Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Greeks Reintroduced Hierarchy to Buddhism

After some extensive Wikipedia-hopping, I want to summarize my stream of thoughts in a small New-Year’s article. As a practitioner of meditation and information scientist I have a natural interest in both schools of thought: the one that goes back to Buddha and the ancient Ionian. I argue that in the course of history, Ionian thinking reintroduced hierarchy to Buddhism.

Happy New Year

The Greeks Reintroduced Hierarchy to Buddhism
Jennifer D. Stoll
December 31, 2014

After some extensive Wikipedia-hopping, I want to summarize my stream of thoughts in a small New-Year’s article. As a practitioner of meditation and information scientist I have a natural interest in both schools of thought: the one that goes back to Buddha and the ancient Ionian. I argue that in the course of history, Ionian thinking reintroduced hierarchy to Buddhism.

Ionian Schools of Thought
The school of thought that today still dominates scientific cultures started to take its form in ancient Ionia, at the west coast of Asia Minor. In the city of Miletus, a paradigm shift from the dominance of substantial to abstract metaphors occurred. Early naturalistic religions were not dominated by concepts of all-encompassing Gods. Their gods were constructed from a human point of view and included personified nature and idealized or distorted manlike creatures that can be directly experienced such as the earth, rivers, mountains, sun, thunder, titans, giants, heroes, etc. Their stories were myths. In these myths, the relationship of gods is described as a family tribe. So not only do the gods mirror human experience, but societies of gods also mirror human societies. Mythos was widespread in Bronze Age societies, e.g. in the Greek Dark Ages, in which Homer has been writing his Odyssey.
Many scholars suggest a common Indo-European source, or at least mutually influenced co-generation of Vedic, ancient Greek, Latin and Celtic pantheons and myths. Not only do they share the names of certain Gods, but also common prototypes in their stories. Common examples include:
·        Sky Father (skt. Dyáus Pitā, gr. Zeus, lat. Jūpiter (< Iovis pater, Diēspiter))
·        Goddess of Dawn Heus(os) (skt. Ushas, gr. Eos, lat. Aurora, germ. Eos) that later developed into a Goddess of Hearth and Family (lat. Vesta, gr. Hestia, germ. Ostara, Anatolian Istara)
·        River Goddess Dehnu (skrt. Danu, wal. Don, compare rivers Dnieper, Dniester, Don and Danube)
·        Divine twins Sun and Moon (Sehul & Mehnot, skt. Surya, gr. Helios & Menelaus, lat. Sol & Luna).
Prominent myths include that of fighting a serpent or dragon, floods, or cycles of death and rebirth of the attributed deity to cause natural phenomena such as seasons, days or other cyclic phenomena. Myths are accompanied by ritual in order to connect with and appease the personified forces of nature. Thus the understanding of rebirth in mythical societies is not that of a transmigrating soul, but that of a self-similar, cyclic recurrence of materialistic phenomena. In absence of terms for a concept of an independent soul such thinking simply had not been invented yet.
Starting with the Ionian Thales of Miletus and his contemporary thinkers things changed dramatically. Thales dropped mythology and tried to explain phenomena without reference to personified Gods as their driving forces.  Instead, he explained the nature of things as consisting of one single substance: water. Thus he can be termed both monist and materialist, and for some he is the father of science. Anaximenes refined this principle by saying everything consists of air, as air condenses to water and water evaporates into air. This characterizes the style of thinking that has been present in Ionia. It was reasonable to think that water evaporates into air, with into meaning that it now is air, not constitutes a part of it (as reductionist thinking of the elements had not been invented yet …) If you assume the air is the smallest essence there is, you will not think that water could be part of it, or even think of smaller phenomena that the air could consist of. If you don’t see it anymore and there is light, then it is air.
From today’s perspective, we primarily think of the air as oxygen and carbon-dioxide, as the functional relationship to breathing oxygen and our existence dominates our thinking. That the air also contains water primarily becomes important when our windows steam up. However, if fine particles have not been established in thinking, it is reasonable to say that water becomes air and air becomes water. Anaximander, also of Miletus, abstracted this water or air theory to an infinite source of all things (apeiron), what may be a tribute to the mythical Chaos. The principle of archê now transmigrates from beginning to perpetual change. Everything is driven by this perpetual change. Thus, Anaximander is considered to be the first mechanist. However, this notion of primordial cosmic power (cf. Hindu Shakti) is different from a functional-mechanistic thinking in cause and effect, as the deductive effect-side had not been invented yet. It was thinking in causes as common grounds that gave rise to new phenomena.

