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Carl Jung on Play

Monday, April 17th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — all i do is play / to play is to create / I am creature / I am pawn / < bows lifelong gassho >]

Here’s a key quote on play from Carl Jung, from Psychological Types, CW vol 6. #197:

My thanks to Mitch Ditkoff for pointing me to this fine quote.


The question arises, what is this process in which “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves”? There’s an object, right, and the mind, that much is coear — but does the mind observe the object? absorb it? analyzie it? play around with it?

If play is what we’re trying to understand, around would be the word sitting right next to it, so around may be what we should think about.

Around is context. Playing around is seeing in context, seeing from unexpected angels, seeing unexpected close connections. Here’s Arthur Koestler‘s diagram of play, which he thinks of as a diagram of creativity — which he idemntifies with bisociation, or the conjunction of two otherwise separate planes of thought:

You’ve likely seen it before: that’s my personal Diagram in Chief.


Okay, more basics. Play is how infants so richly learn and masters so richly express their mastery. It is rich, it masters and is mastered — “Thou mastering me God” says Hopkins in Wreck of the Deutschland, “giver of breath and bread; World’s strand, sway of the sea..”


As a game designer and a Brit with Jungian sympathies, I am also delighted with this other quote:

One of the most striking testimonies to the quality of the English spirit is the English love of sport and games in a classical sense and their genius for inventing games. One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive values. The English did it and, by heaven, they even taught us Swiss how to climb our own mountains and make a sport of it that made us love them all the more. And their Wimbledon, did they but know it, is in sort a modern version of an ancient ritual.

That’s from Laurens van der Post‘s Jung and the Story of Our Time, and game designer Mike Sellers shares my delight in it.



A couple or so couples

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — gathering these things the way an obsessed squirrel gathers nuts ]

I’d say there’s nothing more thought-provocative than running across an unexpected parallelism or opposition — and the closer the parallel the better. Once thought has been provoked, though that’s just the starting point — it needs to run its course with the appropriate caution and rigor. Here, then, are some parallelisms I’ve run into recently, for your provocation.


The Dilletante’s Winterings, Michael McFaul’s easy, broken parallel:

Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, has a blog on the site of Ekho Moskvy, the independent radio station based in Moscow. Commenting on the appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council, he wrote:

It’s the equivalent of Putin appointing Alexander Dugin to the [Russian] Security Council and telling generals Bortnikov [head of the FSB] and Gerasimov [head of the general staff] to only attend when they are needed.


Craig Whiteside (2016) The Islamic State and the Return of RevolutionaryWarfare, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 27:5, 743-776, DOI: 10.1080/09592318.2016.1208287:

This paper starts by comparing the Islamic State to the Vietnamese communists in a revolutionary warfare framework..

I didn’t find a single-sentence assertion of this parallelism, not am I expert in revolutionary warfare — but manynof our readers here on Zenpundit are, so I’ll leave the critical appraisal of this proposition to you-all..


Defense One, So, American Mass Shooters and Islamic Terrorists Do Have Something in Common:

Like radical Islamic groups, white supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups offer people (especially men) who feel isolated and disempowered a chance to feel important and welcome. It’s the same psychological phenomenon, different culture war. And thus the KKK gains new recruits along with ISIL.


And for good measure… not, you understand, that I understand it —

Metod Saniga, Algebraic Geometry: a Tool for Resolving the Enigma of Time?

An illustrative example of such a temporal dimension is provided by a specific linear, single-parametric set (so-called pencil) of conics in the projective plane. This set of conics is found to nicely reproduce the experienced arrow of time when the projective plane is affinized; it simply suffices to postulate that each proper conic of the pencil stands for a single temporal event, and relate three distinct kinds of (proper) affine conic, viz. a hyperbola, a parabola and an ellipse, with the three different kinds of temporal event, viz. the past, present and future, respectively..

Time, as St Augustine noted, makes sense — until you try to figure out what sense it makes.

