The Oak and the Stream

Oak                                     -                      Stream
Robust                                -                      Resilient

In this year's Celebrity Big Brother we've witnessed a number of the contests being condemned for being "two-faced," and for "sitting on the fence." These concepts are often employed as a means to criticize, but is it possible that they could have other, more positive, uses?

If we look at the images that lie behind these criticisms we see that they're concerned with the same idea. To be two-faced is to fail to be one-faced; in other words, it is to fail to present a consistent face, to stick to an image. So the two-faced person may present a certain face in this situation (and with these people), yet may present an entirely different face in that situation (with those people). The criticism seems to take for granted that to have one face is the favoured way to be, the "right" way.

When we are one-faced we are faithful to a single image, a single way of being. The one-face is a monotheistic mode, borne from the notion that to be one way - and to be certain of this way - is the ideal way to be. In Celebrity Big Brother perhaps the most stringent advocate of the mono-face mode is Vinnie Jones.

Jones represents the image of the Great Oak; rooted firmly into the earth, it would take a truly catastrophic event to move the Oak; its thick bark protects it from the elements; its trunk does not bend or sway in even the strongest of winds; the Oak can be leaned upon for means of support, and provides a sturdy shelter for those who seek it.

Jones's language and behaviours give us clues to his nature. In a conversation with Alex (a sapling to Jones' Oak, swaying this way and that, but yet to become immune to the breeze) he urges him to become something (to put down firmer roots). Supported by Steven (a classic American Hardwood) he criticizes Alex for being "a bit of everything" whilst being "none of them." For Jones, to be a bit of everything is to be nothing at all. He sees no value in being in-between; to be in-between is to be ineffectual.

Jones is sure of who he is and of his opinions. Like the Oak, he is firmly rooted and immovable. Yet, in Jones we see an Oak that detests anything that does not mirror its own sturdy nature. He is the one to most frequently bring down the label of "two-faced" upon the heads of his fellow housemates, and it is he who seems most irked when they "sit on the fence" or "go between camps." He is bothered by ways of being that present contrary images to his own.

To be two-faced, to sit on the fence and to go between camps all bring to mind images of fluidity and flexibility; as with Alex, the two-faced person - the fence-sitter, the go-betweener - suggests a tree that sways, that gives. They also bring to mind the image of water or oil, its tendency to slip and slide and to evade solid form. Indeed, the two-faced person is often seen as slippery - assuming one form in this instance and another in that - and as such they cannot be relied upon (leaned upon) or trusted (to maintain a singular form).

When - like Jones - we attribute a negative value to fluid images, we risk overlooking the positive value that they can bring us. If we view two-faced from another angle, then we may see it as having two languages. Thus, to sit on the fence, or to go between camps is to carry messages, from one Oak to another. The Oak - so proud of its strength, its surety - does not realise that because it is so firmly rooted it may have lost the ability to move, and thus to communicate with other equally well rooted neighbours. If it is too enamoured by its own image, it may not realise how much it needs a go-between, to bring news from afar and to carry its own communications.

And so the go-between becomes the stream, weaving through the forest and carrying messages within its water. When we are two-faced we become like the stream, extending our repertoire - our languages - so we are able to speak to more people. In our two-faced mode we are able to communicate more widely than in our one-faced mode. In fact, we could probably go further and describe the stream as multi-faced, because it does not limit its faces to only two. It wants to communicate with as many things as it can - it feels the importance of this duty for the harmony of the forest - and so it adopts as many faces as it is able, doing its best to open lines of communication with everything it meets.

The Oak has much to be proud of, and within the eco-system his role is an important one. Of course, we are not Oaks, and we needn't be as firmly rooted. But like the Oak, our danger is in holding our own way of being in such high esteem that we forget how vital other modes are to our eco-system, to the harmony of our society. If the unshifting element of our character - our mono-face - takes its mask too literally then we will have difficulty in communicating with those who contradict this mask; our opposites. In times like these we would be well advised to remember the stream and its multi-faceted nature; because it does not literalize any of its faces, its masks, the stream has no opposites, no enemies.

The forest is our eco-system, our environment and society. But its multiplicities - all of its different forms of life, including both Oak and stream - exist as potential within each of us. All play their role, and all must be remembered, and respected.

Still Waters

Still                   -          Volatile
Repression        -          Expression
Permanent         -          Transitory
Death                -           Life
Solid                 -           Liquid
Order                -           Chaos

Nothing is truly still.

In trying to keep things too still, too serene, too perfect, we must repress anything that may cause a disturbance. Things are pushed under the surface - out of sight, out of mind - and we are afforded the comforting illusion of tranquility. All appears to be well.

But really we know that those disturbing and pesky data points aren't really gone, they are merely forgotten. And the longer we keep them in the dark the more of a debt we accrue. Their power grows - slowly, silently - until it can no longer be contained; at which point it bursts forth, catastrophically.

What is the alternative? Robustness, or resilience.

In becoming resilient we are able to tolerate an amount of volatility - we don't allow disturbances to disturb us too much. We accept that perfection is an illusion, that nothing in life is truly still, and that the need to make it still is pathological. We accept that at times we will be sad, unsettled... imperfect. We come round to Dionysus, become less fixated on Apollo.

Where there is too much stillness - a peace that lasts too long - there is too much repression. If things seem too good, then they likely are. Low volatility is paid for with greater exposure to catastrophic risk. The ground state, or vacuum state of quantum physics, in spite of appearing to be a state of total emptiness and stillness, is in fact full of latent energy and possibility, suggesting that the more still things appear the more latent energy is accumulated in reserve.

Excessive control involves a paring down of diversity and dissension and so requires a stable environment. Stillness and repression go hand in hand with central control.

I don’t trust [Steven Pinker’s] optimism […] more and more kinetic energy, like war, has been turned into potential energy, like unused nuclear weapons - [but] if you don’t have a potential energy term, then everything’s just getting better and better.

