes turmoil and who is repudiated in a rebound to delirious narcissism and a reassertion of self-mastery and self-identity.

The stranger disturbs boundaries, indicating the failure to fully eliminate the refuse of identity and purify oneself.

Kristeva sees in the ethics of psychoanalysis, premised on self-division, being strange to oneself, the possibility of establishing an ethical relation to alterity, inviting it into our political bonds (and warding off the most virulent forms of abjection).

Where Irigaray aims to introduce sexual difference into the social contract and the domain of law and rights, Kristeva proposes that we introduce self-discord.

[Emily Zakin]
‘Psychoanalytic Feminism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

We may sympathize with Proust's view and envy insight, his observation, and his superbly subtle awareness of the motives of men and women: but we must disagree with his idea that the homosexual man is feminine.

Rather is he a child whose development is incomplete - a boy who has not yet matured into a man.

The homosexual search is often determined by an absence of a satisfactory identification in early life with the parent of the same sex; and in homosexual men it is common to find that the patient's father has been absent or in some way impossible to identify with.

A father who is hard, unapproachable, and overbearing may inspire such fear that the developing boy turns away from him. A weak, soft, and ineffective father does not provide a sufficiently forceful personality to evoke masculine qualities in his son. In either case there is a failure of identification, and the son turns away from his father to seek in others those masculine attributes which he needs for his own development.

If all goes well he finds them and, by modelling himself upon a teacher or friend, himself becomes what he has been looking for in others. But, if he is sufficiently discouraged or frightened, he may continue to feel that other men possess something to which he can never aspire, and so remain in a state of immaturity.

[Anthony Storr]
The Integrity of the Personality, p.113

A hypothesis is some idea which can be tested experimentally and proved or disproved from which theory or laws may be generated. We may, as we do in Cynefin, not attempt to prove or disprove a hypothesis but instead, construct a safe-to-fail experiment based on that hypothesis which runs in parallel with others.

Yes, this may prove or disprove the hypothesis, but the multiple parallel processes of hypothesis-based probes may change the dynamics of the situation to open up new possibilities for action. The value of the hypotheses can lie in this, it doesn’t matter so much if they are right or wrong.

[Dave Snowden]
'Conjectures and hypotheses'

Ritual dramas are not automatic expressions of folk spirit. They were created, just as were the poems, dances, and songs that heighten their impact, by individuals moving in a certain cultural sequence, formed by the tradition and forming it. Whether we call these individuals "poet-thinkers," "medicine men," or "shamans," terms used by Paul Radin (1957), seems unimportant.

Plainly, they were individuals who reacted with unusual sensitivity to the stresses of the life cycle and were faced, in extreme cases, with the alternative of breaking down or creating meaning out of apparent chaos. Let us call them primitive dramatists.

The meanings they created, the conflicts they symbolized, and sometimes resolved in their own "pantomimic" performances, were felt by the majority of so-called ordinary individuals. There was, of course, magic here too; but, more deeply, there was a perception of human nature that tied the group together.

The primitive dramatist served as the "lightning rod" for the commonly experienced anxieties, which, in concert with his peers and buttressed by tradition, the primitive individual was able to resolve.

This is not to say that the primitive dramatist simply invented meanings promiscuously. It was always done within a given socio-economic and natural setting. But he shaped dramatic forms through which the participants were able to clarify their own conflicts and more readily establish their own identities.

There was an organic tie, then, between the primitive dramatist and the people at large, the tie of creation and response, which is, in itself, a type of creation. The difference was that the dramatist lived under relatively continuous stress, most people only periodically so […] The distinctions are a matter of degree.

The very presence of the shamandramatist is a continuous reminder that life often balances on the knife edge between chaos and meaning, and that meaning is created or apprehended by man coming, as it were, naked into the world.

[Stanley Diamond]
'Plato and the Primitive'

Related posts:-
Everything and Nothing 
All is Change 
Centre / Periphery
Inflation / Deflation
Guiding Fiction
Forever Becoming
Mind your language 
Dreams from dreams
Separations and Bridges
Making connections
Shades of gray
Escaping Uncertainty
Do Not Disturb
Taking the rough with the smooth
Negative Capability
The Tyranny of Novelty
Levels of Meaning
The Eternal Ideas

What's your position?

“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” The face of God must not be looked upon. The curtain must not be drawn back to reveal the wizard.