It’s easier to accept John Nash than the goddess Namagiri

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — delighted to find Ramanujan is not alone in dreaming of mathematics ]

When the Hinduism Today writer above says people found Ramanujan‘s assertion that his equations were given him in dreams by the local goddess Namagiri “irksome” he was understing the case: many mathematicians are allergic to the idea of a goddess providing inspiration to a mathematician in a devotional dream state. Thus Krishnaswami Alladi, in his Review of the Movie on the mathematical genius Ramanujan, writes:

The legend is that the Hindu Goddess Namagiri came in Ramanujan’s dreams and gave him these formulae..

See? It’s a legend, a priori, since “goddesses” don’t exist.

John Nash, he of the Beautiful Mind, game theory equilibria, and the Nobel Prize, on the other hand — if he provides inspiration to a fellow mathematician in a dream?

Why, his solution can be acknowledged as such in a learned paper..

Of Boxes and Worldviews

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — this won’t be appearing in the Proceedings, sad to say — luckily, here at ZP I’m my own managing editor! ]

Bravely or foolishly, I keep on writing essays about our ignorance, in areas of which I’m ignorant myself. Not surprisingly, I don’t win any prizes, but I do manage to get my feelings about ignorance down and, sometimes, out.

For example, here’s my Coast Guard Essay Contest 2016 submission:


Of Boxes and Worldviews

What boxes may we imagine we’re in, as we consider this 2016 Coast Guard Essay Contest?

I ask this, because the challenge presented in the contest is described in part thus:

No issue is too big or too narrow as long as it makes the Coast Guard stronger. This does not mean authors cannot be critical and take on conventional wisdom and current practices. In fact, we encourage you to push the “dare factor.”

I’d argue that by now, it’s conventional wisdom to challenge conventional wisdom, that we’re now cosily settled in a box called “out of the box thinking” – that we’re effectively in “nested boxes” – and that what’s needed therefore is a grand scale questioning of the very way we think.

Is there such a thing as a Coast Guard question? There are certainly questions that have relevance to the US Coast Guard and its future, and some of them are mentioned in the prologue to this contest announcement – issues in the Arctic, which presumably range from sovereignty issues and under-ice flag raising claims, to the impact of methane release on global warming as permafrost melts in what amounts to a vicious circuit, a feedback loop, a serpent biting its own tail – issues of drug interdiction, to include the use of cartel submarines and drones, and so forth.

My problem with these questions is that they are effectively silos – specialty topics which, yes, the Coast Guard needs to address, and is indeed addressing, but silos, boxes nonetheless. In a word, they tend to the linear, in a world that is inherently cross-disciplinary, feedback-driven, complex – in which even the most straightforward of questions is involved with others in a peculiar web of tensions, arising and dissipating, between numerous vectors and stakeholders, of the sort first identified by Horst Rittel as “wicked problems”, and clarified thus by Dr Jeff Conklin of Cognexus:

A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented.

Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.

Most projects in organizations — and virtually all technology-related projects these days — are about wicked problems. Indeed, it is the social complexity of these problems, not their technical complexity, that overwhelms most current problem solving and project management approaches.

Importantly, Dr Conklin notes,

There are so many factors and conditions, all embedded in a dynamic social context, that no two wicked problems are alike, and the solutions to them will always be custom designed and fitted.

You don’t understand the problem until you have developed a solution. Indeed, there is no definitive statement of “The Problem.” The problem is ill-structured, an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.

This takes us way past the elegant, non-linear, feedback-aware models that Jay Forrester pioneered ar MIT under the name of Systems Dynamics, way past the simple rules-sets with which agent-based modeling works, and into a rarefied concept-space where the arts and humanities as much as tech and the sciences — perhaps even more – come into play.