The Emergence of Thinking in States
Xenophanes introduced another, important aspect into thinking. Believing that the two extremes water and air dominate the earth, he institutionalized the two as alternating states. Instead of their circular dynamics, he focused on their states. Also, he describes the cycle of human life as alternating states of perishing and coming back (compare yin and yang). He thus digitized causal-loop thinking by cutting its transitory phenomena into stages called states. There are important implications. One, these stages may now be described relative to each other with functional descriptions. Two, truth now no longer is a problem solely of identification (as in following a school of thought, i.e. belief), but becomes an attributable property to such states. Along with that, there needs to be a justification of such a truth, as it is now no longer backed up by an (indisputable) way of living that automatically tracks its progress towards a goal. As a mere explanation of phenomena (knowledge) it has to be backed up by proof. Xenophanes thought that reality carries an intrinsic truth that mere mortals are unable to grasp. Similar thinking can still be found with Foucault, who sees knowledge as some eternal reality that gradually unfolds as human cultures are ready for it.
  Anaxagoras extends this thinking to a world of primary, imperishable ingredients with the mind (nous) as an ordering force. In superimposing the mind to ordinary phenomena he transduces thinking in lineages or power to thinking in hierarchies. Opposites now no longer constitute alternating states in a global whole, but they dominate each other. Thinking in theological terms, mythical personification of Gods had now mutated into an abstract, dominating, supra-hierarchical phenomenon. It is a One that has no superior, no equals, and of which there are no categories, name or appearance, but is yet immanent in everything as a driving force. Of course, people may again personify this principle, as we will see later on. Additionally, Anaxagoras carried the newly established discipline of Philosophy from Ionia to Athens. Democritus expanded on his theory by becoming a scientific rationalist, stating that everything is composed of atoms, the result of natural laws. In claiming that the earth is round he introduced yet another abstraction to human thinking, as people can now mentally approach the earth from a three-dimensional third person perspective. They are no longer being confined to an intermediate position in the heaven-earth dichotomy, which was the only way of thinking available before.

Migration to Athens
        Bringing Philosophy to Athens gave rise to the Sophist practice of charging money for knowledge. The sages were now no longer respected, “holy” peregrines on a quest for knowledge, but exploited themselves as teachers for payment. Therefore, they needed to concentrate on questions of rhetoric, of which Protagoras invented a first taxonomy of assertion, question, command, etc. Socrates, however, reversed this trend, refusing payment for teaching, and introducing a dialectic method of enquiry (discourse) to solve the truth problem that came with Xenophanes’ states of knowledge. Karl Popper described this as an art of intellectual intuition, trying to grasp a reality that is unavailable to the senses. Thus, discourse is also a sociological phenomenon achieving consensus. Plato therefrom abstracted a theory of forms. In accepting the mind a dominating principle, he thought of the material world as a copy of the real, mental world, thus reversing the order of nature. Principles that originally were derived from observation are now superimposed on nature as structuring force. This thinking is understandable, as once abstract structures have fossilized as parts of ones thinking, they automatically are superimposed on every perception, shifting centers of gravity in the perceived images. Plato thinks of these forms as archetypes, abstract representatives of real phenomena, and knowledge is justified, true belief.
        Aristotle, as the last of the philosophers that shall be discussed here, shifted from Platonism to Empiricism. He emphasized that all knowledge is ultimately based on perception and distinguished between four causes (material, formal, efficient and final), the latter of which give way to thinking in cause and effect. However, Aristotle’s causal thinking is still one of mutual influence, and the same cause can give way to contrary effects. Aristotle taught Alexander the great. Then Alexander the great conquered the East, extending his influence to India.

