Monday, March 11, 2013

Of Hierarchies and Networks

One problem with the hierarchical-pyramid way of looking at  things is that it seems to over-stress the top-down movement of  information and energy (power, money etc. [trickle down theory]) and tends to ignore the ground-up (grass roots) flow.

Look at the internet. There is no one big computer which runs  the whole show. The center is everywhere. Information is  distributed throughout the entire network and for it to operate  most efficiently all parts should be free and open to all signals it receives so that it can process those signals before sending them on again, either unchanged or modified by the unique experience of that one node.

The key to the new paradigm is openness and respect for the uniqueness of each individual I would think. Partnership rather than domination. 'Unity-in-variety' as Arthur Koestler would say.
'All for one; One for all' and 'All in one; One in all'.

"I have compared the great syntheses achieved by science over the last hundred and fifty years to a river delta. But each confluence - such as the merging of electricity and magnetism, or of particles and waves - was also followed by a fanning out of more and more specialized branches, subdividing into a network
of irrigation channels. To change the metaphor: increasing specialization is like the branching out of arteries into capillaries; the sequence of mergers is like the reverse confluence of veins.

"The cycle which results makes the evolution of ideas appear as a succession of repeated differentiations, specializations and re-integrations on a higher level - a progression from primordial unity through variety to more complex patterns of unity-in-variety."

This dual aspect in the evolution of science reflects a basic polarity in nature itself: differentiation and integration. In the growing embryo, successive generations of cells branch out into diversified tissues, which eventually become integrated into organs. Every organ has a dual character of being a subordinate
part and at the same time an autonomous whole - which will continue to function even if transplanted into another host. The individual itself is an organic whole, but at the same time a part of his family or tribe.

Each social group has again the characteristics of a coherent whole but also of a dependent part
within the community or nation. Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist anywhere. The living organism and the body social are not assemblies of elementary bits; they are multi- leveled, hierarchically organised systems of sub-wholes containing sub-wholes of a lower order, like Chinese boxes. These sub-wholes - or "holons", as I have proposed to call them - are Janus-faced entities which display both the independent properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts.

Each holon must preserve and assert its autonomy, other wise the organism would lose its articulation and dissolve into an amorphous mass - but at the same time the holon must remain subordinate to the demands of the (existing or evolving) whole. "Autonomy" in this context means that organelles, cells, muscles, nerves, organs, all have their intrinsic rhythm and pattern of functioning, aided by
self-regulatory devices; and that they tend to persist in and assert their characteristic patterns of activity.

This 'self-assertive tendency' is a fundamental and universal characteristic of holons, manifested on every level, from cells to individuals to social groups." -- "The Roots of Coincidence" by Arthur Koestler (1972)

Ken Wilber has some good points to make on this subject.

Ken Wilber is (or was) the editor-in-chief of 'ReVision Journal' which had a lot of great stuff and the book "The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes: Exploring the Leading Edge of Science", which he edited, has a collection of some of those articles and interviews as well as some stuff from the 'Brain/Mind Bulletin' edited by Marilyn Ferguson. Other contributers to that book, in addition to Marilyn and Ken, are David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Karl Pribram and Renee Weber. Here are a couple quotes from that book which pertain to some of the stuff we are discussing here:

ReVision: In your original critique of the holographic theories, you used the concept of hierarchy quite often. Do you still feel it is important?

Ken Wilber: Yes, absolutely. If we return to Plato's analogy, there are the objects in the cave and there is the Light beyond - but the point is that some objects are closer to the opening of the cave. That is, there is a gradation in ontology - as Huston Smith summarized the essence of the world's great mystical traditions, "Existence is graded, and with it, cognition." That is, there are levels of being and levels of knowing, leading, as it were, from the very back of the cave and through the opening.

RV: And the absolute is the highest level of this gradation?

