Countering Natural Isolation

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Mark Lundegren

If you are following work on my second book, I have finished the editing phase and am taking a short break before beginning final proofreading and polishing. Drafting the book took 16 months and editing it about 8 months, so I am hoping this final phase will last about 4 months.

As touched on in a previous post, the new book is very much the philosophical companion to my first book, The Seven Keys of Natural Life. This earlier work introduced my natural or evolution-based philosophy, but overall is focused on the application of its core ideas, and primarily is a book of practice – one that began as a series of seven personal and group development workshops.

Even Surrounded By Wild Nature, We Can Have A Degree Of Natural Isolation

By contrast, the new book is almost entirely a work of philosophy, though I do include calls to action in the chapters, as is my frequent practice and general recommendation amid all new learning and understanding. In particular, the new work explores twenty-four human ideals or perennial attributes – from happiness and beauty to inspiration and growth – approaching each definitionally, historically, scientifically, and then essentially. Using this material, I show how these and indeed all other attributes or aims, except one, are inherently instrumental, subordinate, or aids to natural life – and as such, are not nature’s central, overarching, and controlling ideal or imperative. The book has been a journey of discovery and insight for me, and I hope it will be for you as well.

For today’s discussion, I want to begin by pointing out that the new book contains and expands upon two crucial themes from my Seven Keys. These are the modern opportunity of renaturalized life and the natural limits of knowing amid all life. I would like to briefly explore each of these ideas here, but indirectly and in keeping with my title, by taking up a third, intersecting, and perhaps more pressing or evocative topic, that of countering natural isolation.

The concept of natural isolation is of course familiar and recurring in modern life. But it is also an idea that is variably defined and interpreted, and thus perhaps superficially or narrowly so at times. For many, it seems plain that at least part of modern life, notably in its intensely consumerist or wealth-preoccupied forms, is now proceeding without significant regard for its longer impact on our species and the broader natural world around us. Owing to this, and particularly to the extent people are conscious of this fact, we might conclude that much of modern life is substantially denaturalized or unhealthy, and estranged or isolated from nature in important regards.

Expanding on this idea, I would add that perceptions of modern isolation or natural estrangement appear credible across multiple definitions of  what it means either to live naturally or be isolated from nature, suggesting that modern natural isolation may be pervasive and sweeping. Notably, these varying potential senses of naturalness or natural human life include: 1) regularly being present in or routinely interacting with wild nature, 2) appreciating and seeking lessons from living and non-living nature, 3) living in ways that seek to be sustainable, or unharmful to or in harmony with the earth’s natural ecosystems, 4) pursuing or possessing elevated natural health and vitality as people and groups, and 5) alignment with essential or recurring aspects of pre-industrial or pre-agricultural human life (whether conservatively and strictly or more progressively and synthetically).

I should point out that the term natural also can be taken to mean everything occurring in nature, which of course makes the idea of natural isolation less tenable. While this definition, interpretation, or framing of the idea of naturalness is doubtlessly valid or logically consistent, I would suggest this may be trivially so, and often have found it an unaiding sense of naturalness, natural life, and natural progress. In particular, this way of thinking may miss essential opportunities for learning and growth waiting in more active or keener senses of what it means to be natural, connected to nature, or optimally integrated with nature overall.

Building on these themes, let me add that just as the above senses or definitions of naturalness are fairly common – and suggestively, fairly intuitive as well – various prescriptions or remedies for shortfalls in essential naturalness are recurring and widespread today as well. For example, we might be encouraged to visit or recreate in wild nature, live in more natural settings, or move to more sustainable and thus arguably natural living patterns (see here and here). Alternatively, we may be advised to bring elements of wild or living nature into our urban surroundings. Somewhat less commonly, but perhaps more cleverly, and returning to the idea that nature is indeed everywhere, we might be counseled to find and better appreciate living nature at work in and around urban life – from the marvel of plants sprouting out of city cracks to other species living alongside us, and from the natural features of modern social groups to the workings of our psyches.

While these renaturalizing steps or formulations may be familiar – and thereby also perhaps naturally and ironically downplayed – it is essential and instructive to highlight that they often can be quite beneficial. Whether we review science summarized in the self-help press or examine the empirical study of nature connectedness and similar lines of investigation, we see strong indications of regular advantage from many of these measures. To begin a list, new time in or exposure to wild nature, increased appreciation of nature, or greater feelings of affiliation with nature are correlated with: 1) reduced stress, 2) positive emotional affect, 3) improved social harmony, 4) greater health-mindedness, 5) more sustainable living patterns, and 6) new perspective and learning (including the often especially advantageous perspective and learning that is metacognition or metalearning).