[Eric Weinstein]

[...] we may need to intervene to control the iatrogenics of modernity - particularly the large-scale harm to the environment and the concentration of potential (though not yet manifested) damage, the kind of thing we only notice when it is too late.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 121

[…] we can see how the fear of volatility […], leading to inference with nature so as to impose “regularity,” makes us more fragile across so many domains [...] Reducing volatility and ordinary randomness increases exposure to Black Swans - it creates an artificial quiet. 

Preventing small forest fires sets the stage for more extreme ones; giving out antibiotics when it is not very necessary makes us more vulnerable to severe epidemics - and perhaps to that big one, the grand infection that will be resistant to known antibiotics and will travel on Air France.

Which brings me to another organism: economic life. Our aversion to variability and desire for order, and our acting on those feelings, have helped precipitate severe crises. Making something artificially bigger (instead of letting it die early if it cannot survive stressors) makes it more and more vulnerable to a very severe collapse - as I showed with the Black Swan vulnerability associated with an increase in size.

The idea is simply to let human mistakes and miscalculations remain confined, and to prevent their spreading through the system, as Mother Nature does.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 322, 329

We sacrifice ourselves in favour of our genes, trading our fragility for their survival. We age, but they stay young and get fitter outside us.

Things break on a small scale all the time, in order to avoid large-scale generalised catastrophes.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 350

A story

A man marries a woman and they settle down.

They buy a house, decorate and furnish it. Eventually they have a child together.

All seems relatively well, until the man’s behaviour begins to change. Perhaps he begins to drink more, or drinks with less control. He gets drunk and stays out, gets into trouble. He becomes more distant from his wife, and child. Maybe he has an affair. Perhaps he does other troublesome, disruptive things.

And for his actions he faces recriminations.

“Why are you doing this?” he is asked. And perhaps he cannot come up with an answer, and he feels bad; but he does not know if he feels bad because he did those things, or because he cannot say why he did them.

And so our hero becomes a villain; his name muddied, his image tarnished.

And he sees the pain that he is causing, and he feels the judgements that are cast upon him. And, whilst he may not show it, somewhere within him he is hurt. He does not like being the one to bring about all this pain, and he does not like the weight of shame that has been hung around his neck. And so he makes efforts to change his ways, to do less of these things that have caused pain. He pares himself down, becomes “good”.

People begin to notice a change in him.

In becoming good he seems to have lost something. He seems dulled, muted. Neutered. At certain points of the day he can be caught staring into the distance, empty-eyed. And people wonder, “What is wrong with him?” “What happened to him?”

Some people, those with eyes to see, sense a deep rumbling within him; and they know that something is very wrong.

A story about a story

We started with a fantasy, one that was presumably shared by both parties; a fantasy of “everything is alright.” An image of a still lake, of balance and harmony. But for some reason this fantasy lost its truth for our hero, and he began to desire new images, and different stories.

His abandoning of the initial fantasy – the shared fantasy – caused pain; not only to his beloved, but to those in the community who were also invested in it. They could not understand his new stories, the sense of them; and, unfortunately for him, neither could he.

All he “knew” was that they were in some way necessary. To keep his own private lake still he seemed to have to cast stones upon communal waters. But he knew that these stones were not thrown out of malice, just to see the splashes and disruption that they would cause. There was an unconscious logic in his actions, a balance was being preserved.

Unfortunately for our hero his lack of insight into his own behaviour – his lack of language, of concepts; his inability to explain himself, to make himself known – meant that it became illegitimate. Lacking an advocate, it was forced underground, into the depths, where it could no longer disrupt the fantasy of “everything is alright”.

In forcing his devils underground he was able to once again to become “good”, the communal lake restored to stillness. But he did not realise that the devils do not disappear; they came to him with an important message, and it is their duty to make sure they are heard. Forced into the darkness, they still sing and dance, only he can no longer see them, or hear their song.

Perhaps our hero even begins to think of himself as “bad”; after all, he can see the consequences of his behaviour, and he is not blind to its effects. And so he is forced into a corner, given an ultimatum; to deny his devils, and to force them underground, or to remain the “villain,” and to live with the label of “bad.”

But perhaps an understanding of his actions – of their sense – would make the choice irrelevant.

Because he could not defend himself, he was forced into an act of self-amputation; an act that – seen from a certain angle – is perhaps the most horrific of this whole tale.

Things that can't be said or thought within a relationship/marriage.

The marriage becomes a normalising structure, marking out a safe area within which we can live. Each keeps tabs on the other to make sure that they aren't straying too far from safe ground.

But the structure cannot stop us dreaming; it cannot halt the flow of fantasy. We see what happens when fantasy enters the marriage, when messy, foreign madness is brought into the home, muddying the carpet and disrespecting the rules.

The question is: will fantasy be allowed in here? Will we open our door to it, or will we turn our back on it; deny it, or vilify it? Does fantasy have a place within our safe structure? Perhaps we made it too safe, too secure. Or perhaps we were wrong to build it in the first place.

"We should be grateful that we've managed to survive our dreams [...] The important thing is, we're awake now."

And so, we're back to normal. We're both back on safe ground, and let's put an end to our dreaming. It was too messy, too painful.

Frozen in time

The marriage begins with an image - the wedding photo - and asks the couple to remain faithful to this image. It asks them to keep smiling, to maintain harmony.

But perhaps the marriage needs to be able to allow other images within its borders; images of tears, and bared-teeth; of dreams, mistakes, regrets.

In asking its participants to stick to a single image it does not allow them to be fully human, condemning them to the immovability of rigor-mortis. Its foundational image is two-dimensional; pathology free, all smiles and great expectations. But if we decide that pathology is an important aspect of flourishing - an aspect of a balance - then it must be let in.

In this case, the mark of the strong marriage is its ability to adapt to changing waters, to allow the roiling seas as well as the calm lake.

[…] if you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall all possible distress way ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that besides your religion of pity you also harbor another religion in your heart that is perhaps the mother of the religion of pity: the religion of comfortableness

How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable and benevolent people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together […]

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 338

The general lack of experience of pain of both kinds and the relative rarity of the sight of anyone who is suffering have an important consequence: pain is now hated much more than was the case formerly: one speaks much worse of it; indeed, one considers the existence of the mere thought of pain scarcely endurable and turns it into a reproach against the whole of existence.