Alexander the Great Reaches India and Egypt
               India was dominated by two schools of thought. Brahmin, on the one hand, centered about the Vedic ritual; Srmana, on the other, was a countermovement of wandering Sages that later gave rise to Jainism, Buddhism, Ajivika and Yoga. Shramans centered their philosophy on perception. Early Buddhist (and Yogic) practices try to overcome suffering by mastering perceptional phenomena that are, for example, explained in the Samkhya model or in Buddhist Sutras. So while Vedic model was still caught in mythical polytheism, Buddha, rejecting the notion of dualistic terminology, proclaimed peace of mind to be the absence of even a concept of a God. Then the Greek and Indian cultures met. Settling in India for a couple hundred years, Greek stonecutters produced Buddha statues (including greek garments).
Together with the Ionian school of thought Buddha became a deified representative of the abstract principle that dominates everything that he never intended to be and had tried to get rid of to begin with. Buddha himself taught everybody to be equal in his sangha. Only his pupil Ananda introduced a hierarchy between elder and younger monks. As much of the Sutra Pitaka goes back to Ananda’s recitals, it is unknown how many of the details are in fact attributable to him or Buddha, but following the spirit of the messages, an attempt at authenticity can be attempted.
The alienation was aggravated by the Greek habit of idolizing their rulers to god-like status. In course, Theravada Buddhism was extended (and opposed by) Mahayana Buddhism. Simply becoming an Arhat (attaining personal liberation) no longer was enough. Below the deified Buddha, additional Bodhisattvas were created, god-like supra-humans that spent their life to attain liberation for the sake of all beings. Buddha himself had only offered a way to transcend one’s sensual phenomena. The Pali Canon was then extended with the Abhidharma, a philosophical section complementing the Sutra Pitaka (Buddha’s scriptures) and Vinaya Pitaka (rules for monastic life).
         It is important to consider that once a reified picture of Buddha has been mentally fossilized, there needs to be another attempt at bracketing it, returning this fossilization to consciousness, so it can be overcome. To accept the liberation of all beings as a purpose for following the path, as opposed to an egocentric one to become a super-human, may be a first step in transcending this dichotomy, but will finally have to be given up to attain liberation. In the Maurian Empire thus a Graeko-Buddhism formed where the Sages no longer wandered, but gradually became monastic, starting with rainy seasons. The Greeks were referred to as Yonas (Ionians), and prominent Ionian figures played a role in spreading Buddhism throughout India, e.g. Mahadharmaraksita, a Yona who led 30.000 monks from Alexandria of the Caucasus to Sri Lanka.

The Hellenistic Melting Pot
        With the dominance of the mental over the material, back in Greece the Hellenistic period brought a variety of philosophical and religious phenomena. Stoic criticism emerged, gymnasia were established, old Gods were recast to abstract phenomena as Intelligence (Athena), as an opposition, new personified concepts arose as deities, and other foreign elements were integrated, e.g. the Egyptian Isis-cult that spread throughout Europe (I guess sex sells in any epoch). Of course, the melting pot of philosophies and rudimentary scientific practices also produced phenomena like astrology, alchemy, and many others that emerged in a cycle of opposition and identification. Unfortunately, it was not the most advanced way of thinking that was carried into the Middle Ages by the rulers of the Roman Empire together with the dominating Catholic Church, institutionalized by Emperor Constantine. In the period of Enlightenment, many things had to be rediscovered, including the idea that the earth is a sphere.

        Today, as the brain has been discovered to be a complex, recurrent network, we are yet again at a point where the scientific investigation found its metaphysic limits. There is a threshold where chains of cause and effect are not sufficient to explain the complexities of the mind and thinking in states has to be given up. Instead, developmental trajectories have to be followed. Thus, we can now feel what thinking was like in the times of Buddha, when causality only meant dependent origination, not effect or spiritual meaning. Dependent origination can happen without the need to make concepts of it, although making them is part of the human nature. Along with these concepts questions of meaning arise. Buddha had understood and shown a way out of these mental side effects that came with rational thinking.
        The rise of Mahayana Buddhism, that Tibetan and Zen-Buddhism root in and spread to the Western societies in the 20th century CE, was heavily influenced by the advent of Ionian thinking in India. Ionian customs and art brought deification back into Buddhism that is contrary to Buddha’s teachings and a way of thinking that Buddha (and arguably later Jesus Christ) tried to abolish. The anthropomorphic representation of Buddha himself may be of Greek origin. Buddha, in opposition to Vedic traditions and ascetic extremes renounced both ritual and dualistic thinking, propagating a middle way by reducing any perceived phenomenon to just that: a phenomenon of perception, pure unqualified consciousness. The advent of Greek thinking reintroduced hierarchical, abstract thinking to Buddhism by way of deifying Buddha as a seeker and representation of the abstract, driving force of the universe, thus introducing a notion of soul into Buddhist thinking that it was completely devoid of.