If a tradition is to endure then its core assumptions must never be questioned. Every tradition contains such a set of truths, and they are always a matter of faith. Dig deep enough and instead of bedrock you will find an abyss. This is the terrifying realisation that postmodern turn faced us with.

Rational argument - analysis, or critique - is useful for stress-testing a position, but it can never establish the 'rational acceptability' of the position itself. When a range of equally compelling and rational positions are on the table, it can never say tell us how or why to choose between them. 

In the absence of a rational basis for securing agreement we instead revert to emotional means. In the marketplace of ideas, rhetoric takes precedence over logic.

We’re constantly told to follow the science, that this or that political decision or mandate is not in fact political but is mandated by science. 

At best this is the naive proposition of people who are unaware of their own frame, unaware of what motivates their actions. 

At worst it is a new form of moralising, which wants to pretend that it’s moral stances are as self-evident and as provable as two plus two equals four. 

[Jonathan Pageau]
‘The Blindness of "Following the Science”’

A position is a simple predictive statement which influences all of the individual's transactions; in the long run it determines his destiny and often that of his descendants as well. A position may be more or less absolute.

Positions are taken and become fixed surprisingly early, from the second or even the first year to the seventh year of life - in any case long before the individual is competent or experienced enough to make such a serious commitment.

It is not difficult to deduce from an individual's position the kind of childhood he must have had. 

Unless something or somebody intervenes, he spends the rest of his life stabilizing his position and dealing with situations that threaten it: by avoiding them, warding off certain elements or manipulating them provocatively so that they are transformed from threats into justifications.

[Eric Berne]
Games People Play, p.42

[…] objectivity requires that all observers should stand at the same point of view and abstract from their individual differences.

But this kind of abstraction simply cannot be used when we are talking about human affairs. There is no way in which we can collect facts about any significant aspect of human life without looking at them from some particular angle. We have to guide our selection by means of some value-judgement about what matters in it and what does not.

And these judgements inevitably arise out of each enquirer's moral position. When such judgements raise difficulties, they need to be justified morally by explaining that position, not by ignoring it.

Social and psychological theorists who claim to be operating in a value-free vacuum outside morality are notoriously deceiving themselves. They simply haven't noticed their own biases.

The behaviourist idea that, in order to be scientific, psychologists should study people objectively in the sense of ignoring their subjective point of view and treating them solely as physical objects was not value-free. It was not just a proposal for a new scientific method.

It was a demand for a new and very peculiar moral attitude.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p. 205-6

MacIntyre says that the failure of dialogue is connected to a failure of the Enlightenment thinkers to achieve their ambition of arriving at consensus in truth via the use of reason.

The Encyclopaedists in 18th-century France, who were among the founders of the Enlightenment, cherished the belief that through the use of reason alone, human beings could agree on the truth about the way things really were by taking an objective viewpoint freed from tradition and prejudice.

Irreducibly differing frameworks, such as Nietzscheanism and Aristotelianism, may marginally share the same rationality and logical procedure, may be able to identify each other’s presuppositions and methods, may be able to point out that those presuppositions and methods are not very credible in their eyes, but they cannot touch them with reasoned arguments that the other will accept.

This is because their presuppositions and methods (just like those of Empiricists and Rationalists 300 years ago about the correct foundations for knowledge) are derived from extrarational sources, from what Wittgenstein called a ‘form of life’ and from what MacIntyre calls a ‘tradition’.

Although the arguments and views derived from your tradition might appear weird and confused from the viewpoint of my tradition, it does not at all follow that they will do so to you or that our minimal shared rationality is strong enough to shift either of us from our own position.

MacIntyre stresses that there is no philosophical position that is not bound up in a tradition. It is by belonging to a tradition, by participating in it, and being changed by it (as well perhaps as changing it) that a person forms a moral position. There is no other way, according to MacIntyre.

It is an illusion to think one can be a pure individual or possess a traditionless, timeless moral reason.

[Mike Fuller]
‘Alasdair MacIntyre’, Philosophy Now, Issue 13

The experiment asks a precise kind of question, one that assumes only a limited number of possible answers. In other words, the very context in which the experiment is devised presupposes to some extent the range of answers that will be given, each of these answers having meaning within the current scientific context.

[…] In other words, observations, experiments, and interpretations are always made from within the confines of a particular paradigm.