The emergence of pessimistic philosophies is by no means a sign of great and terrible misery. No, these question marks about the value of all life are put up in ages in which the refinement and alleviation of existence make even the inevitable mosquito bites of the soul and the body seem much too bloody and malignant and one is so poor in real experiences of pain that one would like to consider painful general ideas as suffering of the first order.

There is a recipe against pessimistic philosophers and the excessive sensitivity that seems to me the real “misery of the present age" - but this recipe may sound too cruel and might itself be counted among the signs that lead people to judge that "existence is something evil." 

Well, the recipe against this "misery" is: misery.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 48

A system's functional efficiency is often related to its integration. The system is called stable if it returns to or fluctuates minimally around a constant value. Stability is usually inversely related to integration, that is, to the stringency of the structural bonding. 

For the most part, the more flexible the coupling between the subsystems, the greater the overall system's stability. Usually, too, the more homogeneous the environment in which the system is located, the more stable the system. Greater variety of internal couplings as well as a larger number of such couplings also tends to increase stability.

The Great Lakes ecosystem is a good example of a stable system, one that also illustrates the fact that very stable systems, when perturbed, may be unable to survive. Because flora and fauna in freshwater aquatic systems are fairly homogeneous and the water tempers extreme climatic fluctuations, lakes are characteristically stable ecosystems. 

They may be stable, but they are not resilient. 

Fish stocks are often quickly decimated when the lake's ecological balance is perturbed. Resilience is "the ability of the system to absorb changes ... and still persist". A system can be quite resilient yet unstable if it persists as that (kind of) system despite wide fluctuations. 

Resilient systems are able to modify their specific structure so as to ensure the adaptability and survival of their overall organization. Insects and viruses are remarkably resilient: they can mutate dramatically and so persist. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.111

Within quantum field theory, both particles of matter, like the electron and proton, and the quanta of energy such as a photon of light, appear as vibrations of quantum fields.

But what is particularly interesting about the field is that its lowest energy state, called the ground state or vacuum state, is the state of total emptiness, the quantum void, for within this state no excitations exist.

One would expect the vacuum state to be empty of all vibrations and all energy. But paradoxically this absolute zero of the quantum world is totally full of energy. It is packed with an infinity of energy, so that there is more energy within this tiny dot of the vacuum state than in the whole observable universe!

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.194

The aggressive fantasies which are so characteristic of early childhood and which, if they are still active in adult life, cause such distress to kindly characters who would in reality not harm a fly, remain in this primitive form because the person concerned has also remained childish, and has never been able to utilize the aggressive energy which would have become available to him if it had not been disowned at an early stage in his development.

It can regularly be demonstrated that, in their daily relationships with each other, such people are too compliant, too yielding, too submissive.

The aggressive energy which is locked up their symptoms is actually energy which should be finding expression in life; and which would contribute to the achievement of a more adult attitude if it were allowed to do so.

The more submissive the patient is in reality, the more aggressive will he be in dream and fantasy: the more he is able to make adult relationships on equal terms, the more will the infantile, pathological, and un-acceptable aspects of his aggressiveness disappear.

[Anthony Storr]
The Integrity of the Personality, p.136

Complex systems operate under conditions far from equilibrium. There has to be a constant flow of energy to maintain the organisation of the system and to ensure its survival. 

Equilibrium is another word for death.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.4

I think ecological tax reform is an extremely important first step that we could as a society, in theory, take. And by that I mean that we attempt to move toward what I would call full social cost pricing of our goods and services.

Right now, almost everything we consume is produced at less than the true costs because we're allowed to pollute, we're damaging the ecosystems, we're changing the climate. All the climate damage costs are really the costs of production that have not been included in the prices of goods and services.

We are embedded in a culture that has a set of beliefs, values, assumptions, and narratives that have largely been socially constructed during an era of abundance. You and I have lived through an era of unprecedented abundance during which a whole set of completely unrealistic and false assumption didn't matter. Even if they were wrong, it didn't matter.

To make matters worse, we've spread this set of beliefs, values, and assumptions to the entire world. So we've created a set of human expectations that they too can follow in these trends. By the way, they feel absolutely that they have the right to do so and condemn us for not allowing them to do so.

[William Rees]
‘William E. Rees: "The Fundamental Issue - Overshoot" | The Great Simplification #53’, Nate Hagens, YouTube

To live in love and peace is one of the outstanding contradictions that Christianity has imposed on its followers, an ideal impossible and unnatural. Since Romanticism, artists and intellectuals have complained about the church’s sex rules, but these are just one small part of the Christian war with pagan nature.

Only a saint could sustain the Christian code of love. And saints are ruthless in their exclusions: they must shut out an enormous amount of reality, the reality of sexual personae and the reality of nature. Love for all means coldness to something or someone. Even Jesus, let us recall, was unnecessarily rude to his mother at Cana.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.18

[The murder of the scapegoat] is the secret origin of all religious and political institutions, and is remembered and transfigured in the form of myth.

The scapegoat, perceived as the primal source of conflict and disorder, had to die for there to be peace. By violence, violence was brought to an end and society was born. But because society rests on the belief in its own order and justice, the founding act of violence must be concealed—by the myth that the slain victim was really guilty.

That is how things used to work. But we now live in a world where the cat is out of the bag, at least to the extent that we know that the scapegoat really is not as guilty as the persecuting community claims. Because the smooth functioning of human culture depended on a lack of understanding of this truth of human culture, the archaic rituals will no longer work for the modern world.

The unveiling of the mythical past opens toward a future in which we no longer believe in any of the myths; in a dramatic rupture with the past, they will have been deconstructed and thereby discredited. But unlike Hegel, our knowledge of our hidden history—of the “things hidden since the foundation of the world”—does not automatically bring about a glorious final synthesis.

