Saturday, December 28, 2013

3 key impressions of 2013 - Not new, but key

This is my year-end reflection in blogosphere. It rides on a myriad assumption. It is also much an exercise in brevity as it is in condensation.
Let us look at each one of three points I have from 2013 here. I have also peppered them with insights that I have gleaned again from the net. 

1.       One’s Perceptual Position rules : What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” 
 
C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew. I recall many a public stances made in 2013, and cannot but help registering this sociological canon that I first encountered in 1987 during my graduation years.  E.g. In India Hazare thought he stood firm, and perhaps did not imagine there was a firmer position in Kejriwal’s stance. The media in India massively rallied emotions around male violence against women, and yet, the personal embodiment of Justice belies the spirit of that struggle. Violence against thought can yet be brought on by categorical judgments, that neither secures the judge, society or the petitioner. Justice too is subject to one’s perceptual position, no matter how positively argued or objectively independent the process of law is. Whether diplomat, attorney, riled politician, or retiring sportsman, perceptual positions have a way of deciphering whether one is standing, in slumber or just physically present in the narrator’s situation.


Insight 1 : RT @JackRicchiuto: Recipe for simplicity: Graciously refuse roles in the dramas of others.
2.       It’s not the medium, it is the message:It is impossible to have a static message in the electric age”. Marshall Mcluhan said that years, nay decades, ago. What a year in which to see two different worlds collapse in unison. The march of social media was rivalled in my estimate by only one other phenomenon – that of the Papacy in 2013. Wrote Steve Hamm recently of the Pope “If he keeps this up, I may have to become Catholic.The message from the Pope has been never as close to Christ’s life since a living memory of a Pope has served me. It is not the Catholicism, per se, but the message getting delivered that makes me review an old NTL adage. “The Use of Self” is about bringing who you are to your work. There's no better place than in facilitating Organisation Development to experience this. Endearing others of alternate faith so openly, is not an ordinary act of inter-faith dialogue. It is amazing how people 'get it' when you are authentic in your expression, and are not bogged down by the medium through which you express yourself. I would love to hear views to this one for sure. Of course, modern day atheists may argue that they have yet to cause a war! With the convergence experienced via the communicative brilliance of the internet, all the world’s a sage!

Insight 2 . “The meaning of communication is the message you get” says Richard McHugh, SJ, my NLP and Gestalt teacher.


3.       Leadership is not about span of control, but sphere of influence. One of the most deeply impactful pieces I came across in 2013, albeit late by the date of publication, was on the rise and fall of Ken Wilber. It spurred me to rethink a lot about leadership, beyond the metaphysical phases of truth that his Integral theory espouses. In fact, evenas I write this, I realise, how the construct of leadership may be perennially sweating to keep itself in the reckoning, if for example, one gave it an animate licence for personhood. My questions of Leadership have been largely centered around the cognitive challenges to leadership, arising as they do in the social learning dynamics of heterarchical enterprises. If there’s even an iota of impact media and messages have, then, it is not about the keeping up with the new social channels in virtual mode, as much as it is about discovering the self enough to stay relevant in a sphere of influence, no matter one’s preferred constituency. No artist can assume to make original distinction without identifying with the needs of the connoisseurs and / or a significant mass of customers of the internet age.  Leadership as I surmised a few years ago, is about becoming oneself, and not about changing others or even about changing oneself.

Insight 3 . “Transformation comes from pursuing profound questions, than seeking practical answers” says Peter Block.


End-note : I have earlier referred to the nation we live in as an uninterrupted mystery. Testimony to all of the above are rife in our midst in the absolute miracle called India. Look forward to 2014 indeed. I hope to meet some of my readers in the work I love doing! 

What would you like to opine of the year gone by? What is the passion you will enjoin to the year ahead?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who are We? The Phantomness of 'Self' among other things...

The last I heard a philosopher speak at a public event, was at Minneapolis in 2005. Peter Koestenbaum spoke of courage, will, ethics and reality from a business standpoint. A businessperson’s philosopher, I valued his perspective on guilt as a product of choice, and man’s essence as a chooser. His treatment of anxiety as the tunnel of growth left a mark from the relatively diminutive frame in which such sagely sense embodied itself.
Thomas Metzinger


Last evening I heard a German speak of the Phenomenal-self model (PSM). Thomas Metzinger says being a philosopher, he needs to wrestle conventional boundaries of the discipline as he traverses the neuro-sciences evenas he holds a chair on Theoretical Philosophy. The contrast for me between Koestenbaum and Metzinger had already been sharp.  Seeking neural correlates of the conscious self is a venture that modern day observations make possible through technology like virtual reality and even the relatively inexpensive $5 magic box of Viliyanur Ramachandran’s phantom limb fame.  