KW: Not exactly, because that would be dualistic. It is paradoxical, again. The absolute is both the highest level of reality 'and' the condition or real nature of every level of reality. It is the highest rung on the ladder, 'and' it is the wood out of which the ladder is made. The rungs in that ladder are both the stages of evolution at large and the stages of human growth and development. That was Hegel's and Aurobindo's and Teilhard de Chardin's message; evolution is moving through the links in the Great Chain of Being - starting with the lowest, or matter, and moving to biological structures, then to mind, then to subtle and causal realms, and finally to supermind or omega point. It's not that the absolute or supermind only comes into existence at that last stage - it existed all along, but could only
be 'realized' when consciousness itself evolved to its highest estate.

Once we get out of the cave we see there is and always has been 'only' light. Prior to that final and highest stage, there seems to be nothing but shadows, but we don't realize they are shadows, having no point of comparison. So anyway, the absolute is both the highest stage or goal of evolution and the everpresent ground of evolution; your real and present condition and your future potential or realization. Anything less than that paradox is dualistic.

RV: Where does hierarchy fit in?

KW: Well, the stage-levels of evolution and ontology 'are' the hierarchy. But hierarchy only covers one-half of the paradox - it covers the fact that certain levels are closer to the Light than others. The other half of the paradox is, of course, that all things are already and fully Buddha, just as they are. All things are already One, or always already One, and all things are trying to evolve toward the One, or omega point.

RV: That's why you are Buddha but still have to practice.

KW: Yes, if Buddha were not omnipresent, it would not be Buddha, but if it were only omnipresent, you would be enlightened right now. Dogen Zenji has made all that very clear. But if you leave out any side of that you get into theortical trouble. You could paraphrase Orwell: "All things are God, but some things are more God than others." The first part of that is God's omnipresence; the second part is God's hierarchy. The stage-levels of evolution show increasing structural organization, increasing complexity and integration and unity, increasing awareness and consciousness.

There is even a sense in saying, as Smith and Schuon and the traditionalists do, that each higher level is more real, or has more reality, because it is more saturated with Being. In any event, evolution is hierarchical - rocks are at one end of that scale, God the Omega is the other, and plants, reptiles, mammals, humans and bodhisattvas fill up the middle, in that order. 'And', God is the very stuff, the actual essense, of 'each and every' stage-level - God is not the highest level, nor a different level itself, but the reality of all levels.

From the same book but a different interview:

Renee Weber: I'm wondering what metaphors or symbol systems one can bring in to clarify what the mystic is doing, since that, in a way, is the heart of the controversy.

Fritjof Capra: The mystic is looking at the ordinary, everyday reality in a nonordinary mode of perception. And perceives this reality somehow in its essence or in a more fundamental way, in a deeper way. The patterns and principles of organization that emerge from that experience are very similar to the patterns and principles of organization we observe in physics when we go to very small dimensions.

Mystical perception goes beyond intellectual distinctions, and so it goes beyond space and time, beyond subject and object, inner and outer worlds. It transcends these categories.

Weber: Is the mystic describing a world that also transcends the hierarchical structures referred to in the perennial philosophy?

Capra: Well, the concept of heirarchy is the central part in Ken Wilber's argument, and is to me the most interesting part. According to Wilber, the most striking feature of the perennial philosophy is the fact that it presents being and consciousness as a hierarchy of levels, moving from the lowest, densest and  most fragmentary, to the highest, subtlest and most unitary. Wilber  says that in most of these traditions, there are six major levels: the physical, the biological, the mental, the sublte, the causal and the ultimate.

And in his review he gives a very beautiful summary, as he does also in his books, of these levels of consciousness or levels of being. He calls them ontological levels. And he says that any account of the mystics' world view that leaves out this type of hierarchy is bound to be superficial. Now I think there are a number of things that I can say about this. Physics certainly does not contain the notion of these levels, but science does. I mean other sciences, like biology, psychology and so on. But before I talk about this, I have to talk about terminology, about the term hierarchy. I don't think hierarchy is a good term to use for these levels we observe.