Because these founding myths also served the critical role of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate violence, their unraveling may deprive humanity of the efficacious functioning of the limited and sacred violence it needed to protect itself from unlimited and desacralized violence.

From a Girardian perspective, the current political debates remain inadequate for the contemporary world situation to the extent that, across the spectrum, there remains a denial of the founding role of the violence caused by human mimesis and, therefore, a systematic underestimation of the scope of apocalyptic violence.

One may define a “liberal” as someone who knows nothing of the past and of this history of violence, and still holds to the Enlightenment view of the natural goodness of humanity. And one may define a “conservative” as someone who knows nothing of the future and of the global world that is destined to be, and therefore still believes that the nation-state or other institutions rooted in sacred violence can contain unlimited human violence.

The word that best describes this unbounded, apocalyptic violence is “terrorism.”

[Peter Thiel]
‘The Straussian Moment’

Related posts:-

Middle World

Middle                       -            Extreme
Newtonian                 -            Einsteinian
Euclidean                   -            Non-Euclidean
Gaussian                   -             Mandelbrotian
Classical                    -             Quantum
Behaviourism            -             Psychoanalysis
Apollonian                -              Faustian
Classical                    -             Postmodern
Rational                     -             Non-rational
Whole number           -             Decimal place
Magnitude                  -             Relation
Digital                        -             Analogue
Noun                          -             Verb
State                           -              Process
Atom                          -              Wave
Order                           -             Chaos
Known                        -             Unknown
Conscious                   -              Unconscious
Familiar                      -               Novel
Consolidate                -               Explore
Conservative              -               Transgressive
Reductionist              -                Synergistic
Parts                            -              Wholes
Universal                    -               Contextual
Absolute                     -               Relative
Hard                           -               Soft
Rational                     -               Intuitive

-                                        0                                       +
Wrong                               Right                                Wrong
Deficient                           Balanced                          Excessive
Low resolution                 Correct resolution             High resolution
Macro                               Meso                                Micro
'Reality'                            'Illusion'                            'Reality'

At a certain scale the explanatory matrix of religion was 'truthful' enough - we couldn't know, or prove, that it wasn't. Religion explained enough of the world to make it a satisfactory container of experience. 

The old stories and explanations worked well enough at small scale. But once we started to see more and penetrate further into the nature of reality, they became inadequate - they just couldn't account for the things we were seeing and experiencing. And so the explanatory matrix of religion gave way to the explanatory matrix of science. 

The imperative of science is to know more; to pose, and answer, ever more ambitious questions. Asking 'more and more ambitious questions' is akin to pushing out to ever further extremes, to going quantum. The more 'ambitious' our questions become, the further we are taken away from our natural/traditional limits. 

Technology enabled us to see further, and in more detail than ever before, and so we analysed (took apart) everything, including ourselves - our old stories and beliefs. But what we came to realise is that seeing through these things doesn't suddenly make them redundant. We still need to believe in the wizard, in spite of having glimpsed beyond the curtain. 

Traditionalists, like Evola, suggest that there is danger in the lower regions and that a strong centre should, to some degree, prevent a 'regression' to the depths. This is, perhaps, another way of saying that a strong culture always seeks to prevent the runaway regress of reductionism, those 'ambitious questions' that tear at the fibres of tradition, and ultimately lead to nihilism. The extremes - the quantum scale - are sacred zones, only to be accessed by the initiated. Modernity, with its democratising spirit, opens the gates to everyone, seemingly oblivious to the dangers of such a course of action.

How, then, to return to Middle World once you've been spoiled by the attractions of the extremes?

Middle World, a term coined by Richard Dawkins, is used to describe the realm between the microscopic world of quarks and atoms and the larger view of the universe at the galactic and universal level.

This term is used as an explanation of oddity at both extreme levels of existence. There is a lack of understanding of the quantum and molecular universes, because the human mind has evolved to understand best that which it routinely encounters.

'Middle World'

Within the Darwinian conception of how we got here, there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties have evolved to put us in error-free contact with reality.

We did not evolve to be perfect mathematicians or logical operators, or perfect conceivers of scientific reality at the very small, sub-atomic level, or the very large, cosmic level, or the very old cosmological level. We are designed by the happenstance of evolution to function within a very narrow band of light intensities and physical parameters. 

The fact that we are able to succeed in creating a vision of scientific truth and the structure of the cosmos at large that radically exceeds those narrow parameters, that is a kind of miracle.

[Sam Harris]
‘Waking Up With Sam Harris #62 - What is True? (with Jordan B. Peterson)’

The universe is always one thing tumbling into the next, one form becoming another. It is a constant interchange, an unending rhythm.

Our perspective gives us the impression - a momentary snapshot - that it is this thing or that thing; a 'person',  a 'tree', a 'chair'.

A lifetime is a snapshot of this sort. Something is captured and held still long enough to identify it, to label it. Yet, while we may think that the thing is still - that is has boundaries and definition - really it is moving: growing and shrinking, flourishing and decaying. At either end of its life it tears at its definitions, and is not quite what it is - the half-formed nature of the fetus and the hollowed out shell of the nearly-dead.

But change your perspective and it may cease to be at all.

Zoomed in, we are atoms. Zoomed out we are specks.
Sped up we are sparks. Slowed down we are statues.

The right distance makes you what you are.
The right time keeps you what you are.

Thus, your perspective is the way in which you interpret the infinite tumbling mass of the universe, and it is the right way (for you at least).

Relating to or denoting the system of geometry based on the work of Euclid and corresponding to the geometry of ordinary experience.


An implication of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity is that physical space itself is not Euclidean, and Euclidean space is a good approximation for it only over short distances [...]

For example, if a triangle is constructed out of three rays of light, then in general the interior angles do not add up to 180 degrees due to gravity. A relatively weak gravitational field, such as the Earth's or the sun's, is represented by a metric that is approximately, but not exactly, Euclidean.

Until the 20th century, there was no technology capable of detecting the deviations from Euclidean geometry, but Einstein predicted that such deviations would exist. They were later verified by observations such as the slight bending of starlight by the Sun during a solar eclipse in 1919, and such considerations are now an integral part of the software that runs the GPS system.