All central terms are backed up by their respective Wikipedia entries. No other sources have been used.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brain Activity and Julia Sets

If one accepts the brain as a closed-loop network, then plotting its activity as a whole one would assume to spot something fractal. One would expect pictures of the brain's activity to resemble, for example, something like Julia Sets. Julia Sets, in principle, are the same attempt to map complex dynamics out to some kind of topology.

We know from Julia Sets that it is of no use to investigate parts of them in a topologic fashion. What can be investigated is the character of the sets as a whole (Do they consist of snowflakes? Are they connected? How distributed are they? Does they contain attractors? What kind of symmetry can be observed?).  Considering dynamic fractals one might add (Do they transition between these states over its lifetime? How long does the wave last? How does the spatial expansion of its boundary change?).

When considering fractals, those centers ore nodes are simply attractors within these complex dynamics. They possess no meaning of their own outside this particular rendering, and even more imporant, they possess no topological meaning at all. In those brain images, many centers could be just as transitory, dependent on the thought activity that just brought them by, without particular topological meaning outside of these waves.

Maybe we have to turn the typical orientation of the Julia and Mandelbrot sets upside down to continue thinking. Or it is only another attempt at confusing popular art.

Fractal Imges by John Tsiombikas, Retrieved from
Brain Images by Scott Williams, Retrieved from

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tinnitus as Delay in Neural Networks

Some forms of tinnitus may be nothing more than a small time delay between signals from the right and left auditory pathways. As the neural network is a closed-loop system, such delays, either by imbalances in synaptic environment or neural transmission times would necessary cause the auditory centers to oscillate.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Funny: Skinner invalidating himself

In this partially funny video Skinner gives himself the reason for his non-reason.

Skinner argues that Freund rightly pointed out, that athough an addicted person may have a reason to stop gambling, the person may not have a reason to follow the reason. Freud attributed that rightly to the unconscious, he says.


If you need a reason to follow those reasons, then your model is re-entrant, has closed loops, and you're immediately blown into emergentism.

Otherwise, watching the whole video and feeling into my body while doing so makes me believe in cognitive dissonance ...

Information is a Fragile Representation of Anti-Fragile Knowledge, Mediated by Science

In my proceedings about fragile and antifragile IT systems, I describe a hard border between two realms whose configuration requires fundamentally different strategies to operate in. Their intersection has been loosely based on the Cynefin model. I argue that this boundary is part of a bigger picture that is at the roots of all science and knowledge generation: turning the unknown into the known.

Doing science means turning the unknown into the known. The strategies dealing with both environments require a switch between two paradigmas. However, known and unknown share a common border at which they mutually perturb each other and cause adaptation in their configurations.

When dealing with the known, for example, scientific findings (facts) or models (structures and procedures), two basic operations can be carried out. One, facts can logically be combined to produce new models to either predict the behavior of given sytems in specific contexts; or modeled procedures can be applied to real world objects. Models are structural or functional schematics based upon those facts. Two, one can try to falsify them. It is the job of science to constantly recombine and challenge prior findings and models, to try to elaborate on them or get them to collapse. Some of them prove to be incredibly robust or rich in fruits, others will sooner or later fall down from the wear and tear of contradictory evidence or lack of use. As such, information, i.e. scientific findings and models, qualify as fragile systems. Facts, and combinations thereof, reside in the objective realm of third person. Scientist or practicioners, as a community, are looking upon facts from a third person perspective. Although every individual scientist only possesses the ability to look in first person, from the cultural consensus on these facts a third person perspective is created in every consenting mind.