And while a crucial experiment may help science to decide between two rival theories within that particular paradigm, it will never be able, by itself, to overturn that paradigm. An experiment can never do this because the very motivation to do the experiment in the first place and the language in which its results will be discussed are all aspects of the paradigm itself.


This book has already questioned the dubious claim that Western science is involved in the dispassionate and objective search for "truth." A more realistic statement would be that much of what Western scientists do flows from their particular paradigms, worldviews, and belief systems.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.100, 247

What salient characteristics do these debates and disagreements share? They are of three kinds.

The first is what I shall call, adapting an expression from the philosophy of science, the conceptual incommensurability of the rival arguments in each of the three debates. Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another.

For each premise employs some quite different normative or evaluative concept from the others, so that the claims made upon us are of quite different kinds. In the first argument, for example, premises which invoke justice and innocence are at odds with premises which invoke success and survival; in the second, premises which invoke rights are at odds with those which invoke universalizability; in the third it is the claim of equality that is matched against that of liberty.

It is precisely because there is in our society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable.

From our rival conclusions we can argue back to our rival premises; but when we do arrive at our premises argument ceases and the invocation of one premise against another becomes a matter of pure assertion and counter-assertion. Hence perhaps the slightly shrill tone of so much moral debate.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.9

The self-assertive shrillness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure that protestors can never win an argument; the indignant self-righteousness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure equally that the protestors can never lose an argument either.

Hence the utterance of protest is characteristically addressed to those who already share the protestors' premises. The effects of incommensurability ensure that protestors rarely have anyone else to talk to but themselves.

This is not to say that protest cannot be effective; it is to say that it cannot be rationally effective and that its dominant modes of expression give evidence of a certain perhaps unconscious awareness of this.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.85

David Lewis has written: 'Philosophical theories are never refuted conclusively. (Or hardly ever, Godel and Gettier may have done it.) The theory survives its refutation - at a price .... Our “intuitions" are simply opinions; our philosophical theories are the same ... a reasonable task for the philosopher is to bring them into equilibrium. Our common task is to find out what equilibria there are that can withstand examination, but it remains for each of us to come to rest in one or another of them .... Once the menu of well-worked out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion ...' (Philosophical Papers, Volume I, Oxford, 1983, pp. x-xi).

Analytic philosophy, that is to say, can very occasionally produce practically conclusive results of a negative kind. It can show in a few cases that just too much incoherence and inconsistency is involved in some position for any reasonable person to continue to hold it.

But it can never establish the rational acceptability of any particular position in cases where each of the alternative rival positions available has sufficient range and scope and the adherents of each are willing to pay the price necessary to secure coherence and consistency.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.310-11

Related posts:-
Assume a position
Don't commit to it
Construct it differently
Status Quo
Do Not Disturb
Shedding Skin 
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
Challenging Art 
Incursions of the unknown 
Testing new opinions and courting new impressions 
Hold it Still

Enforced Debt

... if Peter is prepared to make sacrifices for Paul, so Paul should be prepared to make sacrifices for Peter, or else he is selfish, ungrateful, callous, ruthless, etc.

'Sacrifice' under these circumstances consists in Peter impoverishing himself to do something for Paul. It is the tactic of enforced debt. One way of putting this is that each person invests in the other.

[R.D. Laing]
The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, p.76

Status Quo

Life                           -                      Death
Solid                         -                      Liquid
Certain                      -                      Uncertain
Permanence              -                      Change
Rigid                         -                      Flexible

Every system must have a 'steady state.' The steady state is what we describe as 'normal.' For instance, part of our body's steady state is to be somewhere around a temperature of 37°C. This is a normal temperature for the human body. To deviate from this temperature is to risk being 'unwell' (i.e. 'not normal')

It is only through steady states that we are able to recognise and experience things at all. A steady state implies a lack of change. The appearance of steadiness may only be an illusion - after all, nothing is truly able to stand still - but it is an important one; the illusion allows us to detect a world, and all of the things within it. It is only when things are still enough that we are able to see them and grasp them.

Thus, many philosophers have described our world as one of illusion, pointing to the notion that, whilst things may appear to be steady, they are, in fact, constantly changing.

We must, then, take our steady states seriously; but not too seriously. They are both real and illusory. To get too caught up in either story - all real, or all illusion - is to lose sight of the balance. Stay too still and you become a statue, unable to move at all. Move too much and you become a formless spark, visible only in flashes.