Notably, many of these effects, or at least associations, can occur amid novel experiences more generally and not only during naturalistic ones. But the last point above seems especially important to our discussion, and an opportunity to highlight that we, our groups, and indeed all of life naturally function or exist in three crucial ways. First is with the potential for new insight and action at each point in time, second as natural processes of insight and action at our core, and third as the ongoing products of insight and action – whether by us or others, and past or present. For me, these attributes are all fundamental aspects or properties of our human and larger natural condition. But they are also basic features of natural life that are often unfamiliar, unintuitive, and unexamined, and I would encourage you to consider these natural or inherent qualities of all life, especially if they strike you as novel or uncertain.

Together, this set of observations suggests at least two important things for a discussion of natural isolation. One is that we, and all of life, invariably are caught up in natural processes of action and learning, can be defined quite elementally as natural successions of action and learning, and therefore may be seen essentially as ongoing instances or cases of information processing. This is inevitably and inescapably true across living nature – to see that this is so, try to conceive of an instance of life, or perhaps even a case non-living nature, that does not involve some form of processing. Further, it is also clear that all evolved organisms are similarly and inescapably suspended, contained, immersed, or enmeshed in the biological and experiential programming that enables their natural information processing. Indeed, in our essence, we are our natural processing and programming, and are inseparable from and untenable apart from these natural dimensions of life.

Owing to this functional specialization and autonomy, another crucial point for the topic of natural isolation is that each of us, and every organism, are at once part of and yet apart from the rest of nature, or are subject to degrees of natural isolation or individuality. Though we all may be derived or evolved from the totality of nature and plainly are aspects or expressions of nature in a broad sense, we also are clearly individualized as organisms and groups, subjective and specific, functioning on our own unique terms or processes. In other words, we are not all things and everywhere, are always at least somewhat separate or differentiated and isolated or demarcated from other things, and of course we are never the collosal thing-in-itself that is nature in total.

This fact or degree of natural isolation or separation of all specific things is inevitable, unavoidable, and ongoing. Crucially, it is most complete or least trifling in the case of functioning organisms, subjective entities, or autonomous subjects, and amid the often intricate and highly idiosyncratic processes and programming we use for learning, insight, and action – properties that we perpetually rely on and again even are in our essence. And let me add that this is true regardless of how natural or isolated we may or may not feel, the skill or excellence with which we act and learn, and whether or not we directly and actively live in wild nature.

While all this is naturally and unavoidably the case, and perhaps uncomfortably or humblingly so, I want to end our discussion by pointing out that there is at least one essential aspect of our natural functioning that can be significantly freed of natural isolation or separation, individuality or errantness, and idiosyncrasy or particularity. Critically, though this is just one area, it also may involve the most fundamental dimension or quintessential quality of nature, and take us to the core or heart of all of natural functioning.

As you may know from my earlier writing, this core and arguably most crucial aspect of nature is the quality or process of adaptive learning and action, or the pursuit of surviving and then thriving life and existence. Looking across nature, and again in both its living and more elemental forms, we have good reason to believe first, that the quest or opportunity for adaptive health and progressive ascent is the central ordering principle and imperative of all of nature, and second, that this is necessarily so, since any other mode of functioning would be selected against or disfavored in the eternity of time and opportunity that is complex nature in its broadest terms.

Owing to this, we as living organisms are always and never naturally isolated. Though we are indeed inherently different from and less than the whole of nature, we also can live in harmony with this whole in its essence – via a natural life of continual striving, probing, learning, health-mindedness, endurance, and transcendence. In this way, and perhaps only in this way, we can become, reflect, and remain rich  expressions of all of evolving nature, unisolated from and integrated with it, and manifestations of all-pervading nature at its core.

I welcome your comments and questions on these far-reaching ideas, ones which find a prominent place in my new book.

Health & best wishes,

Mark

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Nature – Mostly Nurture

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Mark Lundegren

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 culturelearning, 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,

Mark

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The Blindness In Clarity

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Mark Lundegren

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.

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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.

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Multi-Dimensional Thinking

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Mark LundegrenI haven’t posted in a while, as I have been busy drafting my second book. But I am pleased to report that the draft is now done and after a brief break, I will begin work to finish the book.

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.

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Our Point of Greatest Resistance

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Mark LundegrenI’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.

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The World’s Healthiest Nation

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Mark LundegrenIn 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.

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The Doors of Perception

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Mark LundegrenDescribing perception as a door or gateway is a recurring and well-known theme in literature, philosophy, and science.

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.

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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 »

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