When dealing with the unknown, things are profoundly different. Trying to turn the unknown into the known, scientists need to enter a relationship with the unknown phenomenon when doing research, becoming part of the knowledge. The unknown can only be examined in first person. By constantly nudging and tickling the subject within the structural coupling of an experiment, knowledge can evolve. When describing the long term, recurring, stable observations of the structural coupling between scientist and phenomenon, i.e. emerging knowledge, as a semantic relationship, this process creates information. This information is tested in a cultural context between researchers, whether a third person consensus may be constructed on it. (Maturana, & Varela, pp. 173-211) The information thus transits into the realm of the known. Or, to be more precise: it never existed in the unknown realm in the first place. Information, combinations thereof, and consensus on both are confined to the realm of the known; they are the essence that the realm of the known is constructed upon. Thus, scientific investigation qualifies as an anti-fragile procedure. (Taleb, 2012, pp. 31-32)

Doing science thus can be described as structurally coupling the realm of the unknown with the realm of the known, where the quality of the coupling can be found in an ordered, semantic description of knowledge on the unknown in terms of what is now perceived as known. Information thus is a fragile construction on anti-fragile knowledge. George Spencer-Brown's cross represents the construction of this information as a symbol. (Spencer-Brown, 2010, p. 1-2)


Maturana, H., & Varela, F. (1998). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Boston: Shambhala.

Spencer-Brown, G. (2010). Laws of form. Luebeck, DE: Bohmeier.

Taleb, N. (2012). Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. New York: Random House.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I will be famous!

Famous emotion reseracher Paul Ekman, in response to Lisa Feldman Barrett, stated, "if you can show Ekman's wrong, you'll be famous".

Paul Ekman was the guy who mapped facial expressions to emotions in detail. So he states the body is a machine, and emotions can be mapped to patterns of muscular activity.

So let's dismantle this:

1. In an interview with June Gruber from Yale University, Ekman claims there are typical expressions that show already 20 seconds before violent behavior occurs. However he does not want to mention which, so people who are going to be violent don't know what they have to suppress.


If these are suppressable, then the emotional machine may not be as much machine as he makes us think.

2. There are reports, that in his lab they spent effort to control every involved muscle singularly and voluntarily, which apparently does work.

If this works, then there can also be meta-organization on those expressions, which modulate the whole picture of emotion.

Am I now going to be famous?!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Funny Classroom Postings - Lisa Feldman Barrett and Ayurvedic Psychology

I just found another interesting article by Marzenna Jakubczak, who discusses the concept of an ego-maker in classical Samkhya and Yoga in the light of the mind-body problem. Comparing the two, a distinction between a mind-body problem (western philosophy) and a mind-consciousness problem (eastern philosophy) can be made (2008 p.240).
When discussing the one-ness of substratums for body and mind, Jakubzak mentions that Isvarakrsna, the author of one of the basic Samkhya texts, introduced the Vedic gunas (sattvarajasand tamas) to the ego principle. Those gunas are thought to be basic constituents of every phenomenon, and their mix causes the characteristics how the phenomenon expresses itself. Sattva stands for the mental, rajas for the energetical and tamas for the passive qualities. They form the basis for Indian Ayurveda as the Five Elements form the basis for Traditional Chinese Medicine. (Jakubczak, 2008, p.246)
This immediately reminded me of Lisa Feldman Barrett's mix of psychological primitives, which result in mental states that are characterized as seeingthinking or feeling. There may be some coupling between the ideas of sattva and thinking, rajas and feeling, as well as tamas and seeing. So in a sense one could argue Barrett is trying to introduce the Vedas to western psychology. (Barrett, 2010, p. 331)
Personally, however, I would rather recommend the Five Elements to her, as they constitute a closed loop network consisting of five nodes and two forward loops (one productive and one repressive). This model is a basic primitive for the investigation of complex dynamics that can characterize typical imbalances of such systems, whereas the Vedic component mix does not contribute to the understanding of complex dynamics. That's my critique of the recipe theory. However, arguing that scientifically makes a paper for itself (which I am currently working on). It definitely will exceed the length of a discussion posting.
Best wishes


Barrett, L. F. (2010). The future of psychology: Connecting mind to brain. Perspectives in Psychological Science4(4), 326-339. Retrieved from
Jakubczak, M. (2008)- The sense of ego-maker in classical Samkhya and Yoga: Reconsideration of ahamkara with reference to the mind-body problem. Cracow Indological Studies, X, 235-253.

