How do systems work? - Part I
by Milo Clark

If I ask "How do systems work?", I answer "Imperfectly." "And, yet, marvelously." In that brief exchange, I am already setting up and referencing a long list of unstated assumptions. Words such as "systems", "imperfectly" and "marvelously" are arranged to suggest paradox. Now I must include "paradox" in this list.

I am already constrained by imperfections of language and its uses as well as perceptual constraints existing between writer and reader. There may be only one writer as there may also be more than one reader. If you want to know why I say such things which some may judge obvious as well as overstating a case, it is because I want to state the obvious in order to look at it. Much as number compounds upon itself geometrically and exponentially, so the potential for misperception compounds. Whatever I may write or say, I am separated from showing my meaning or intent directly. That I may only talk about what I am trying to talk about is a puzzle as a well as paradox.

Whatever I may say flows from my experiences so far in this life. I say "so far" to acknowledge that this instant or the next may offer an experience changing all my prior experience. I also want to avoid the hubris of thinking that I know it all and the solisism of thinking that I may be the only one thinking about what I am writing about. The masses of interacting experiences I have accumulated to now and self-identified as "me" can be and frequently are overthrown by a happening yet to be savored. Who I am, at least in the perceptions of others, is an outward manifestation of what I believe and how I have been exposed to conditioning, opportunities for experience and differences that have been identified as making a difference to me by becoming incorporated in my behavior.

To access my belief system, I search backward and forward to try to dig under my assumptions: at least to the next level of assumption. Who am I? I find that I am a speck of universal consciousness embodied. What is consciousness? The sum total of what differentiates this embodiment from any other. Stating that sentence sets up something called "other". What is "other"? Already, I confront the appearance that making a statement relies on assumptions which are now or as yetunstated. In mentioning "other", I am launched into thoughts about creation and duality and their opposites and modifiers. To be clear with myself, I need to look at each word to assess its implications for expressing my intent. Each word, given its complex evolutions through time, carries an impressive bit or chunk of the cumulative experiences of language users: using it, I carry that cumulation forward. The potential for mis-communication as well as communication is probably incalculable. I am enmeshed in an imperfect and yet marvelous system the dimensions of which encompass all that we call time, all that we call space and all that we call knowledge. The popular understanding of words contrary to the intent of the words given their origins is yet another conundrum. Universe, for example, is popularly thought to encompass some vast aspect of space, as in the universe of stars, constellations and galaxies; which, in turn, given the Big Bang theory now generally accepted by astronomers, still expands. The root of universe is literally "toward one": which also fits the latter stages of the Big Bang, the stellar, constellar and galactic implosion to "black hole" which will end whatever concept of time and space or creation we appear to live within.

Every attempt of humankind to describe creation shares at least one aspect: there is a beginning. From that beginning, which is a point in time [or is it?], from some sort of pre-existing state, the objective "things" which populate our perceptual universes are named. The act of naming creates an assumption that there are aspects which we are taught lie outside of our physical presence and things which are integral to our physical presence. The Cartesian assumption, Cogito ergo sum [I think, therefore I am] which governs much of "Western" or modern thought: that is, assumptions by which the cognitive world is organized is opposed by "Eastern" or ancient thought. Sum ergo cogito, I am therefore I think, creates a quite different cognitive world.

We also believe [assume] that time is a linear sequence beginning then and coming to now on the way to this instant: gone just as we are knowing it. Given [another way of saying "assuming"] the observable state that all living things die, it is physically "impossible" to have been present at creation. All that we can assume about "then" is a construct fashioned in the passing moment and given a specious quality of fact. Except that each of us embodies creation: ontogeny recapitualates philogeny: i.e. each of our physical beings in its gestation passes through the evolutionary states preceeding our evolutionary state. From which it may be possible to conclude that whatever we may represent in this time, assuming time to be a linear unrolling of evolution, is no different that the other stages of evoution represented by our processes in utero. That is, our assunmption of being ex utero may be little different than the expereince of a marsupial infant moving from uterus to pouch. Where then is beginning?

It is nearly universally assumed among humankind that out of nothing or something unknown and/or unknowable given our perceptual apparatus and state of evolution, everything to date has come. To state the qualifier, "to date", is critical. If the system is all done: that is, everything to be created has been created, even if not yet known or identified at our levels of perception, then we can go along one set of assumptions. If there is still more to come as well as more to be known or identified; we are on another path. No matter which path selected, the base of assumptions underlying what we do or can know or identify is fairly well established or set.

Published July 08, 1996
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