Weber: Now why is that?

Capra: Well, what we observe in nature is what I like to call a stratified order. We observe levels of differing complexities which are highly stable. I'll give you an example. Let's start again with Newtonian physics, as we did before, and talk about the motion of two bodies, for example the planetary motion of the earth around the sun. This is quite easy to deal with mathematically, in terms of Newtonian science. If you have three bodies, it gets much more complicated. If you get 100, it's impossible, because, mathematically, it's too complex.

Weber: You have too many variables by that time.

Capra: Yes, but if you get 1,000,000 it becomes very easy again, because then you do statistics and then you have thermodynamics, so you reach a level of complexity at which you can use a different language and it becomes easy. Similarly with a few atoms you do quantum mechanics. If you take many atoms, you can still do it, because we have various techniques of approximation which allow us to deal with many atoms. But if there are too many, it gets too complex. However, with many, many more atoms it becomes easy again.

You do chemistry. See? Then you let the atoms or molecules become larger and interact and the chemistry becomes exceedingly complex until, at a certain level, you realize, my God, they're forming cells. Then you can do cellular biology. Then the cell's become very complex,impossible to handle, until suddenly you realize that it's a tissue. And then the tissues become complex and you realize that's an organ, and then the organ becomes very complex; let's say you are dealing with the brain, the most complex organ, and then suddenly you can switch to a totally different level and you do psychology instead of neurophysiology. So there are these levels of complexity which are extremely striking.

Weber: Just to clarify: when you say that at a certain point the topic becomes exceedingly difficult to handle, you mean, if one were to stay with that viewpoint, that the subject itself requires a new 'focus' and that's what we call a new field, so to speak. When you move from physics to chemistry to biology, you say the complexity of the material itself demands a new organization, or a new way of looking at it.

Capra: Yes. Now these various levels that we observe are not separate but are all mutually interconnected and are all interdependent. Although we have systems within systems, as we would say in modern language, this is not a hierarchy. It's often called a hierarchy, but this is really not a good term to use because hierarchies exist only in the social realm, for instance the hierarchies of the church; that's actually where the term came from.

Weber: Could you explain the origin of this?

Capra: Well, the Greek word means "the sacred rule." It was originally the rule of the pope over the archbishops and the bishops and the priests and, I guess, it probably was the rule of God over the archangels and the angels and so on. That was the original hierarchy. And now we have the hierarchy of various human organizations; the hierarchy of a university for instance with the president, the deans, and so on. Those are hierarchical structures. The important point is that in human hierarchies, the higher levels dominate the lower ones. They are hierarchies of power and control. Although there is relative autonomy and freedom at various levels, the power flows from the top to the bottom. This is not the case with natural levels where all levels are interrelated and interdependent and influence one another. That's why I prefer the term "stratified order," rather than "hierarchy."

Weber: Ken Wilber's claim is that the higher influences the lower, but the lower levels do not in the same way include and influence the higher. Your're saying that is not so?

Capra: Let me first talk about what we observe in the natural world, then we'll go back to his argument. In the human organism, for example, we have organs and the organs consist of tissues and the tissues of cells, but each of these levels interacts directly with its total environment and influences every other level. In my new book, I have taken the symbol of the pyramid, which is the classical symbol of a hierarchy and I have turned it around. I have made it into a tree. Now the tree contains exactly the same
information about the relation between levels: there's one stem, there are several branches; there are more twigs; and there are even more leaves. So you also have systems within systems but the tree, of course, is an ecological symbol. In the tree you see very clearly that the nourishment comes both from the roots and from the leaves. The sun nourishes the leaves and the roots bring nourishment out of the earth. So it comes from heaven and from the earth, if you want to be poetic. Both are needed, and none is
primary, and all the levels are always interacting with one another in the environment. so this is a much better image for the multileveled structure that we observe in nature. Now it's also interesting historically and culturally that hierarchical systems are characteristic of patriarchal cultures. A hierarchy is something associated with male consciousness.