It is possible to object to this interpretation of general relativity on the grounds that light rays might be improper physical models of Euclid's lines, or that relativity could be rephrased so as to avoid the geometrical interpretations. However, one of the consequences of Einstein's theory is that there is no possible physical test that can distinguish between a beam of light as a model of a geometrical line and any other physical model.

Thus, the only logical possibilities are to accept non-Euclidean geometry as physically real, or to reject the entire notion of physical tests of the axioms of geometry, which can then be imagined as a formal system without any intrinsic real-world meaning.

'Euclidean Geometry'

In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Bohm uses these notions to describe how the same phenomenon might look different, or might be characterized by different principal factors, in different contexts such as at different scales.

The implicate order, also referred to as the "enfolded" order, is seen as a deeper and more fundamental order of reality.

In contrast, the explicate or "unfolded" order include the abstractions that humans normally perceive.

'Implicate and explicate order'

By definition, a category (and we would say, a presumptive object) contains things of a kind, considered in relationship to a goal. Things of a kind may be treated as if they were identical.

The inner workings of an answering machine may all be treated as homogeneous and identical “parts,” for example – as elemental atoms, metaphorically speaking – as long as the machine is performing as planned, expected or desired. This makes the answering machine something that may be treated as a unit, as a “single thing,” occupying limited cognitive, categorical, emotional and perceptual resources.

This means that the object category “answering machine,” and object categories in general, might be regarded as functional, low-resolution images of the reality they are attempting to encapsulate. 

It is frequently the case, however, that one or more of our current categories or presumptive objects contains things that may not successfully be treated as a kind, for the purposes of our immediate goal-directed operations. This happens, for example, when a “thing” does not perform its implicit, desired, and predicted duty, because of its inherent and often invisible complexity.

Such failure indicates the inadequacy of our current low-resolution take on the world.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 440-1

[There is a phenomena] which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal.

This phenomena is called by the psychologists "projection."

The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair.

He still does not see himself as part of a system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.

If you look at the real situations in our world where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favour of purpose or common sense, you will find a rather similar reaction. 

President Johnson is, no doubt, fully aware that he has a mess on his hands, not only in Vietnam but in other parts of the national and international ecosystems; and I am sure that from where he sits it appears that he followed his purposes with common sense and that the mess must be due either to the wickedness of others or to his own sin or to come combination of these, according to his temperament.

Similarly, in the field of psychiatry, the family is a cybernetic system of the sort which I am discussing and usually when systemic pathology occurs, the members blame each other, or sometimes themselves.

But the truth of the matter is that both these alternatives are fundamentally arrogant. Either alternative assumes that the individual human being has total power over the system of which he or she is a part.

Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captain of our souls.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature'), p.442-4

The researchers showed that in simple models of neural networks, the amount of effective information increases as you coarse-grain over the neurons in the network—that is, treat groups of them as single units.

At a certain macroscopic scale, effective information peaks: This is the scale at which states of the system have the most causal power, predicting future states in the most reliable, effective manner. Coarse-grain further, and you start to lose important details about the system’s causal structure.

Tononi and colleagues hypothesize that the scale of peak causation should correspond, in the brain, to the scale of conscious decisions; based on brain imaging studies, Albantakis guesses that this might happen at the scale of neuronal microcolumns, which consist of around 100 neurons.

For any given system, effective information peaks at the scale with the largest and most reliable causal structure. In addition to conscious agents, Hoel says this might pick out the natural scales of rocks, tsunamis, planets and all other objects that we normally notice in the world. “And the reason why we’re tuned into them evolutionarily [might be] because they are reliable and effective, but that also means they are causally emergent,” Hoel said.

“But if we do find that causal emergence is happening, the reductionist assumption would have to be re-evaluated, and that would have to be applied broadly.”

One rejoinder is that perfect knowledge of the universe isn’t possible, even in principle. But even if the universe could be thought of as a single unit evolving autonomously, this picture wouldn’t be informative. “What is left out there is to identify entities—things that exist,” Albantakis said. Causation “is really the measure or quantity that is necessary to identify where in this whole state of the universe do I have groups of elements that make up entities? … Causation is what you need to give structure to the universe.”

Treating causes as real is a necessary tool for making sense of the world.

[Natalie Wolchover]
New Math Untangles the Mysterious Nature of Causality

Marking out the right distance.

‘The largest and most reliable structure’ - akin to Peterson’s lowest resolution image that we can get away with. Do not include any more complexity than is necessary, because, in Hoel’s terms, complexity is noise: too much of it stops us from making sense of things; from seeing the outlines of things.

The reductionist assumption is that more detail is better; and for the more zealous reductionists there may be another assumption: that the further we dig, the closer we get to the truth (i.e. to the original cause, to God). But perhaps God is at every level, every scale, and no amount of digging will bring us closer, or further away.

If the material world appeared simpler in the past it was because we were looking at it through the perspective of classical physics.

When we choose to direct our sight only toward simple systems (for example, those close to equilibrium or that are acted on by small forces, and that behave in regular ways) then naturally the world appears simple.

[...] classical physics created a travel brochure of the cosmos, one that emphasized regularity and simplicity. Galileo idealized his observations of the way a ball rolls downhill by ignoring, or bracketing out, the effects of bumps and friction. Newton asked how an apple falls in the absence of air resistance. Chemists investigated reactions where everything was close to equilibrium. Scientists were interested in what they termed "closed systems," systems insulated from the perturbations of the outside world.

[...] In each case science was filtering the world.

[...] Carefully designed experiments, well insulated from the contingencies of the external world, provided clear data that would fit easily onto a graph without too much scatter or experimental error.

The world of classical physics was free from uncertainty, ambiguity, and chaos [...] As we move into this new century we realize we have been guilty of oversimplifying the world in so many fields of knowledge.

[F. David Peat]
From Certainty to Uncertainty, p. 200-1

When we're too young, our judgment isn't sound, and it's the same when we're too old.

