As my title suggests, I am going to wade into the ceaseless nature versus nurture debate, but gently and only briefly.
Nevertheless, the point I want to make is important. It offers a new, more unified, and perhaps more helpful way to think about living nature overall, and the process of natural evolution or advancement in all its forms.
In a few words, and again in keeping with my title, the idea I want to introduce is this: nature, and living nature especially, is mostly nurture or cultivation. By this, I mean that little and perhaps nothing is fixed, given, or wrought whole or without iteration in this world. Instead, almost everything appears to be actively nurtured or propagated, by one method or another, up to and potentially including the universe as a whole.
Separating Nature From Nurture, We May Miss The Nurture Of Nature
To quickly understand this idea and some of its key implications, consider the following natural processes and essential aspects of evolving life: 1) star development and the formation of complex elements, 2) abiogenesis or the formation of pre-living organic molecules and aiding structures, 3) the favorable selection of basic attributes and then instructive genes in early living organisms, 4) the emergence of sexual and social life, and the cooperative or contributing relationships each naturally entails, and 5) human culture, learning, scholarship, and science.
As you may know already or sense immediately, these seemingly disparate processes share a number of common characteristics. First, all are natural processes, or ones that occur in nature and, in all but the last set, undirectedly. They also are all transformative processes, meaning ones acting on initial conditions and altering them in some way. Third, the various alterations of these processes are all subject to basic differences in persistence, durability, survivability, accuracy, or what I have described elsewhere as health. And owing simply to the operation of complex nature or natural complexity, in non-living and living conditions alike, all of these processes contain a natural preference or selection for alternatives that are stronger, more persistent, more resilient, or more predictive – that is, they all naturally cultivate and tend to promote the dominance of healthier alternatives when they can.
Thus, in an important sense and as I trust you can see, nurture is widespread and integral throughout and across nature, especially in its living or otherwise evolving domains. Nurture, or the discovery and increasing of favorable or healthy qualities, is how and (at least proximately) why our universe is ordered the way it is on cosmic terms. It is how life emerged and developed, even in its most seemingly brute and neglectful forms. It is, and far more clearly so, how advanced, sentient, and cooperative life evolved and developed in time. And nurture is undoubtedly an essential explanation of modern life, including the reasons why you can read these words and I can write them, and perhaps why we are doing so in both cases.
Overall, these ideas suggest that we live in a natural world rich in and even naturally dependent on nurture, even if this process is hard and demanding at times. But the ideas also suggest that, like evolving nature and life itself, nurture too can evolve, can become more express and expressly supportive, and can become more subtle, powerful, enduring, and resonant too – as it naturally and progressively ascends in richness and complexity with the evolution of life.
In the spirit of this proposal, I would encourage you to look for nurture in nature around you, and to consider the idea that nature is mostly or perhaps only nurture and becoming at an essential level. I would also enjoy hearing your comments about this idea overall, and how it might lead you to new approaches in the ways you live, work, engage with others, and understand the natural and social worlds in which we all enduringly and together live.
Health & best wishes,
Tell others about Mark and his transformative Natural Strategy method!
I’m back at work, but editing mostly rather than writing. If you follow my posts, you may recall that I completed the draft of a new book, my second, in June. Since then, I have taken time off and worked on side projects – including a rewrite of the nutrition section of my HumanaNatura health program – clearing the way for several months of editing to prepare the new book for publishing.
For me, this second book was a more substantial journey than the first, and writing it has changed me, as a writer and person. In the book, I explore 24 human ideals, from happiness to growth, discuss a historical advocate of each ideal, and survey relevant science in each case. Some of the content I knew beforehand, but much was new, and the book involved a good deal of learning and insight for me, as I hope it will for you.
Lately, I notice clear differences in my approach to writing, and living. One is new desire for directness or economy in my work and life – to speak and explain more plainly, to write with fewer words, and to have more result with less action, or distraction, overall. Another change, related to the first, is that I more frequently question my actions, and those of others, notably asking, “Are you sure?” amid strong feelings or pronouncements. It is this change, which at once involves and exposes the natural limits of thinking, or a phenomenon I will call the blindness in clarity, that I want to explore with you today.
We Can See Only The Light, Or The Darkness It Naturally Exposes Too
In practice, about half the time I ask this question, the answer is a halting no or maybe, which was and remains a surprisingly high percentage for me. That said, I am not yet sure how often this pause in thought leads to new perspective, or to new and broader thinking. However, I have found similar results asking this question of groups – which shouldn’t be surprising, since they are comprised of people after all. However, I suspect that the added social and peer influences of defined collectives might dampen progressive change relative to individuals thinking on their own (see groupthink and its related topics). In any case, and as we will discuss, I would encourage you to question clarity or certainty – in yourself or others, and especially amid strident views or actions – to see what you will see.