Funny Individuality

I just came across the following statement:

"Thus, the universal and undifferentiated buddhi needs an individuality-making principle to make a distinction between the ego and non-ego, that is subject and object, as well as between one object and another." (Jakubczak, 2008, p.244, emphasis added)

How funny it is, that individuality once meant impartible, and now an impartible-making principle is said to be responsible for making parts.


Jakubczak, M. (2008)- The sense of ego-maker in classical Samkhya and Yoga: Reconsideration of ahamkara with reference to the mind-body problem. Cracow Indological Studies X, 235-253.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I am _________.

I just came across the Twenty Statement Test (TST). The TST has been invented by Psychologist Manfred Kuhn and consists of 20 statements about what "I am", designed to discuss one's self concept, primarily with oneself.

But when reading "I am ___________." and being asked "How would you answer the question?": Where is the question? "I am __________." is a perfectly valid statement by itself. Any thing that is filled in that blank space necessarily denotes an object. However, the question of being is a question of subject. So this question may discuss attributions between a sense of self and its obervations of non-self. But in this case the boundary of the self only arises on the question and is not prior to it. So the sense of self only occurs when you try to find it, but is irrelevant without asking that question.

Imagine proposing any choice, requiring a yes or no decision, saying "Come on. You must have a sense of either being a scientist or mythic, religios or non-religious, progressive or conservative." But in relation to a sense of self, this category does not exist. It can only claim its validity after it has been authorized by a subject through its acceptance: an act of identification. Without these acts of identification, the self stays as a non-attributed and non-identified subject. So when asking that yes or no question what you are really experiencing is not whether that person falls in a particular category, but is authorizing that category or not.

Apparently there is a sense of being. But even this sense of being cannot appear as a subject, as subjects themselves are objects of observation. So in trying to find the subject, you enter a recursion on subject/object duality.

So any attribution does not constitute a reality of being some thing, but instead is authorized within a certain realm, even if it is only for the purpose of answering (or not answering) that question.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meditation Does to Your Mind What a Good Strategist Does to an Organization

Thinking of organizations and meditating might not recall very similar pictures to most minds. When thinking of organizations, many people will probably dream of process diagrams and move along in an engineering school of thought. Whereas meditation seems to be the epitome of non-thinking, let alone rational thinking (sometimes, cynically, that is attributed to organizations too). However considering the underlying mechanisms both methods show striking similarities. To take this even further: Meditation does to your mind what a good strategist does to an organization because both imply modifying loops of mutual causation.

There are many ways to think of organizations. One familiar method involves imagining some form of structure, an organization chart, for example, and then sorting member elements of the organization within that structure. These images tend to be static, whereas organizational behavior is (hopefully) highly dynamic. Those dynamics are of interest when talking about organizational change. I have seen people draw up dozens of versions of the same organization, that were all mutually agreed upon through many levels of management, stating that this is what our organization is now. Throughout all of these layers of documentation that stated what could or should have been, daily affairs did not seem to change much from version to version. According to Weick, real-world counterparts of organization even do not exist. What changed in this example was the perspective and understanding of some players about what had already happened. (1995, p. 129)

Changing organizations implies modifying loops of causation in interactions of its members. What counts is interaction between people, particularly double interacts where people mutually cause each other's changes in behavior. Following Maruyama such loops can be either deviation-counteracting (regaining equilibrium) or deviation-amplifying (giving rise to emergent phenomena). Interactions of people in organizations can be modeled using mutual causal processes. Whenever deviation-amplifying loops are prevailing, equilibrium is lost creating either wanted or unwanted, emergent behavior. Weick proposes several strategies to remedy such unwanted products of morphogenesis. All imply taking a meta-perspective and creating causal maps of relevant variables (elements) together with their promoting or inhibiting characteristics. By reflecting on dominant loops the dynamics of these maps, whether drafted on paper or just mentally observed, can be understood and interventions be found. Intervening could be done, for example, by introducing additional, corrective relationships, by changing the coupling between existing variables, or by eliminating parts altogether. (Maruyama, 1963, p. 164; Weick, 1995, p.125)

Actors in this organizational network receive altered feedback from their environment once these changes are in effect. In turn, the expression of their behavior changes accordingly, influencing the equilibrium of the system as a whole. Attempts to change the behavior of single actors directly (as by steering) are doomed to fail due to the actors' complex nature. What changes is the quality of feedback between those actors so the system as a whole drifts toward an altered set point. This meta-analysis requires a wide perspective on awareness of mutually causal relationships in an organization, its environments, and their combined effects. Also, the effectiveness of any change applied to a complex system is never predictable, but can only be assessed ex-post. Thus, patience and a number of attempts will usually be required.

