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10th March 2008 | Draft

Transforming the Edge of the World through Voiding the Centre


-- / --

Conclusion to Where There is No Time and Nothing Matters: Cognitive Challenges at the Edge of the World, highlighting and giving focus to various themes of an earlier study (In Quest of Optimism Beyond the Edge -- through avoidance of the answering process) in the light of travels in Tasmania during completion of its final version.
Traumascape -- of the "White Man's Dreaming"?
Terra cognita vs Terra incognita
Interweaving Demonic and Daimonic Associations in Collective Memory (Annex A)
-- Demonic associations and demonisation
-- Unusual, unsayable, unsaid, untruth -- and denial
-- Prefiguration: Van Diemen's Land as strategic pioneer in the treatment of dissent and otherness
-- Daimonic associations: imaginative, aesthetic, inspirational or spiritual
-- Refiguration of "the other" through fantasy
Memory Challenges at the Edge of the World (Annex B)
-- Symbolic journey -- to the "Edge of the World"
-- Dubious associations -- with the "Centres of the World"
-- Amnesia at the "Edge of the World" -- a key to unrealistic optimism?
-- Mnemonic devices for collective remembrance
Import of Nothingness and Emptiness through Happening and Mattering (Annex C)
-- Varieties of nothingness and emptiness
-- Questionable understanding of emptiness and nothingness
-- "Mattering" and "Happening"
-- "Nothing" emerging through combinations of "mattering" and "happening"
-- Dynamic complexification: integration of "no time"
-- Emergence of "nothing": creating "cognitive shelters"
-- Emergence of "nothing": globalization as exemplar
-- Emergence of "nothing": "import" of significance
-- Polarization and the dynamics of nothingness
Conclusion: Transforming the Edge of the World through Voiding the Centre
-- Paradoxical proximity of "centre" and "edge"
-- Problematic exploitation of edge and centre
-- Reframing spatio-temporal topology as a source of richer metaphors
-- Emergence of a cognitive singularity
-- Strategic implications
-- Challenge of identification with the "mattering of nothing"
-- Symbolic renaming of "Cradle Mountain/Valley" ?

Paradoxical proximity of "centre" and "edge"

This may be variously evident in:

The "edge of the world" and the "centre of the world" are both to be experienced "nowhere" and "everywhere"; as such they are closely connected, if not identical in some paradoxical manner. This raises the question as to any implied "flat earth" understanding of the space on which they are to be found. Any trace of such a simplistic model, implied by such metaphors, would be especially dubious in the case of worldviews and belief systems. Curiously the "utopia" for which many quest derives from that has the intentional double meaning of "good place" and "no place". The challenge is exemplified by Maurice Fullard Smith (This Is It: the art of happily going nowhere. Longman, 2007).

The relationship between the "centre" of any colonial power (such as Britain) and its peripheral "edge" (such as Van Diemen's Land) indicative of how the mindset of the centre is projected onto that edge -- and onto other edges. The challenge of governance remains that of transforming that topological relationship.

But, especially challenging, and far more evident than the relationship between "England" and "Van Diemen's Land", is the relationship between "Washington" and Guantanamo Bay" (or "Abu Ghraib"). Although the edge and centre are conceived as remote from each other in each case, it is terrifyingly clear how close they are in the latter case. How is this proximity to be recognized cognitively? Through what kind of cognitive wormhole do those responsible transition from one to the other?

This is of course a model of the situation encountered by all on the streets of any city -- the cognitive transition between firmly encapsulating the "threat" of the beggar and righteously celebrating one's own high principles. Such wormhole familiarity is acquired early.

Problematic exploitation of edge and centre

The case of "Van Diemen's Land" illustrates:

Paradoxical senses of "space" and "time"

As with the spatial metaphors of edge and centre, those of time also have complex experiential implications. The "present moment" and the "end of time" are both to be experienced at "no time" and "all the time"; as such they too are closely connected, if not identical.

It follows, as highlighted above, that such paradoxical senses are variously evident in the contrasts and commonalities of the metaphors of:

These variously offer different senses of "time stopping" and a degree of co-existence of past and future in an eternal present, perhaps exemplified in "White Man's Dreaming" by:

It is unfortunate that in the light of the profoundest insights of physicists, mystics and nature lovers of the "White Man's Dreaming" that the Dreamtime of the "Black Man's Dreaming" should be considered so questionable and unproductive in comparison.

Reframing spatio-temporal topology as a source of richer metaphors

The preceding issues imply a challenge to the conventional understandings of the geometry from which metaphors are selected to order experience. Worlds, whether physical or cognitive, do not have edges; understood as spheres, they are finite but unbounded -- except in those cases explored by science fiction.