If we don't think enough about something - or if we think too much - we're inflexible and get stuck. If we take a look at our work as soon as we've done it, we're not able to be objective; but if we wait too long, we can't get into it any more.

It's like looking at pictures from too near or too far away.

There is only one place that is exactly right: the others are either too far, too near, too high or too low. In the art of painting it's perspective that determines where that point should be.

But who's to say where it is when it comes to truth and morality?

[Blaise Pascal]

[...] the left hemisphere's version of reality works well at the local level, the everyday, on which we are focussed by habit.

There Newtonian mechanics rules; but it ‘frays at the edges’, once one pans out to get the bigger picture of reality, at the subatomic, or at the cosmic, level. 

Here uncertainty replaces certainty; the fixed turns out to be constantly changing and cannot be pinned down; straight lines are curved: in other words, Einstein's laws account better than Newton's.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 177

[…] Nietzsche denies that we can ever read the structure of the world from the structure of the means we have developed in order to make it livable by beings like us: 

“One should not understand the compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws […] as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange the world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible.”

This is just the assumption that Nelson Goodman has more recently also denied: “Philosophers sometimes mistake features of discourse for features of the subject of discourse. We seldom conclude that the world consists of words just because a true description of it does, but we sometimes suppose that the structure of the world is the same as the structure of the description.”

The world we construct, Nietzsche repeatedly insists, is absolutely necessary, and we could not live without it; for us it is as real as can be. We are not in error to live in it, to think and talk about it as we do, and to continue to do so.

Our error is to believe that the ways in which we think and talk about it make by themselves any commitment about the real nature of the world, the world that is the common object of all the different perspectives on it. Our error consists in believing that our logic, language, mathematics, or any other practice is metaphysically loaded in the first place, that any such practice can be our guide to the nature of reality.

[Nietzsche] argues that even if the grammatical categories of subject and predicate are categories that are essential to us, this does not imply that the ontological categories of substance and attribute, or any others, are correct […]

Nietzsche tries to reinterpret them in order to bring this point out, and he tries to accomplish this goal by offering a reinterpretation of these categories themselves, by trying to show that neither substances nor attributes, neither agents nor effects, are as we commonly take them to be.

We cannot […] stop talking of objects that remain the same through change and that persist in remaining distinct form their effects. But this way of talking, Nietzsche believes, does not reflect the world’s underlying reality.

From a synchronic point of view, as we have seen, an object is given by an interpretive hypothesis that best allows us, given our particular ends, needs, and values, to group certain phenomena together. Such groupings are often themselves reinterpretations of earlier groupings and enable us to live as best we can.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 95-6, 99

The Cynefin model allows us to see knowledge as both thing and flow, and this allows us to continue to use the insights and practices of scientific management, while embracing the new learnings and insights from the new sciences of complexity and chaos.

Cynefin focuses on creating the conditions for the emergence of meaning.

In its two complicated domains – known and knowable – these conditions are rationalist and reductionist, and the SECI model works. In the complex and chaotic domains new science and new approaches are required.

[Dave Snowden]
'Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness'

I am looking at the rug in my study.

If I examine it with a microscope, I will see a very rugged terrain. If I look at it with a magnifying glass, the terrain will be smoother but still highly uneven. But when I look at it from a standing position, it appears uniform - it is almost as smooth as a sheet of paper.

The rug at eye level corresponds to Mediocristan and the law of large numbers: I am seeing the sum of undulations, and these iron out. This is like Gaussian randomness: the reason my cup of coffee does not jump is that the sum of all its moving particles becomes smooth.

Likewise, you reach certainties by adding up small Gaussian uncertainties: this is the law of large numbers. 

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 259-60

Note the central assumptions we made in the coin-flip game that led to the photo-Gaussian, or mild randomness.

First central assumption: the flips are independent of one another. The coin has no memory. The fact that you got heads or tails on the previous flip does not change the odds of your getting heads or tails on the next one. You do not become a “better” coin flipper over time. If you introduce memory, or skills in flipping, the entire Gaussian business becomes shaky.

Recall [the theories of] preferential attachment and cumulative advantage. Both theories assert that winning today makes you more likely to win in the future. Therefore, probabilities are dependent on history, and the first general assumption leading to the Gaussian bell curve fails in reality.

In games, of course, past winnings are not supposed to translate into an increased probability of future gains - but not so in real life, which is why I worry about teaching probability from games. But when winning leads to more winning, you are far more likely to see forty wins in a row than with a photo-Gaussian.

Theory shmeory! I have an epistemological problem […] with the need to justify the world’s failure to resemble an idealised model that someone blind to reality managed to promote […] The ubiquity of the Gaussian is not a property of the world, but a problem in our minds, stemming from the way we look at it.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 250-1

Categories form a hierarchy, with three vaguely bounded tiers: superordinate, basic, and subordinate.

At the top stand the superordinate categories, like furniture. They are abstract and no one object clearly represents them. Instead, they are collections of basic categories, such as chair, sofa, lamp.

The basic categories fit in between. They are fundamental. A basic category is the largest class of which we can form a fairly concrete image, like chair. People tend to recognise their shape and use the same motor movements with them. They are the first classifications children make.

At the bottom lay subordinate categories, the divisions of basic classes, such as kitchen chair and deck chair. These tend to share most of their attributes with others in the basic category. For instance, kitchen chair and deck chair overlap much more than chair and table.

[…] people begin forming concepts in the middle. We grasp immediate classes like chair, cat, and apple, and both add them together synthetically to form larger categories and carve them up analytically to make smaller ones. 

From an evolutionary perspective, this approach makes far more sense than the atomism of Locke. Animals need to identify concrete objects above all else. The cat must recognise the mouse at once, as a whole, because if it mentally assembles parts, the rodent escapes. A focus on […] basic categories has survival value.

[Daniel McNeill & Paul Freiberger]
Fuzzy Logic, p. 87-8

Any formal system assumes you’re in the centre of a normal distribution, whereas a substantial amount of life happens in the tails of a Pareto distribution. 