Weber: Can you go into that?

Capra: Sure! Look at the original hierarchies! The popes are men, the bishops are men, God is a man and so on.

Weber: What about Mary?

Capra: Oh, that's interesting. Mary comes from the prepatriarchical religion. Mary is the ancient Goddess, because God was female before he became male.

Weber: Even in the West?

Capra: Yes, even in the West. Especially in the West, in what they call the old Europe, around the Mediterranean.

Weber: I don't know if that's generally known.

Capra: It's not known because we're in a patriarchal culture, in which this kind of knowledge is not supported, but it is coming out now. There are now several books on this subject. Now I bring this
up because when Wilber says that all perennial philosophies emphasize hierarchies, that is not quite true.

Hierarchies are emphasized mainly by those which are patriarchical traditions. Taoism for instance which I believe has its roots in a matriarchical culture, and which emphasizes the feminine element, does not have hierarchies. Hinduism does, Buddhism does, and Islam and Christianity do. But there are other traditions which do not have hierarchies. So I think it's important to realize that hierarchical structures are not a law of nature, but are human constructs.

Most of the sciences today seem to be moving to a new way of looking at things, or paradigm, which looks more to the whole rather than individual parts. The 'network' is one of the major metaphors of
this new paradigm.

"The argument took the shape of "Do you ask what it's made of  -- earth, fire, water, etc.?" or do you ask, "What is its 'pattern'?" Pythagoreans stood for inquiring into pattern rather than inquiring into substance." -- Gregory Bateson

"The ideas set forth by organismic biologists during the first half of the century helped to give birth to a new way of thinking - "systems thinking" - in terms of connectedness, relationships, context. According to the systems view, the essential properties of an organism, or living system, are properties of the whole, which none of the parts have. They arise from interactions and relationships among the parts. These properties are destroyed when the system is dissected, either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements. Although we can discern individual parts in any system, these parts are not isolated, and the nature of the whole is always different from the mere sum of its parts."  -- Fritjof Capra, "The Web of Life - A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems" (1996)

"The internet, more than linked computers, is about linked humans (poorly understood organisms in their own right it seems) and about the relationships between these humans. Is the internet an example of artificial intelligence and/or artificial life? It seems to fit the definition of intelligence as Leary used the term - receiving signals, synthesis and integration of the signal, and then transmission of a new signal. Because networks of communication may generate feedback loops, they may acquire the ability to regulate themselves. For example, a community that maintains an active network of communication will learn from its mistakes, because the consequences of a mistake will spread through the network and return to the source along feedback loops. Thus the community can correct its mistakes, regulate itself, and organize itself. Indeed, self-organization has emerged as perhaps 'the' central concept in the systems view of life, and like the concepts of feedback and self-regulation, it is linked closely to networks. The pattern of life, we might say, is a network pattern capable of self-organization. This is a simple definition, yet it is based on recent discoveries at the very forefront of science." -- Fritjof Capra, "The Web of Life"

Even though we may agree that the internet is made up of living human nodes we may not agree that it is alive and so we might choose the term 'artificial life' instead. Whatever way we choose to look at it I think one of the big things we can learn is that we all play a part in the various networks we are a part
of. We are a part of a greater whole. A whole that cannot be controlled by any one part of it. A whole in which everyone and everything participates.

"The "web of life" is, of course, an ancient idea, which has been used by poets, philosophers, and mystics throughout the ages to convey their sense of the interwovenness and interdependence of all phenonmena. One of the most beautiful expressions is found in the celebrated speech attributed to
Chief Seattle. which serves as the motto for this book...