As ever, context is key. In some instances we may be seen as too-steady, as 'stuck in a rut.' Perhaps our sediments have settled at the bottom of the glass, and we need 'shaking up.' Yet in other contexts this selfsame attribute may be seen as 'reliable', 'devoted' or 'committed.'

If we are not steady enough then we may be described as 'wishy-washy'; as 'unable to commit' or 'averse to devotion.' People may see us as 'neither here nor there.' Yet at other times we may be seen as 'flexible,' 'mercurial,' or 'creative.'

We could describe life as a neverending to-ing and fro-ing between opposites; life and death; 'no-change' and 'all-change'; statue and spark. We let air into a stuffy room; stir things up when they become too settled; expose ignorance to new information; unstick what has become stuck. In doing so we attempt to keep a balance; which is another way of saying that we attempt to stay healthy.

Disagreement shakes us out of our slumbers, and forces us to see our own point of view through contrast with another person who does not share it. But we resist such confrontations.

... our intolerance of different fundamental structures of experience.

We seem to need to share a communal meaning to human existence, to give with others a common sense to the world, to maintain a consensus.

But it seems that once certain fundamental structures of experience are shared, they come to be experienced as objective entities.

A social norm may come to impose an oppressive obligation on everyone, although few people feel it to be their own.

[R.D. Laing]
The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, p.65

Hillman: I know I'm interrupting you, Stan, but that's the whole point. Two people talking is, at least conceptually, open to the community. Open to interruption.

Passy: Are you saying that's a function of community?

Hillman: We see it as interruption, as annoying, but the interruption takes you out of yourself, out of what you're doing, breaks the rhythm, breaks the isolation.

So interruption has a value, is important, because getting taken out of yourself is important; it lets air into a stuffy room. 

That's part of writing-as-dialogue, the important interruptions each makes into the other's thought, the sudden turns. So the page is more alive in that it's more like life, it moves like life.

[James Hillman]
with Stan Passy
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.186

Inviting dissent into the conversation is how we show respect for a wide range of beliefs [...] in a patriarchal world, dissent is considered disloyalty. Or negativism. Or not being a team player [...]

Hospitality is the welcoming not only of strangers, but also of the strange ideas and beliefs they bring with them.

When we think we have to answer people's doubts and defend ourselves, then the space for dissent closes down. When people have doubts, and we attempt to answer them, we are colluding with their reluctance to be accountable for their own future.

All we have to do with the doubts of others is get interested in them. We do not have to take them on or let them resonate with our own doubts. We just get interested.

Listening is the action step that replaces defending ourselves [..] get interested in people's dissent, their doubts, and find out why this matters so much to them.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.130-2

Last year I tried to get out of the Schreibstube, that closet of introversion, sitting and writing and practicing. I went around America, talking and listening to questions.

The questions forced me to think new things, say things. 

Things came right out of my throat, and I was fascinated listening to what was coming up, like the throat could say new things and different things than what comes from my hands when I'm writing.

[James Hillman]
Inter Views, p.1

And there's a second reason you are convinced that you're more yourself when you're alone: because it's more familiar.

You are in a habitual, repetitious rut. 

"This is me, because I'm in the same pattern"; it's recognizable. When you're with another person you're out of yourself because the other person is flowing into you and you are flowing into them, there are surprises, you're a little out of control, and then you think you're not your real true self.

The out of control - that's the community acting through you. It's the locus that you're in acting through you.

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.41

Dr. Laing noted that the obvious can be very difficult for people to see. That is because people are self-corrective systems.

They are self-corrective against disturbance, and if the obvious is not of a kind that they can easily assimilate without internal disturbance, their self-corrective mechanisms work to sidetrack it, to hide it, even to the extent of shutting the eyes if necessary, or shutting off various parts of the process of perception.

Disturbing information can be framed like a pearl so that it doesn't make a nuisance of itself; and this will be done, according to the understanding of the system itself of what would be a nuisance.

This too - the premise regarding what would cause disturbance - is something which is learned and then becomes perpetuated or conserved.

[There are a number of these] enormously complex systems or arrangements of conservative loops. One is the human individual. Its physiology and neurology conserve body temperature, blood chemistry, the length and size and shape of organs during growth and embryology, and all the rest of the body's characteristics.