If you look at hospital safety procedures they’re based on single-morbidity, but most entries into hospital are multi-morbidity, and that changes the distribution pattern of risk. 

[Dave Snowden]
Kant was correct when he saw that human experience was not atomistic, as Hume had thought, but instead was permeated by a priori structures; yet Kant's formulation of those structures, reflecting his complete belief in Newtonian physics, was inevitably too narrow and simplistic. 

In a sense, just as Freud's understanding of the mind had been limited by his Darwinian presuppositions, so was Kant's understanding limited by his Newtonian presuppositions. 

Modem man was being forced to question his inherited classical Greek faith that the world was ordered in a manner clearly accessible to the human intelligence. 

In the physicist P. W. Bridgman's words, "the structure of nature may eventually be such that our processes of thought do not correspond to it sufficiently to permit us to think about it at all. ... The world fades out and eludes us. ... We are confronted with something truly ineffable. We have reached the limit of the vision of the great pioneers of science, the vision, namely, that we live in a sympathetic world in that it is comprehensible by our minds." 

Philosophy's conclusion was becoming science's as well: Reality may not be structured in any way the human mind can objectively discern. Thus incoherence, unintelligibility, and an insecure relativism compounded the earlier modern predicament of human alienation in an impersonal cosmos.

[Richard Tarnas]
The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 358-9, 423

The Classical universe was corporeal. 

Democritus’ atom, the ultimate unit of bounded corporeality, could not have been a product of other than the Classical mind, and even now, with the persistence that characterizes so many Classical institutions, the Apollinian notion of the universe as a congeries of irreducible particles continues to vie with the Western/Faustian universe of infinite probabilities and of continua. 

Particles, be they molecules, atoms, muons, or quarks, are by definition bounded and reactive (at least, in the pre-quantum, “classical” model – a representation which still has much greater semiotic force in the popular mind than the particle-as-probabilistic-wave of Schrödinger); their properties are knowable only in reaction with one another. To discern their structure we force them into energetic collisions. Such methods would surely have met with the approval of Democritus or Archimedes.

[...] much of the confusion in modern physics has arisen because of the conceptual incongruity of the Classical particle and the Faustian field/continuum. 

And this in turn is grounded in the contradictions that necessarily arise in trying to derive a mathematics of continuity (Thirdness) from a mathematics of discreteness (Secondness); between the integer and the continuum, there is an unbridgeable gulf [...]

[Steven Bonta]
'A Peircean typology of cultural prime symbols', p. 8-11

As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and as machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more and more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. 

Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machine off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.

[Ted Kaczynski]
Industrial Society and its Future, 173

We do understand a lot about nature at a very profound level. There are still things we don’t understand, of course, but as we get better and better answers, and better and better ability to address difficult questions, we can ask more and more ambitious questions

[Lex Fridman]

The idea that the value of truth and knowledge must be put into question provides a particularly stark opening to Beyond Good and Evil.

Nietzsche begins this work by writing that “the will to truth” - the drive, need, tendency, and desire to know things for what they are and not to be deceived about them - has prompted us to ask innumerable questions, to which no end is yet in sight.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 43

Classical number is a thought-process dealing not with spatial relations but with visibly limitable and tangible units, and it follows naturally and necessarily that the Classical knows only the “natural” (positive and whole) numbers, which on the contrary play in our Western mathematics a quite undistinguished part in the midst of complex, hypercomplex, non-Archimedean and other number-systems.

On this account the idea of irrational numbers - the unending decimal fractions of our notation – was unrealizable within the Greek spirit. 

Euclid says - and he ought to have been better understood - that incommensurable lines are “not related to one another like numbers.” In fact, it is the idea of irrational number that, once achieved, separates the notion of number from that of magnitude, for the magnitude of such a number (Pi, for example) can never be defined or exactly represented by any straight line. 

Moreover, it follows from this that in considering the relation, say, between diagonal and side in a square the Greek would be brought up suddenly against a quite other sort of number, which was fundamentally alien to the Classical soul, and was consequently feared as a secret of its proper existence too dangerous to be unveiled. 

There is a singular and significant late-Greek legend, according to which the man who first published the hidden mystery of the irrational perished by shipwreck, "for the unspeakable and the formless must be left hidden for ever." 

The fear that underlies this legend is the selfsame notion that prevented even the ripest Greeks from extending their tiny city-states so as to organize the country-side politically, from laying out their streets to end in prospects and their alleys to give vistas, that made them recoil time and again from the Babylonian astronomy with its penetration of endless starry space, and refuse to venture out of the Mediterranean along sea-paths long before dared by the Phænicians and the Egyptians. 

It is the deep metaphysical fear that the sense-comprehensible and present in which the Classical existence had entrenched itself would collapse and precipitate its cosmos (largely created and sustained by art) into unknown primitive abysses. 

And to understand this fear is to understand the final significance of Classical number - that is, measure in contrast to the immeasurable - and to grasp the high ethical significance of its limitation. 

[…] the Classical soul felt the principle of the irrational, which overturned the statuesquely-ordered array of whole numbers and the complete and self-sufficing world-order for which these stood, as an impiety against the Divine itself […] The irrational - in our language the employment of unending decimal fractions – implied the destruction of an organic and corporeal and reproductive order that the gods had laid down. 

[…] For the transformation of a series of discrete numbers into a continuum challenged not merely the Classical notion of number but the Classical world-idea itself, and so it is understandable that even negative numbers, which to us offer no conceptual difficulty, were impossible in the Classical mathematic, let alone zero as a number, that refined creation of a wonderful abstractive power which, for the Indian soul that conceived it as base for a positional numeration, was nothing more nor less than the key to the meaning of existence. 

The Greek mathematic, as a science of perceivable magnitudes, deliberately confines itself to facts of the comprehensibly present, and limits its researches and their validity to the near and the small [...] and therefore remained unaware of the difficulties that arise in establishing figures of astronomical dimensions, which in many cases are not amenable to Euclidean geometry. 

