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Zen in the Art of Future Warfare

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a highly interesting discussion, discussed ]

How to Write and Fight World War III:

This is the video of a terrific discussion of the future of warfare — peacemaking, too, if you see them as two sides of a coin — from the Art of Future Warfare project, to which I have contributed [two stories, 1, 2, a video appearance, 3, and even a DoubleQuotes reference 4]


I want to select certain phrases from the discussion above, and comment on them.

It’s a work of fiction, not prediction.

The thing is, a work isn’t just what its creators intend it to be, it can also be whatever its readers make of it. It’s my impression that the Hebrew prophets were not predicting so much as warning — that’s a distinction Wallace Black Elk made a point of mentioning when he was waxing prophetic — but todays “prophecy teachers” all too often read prophecy as a statement of future fact rather than as a warning of a dangerous path to be avoided.

So we’re dealing with this incredibly complex world – how do we grapple with it? How do we think about these problems?

There’s a class of answers to this question, ranging from complex mathematical models, sims and games to stocks and flows diagrams to Dialogue Mapping and my own HipBone Games. Most if not all of the items in this class are graph-based (node and link) networks.

My own vector is away from high tech and “big” data, towards “rich” data and human-sized graphs — ie graphs with few enough nodes that the human mind can fairly easily envision them, and nodes and links rich enough in anecdotal, visual, statistical, aphoristic, quotatiuonal and other forms of data to elicit full-spectrum human responses, emotional, cultural, mental, heart and mind in conjunction.

we hunger for creativity and intellectual agility in our national security leaders, and our military leaders

The usual routes to leadership significantly fail to provide such agility, although occasional good apples to manage to survive among the rotten throng.. That’s why it takes so long to go from John Boyd being a voice in the wilderness to his being lauded by SecDef.

how do we actually cultivate that kind of thinking, that creative, lateral thinking?

Again, my own practice draws explicitly on Arthur Koestler‘s insight that it is at the intersection of “planes of thought” — silos, anyone? — that creative insights arise.

My games accordingly, simply and elegantly make all moves consist, at some level, of such intersections. The HipBone move is a conceptual leap, regular practice of HipBone Games is the most focused way to train the mind in creative leaping, on or off the gameboard, in play or in life.

fiction, literature and the arts are a critical and often overlooked vehicle for exactly that

I fully agree, and indeed it turns out that the style of “creative leaping” I am talking about is richly found within the complex weavings of the arts — and indeed, my games were directly inspired by a Nobel-winning novel by Hermann Hesse.

I lack the competence to build a web-playable version myself, but a museum-oriented adaptation of my game ideas by Cath Styles can be played on iPads in the Australian National Museum, and its web implementation, also focused on visual artefacts rather than concepts, can serve as a proof of concept for the wider uses I envision — intelligence analysis included.

Paul Callaghan, a writer, game developer, and university lecturer who has played Cath’s Sembl game commented:

Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

That’s very precisely what any HipBone derived game aims to do, and if we want creative leadership, getting the HipBone Games up and running online and using them in analytic and decision-making training would be a pretty useful step to take.

it was basically this Army / Marine Corps answer to a zen koan, right


a theological and religious scholar

It may seem strange to find zen buddhism, theology, and religious scholarship mentioned in a discussion on the future of warfare, but they’re areas of the human conceptual spectrum with a great deal to teach us about insight. And fwiw, I read Theology at Oxford, and have recently been “sitting zen” with koans after a brief but brilliant afternoon with the zen roshi John Tarrant.

Playing a HipBone move and “solving” (resolving, dissolving?) a zen koan have a great deal in common. Haiku, likkewise.

But that’s enough for one post.


Here are the selections I’ve been responding too, at greater length:

Peter W Singer

We have been very clear. It’s a work of fiction, not prediction. That’s the opening line of it. It is based on real world trends and technologies, but it is not a prediction – but hopefully it can be something that maybe ends up being preventative, by identifying certain issues, trends, even mistakes we are making right now, it helps us to avoid those from happening so that the scenario actually doesn’t come to pass. ..

Kathleen McInnis:

We’re grappling with an increasingly complex and interdependent world: globalization, climate change, urbanization, population migration, resource scarcity, all of these are trends that are intersecting with the re-emergence of geopolitics on the one hand, and the erosion of what we’ve known as the sovereign state on the other. So we’re dealing with this incredibly complex world – how do we grapple with it? How do we think about these problems? How do we advance US and global security in a world plagued by wicked problems and unintended consequences?

As Dan mentioned earlier, we hunger for creativity and intellectual agility in our national security leaders, and our military leaders—but how do we actually cultivate that kind of thinking, that creative, lateral thinking? And crucially, how do we communicate how we are thinking about these problems and what we think we should be doing about them – how do we communicate that to our public in a way that resonates.

And I submit to you that fiction, literature and the arts are a critical and often overlooked vehicle for exactly that, the creative contemplation of matters of statecraft and national security.

One of the interesting things about that manual [Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency] was that it actually proposed these intellectual puzzles, these constructs, like, “the more you secure your environment, the less safe you can be” – when you’re operating in a local tactical environment. Instead of having a tactical check-list of, you know, this is what we need to do in these particular operations and this is the logic flow for how you do x, y or z in these environments, it was basically this Army / Marine Corps answer to a zen koan, right – like how does this non-logical, really intuitive way to creatively grapple …

This is no accident. The point of a zen koan is to inspire a deeper, non-logical level of contemplation. But we haven’t always used koans to access that part of our psyches, and that way of thinking about things.