Here the nature of the questions asked is neither disciplinary nor silo’d, the questions are not Coast Guard or Army, Intel or National Security, or even Medical or Aesthetic, Local or Global – but human: human questions, crossing not only the usual disciplinary boundaries, but the great Cartesian boundary between the physical and the spiritual – or as Clausewitz would say, between physical and moral.

It’s far easier to think in terms of men, women and materiel, all of which can be counted, than in terms of morale – which takes the women and men seriously, after all – because morale is far less easily quantified. Indeed, with the exception of Matrix Games, it is far easier to game the physical side of conflict than the human. And yet Clausewitz says,

One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

I suggested above that we need to get out of the Matrioshka-nested boxes of our current thinking, and if I can put that another way, we need to get to the heart of creativity.


From the point of view of pure creativity, as diagnosed by Arthur Koestler in his classic book, The Act of Creation, the aha! or eureka! of the creative breakthrough is in fact a “creative leap” — from one frame of reference to another, as shown in this diagram based on those in his book:


From the point of view of cognitive science, as Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner illustrate and confirm with neuro-scientific precision in their book on “conceptual blending”, The Way We Think, the tide has now turned from a more literal to a more analogical understanding of mental processing, at the most basic levels, and across all disciplines:

We will focus especially on the nature of integration, and we will see it at work as a basic mental operation in language, art, action, planning, reason, choice, judgment, decision, humor, mathematics, science, magic and ritual, and the simplest mental events in everyday life. Because conceptual integration presents so many different appearances in different domains, its unity as a general capacity had been missed. Now, however, the new disposition of cognitive scientists to find connections across fields has revived interest in the basic mental powers underlying dramatically different products in different walks of life.

From the point of view of Marshall McLuhan, writing to the poet Ezra Pound back in the 1940s, the issue is that following the rational enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which brought us today’s scientific and technological breakthroughs but has left us a wasteland in terms of values, threatening our planetary home with our weapons, our eager overpopulation, our fierce tribalisms, and excessive energy requirements, we have lost one central ingredient in human thought: the ability to think analogically rather than logically, in terms of relationships rather than linear causality.

McLuhan wrote, presciently,

The American mind is not even close to being amenable to the ideogram principle as yet. The reason is simply this. America is 100% 18th Century. The 18th century had chucked out the principle of metaphor and analogy.

And computer scientist and Pulitzer prize-winner Douglas Hofstadter has aptly subtitled his book Surfaces and Essences, co-authored with cognitive scientist Emmanuel Sander, “Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking”.

The analogical leap is the leap out of the box.


Thus far I’ve de-emphasized the “Coast Guardness” of my thinking. But let’s view some Coast Guard related issues in light of the above:

Let’s take a simple lateral comparison first – how does the Chinese Coast Guard compare with our own, what are the physical overlaps and differences, strengths and weaknesses, of theirs and ours?

Please note that this question cross-cuts, to a greater or lesser degree, with any and all other questions involving the USCG. It also leaps from ours to theirs, responds to Sun Tzu’s “know your enemy”, works by comparison and contrast, invites us into detail – and is far more easily answered in physical terms than in terms of morale. SIGINT is better at locating ships than at reading the mind and heart.


If ever there was a tangled knot, the US system for allocating budgetary items would be it. Not only do the federal services each have a series of individual pulls and pushes, but the fifty states, their senators and congresspeople do too. And then there’s the lame-duck president and the president soon to be elect. Until November, there’s the two party scramble, with voters on both sides of the aisle drifting to and fro between partisanship, frustration, and independence. And there are undertows and swells of popular emotion influencing these other factors.

The Coast Guard, arriving at its wish list for the next budget, must be single minded as to its objectives, flexible as to its willingness to negotiate – to a point – but balancing its clearly understood urgencies against the shifting tides of political wills in concert and in conflict, in a multi-vectorial tug-o-war, one against many. And there are no doubt similar tussles within the USCG, doctrinal purists and innovators, old hands and new, with their own mixed agendas, their temporary victories and defeats.