'This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.... Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.' --  Ted Perry, inspired by Chief Seattle

The view of living systems as networks provides a novel perspective on the so-called hierarchies of nature. Since living systems at all levels are networks, we must visualize the web of life as living systems (networks) interacting in network fashion with other systems (networks). For example, we can picture an ecosystem schematically as a network with a few nodes. Each node represents an organism, which means that each node, when magnified, appears itself as a network. Each node in the new network may represent an organ, which in turn will appear as a network when magnified, and so on. In other words, the web of life consists of networks within networks. At each scale, under closer scrutiny, the nodes of the network reveal themselves as smaller networks. We tend to arrange these systems, all nesting within larger systems, in a hierarchical scheme by placing the larger systems above the smaller ones in pyramid fashion. But this is a human projection. In nature there is no 'above' or "below,' and there are no hierarchies. There are only networks nesting within other networks." --  Fritjof Capra, "The Web of Life"

"When you accept that humans are a part of the web of life, and not something that stands outside of it, the concept of 'artificial' seems to become rather difficult. One of the definitions of that word is: contrived with skill or art; artistic. So something artificial is something made by a human but we are still left with the mystery of the source of artistic inspiration. We may be all artists on some level (Who is the master who makes the grass green?) but on another level might we not be the paintbrush?

I'm not saying that the hierarchical view is wrong. I just feel that the network metaphor is a better way of looking at things. The hierarchical model seems to be linear ( The great chain of being with God at the top and simple, small critters nearer the bottom. ) whereas we are learning more and more about how non-linear the world is we live in. It seems to stress quantity over quality.

Bigger is better. Might is right. I'm the king of the castle and you're the dirty rascal.

Now here is the main thing I find disagreeable: This notion that this world we live in is low and dirty, if not evil, and is something we need to escape. God vs. Nature, with man, born in original sin, stuck in the middle and offered the choice between shunning nature and accepting the Good or in sinking into the evil of earthly existence. These attitudes and the hierarchical model have been used to justify the rape and
destruction of lower, small, stupid cultures and the untame, dirty, evil natural environment for quite a while now it seems. Our inability to accept the world we live in seems to be a reflection of our inability to accept who we are as individuals. We have been conditioned to believe that we are incomplete, we aren't good enough the way we are, our bodies and its urges are dirty and bad.

I prefer the network metaphor and the way of openness and acceptance because it fits the insights and intuitions of my own experience. Everything that is - is a living system. Self-organizing, self-referring and perfect and yet evolving. Where we are right now is exactly where we need to be and contains everything we need, to be who we need to be. We are already enlightened. We just need to BE HERE NOW in order to realize it. My view of Buddhist detachment isn't about trying to deny or escape the wheel of samsara but trying to not get stuck at any one point on it and to see into our true nature. It seems to me to be about the full, open and conscious participation in the process. Go with the flow.

Maybe when we realize that we already own it all, and it us, is the time when we will not feel the need to dominate it. We always have been, and always will be, partners in creation. How can it be otherwise? A return to a partnership society ( which doesn't have to be a step back in time ) seems to be just a common sense recognition of the interconnectedness of everything."

"The experience of sacred world begins to show you how you are woven together with the richness and brillance of the phenomenal world. You are a natural part of that world, and you begin to see possibilities of natural hierarchy or natural order, which could provide the model for how to conduct your life. Ordinarily, hierarchy is regarded in the negative sense as a ladder or a vertical power structure, with power concentrated at the top. If you are on the bottom rungs of that ladder, then you feel oppressed by what is above you and you try to abolish it, or you try to climb higher on the ladder. But for the warrior, discovering hierarchy is seeing the Great Eastern Sunreflected everywhere in everything. You see possiblities of order in the world that are not based on struggle and aggression. In other words, you perceive a way to be in harmony with the phenomenal world that is neither static nor repressive."  - "Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior" by Chogyam Trungpa

"I think to return to balance requires a change in metaphors from the hierarchical, patriarchal, war mentality to something like a dance in which the opposites joyfully play together; neither trying
to dominate the other. "

"We separate in order that we may reunite in greater harmony." -- Taoist quote

Wikipedia on Network Topology:

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