This is a system which conserves descriptive statements about the human being, body or soul. For the same is true of the psychology of the individual, where learning occurs to conserve the opinions and components of the status quo.

[The society in which the individual lives] is again a system of the same general kind.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature'), p.435-6

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!

[Upton Sinclair]

Another reason that class has become less visible even as it's become more determinant is social networking.

The internet has allowed us to filter our contact with others to such an extent that we're seldom likely to encounter anyone who thinks or feels significantly differently online -- unless we consciously seek them out.

And why would we do that? To "challenge our own values"? Because "it's good for us"?

From Click Opera, here.

We've seen time and again how the identity politics movement of the 60s and 70s was about making class conflicts visible, bringing them to the surface, whereas the PC inheritors of those same conflicts, in the 80s and 90s, tended to want to hide and bury them by policing language and appearances.

Now, a lot of class struggle -- not to mention education, foreign aid, progressive taxation, charity and activism -- is precisely about people from more privileged positions helping people from less. One class or group helping another is not necessarily "condescension", and "condescension" is not to be confused with mistrust.

In classic Marxist theory, for instance, the intelligentsia can be "in league" with the proletariat, pressing their smarts into the service of the workers. Is that "condescending"? Should it stop?

Difference exists, in cyberspace and in meatspace. To acknowledge it is not to shaft anyone. What matters is what you do with that.

From here: http://imomus.livejournal.com/473409.html?thread=18687553#t18687553

The better and more embracing the old theory, the more difficult it is for men to adjust their minds to embrace the new.

For the average person, the undermining and destruction of a cherished vision of reality can be a shattering experience. Such an upheaval is comparable to the disturbance a man suffers when a person in whom he has had 'basic trust' turns out to be unfaithful or untrustworthy.

Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it.

No wonder we resent having our cherished illusions shattered, our traditional way of looking at things challenged. When the Impressionists first tried to exhibit their works in Paris, they were greeted with storms of abuse. We can only understand such intemperance if we realize that their new artistic vision must have mobilized intense feelings of basic anxiety in the artistic establishment.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.147

Only through experience do we become aware of the inflexibility of other people's characters

[...] till then we childishly believe that we could succeed by representations of reason, by entreaties and prayers, by example and noble-mindedness, in making a man abandon his own way, change his mode of conduct, depart from his way of thinking, or even increase his abilities;

 it is the same, too, with ourselves.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.304

The persistence of custom, its slow response to change, is a distinctive feature of the Amish people. 

The pervasiveness with which the Amish literally adhere to their traditional religious practices is carried over into the social and economic aspects of their lives.

Sociologists call this slow pace of change cultural inertia, cultural lag or formalism. Through it we can observe how Amish society has remained relatively stable while the dominant society has changed radically.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 49

[...] he was a most inconvenient and indigestible component in a community whose idea was harmony and orderliness.

But because of this very troublesomeness and indigestibility he was, in the midst of such a limpid and prearranged little world, a constant source of vital unrest, a reproach, an admonition and warning, a spur to new, bold, forbidden, intrepid ideas, an unruly, stubborn sheep in the herd.

[Hermann Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game, p. 271

I don't particularly care about the usual.

If you want to get an idea of a friend's temperament, ethics, and personal elegance, you need to look at him under the tests of severe circumstances, not under the regular rosy glow of daily life. Can you assess the danger a criminal poses by examining only what he does on an ordinary day? Can we understand health without considering wild diseases and epidemics? Indeed the normal is often irrelevant.

Almost everything in social life is produced by rare but consequential shocks and jumps; all the while almost everything studied about social life focuses on the 'normal,' particularly with 'bell curve' methods of inference that tell you close to nothing.

Why? Because the bell curve ignores large deviations, cannot handle them, yet makes us confident that we have tamed uncertainty.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, p. xxix

What I think happens is that the dominant system ends up eating psychology and saying that the psychology that supports the dominant system is healthy psychology and anything that is dissenting is not healthy.

It ends up eating spirituality, and virtue, and ethics, and academia […] to basically say that the behaviours that support the system are good - so the thinking that supports those behaviours is good, and anything that is dissenting is bad.

It’s so easy to see it in the Crusades, or in Jihadism or even in the Victorian time period - it’s just very hard for us to see it about ourselves, now.