Humans, wily at times, straightforward at others, subject to shame and pride – the conceptual landscape within which any particular problem plays out – let alone the interlocking monster of the whole – is inevitably subject to constant change, closer to the paradoxical understanding of Heraclitus that all is flux than to Coast Guard Office of Strategic Analysis doctrine. Hey – it may well be that the Coast Guard would by its nature have understood the threat-nature of the Iranians in Millennium Challenge 2002 as well as Paul Riper, playing red team, did. From USCG to Marines is a difference of silo, but cross-fertilization is the name of the next game, and Defense Readiness (CG 3-0, Operations, 2.2.4) 1., Maritime interception/interdiction operations, is an area of USCG theoretical expertise and practical experience.


In short, the move is from blocked out and simplified complexity to a far more richly complex way of thinking, analogous to an n-dimensional concept space of shifting weights and tensions, of which this water-loaded spider’s web is a pretty good two-dimensional analog:

Spider web covered with dew drops

Imagine each water drop is a player, and that the entire web reconfigures as one drop shifts or is shaken, caroming into another, perhaps stretching one of the strands of the web past breaking point – and all this in an n-dimensional space beyond the capacity of most human minds to cognize, let along predict.

It is this kind of web into which our massive data inflows are directed, and the interface between the data-crunching capacity of our computers and analytic software, and the multiplex capabilities of the keenest human analytic minds – that’s where the “intel” usefully functions. Before it hits that interface is is data. Within a capable mind, or within the web-like tensions and resolutions of our keenest domain expert, analytic, and hopefully decision-making minds, is where the intelligence becomes meaningful.

Incalculable data points, multitudinous conflicting interests, and the human instinct for meaning.

As the US Coast Guard’s European colleagues have been finding out under increasing public scrutiny and with painful intensity, not only are there political and scientific issues to navigate, there can also be strictly humanitarian impacts of the sort that we find occurring in the interdiction of refugee boats making the trip between Turkey and the Greek island of Chios.

All in all, the work of the Coast Guard is a potent brew, and Computer Go pales before its complexity.


On a more personal note..

Do you speak any form of Inuit? Or Athanbaskan? There are in fact 16 indigenous languages with corresponding worldviews in Alaska.

What are caribou to you? Are you fluent in the magical worldview of the shamans? And what, as climate change drastically reshapes native Alaskan living, takes the place of shamanism in the leadership of native populations – in Alaska, an area of special concern to the USCG?

If you are of a scientific bent – and the USCG Academy awards Bachelor of Science degrees, so most who have passed through those gates into the Service probably are – how concerned are you by global warming – and how concerned by comparison with the preservation of Inuit or Athabaskan culture?

The truth is that both go together.

Military and law enforcement agencies are tasked with setting things right in the external world, but the world of the human psyche has its own specialists – psychiatrists no less than spiritual leaders – and while at some level the US Presidency is often considered the pinnacle of human power, there’s also a category of figures we respect for a different kind of authority, one that is earned above all by integrity and generosity of spirit: the names of Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Pope Francis come to mind.

Each of these four figures embodies the practice of contemplation in action – a practice which looks within the self for a compassionate response to adversity. Among the Inuit, and across the circumpolar region more generally, this practice of looking inward for values is the particular task of the shaman – and more recently, the artist.

The Yupik, Inupiaq and Irish artist Susie Silook’s work, Looking Inside Myself, is a recent sculptural presentation of this theme:


Cultural anthropology thus opens us to entire worldviews which are themselves both important to local stakeholders and profoundly illuminating in their own right. Indeed, in these worldviews, the whales, walrus, seals, the ravens and reindeer have voices – a concept largely foreign to western thinking until Mr Justice Douglas gave his dissenting opinion in SIERRA CLUB v. MORTON, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), alerting the nation via the Supreme Court that ecological considerations could no longer be ignored in coming to terms with the world we live in. In the arctic, such considerations have peculiar force, by reason of the extreme nature of the human and natural habitat.