Meditation implies modifying loops of causation in the brain's neural network. In their brilliant book on emotions and their underlying neural circuits Davidson & Begley summarize a life history of research leading to six dimensions of emotional style. These styles are firmly founded in research on the brain, their relevant neural structures, and their connectivity. The levels of activity in our hippocampus, for example, contribute to emotional sensitivity to context by recognizing familiar patterns in our environment and enabling us to react to emotional cues of our peers. Exceedingly high activation levels however may lead to social anxiety. High activation of the insula correlates with high self-awareness. However, these emotional styles are not fixed in us once and for all; they are alterable. (Davidson & Begley, 2012)

After mapping the brain activity of several long-time meditators, Davidson et. al. draft up recipes for altering our emotional styles by different kinds of meditation. Among these explanations, the importance of our prefrontal cortex along with the effectivity of mindfulness meditation is eye-catching. Mindfulness meditation, in a form practiced as open awareness, produces many different changes along different dimensions of emotional style (sometimes in in opposite directions!), dependent on what individual configuration of style the practicing individual started at. The prefrontal cortex "displays remarkable structural and functional plasticity over the life course." (McEwen, Morrison, 2013, p. 1) Our prefrontal cortex plays a special role in many different aspects. For one, it is the latest evolutionary addition to our brain circuitry. Consciousness seems to emerge upon such evolutionary levels in different shades of gray, that are tightly tied to emotions. Thus, the prefrontal cortex seems to be our best chance to change brain processes that are tied to emotion. (Davidson et. al., 2012; Greenfield, 2000, p. 20-21)

Our prefrontal cortex seems to enable us to do things that animals with less evolutionary add-ons within their central nervous systems cannot: observe observation. This meta-observation means becoming aware of awareness, which implies being aware of thoughts, or as Heinz von Foerster expressed it: understanding understanding. (von Foerster, 2003) However, to change our behavioral tendencies we do not only need to become aware of thoughts, but also analyze their relationship to emotions. In this context it is sufficient to consider emotion as awareness and expression of the mutual, causal relationships between thoughts and the organs of our body. Once our mental causal map is complete, we can try to change our habits. Since there is no manual for our individual brains, this process requires persistent attempts to catch the arising of behavioral slips and repeated volitional acts to avoid their continuity. Open awareness combined with a volitional act and proper practice will change brain circuitry so the volitional act can be carried out with less effort, within the physical limits of the system as a whole. For this change to happen, establishing a process of observation that is not tightly coupled to the observed causal loops is indispensable. This loosely coupled observation is exactly what mindfulness meditation is all about: non-reactive observation to break the feedback loop between thoughts and bodily reactions. On those reactions phenomena like moods or higher level emotions that are tied to cognitive functions emerge.

As Davidson points out, this process leaves a footprint in our brains: It alters the connectivity between our prefrontal cortex and other centers involved in awareness and emotion. Thus making use of the plasticity of our prefrontal cortices that we can influence with our volition. We can make up for lower level imbalances in brain systems that have been added at an earlier stage in evolution and do not yield the same amount of plasticity. By meditation, we are actively rewiring loops of causation like the reward circuitry of our brains. If we successfully increase the connections between our prefrontal cortex and our nucleus accumbens (more white matter), we will be able to maintain a more positive outlook. In this case the elements of our causal map consist of the relevant nuclei in our brain and their connections in-between (axons and synapses). So working on the behavior of our brain in meditation and reflecting on the behavior of an organization boils down to the same operation: meta-observation of mutual causal processes and intervening effectively in a complex, dynamic network. Interestingly for both to work loose coupling of the observer is required. (Davidson et. al., 2012; Weick, 1995, p.121)