This is however a case of "superficial" or "lateral" thinking. In terms of "voluminous" thinking, a world has both an edge and a boundary. Unfortunately the possibilities and constraints of the more complex perspective do not effectively influence the superficial "flat earth" approach to global strategy that continues optimistically to be inspired by lateral expansion and growth over the surface of the globe.

The challenges and possibilities might be usefully highlighted by recognizing a sequence of progressively more subtle relationships between edge and centre:

Specifically such concerns raise questions about the manner in which distinctions (cuts) are made, represented and comprehended (***). They point to the relevance of arguments, discussed above, by Michael Schiltz. The question is how current and future understanding should be better framed and supported by metaphors drawn from a more complex geometry. This would then provide the condition for understanding and communication regarding the dynamics to be expected at what was previously experienced as "edge" or "centre" -- and the challenges of pathways to enable movement between them.

How complex does the geometry of an edge/centre need to be to hold the intuitions associated with it as a metaphor? Of particular interest is the nature of the "catastrophes" (cognitive or otherwise) in such contexts and the peculiar nature of the dynamic boundaries with which it is then important to deal (Conformality of 7 WH-questions to 7 Elementary Catastrophes: an exploration of potential psychosocial implications, 2006). Surfing (wind or sea) offers experiential insights that are far from having been embodied as metaphors in cognitive response to other contexts.

To the extent that "edge" and "centre" are in close "proximity", whatever the transformation from one to the other, what then is the form offering the special kind of curvature that holds the pathway(s) to move between them? A useful indication in this respect is derived from challenging simplistic understandings of the conveyor metaphor -- whereby it is assumed that people or goods are transported from one condition to another. Understood as a one-way conveyor, this totally obscures the dynamic operation of any conveyor dependent on a return pathway that is metaphorically more supportive of complex insights (Potential Misuse of the Conveyor Metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic essential to its appropriate operation, 2007).

If a form of appropriate curvature is identified, also of cognitive relevance is the nature of the horizon effects it then indicates, namely what is "visible" from where? How is threat and "otherness" associated with conditions "over the horizon" -- in terra incognita? Since the metaphor of vision is so universally used with respect to the future (often by bespectacled futurists and strategists), it is relevant to ask what distortions and deficiencies should be considered for which corrective measures are typically sought in the physical case (Metaphor and the Language of Futures, 1993). What indeed might be their cognitive analogues?

The challenge is then how to "roll up" or "wrap" space-time so as to ensure the necessary contiguity of centre and edge as a source of more appropriate metaphors through which to re-cognize, re-member and re-mind. This challenge of spatio-temporal topology might be explored in several ways:

With respect to the Klein bottle, Melanie Purcell (1999) notably points out that:

Truth is relative to the perspective of the observer, and the nature of the perception of reality will determine the nature of the truth expressed. In this presentation I want to explore the relationships between opposed world views and how these oppositional perspectives will determine the nature of truths held. Most models used to describe relationships create an exclusive domain that exteriorises that which is outside or marginalised by the structure.

The Klein bottle is one structure that creates no exclusive domain as it is a modality that, through a structural twist, unifies the inside and outside surfaces into a continuous surface. Through the use of such a structure, seemingly opposed perspectives can be illustrated as aspects of the whole where seemingly paradoxical environments necessitate a decisive shift from an 'either / or' critique to a pluralistic 'and / both' scenario. This structure allows for the relativity of truths to be realised as expressions that are inextricably linked to relative world views, and therefore creates a focus for a holistic approach to information generation.

It is perhaps such considerations that would enable global dialogue worthy of the name (Future Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being through conversation in the present moment, 1997)

Emergence of a cognitive singularity

Any quest for "where there is no time and nothing matters" raises the question as to whether this is what might be called a cognitive singularity in any spatio-temporal topology -- metaphorically understood. Clearly this would resonate with many of mystical persuasion and clearly it accords with the appreciation of the natural environment at any "Cradle Mountain". It may also resonate with certain theoretical speculations of physicists. Of course it also accords with religious prophecies regarding "end times". Many of these aspects were explored by Umberto Eco, Stephen Jay Gould, Jean-Claude Carrière and Jean Delumeau (Conversations About the End of Time, 1999), notably the "art of slowness" variously promoted by the Slow Movement. Milan Kundera, for example, equates speed to forgetting -- associating slowness with memory, thereby highlighting the relevance of the motto of Cradle Valley to the issues of Annex B.