An anthropologist such as Richard Nelson can live in the style that anthropologists term “participant observation” with peoples of very different cultural assumptions than our own for extended periods, and with no other motive than to understand their host cultures — and thus gain both the people’s trust and a depth of insight into their understanding of the world — of which Nelson’s Make Prayers to the Raven, in which he presents an Athabaskan view of the natural world, is a celebrated example. The study of the circumpolar bear cult, as presented by Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders in their The Sacred Paw: the Bear in Nature, Myth and Literature, arguably brings us as close to the archaic origins of religion as human science can bring us.

Somehow, these matters of extreme subtlety must at times be borne in mind while making the split-second decisions so characteristic of both military and law enforcement practice. And the higher the decision-maker in an action-oriented profession, the greater the need for deep understanding. In Napoleon’s own words, we can see that his actions, too, sprang from contemplation:

It is not genius which reveals to me suddenly and secretly what I should do in circumstances unexpected by others; it is thought and meditation.

Thought and meditation are the activities that prepare the mind for what Clausewitz termed the coup d’oeil:

When all is said and done, it really is the commander’s coup d’œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them.

I have emphasized the cultural and contemplative side of things because Clausewitz’ “comprehensive” fashion of thinking demands it. The USCG Arctic Strategy mentions cultural matters only very briefly, giving far more weight to ecological considerations – which while complex in their own right, and sadly contested in the case of global warming, are far easier for a contemporary western, scientifically-trained mind to comprehend than the diverse human value systems of other cultures.

Indeed, from an Alaskan native perspective, climate change and the tradition values of the peoples are tightly coupled at the leadership level. From a native perspective, there is a need for a new kind of leadership, one that replaces traditional shamanism, well-adapted to earlier conditions but now lost, with an exacting blend of traditional and modern forms of knowledge. As Steven Becker puts it in “A Changing Sense of Place: Climate and Native Well Being”, in face of an uncertain future, “agile and adaptive leaders” are required, who “can meet the physical, economic, and sociocultural challenges resulting from climate change.”

These leaders need to be well versed in western science and management, but they must also be thoroughly grounded in their Native language, culture, and traditions (Kawagley 2008). They must see the value in both Native and western science, see the complementary uses of the two, and use both methods appropriately as the basis of true adaptive management (Tano 2006).

I have emphasized this “new shamanic leadership” issue, not because interactions with native leaders will occupy more USGC time and attention than air-sea rescues or other highly visible, courageous and newsworthy exploits but precisely because they are subtle, not likely to capture headlines, and thus easily overlooked – and also because they touch on my own personal interests.

But not only are these “agile leaders” (or “new shamans” as I prefer to think of them) leaders with whom forward-thinking Alaska-based USCG members may on occasion fruitfully collaborate, but because they are also emblematic of leadership in general, embodying both the best of scientific and technological “hands on” know-how with the finest human and ecological values.

In this, they represent the way forward, not just for the Coast Guard or Alaska, but for contemporary civilization in a world of rapid, complex, often dangerous, and ultimately transformative change.


Well, whaddaya think, eh?

On the topology of dreams

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a poem that’s far too philosophical to work as poetry, Laramée’s Apparatus, and Alyce Santoro’s philosoprops ]

The logic of poetry is, más o menos, dream logic, and so I’ve been pondering the logic of dreams and recently wrote this not terribly poetic poem:

The egg at the conjuror’s table

There is a topology of dreams.
Out beyond Riemann and names I have yet to learn,
there are configurations of space:
past Boole, dreams have their logics.