Of course, there are issues. Maruyama's model only takes into account that elements in a recurrent network mutually cause complex behavior. Using it simplifies the behavior of human beings as actors behind these elements, which are complex by themselves. People are not as simple as Maruyama's elements or Weick's variables. Today many business strategists still fall for that trap when trying to model organizational processes. Using techniques that have been created to illustrate algorithms that are executed by simple Turing machines, they try to model behavior of human beings. Disappointment is big if human behavior does not follow their suggested, simple rules, and sometimes trying to simplify people to fit the model in an attempt to justify the idea wreaks havoc on the organization. Behavior can never be wrong; it could be useless for a specific purpose at most. Also, models are either appropriate to predict behavior or they are not. It is up to the reader, which one of the two to adjust, or whether they want to work with strategy as a fixed plan or as an emergent process by itself. (Mintzberg, 1989, p. 25-32)

Although neuropsychology has made big progress in understanding the working of our brains during the last decades, many parts of its underlying operation still have to be understood. Increasing the level of detail, following Bonini's paradox, will likely also increase the complexity of our descriptions thereof. But maybe the level of abstraction we are at right now is exactly suitable to compare processes in our mind to other processes, without being distracted by details.

By comparing changes to the constructing circuitry, we were able to map both organizational intervention and meditation to mutual causal processes and the modification of their equilibrium. This comparison highly suggests that thinking of meditation provides an appropriate metaphor when thinking of organizational change. It may replace the still widely prevailing military metaphor, which is not only keeping organizations from living up to their full potential, but also wreaking havoc on society as a whole.


  • Davidson, R. J., & Begley, S. (2012). The emotional life of your brain: How its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel, and live--and how you can change them. New York: Hudson Street Press. Retrieved from:
  • Greenfield, S. (2000). The private life of the brain. London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press.
  • Maruyama, M. (1963). The second cybernetics: Deviation-amplifying mutual causal processes. American Scientist 51(2). 164-179. 
  • Mintzberg, H. (1989). Mintzberg on management: Inside our strange world of organizations. New York: The Free Press.
  • McEwen B.S., Morrison J.H. (2013). The brain on stress: Vulnerability and plasticity of the prefrontal cortex over the life course. Neuron. 79(1) 16-29. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.06.028.
  • von Foerster, H. (2003). Understanding understanding: Essays on cybernetics and cognition. New York: Springer.
  • Weick, K. E. (1995). Der Prozeß des Organisierens [Social Psychology of Organizing]. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Members of Organizations Negotiate Shared Hallucinations of What Is

Karl Weick, a renowned organizational theorist, suggested that organizations spend enormous effort negotiating a shared hallucination of what is going on. What happens are always mutual interactions between people. Interpreting those interactions and constructing forms of organization thereof is done retrospectively to make sense of what happened. (1995, pp. 16, 135)

That makes me think:
  1. What increases or decreases the time spent on agreeing this mutually shared hallucination?
  2. What would even be a reasonable amount, e.g. as a percentage of effort spent on organizational affairs?
  3. How does agreeableness of or dissent on that shared hallucination influence organizational performance and stability?
  4. In hierarchical structures: Is the level of trust between regular members and members in authority related to the time spent on that negotiation?
  5. Is there a correlation between the time spent negotiating and different forms of collaboration, e.g. push or delegating in chains of authority as opposed to pull participation (Kanban)?
  6. Particularly: Does the ratio of time spent on negotiation per number of interactions grow bigger or smaller with pull methods, and how does it relate to productivity?
  7. Many levels of hierarchy tend to distort communication from the bottom to the top. On every level (C-level, Tier 2, 3-Management, employees) do specific attributes exist that characterize the negotiation on that particular level?
  8. Does chain of authority management  accept a higher degree of negotiating activity (maybe even neglect it) as a tolerated trade-off to reinforcing authority (parole vs. transparency)?

Tons of questions ...


Weick, K. E. (1995). Der Prozeß des Organisierens [Social Psychology of Organizing]. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN: 3-518-06039-2 

Psycheleon - Why this blog?

As any of you might have heard, after having dealt with meditation and psychology in competition pool billiards for quite some time, I finally picked up studies for a M.Sc. in Psychology.

I'm reading a lot, and also coming up with a ton of ideas. I don't want to collect them somewhere in my closet, but use this blog to organize. For one, it gives me references to my thoughts and work without plagiarizing myself. Two, there may (hopefully) be interesting input from other interested people.

What do I want to collect here? Papers, research ideas, hypotheses, whatever comes to mind, wants to be written down, and is ripe enough to hit the community.

Best wishes