The question is whether such a cognitive singularity is of any significance in relation to transcending the polarizations with which society is currently bedevilled:

As a singularity, an even more fundamental polarization is that between past and future "where there is no time" (as discussed in Annex C). This points to the merit of combining the arguments made elsewhere with respect to the past (Engaging Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004) and to the future (Presenting the Future, 2001). As with that between positive and negative, there would appear to be time binding pathways which lend themselves to comprehension within a cybernetic framework (Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005).

The condition of such a singularity might be understood as intimately associated with a knowledge-information singularity at which the amount of knowledge-information generated -- of immediate relevance to viability -- exceeds the capacity of any (collective) human cognitive operation to process it. The dynamics of significance then constitute a form of standing wave of self-reflexivity. The points to a form of metasystem transition, namely the emergence of a higher level of organization or control beyond those envisaged in relation to the adaptation of the work of Arthur Young (in Table 2 of Annex C). Such a cognitive singularity is therefore distinct from that hypothesized as a future technological singularity of civilization, which might be understood as more probably related to that of societal collapse.

How does such a cognitive singularity relate to the collective quest for (strategic) wisdom at this time? Through what symbol could such a cognitive singularity be communicated for mnemonic purposes -- and how is this to be distinguished from many religious symbols? Why is the Black Swan, discussed earlier (in Annex B), inadequate for this purpose? As an emblem of probable collapse and cognitive readiness, is it not an appropriate mnemonic for resilient response?

Strategic implications

The phrase "where there is no time and nothing matters" necessarily implies different kinds of strategic challenges and possibilities:

The non-action feature of these strategic implications can be considered in the light of various approaches (cf Giovanna Braidotti, Innovating Responses to Crisis: exploring the principle of non-action as a foresight tool, Journal of Futures Studies, November 2007; The Quest for the Socio-Economics of Non-Action, Futures, 25, 10, December 1993; The Art of Non-Decision-Making and the manipulation of categories, 1997). A contrast to "development" might also be fruitfully explored (Veloping: the art of sustaining significance, 1997).

A more creative understanding of "where nothing matters" is required to reframe unfortunate understandings of places "where nothing happens", encouraging migration away from them to urban areas, as illustrated by:

To what extent is the elusive strategic goal of sustainability associated with the dynamics of nothingness "happening" or "mattering"? The cognitive dilemma is perhaps best illustrated by the distinction between "working" and "non-working" forests in Tasmania, or that between "paid" and "unpaid" homeworkers worldwide. It is the misunderstanding of the nature of the "happening of nothing" which inhibits more sustainable policies. In contrast, efforts to make "something happen" may be counter-productive -- effectively by destructively "white-anting" it. Strategically it is a challenge to make "nothing happen" creatively without destroying it.

Although a case is made above for using a more complex topology, there is a case for exploring insights from the disciplines most concerned with the creative use of an edge, namely aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering (Seeking the "Cutting Edge" of Sustainable Community, 1997). Leading and trailing edges, and the structures between them, are carefully designed to ensure maximum lift with minimum resources. Such insights are a powerful corrective to simplistic metaphorical uses of "edge" -- especially where the "lift" sought is so intimately related to optimism. There is also a charm to the metaphor that any "paper", structured by a pattern of concepts, is reminiscent of the paper-and-strut experiments of the early aviators seeking lift -- as celebrated in the cult movie Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. Could the future challenges of exploring cognitive space be helpfully reframed through the patterns of origami -- especially given recent experiments towards launching paper planes from the emptiness of outer space? [video]

Thirty projects form a strategic initiative.
It is the empty centre that makes it useful...
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there
(Tentative reconciliation of Tao Te Ching with the icosahedron,
as used by management cybernetician Stafford Beer)

Challenge of identification with the "mattering of nothing"

This curious challenge has been a dilemma for mystics down the centuries. It is of course a dramatic issue for those who are bored "out of their mind" in their current context. It may be framed as part of sensory deprivation, notably as a means of torture.

Gustav Weindorfer, originator of the motto, "where there is no time and nothing matters", clearly understood his relation to Cradle Valley and Cradle Mountain in a manner which exemplified many of the desirable qualities of this understanding. Was the key to embody the surrounding wilderness into a "wilderness of the mind", as explored elsewhere (Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002; Emergence of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity: sustainability as "psyclically" defined, 2007).