Take an egg.
With a tap of the wand, crack it open,
let it fall apart so precisely
the two half-shells could again fit together,
ovoid, seamlessly,
almost an egg.
Catch white and yolk in a glass.
Toss up and catch the half shell in your left hand
holding the right steady,
bring them together, there’s a fit,
a logic to it, a topology, one
to one, across many thousands of facets
of fragile, broken shell.
Break another egg so preciely
the left half of ts shell would match exactly
the right half of the first,
bring them together,
the fit is exact by definition,
brown shell with speckled,
but there is loss of logic, the thing is surreal,
an egg not an egg at all.
Holding the half-shell in your right hand
face upwards, pour into it
yolk and white of the same egg,
the heart of the egg filling its own shell,
the fit ovoid, but better:
the original yolk united with its familiar shell.
Cover shell and all with a handkerchief,
red, green, blue,
whisk it away, and the egg vanishes —
or appears, whole.


There are logics, topologies,
affinities beyond the exact match
of shell and shell,
and so between times, places,
people in dreams –
the half hovel, half cathedral
with its walkways among lily ponds, the koi,
dusk in one century dawn in another,
her youth your old age your youth again, time
cracked open so precisely,
its yolk, meaning,
its moments an exact match across centuries,
its half-shell a perch for Venus,
its wholeness Fabergé,
its yolk, tempera mixed by Giotto,
meaning, tempera, Assisi,
gesso, the chalk cliffs of Dover, the sea..
There is a harmony of the whole,
of the broken unbroken,
named yet unnameable, unspeakable,
there is a logic.
there is a topology of the sundries of dreams,
a mathematics to this matching
of thou with i,
of words, asleep, awake, of dusk to dawn, with all.

Recognising that it belongs in a category she might call philosopoetry, I sent it to my friend, the artist Alyce Santoro, author of the remarkable Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide>


I’m a lucky fellow.

Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I ran across this quote from Walter Bejamin:

I had suffered very much from the din in my room. Last night the dream retained this. I found myself in front of a map and, at the same time, in the landscape which was depicted on it. The landscape was incredibly gloomy and bleak, and it wasn’t possible to say whether its desolation was merely a craggy wasteland or empty grey ground populated only by capital letters. These letters drifted curvily on their base, just as if they were following the mountain range; the words formed from these letters were more or less remote from each other. I knew, or came to know, that I was in the labyrinth of the ear canal. The map was at the same time a map of hell.

There’s something darkly Borgesian about that quote, eh? But it certainly illuminates dream topology, and even moreso, the topology of the relationship of dream to waking, itself worth comparing with the relationship of map to territory, word to referent, and indeed moon to finger with which Count Korzybski, Lao Tzu, and the Zen poets are each so notably concerned.


Tunneling on through, I find myself contemplating one of Alyce’s inspirations — Eve Andrée Laramée’s Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, shown in Mass MoCA‘s 2000-2001 exhibition Unnatural Science, from 2000 – 2001:


A detail from that work illustrates the etching of certain phrases into the glass — in this case, the words polysemy and misconception:

7. Eve Andree Laramee_polysemy-misconception

The display is characterized in this piece from Art & Science Jounral:

Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions by American artist Eve Andrée Laramée consists of an array of tall metal stands, clamps, PVC tubings, glass beakers, flasks and vials. Although much of the equipment looks standard from afar, the installation is a dysfunctional and mythological sort of laboratory that highlights the inherent but often unnoticed subjectivity in scientific inquiry. [ .. ]

In this fantastical and visually dazzling Apparatus, many of the glassware are hand-blown with various cloudy or luminous turquoise solutions and copper wires attached to large exotic flowers contributing to the spectacle of a giant chemistry experiment gone amok.

Upon close inspection, a second level of complexity is revealed by the seemingly unscientific words and phrases such as “HANDFULS”, “LEAP IN THE DARK” and “UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES” delicately etched into the glass, exposing a sense of insecurity and imprecision behind the process of science.


My Egg at the conjuror’s table is really more a philosoprop, to use Alyce’s coinage, than what many expect a poem to be, and likewise Laramée’s Apparatus more a philosoprop than what many expect an artwork to be.


The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog.

Let’s talk..

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