If all goes according to plan, the finalized book will be available in early 2019. Overall, I will describe it as the philosophical companion to my workshop-based and more practice-oriented Seven Keys. In particular, the new book explores the natural place, purpose, and power of ideals of all kinds in human life, and thus the nature of overarching goals, aims, and ideas of all kinds too. As such, while the book focuses on twenty-four specific ideals, its ultimate scope is broad and reaching.
Today, I would like to explore a powerful topic and tool for modern life and endeavor, by examining the natural processes we use to plan for, organize, and pursue action in our lives each day. As my title highlights, the specific topics I want to consider are primarily our natural capacity for and then the intentional practice of multi-dimensional thinking – or the informing use of multiple variables, factors, or considerations when we think and act.
However, this subject involves and therefore encourages us to initially touch on the natural phenomena of cognition and metacognition, or the processes of thinking and thinking about thinking. I explore both cognition and metacognition somewhat extensively in my new book, the latter notably as a tool for considering our dominant ideals, or ideas, and resulting modes of functioning. I also discuss cognition and metacognition, along with multi-dimensional thinking overall, at several points in the Seven Keys.
Thinking Naturally Can Be Task-Focused Or Single-Loop, Or More Reflective
Here, I would like to distill both of these extended discussions into a few fairly simple but important ideas and techniques you can quickly use and leverage. The first of these is the idea that multi-dimensional thinking, and enabling metacognition, each are natural, in humans at least, and also potentially quite powerful. You can immediately understand this power by considering that the alternative is a predominance and indeed prison of single-dimensional, monolithic, or even monomaniacal thinking – and thus naturally simple, crude, or limited thinking – examples of which are unfortunately common in human life and history.
At the same time, the power of multi-dimensional thinking also can be understood by seeing it not only as more sophisticated, insight-affording, and thus naturally informing or truing, but as exponentially so, as I will explain. In principle and practice, multi-dimensional thinking can both dramatically increase our information in use, our cognitive richness, and our likelihood of adaptive cognition and metacognition. Crucially, it also can reduce risks of basic error waiting in all single-mindedness and fixed sets of information – risks that are again naturally diminished by expanded information, metacognition, or both working in concert.
As my graphical model above summarizes, and as we all can experience, when we think and act, we naturally can be fairly immersed in this process or we can be more circumspect. In the first case, our functioning can be understood as dominated by cognition or mental operations aimed primarily at coordinating our actions and fulfilling our immediate tasks, goals, imperatives, ideas, ideals, or psychological investments. In the second case, we can be understood as increasing our degree of metacognition, reflection, or thinking about our thinking – and potentially, increasing our thinking about the quality, efficiency, effectiveness, or adaptive potential of our thoughts and resulting actions.
I’m at the halfway point in drafting my new book, my second, and taking a break – to the extent that writing blog posts and attending to side projects is a break. In any case, they are easier than daily writing, and a welcome respite.
For this post, I want to offer a simple and quite flexible tool for diagnosing the general state of our efforts and pursuits, whether personal or organizational. Often, when we are immersed in work or other endeavors, we may not adequately see our essential context, or the main reason or reasons that things are as they are.
But this needn’t and generally shouldn’t be the case, since excessive immersion can greatly reduce our effectiveness, and because reframing or perspective-increasing tools are widely available and fairly easy to use. And I have found one tool in particular, probing for our point of greatest resistance or our main strategic bottleneck or barrier to success, to be especially powerful – helping us to quickly gauge our situation, and our potential opportunity to either redouble, adjust, or wholly change our efforts.
Simple Mapping Tool To Assess Personal & Organizational Barriers
There of course are many ways of assessing or diagnosing our efforts and increasing situational awareness, but focusing on resistance points or strategic weakness is often remarkably simple and intuitive, and frequently provides a higher initial result than other approaches. And to make the approach even easier, I would encourage you simply to consider or probe for resistance in just two areas, ones essential for success in any domain: 1) the state of production or your current supply potential, and 2) the state of consumption or your current demand conditions. In this approach, we look for basic barriers, or points of resistance, in both domains – and then seek to understand the reasons why.
In an earlier post, I posed the question, which is the world’s most advanced nation?
For that discussion, I considered several ways we might measure national advancement, and how each measure – or each alternative framing of the question – produced very different national rankings.
At the end of the discussion, and as I did in my first book The Seven Keys of Natural Life, I encouraged readers to consider a relatively new measure called the HPI, produced by the New Economics Foundation. In my reading, the HPI can serve as a rough or preliminary measure of national adaptivity, or adaptive health. HPI stands for Happy Planet Index, though for me it would be better named, and in any case thought of, as a Healthy People Index.