You have a self-perpetuating system that includes the perpetuation of the memes that support the system.

[Daniel Schmachtenberger]
'Daniel Schmachtenberger on The Portal (with host Eric Weinstein), Ep. #027 - On Avoiding Apocalypses' (1:27:45)

Organizations and social systems operating within a chaotic environment are being continually challenged to maintain their purpose and structure.

The paradox, however, is that larger and more established structures are usually less able to change.

The inertia resulting from their size (e.g., number of people) makes it difficult to introduce planned organizational or social change. Large institutions generally encompass well-established patterns. The stability of these structures makes them less able to adapt to environmental and internal system changes.

All other things being equal, small structures can adapt to change more efficiently than larger ones.

[David S. Walonick]
'General Systems Theory'

Organizations settle into stable symmetric relationships in known space and fail to recognize that the dynamics of the environment have changed until it is too late. The longer the period of stability and the more stable the system, the more likely it is for asymmetric threats or other factors to precipitate a move into chaos.

The decision makers in the system don’t see things that fall outside the pattern of their expectation, and they continue not to see them until finally the system breaks and they find themselves in chaos.

The final stage before the break point is witnessed frequently in history. A good example is the trial of Galileo, in which the Catholic Church accepted that the earth went round the sun for the purpose of mathematic calculation, provided no one said it was actually the case. In retrospect, this was an untenable position, which only delayed and made worse the inevitable collapse.

This phenomenon of grasping at order is common in people, governments, academia, and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Often the strongest dominant player in a market will continue with behavior long after its utility, perceived from a different perspective, is exhausted (Boisot uses IBM as an example of this).

Also, senior decision makers and their policy advisors will find ways of fitting reality into their existing models rather than face the fact that those models are outdated, and they will punish dissent (the history of science and business provide examples). 

Galileo is tried afresh in modern organizations on a regular basis.

[Cynthia Kurtz & Dave Snowden]
'The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world'

We can make good use of the Gaussian approach in variables for which there is a rational reason for the largest not to be too far away from the average. If there is gravity pulling numbers down, or if there are physical limitations preventing very large observations, we end up in Mediocristan.

If there are strong forces of equilibrium bringing things back  rather rapidly after conditions diverge from equilibrium, then again you can use the Gaussian approach. Otherwise, fuhgedaboudit.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 236

What is critical about the concept of The Dreaming is that it denies creative significance to history and human action, just as it denies the erosions of time. It represents all that exists as deriving from a single, unchanging, timeless source.

All things have always been the same, forever deriving from the same basic pattern.

In the Pintupi view, things as they are—the familiar customs of male initiation, death, cross-cousin marriage, sorcery, and burial, for example—were instituted once-and-for-all in The Dreaming. Human beings neither made it so nor invented these practices. Like everything else of the cosmos, people and their practices are simply part of a single, monistic order of existents established long ago.

It is [...] a world view that implies continuity and permanence. The historicity of hills unchanged through time proclaims that the cosmos has always been as it is and that, indeed, it cannot be different.

The Pintupi, like other Western Desert Aborigines, sometimes mark this quality of “life as a one-possibility thing" when they describe The Dreaming as "the Law." In doing so, they emphasize not only the norms or precedents established in The Dreaming, but also the sense of moral imperative it embodies.

People must continue The Dreaming and preserve it, making first things continuous with last, by "holding the Law" for coming generations. Thus, human beings play a role in the maintenance of the instituted order.

Pintupi explain about The Dreaming that it is not a product of human subjectivity or will. It is, rather, an order to which all are subordinated: "It's not our idea," men told me. "'It's a big Law. We have to sit down alongside of that Law like all the dead people who went before us."

Indeed, not only do the Dreaming narratives tell how the world came to be, but the raw material of the stories, the symbols themselves in the form of the landscape, signify the same concern on another level. 

Human life and being, they imply, are as permanent, enduring, and unchanging as the land itself.

These concepts are subtle and complex. In Western historical terms, changes have always taken place. The evidence of new customs and new cults is unassailable; life is not static. The Pintupi understandings of the historical process are not totally static either, but the concept of the The Dreaming organizes experience so that it appears to be continuous and permanent.

For the Pintupi, the dynamic, processual aspect of history seems to exist as one of discovering, uncovering, or even reenacting elements of The Dreaming.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.52-3