The brain as it turns out from Metzinger’s expositions yesterday has the capacity for self-deception too. The rubber hand illusion that constructs for us the sense of ‘ownership’ is one such piece of evidence. Hence Being No One is at once illusory and yet real. That robots can be designed to have a self-consciousness is something that scientists are already working on, as also constructing extension of this line of experiments via the internet.

Even if George Moore wrote early on the Refutation of Idealism, the transparency of our perceptions is composite now in the integrated internal representation of the organism as a whole – in the Transparent Phenomenal Self-Model. While this took me back immediately to System 1 and System 2 representations that Kanhemann talks of in terms of behavioural economics, the thin line between fantasy and constructionism began to develop meaning for me. Simultaneously, the following held sway in my mind.



1.       Marshall Mcluhan famously said nobody in the electric age will consider it sane to have a point of view, as one will pay attention to several aspects at the same time. Is the message the medium at all?
2.       What strange twist of attentional focus that I chose to look at Andre Beteille from the lens of philosophy itself?
3.       When virtual reality constructs images of the self technologically to confirm or disconfirm workings in the brain, parental re-imprinting and future pacing that we engage in NLP seem so much like cousins of the curiosity family with the connectedness gene.
4.       VERE experiments (Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment) hinge so closely to neuro-ethics, that the bias to watch for may continue to be a product of the optimism bias. Are researchers in this genre males, supremely confident of themselves, and held back in advance merely by the introceptive anchors in our body?
5.       The phenomenology of Immediacy and Identification or infinite proximity, may lunge us forward in hedonistic somnambulance, at the cost of reflective wholesomeness. Philosophy seems to be both urgent and important in this way to our times.

Like with the nature of paradoxes, the one that really resonates with me is this – that self-organising systems as may be in our body, may not have a physical correlate. Yet the self as subjectively experienced, or as psychologically constructed may contain the following elements :

1.       Temporal patterns of neural activity
2.       A neuro-biological self
3.       A representationalist self
4.       An unconscious self (although the relationship between psyche and soma is not yet clear)
5.       An Innate core – perhaps pre-existing even before we realise identity
6.       An evolutionary self that provides us with a body model for the self
7.       A Functionalist self

Metzinger’s work is both prolific and an invitation in empirical work to substantiate phenomenal experience. What struck me in the Bangalore audience was this. Questions were begging points of view from Thomas Metzinger, as in philosophical propositional logic. Like first-order conversations, while meaning requires second-order conversation especially if as in Metzinger’s work, evidence liberates us from convenient biases. There’s a pattern in our socialisation perhaps, that the arduous aspects of scientific enterprise are weighed down by a na├»ve self-understanding of the self. When in India would we ask questions of science?

Thanks again to the Azim Premji University, that I will now set my sight on Spirituality and Intellectual Honesty, one of several tunnels in which I may be right now. In the meanwhile, let us brace ourselves for the optimism bias of democracy in India, where again, the supremacy of male over-confidence would hold sway in an uncritical socialisation of sentiment.

Monday, December 2, 2013

If Good Customs are habits of the heart, why do we expend energy on law?

When sociologist Andre Beteille mentioned about the distinction he made between laws and customs, I reminisced another evening where HR professionals were gathered to discuss implications of diversity in the workplace. I mentioned with regard to sexual harassment, that law would be a remote approach, even in the near term, as it hinged on rule by fear. As I can now reflect, laws that evoke fear, may give rise to bad customs. Good customs endure due to its integrated essence with nature.



For man to know woman and woman to know man, the mind and body needs to live through the emotions of either gender. The liability in society is the abject neglect of parenting in this respect. Adolescents confuse literary (and these days digital) knowledge with awareness, whereas knowing the other gender is an awareness of embodied integration.   The movement in awareness from deep masculine to deep feminine cannot rush with neglect of our shallow masculine or feminine aspects.

Our recent press brings about the explosion of information that reveals the penury of our hearts and of course the burden of bad customs. Good customs after all, as Andre put it, are habits of the heart. I wonder then what frank conversations occur when a training administrator assembles employees in a room for an ‘expert’ on such matters to educate or ‘train’ them in gender sensitivity. In the meanwhile, we live through the fallacy of ruling the heart by law and the rituals of society in this respect - in an illusory notion of civil reins on male libido.  

Male has female in it, and female has male within. Good conversations can begin one at a time, one person at a time. Broadcasts are control instruments. They train our fears. Conversations are rapport instruments. They endear our hearts. Pick your choice and realize the energy within yourself – in mind, body and emotion.