This mathematics of ours was bound in due course to reach the point at which not merely the limits of artificial geometrical form but the limits of the visual itself were felt by theory and by the soul alike as limits indeed, as obstacles to the unreserved expression of inward possibilities - in other words, the point at which the ideal of transcendent extension came into fundamental conflict with the limitations of immediate perception. 

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 65-7, 83, 87

And now for the first time it is possible to comprehend in full the elemental opposition of the Classical and the Western souls. In the whole panorama of history, innumerable and intense as historical relations are, we find no two things so fundamentally alien to one another as these. 

And it is because extremes meet — because it may be there is some deep common origin behind their divergence — that we find in the Western Faustian soul this yearning effort towards the Apollinian ideal, the only alien ideal which we have loved and, for its power of intensely living in the pure sensuous present, have envied.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 78

[…] Hume, rejecting the reality of causation, concluded that ‘if we believe that fire warms, or water refreshes, it is only because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise.’

But this sets an unreal standard of rationality. The objection to dropping these basic assumptions is not just that thought becomes hard without them but that it stops altogether.

[…] the notion of dismissing [the] whole background [of our ordinary beliefs] - of losing the basic conditions that make any experience reliable at all – produces a total conceptual vacuum in which the dismissal itself would lose all meaning along with everything else.

There is no conceivable point to which thought would then move. Attempts at disbelief of this kind would not just run into emotional difficulties due to laziness. They would hit a logical block, like attempts to square the circle.

Rationality cannot require this. It demands that we should accept the conditions which are evidently necessary for reasoning, not that we should reject them in a desperate attempt to get an irrelevant sort of proof.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.127

[…] it turned out that Heisenberg, himself, was still being trapped in old ways of thinking. The clue to this comes from his famous uncertainty principle.

The details of his theory told him that whenever a scientist tried to measure the position of an electron, its speed would immediately become uncertain. On the other hand, when the speed was measured the position became uncertain. It was as if quantum theory were placing a barrier on ever obtaining complete knowledge of the quantum world.

(In the large-scale world these quantum effects average out so that uncertainties become vanishingly small. Thus we can measure the velocity and the position of a rocket and work out its future path. The return of a comet, or the eclipse of the sun can be predicted for centuries ahead.)

But this idea that electrons and other quantum objects "possess" intrinsic properties, Bohr argued, is really a hang-over from old ways of thinking. What Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is really telling us, Bohr explained, is that quantum reality is basically ambiguous.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.45-6

The distinction between complex and simple often becomes a function of our 'distance' from the system, i.e. of the kind of description of the system we are using.

A little aquarium can be quite simple as a decoration (seen from afar), but as a system it can be quite complex (seen from close by). This does not imply that complexity is merely a linguistic phenomenon, or simply a function of our description of the system. Complex systems do have characteristics that are not merely determined by the point of view of the observer.

It does, however, imply that care has to be taken when talking about complexity. The simple and the complex often mask each other.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.3

Smolensky suggests five possible ways of dealing with the ‘soft’ connectionist option, on the one hand, and the ‘hard’ symbol system, on the other:

Deny one and continue only with the other. The denial of the 'soft' is also known as 'rationalism'. Denial of the 'hard' leads (according to Smolensky) to the 'intuitive' approaches of for example Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986).


Make a system which is 'soft' at bottom complex enough that hardness will sometimes appear when viewed at a higher level.

I find the last suggestion most intriguing. It postulates a system that does not function on the basis of rules, but where certain systematic properties can be described by means of rules if they prove to be useful.

I cannot see why this suggestion should not satisfy those who like to look for structures and patterns. They can make interesting and useful classifications without claiming to have discovered essential components that can be elevated to Final Truths. I suspect, however, that this will be a problematic position for the True Scientist, for whom, like Fodor and Pylyshyn (1988: 64), 'truth is more important than respectability’.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.34-5

Against psychoanalysis we should oppose the ideal of an ego which does not abdicate, and which intends to remain conscious, autonomous, and sovereign in the face of the nocturnal and subterranean part of his soul and the demonic character of sexuality.

This ego does not feel either ‘repressed’ or psychotically torn apart, but achieves an equilibrium of all his faculties ordered in accordance with a higher significance of living and acting.

An obvious convergence can be noted: authority has been stripped from the conscious principle of the person and the subconscious, the irrational, the ‘collective unconscious’, and similar ideas from psychoanalysis and analogous schools have been given prominence in its place.

In the individual, these correspond exactly to what in the modern social and historical world is represented by the crisis, the movement from below, subversion, the revolutionary substitution of the higher by the lower, and the contempt for every principle of authority present in the modern social and historical world.

[Julius Evola]
‘Orientations’, IX

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The Death of Meaning


Chaos                       -                    Order
Nature                      -                    Culture


For someone who knows how to give meaning to life, every instant is like an arrow flying toward its target. Not to know how to give meaning to life leads to discouragement and a sense of futility that may even lead to the ultimate failure, suicide.

[Mathieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p. 348


The Road (2009)

The Road shows a world in which most structures of meaning have broken down; in which those ideas that make us human - morals, ethics, love, compassion - have been thrown out the window in favour of a single imperative: to survive.

We see humanity in the process of losing its "humanity," people becoming animals. Animals have no meanings, they do not imagine themselves to be something; they cannot craft themselves into one image or another, a saint or a sinner. They do what they must, to survive.

The Father's meanings have shrunk down to one: "Keep the boy alive," and in this sense he is not far from becoming animal. His vision is centred on the boy, and he does not see anyone else. It is his job to care for the boy, and it is left to the boy to care both for his father and for the Other (to keep alive the idea of relatedness, of the Whole). He may be his father's keeper, but he is also his brother's.

The boy is left to carry the fire, a flame from which meanings spark and ignite. In a world in which humanity is dying, both in body and in spirit, the boy's capacity to imagine - to give life meaning - keeps him alive, and keeps him human.

The Road shows us how vital it is that we are able to breathe meaning into life, and reminds us that our ability to imagine helps form the bedrock of our humanity.


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