Importantly, however adaptive health is best measured, and thus predicted, for me adaptive health is the ultimate performance metric, whether for individuals, groups, species, or whole ecosystems. In nature, health – here defined as the ability to steadily survive over time and amid progressive challenges or uncertainty – is the final test of life, and therefore the ultimate measure of all measures.
Some Nations Are Wealthier or Happier, But Which Ones Are Healthier?
Since my earlier advocacy of the HPI, the metric has undergone an important and I believe positive change, increasing from three to four internal variables. In this post, I’d like to review the change, highlight why I believe the HPI is improved via the added variable, and explain reasons why the HPI remains an important preliminary or suggestive measure of what matters most at a national level today – adaptivity or each nation’s likely potential to survive, and therefore thrive, in time.
I want to add to this body of work and explore this crucial idea with you, since it can be so important to the mastery of life, and even the path to a whole new way of life.
As you will see, my treatment of the topic may be different from the perception-door analogies you know best, or that are most common in popular culture today.
Overall, our discussion will distill and build upon a central theme from my Seven Keys – the often overlooked but always waiting, reliable, natural, and naturally transformative power of conscious attentiveness.
The World We Pass Through Each Day, Sublime And Waiting To Be Perceived
As a contemporary person, the perception-door analogy that may first come to mind for you is Huxley’s Doors of Perception, a counterculture classic and staple, and the inspiration for the name of the still more famous American rock band, The Doors. Huxley’s work recounts, and recommends, his extraordinary and evocative experiences under the influence of the psychoactive drug mescaline.
Huxley’s book, in turn, takes its title from a line by the 18th century British poet, William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” Though Blake’s work and the meaning of this particular line are each subject to different interpretations, I will take his original intent with the words cleansing perception as meaning looking past authority and convention, in favor of freer and more individualistic life, or more freely-perceived and freely-led life.
In contemporary terms, we might think of this idea as seeking new perspective or clearing our minds of preconceptions and assumptions. And with the word infinite I will take Blake to mean that the world can be far richer or more expansive in content than we generally realize or appreciate.
As you may know, Blake’s 18th century proposal to eschew conventional thinking and routinized perception in favor of broader or more vitalizing outlooks is of course a theme from antiquity – the shunning of Apollonian order for Dionysian sensation or indulgence – and an idea that would find new footing and be re-examined in the 19th century by the German philosopher Nietzsche and other writers of his time.
There are of course many other historical and contemporary writers and teachers who have directly or indirectly likened perception to a door or gateway, one waiting to be opened and generally affording new perspective, growth, or even liberation. In particular, they include Gautama Buddha and modern mindfulness advocates writing about or cognizant of eastern meditative practices. And they include various scientists and philosophers exploring the natural limits and opportunities of perception. As you will see, my own views about the doors of perception are a blend or synthesis of mindfulness and scientific viewpoints. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been planning a U.S. election recap for some time – to make sense of and find lessons in what has been an unusually tumultuous political campaign and larger period of cultural division in my nation.
In many ways, these are undeniably the best of times, with startling technological and social advances in the U.S. and around the world. At the same time, our era also can be understood as the worst of times for some, with many still left behind or otherwise feeling alienated by the new opportunities of our rapidly emerging, but naturally disruptive, global society.
Based on many weeks of polling data, my original idea was to warn U.S. progressives that they were lucky to have won a third presidential term, given an obvious gap in their programs and priorities, and to thank Mr. Trump for making this abundantly clear. But as we all now know, luck and the polls did not hold.
U.S. Populists: White, Pressured & Energized
And yet, my principal takeaway from the U.S. election and primary lesson for progressives, across the developed world and beyond, is unchanged. Indeed, Ms. Clinton’s unpredicted but not completely unforeseeable defeat is consistent with other recent populist or anti-establishment votes, in Europe and elsewhere.
Our rising populism, in turn, is a natural and recurring consequence of increasing economic inequality, social stratification, and cultural infringement, all of which are strong trends around the world today. And while populism may be a blunt or imprecise social force, it is an understandable, important, and addressable one too. In particular, current outbreaks of disquiet and opposition to established power and order have clear and instructive parallels with other populist periods in Western history (including the 1890s and 1930s).
Today, in substantial parts of both the U.S. and Europe, there is now a large minority of people who have been inattentively missed, comparatively disadvantaged, or directly harmed by the last four decades of information age expansion and prosperity, by rising globalization and multiculturalism, and by our generally impactful but sometimes narrowly-focused progressive reforms and policies. The presence and natural importance of this large but often systematically overlooked minority group – and the group that is primarily driving popular rebellion in the developed world – is the lesson I want to offer to U.S. progressives, their European counterparts, and others seeking progressive change in their nations and around the world.