More challenging is the nature of the collective identity able to engage in the paradox of "where there is no time". This has been explored in relation to the intentional community of Damanhur and its imaginative collective experiments with time travel (Timeship: Conception, Technology, Design, Embodiment and Operation, 2003). A timeship is contrasted with a spaceship in that description. Science fiction, in the work of M. A. Foster (The Gameplayers of Zan, 1977), provides an interesting account of the paradoxes involved in the "construction" by a community of a space-time ship hidden within a mountain, as with Damanhur:

Let me build a dynamic identification-series for you: consider vehicles. You make a cart, a wagon, hitch it to a pony, and off you go. Its purpose is to go, but it can be stopped, and it doesn't change, or stop being a cart. ..Now consider a bicycle, which must be in balance to go...Now an aircraft; it can only be stopped when it is finished being a functional airplane...You can't stop it just anywhere, and never in the air...Just so the leap to the Ship. It is a quantum leap into a new concept in machines, if indeed that is the proper word. Before, we had machines that could be turned off. The more complex they became, the harder to turn off. With the Ship we enter the concept-world of machines that can't be turned off -- at all. They must be on to exist. Once you reach a certain stage in the assembly of it, it's on and that's all there is to it. (pp 369-70)

It must be manually flown to hold it in place...Its position at a specific place upon the Earth is not held by gravity and momentum...that it stays in that place, it must be flown there. As we sit here, we move in many ways, but are held fast in a matrix of local forces. The Earth rotates...And if we do not compensate, then the Ship would drift off on its own. (p. 373)

These are indicative of some of the cognitive challenges of sustainability and of the cognitive fusion that might empower such a vehicle (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8), 2006)

Symbolic renaming of "Cradle Mountain/Valley" ?

This exploration has emphasized the role of collective memory, notably that repressed in "Tasmania" with respect to the "Van Diemen's Land" in which the Aborignal people were exterminated, if only through willful negligence. The name "Cradle Mountain" also obscures its identity in the eyes of those people. Annex A notably cited the challenge of collective amnesia and denial explored in Annnex B. Reference was made to the arguments of James Boyce (Van Diemen's Land, 2008) to the effect that:

A central challenge of the early twenty first century is to reconnect this cultural heritage to the great environmental and social questions of our day. (p. 258)

Boyce refers to the argument of Peter Hay (Van Diemonian Essays, 2002) regarding the need to reclaim the "tainted nomenclature" of Van Diemen's Land at a time when leaders are "santising Australian history for political ends" and efforts are intensifying to privatise all that remains common. This is the basis for a case to reclaim the nomenclature of the iconic centre of Tasmania -- a World Heritage Site -- as a means of collectively remembering what it represents for Tasmania, for Australia and for the world..

What is the import of those who died in Van Diemen's Land? And "where" might they be considered to be, now that time has stopped for them? Does their nothingness matter, and through what happening does it acquire import? Would any memorial to their memory be as controversial as the Yasukuni Shrine -- despite that, in the case of Australia, the "imperialists" won and those who resisted to the last lost? With what is honour then to be associated? (cf Honour Essential to Psycho-social Integrity: challenge of dishonourable leadership to the nameless, 2005)

One Aboriginal poet, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, offered the insight:

"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"

It is of a kind with that of James Boyce (Van Diemen's Land, 2008): "Van Diemen's Land never went underground"

It took persistent research to locate the presumed Aboriginal name of Cradle Mountain, namely War loun dig er ler. It has been notably employed by Tasmanian artist Bea Maddock in her landscape panorama Terra Spiritus...with a darker shade of pale (1998) -- using Aboriginal and English place names to weave a pattern that connects the whole of Tasmania. The name remains to be confirmed, together with its representation in the composite language Palawa Kani, and possibly its meaning in what is essentially -- and perhaps appropriately -- a lost language.

Is there a case for renaming "Cradle Mountain" as part of the collective healing and reconciliation process within the traumascape -- within Tasmania, within Australia, and with respect to more generic resonances that would honour such an initiative?

The case for renaming in the light of this exploration as a whole, could consider the following:

Suggestive possibilities, in English, could combine or include:

Such renaming of the mountain (and valley) might be the basis for a powerful new healing story for Australia as a whole -- especially if a name in Palawa Kani is associated with any English variant. The initiative might set a fruitful introspective precedent for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission -- highlighting the need to extend the current cenotaph references to "Lest We Forget" so as to include the victims long forgotten within the Commonwealth lands.

Given the contemporary importance of "getting to the edge", of being "at the leading edge" and of "living on the edge", as indicators of significance and relevance to progress in the face of current challenges (and thereby being "at the centre"), the following adaptation of a well-known "poem" would seem to be appropriate [see other adaptations]
Ensuring a viable future for the world
is to be understood as dependent on getting to an edge
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought that Anybody could do it,
but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody
when Nobody did what Anybody could have done
However, given its association with collective amnesia and selective memories, the challenge of the relation of the edge to the centre is usefully highlighted by the following classical poem

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

(from W B Yeats, The Second Coming)


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