Karen Armstrong, who is a theological and religious scholar, who wrote a book that I just love, it’s called A Short History of Myth – she argues that ever since we were cavemen, sitting round camp fires, we have been using stories and myths as ways to communicate truths to each other, ways to communicate meaning. Myths were not an expression of religious beliefs per se, rather they were an imaginative, non-logical way to understand who we are and how we fit in the world. ..

And then you get to the ancient Greeks, who had two very different, equally important ways of looking at the world, Mythos and Logos.

WTG, Kathleen!


Possible koans from the COIN Manual, p 1.27:

  • Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be
  • Sometimes, the More Force Is Used, the Less Effective It Is
  • BTW, flags

    Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — along the lines of yoga chitta vritti nirodha ]

    Obviously. I am going to be interested in the DoubleQuote in the Wild juxtaposition to two flags in a political cartoon commentary on last week’s events in the US, but I still find it very hard to decide whether the appropriate DoubleQuote to embed it in is this:

    SPEC DQ flags 2

    where the “ISIS flag” is in fact a satirical play on the IS flag with silhouetted sex-toys in place of the calligraphy…

    Or this — well, actually, no contest, this one gets my vote by a zen mile!

    SPEC DQ flags 1

    Because, well..

    SPEC DQ flags 3

    I guess that’s my analytic bottom line, right there in Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutras.



  • This week in flags #lovewins
  • CNN Claimed to Spot an ISIS Flag at a Gay Pride March. It Was Actually a Drawing of Sex Toys
  • Not the wind, not the flag
  • Yoga Sutras: ‘Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah’: ‘Yoga is the Cessation of Modifications of Mind’
  • Guest posting at 3 Quarks Daily [et al]

    Monday, June 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — two guest posts posted, a forthcoming book chapter written, and more to come ]

    I very much enjoy 3 Quarks Daily, it’s my aggregator of choice, and so I was particularly delighted and honored when my friend Bill Benzon of New Savanna invited me to guest blog on his monthly 3QD spot today, with the very recent papal encyclical about climate change as my topic: Pontifex as Bridge Builder: the Encyclical Laudato Si’

    Here’s a sample:

    I propose that in his recent encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis is exercising his function as Supreme Pontiff, or @pontifex as he calls himself on Twitter – a pontifex being literally a bridge builder. It is my contention that in his encyclical he bridges a number of divides, between Catholic and Orthodox, sacramental and social, liberal and conservative, religious and scientific, even Christian and Muslim, traditional and of the fast advancing moment, in a manner which will impact our world in ways yet unforeseen.

    It is my contention, also, that his pontificate provides the third step in a momentous journey.

    The first step, as I see it, was taken by Christ himself in the Beatitudes – blessed are the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers – and in his doctrine of forgiveness, not once only but a myriad of times. The second was taken by Francis of Assisi, in his Canticle of Creatures – praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, through Sister Moon and the stars, praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.. blessed those who endure in peace.. – and in his crossing the front lines of war during the crusades to greet in peace the Sultan Malik Al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt. And in taking the name Francis, in washing and kissing on Maundy Thursday the feet of both male and female, Christian and Muslim juvenile offenders in prison, and in issuing this encyclical, I would suggest Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is taking the third step.

    The line, the transmission, is of sheer humility. It begins with the Founder of the line, Christ himself, lapses, which all high inspirations must as routine replaces charisma, only to emerge brilliantly a millennium later in the saintly maverick, Francis, lapses again though still fermenting in the imagination of church and humankind, and now at last shows itself once more, in that most unexpected of places: in the heart of the bureaucracy, at the head of the hierarchy, atop the curia, simple, idealistic, practical – a pontifex building bridges.

    And in all this, there is lyricism.

    It is characteristic of St Francis that he is lyrical …

    Read the rest here.

    As noted in that piece, I’d also addressed the encyclical in a guest blog on LapidoMedia, where I’m temporarily the web-editor — Poetry, controversy and praise in Pope Francis’ Encyclical. There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two posts, but they are also complementary.


    Speaking of complementarity, I just completed a 6,000 word essay for a forthcoming volume edited by Robert Bunker, to which Mark “Zenpundit” Safranski has also contributed a chapter. My piece is titled The Dark Sacred — watch this space!

    And Dr Edwin Bakker, whose fine Coursera course on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism I have been a CT for, held a Google Hangout today, in part to celebrate his new book. I managed to sneak in or a few minutes despite my computer woes, and if interested, you can find us here:

    QBism, not Qutbism, and Joshu’s Dog — or Schrödinger’s Cat?

    Friday, June 5th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Quantum Bayesianism, that is ]

    SPEC DQ QBism Joshu

    No, really.



  • John Tarrant, The Great Koan, Your Dog
  • Christopher Fuchs, A Private View of Quantum Reality
  • War Games

    Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — not a FIFA joke ]

    via ElMostaque


    I’ve no idea of whether this was photoshopped, staged, screencapped, or simply a brilliant photo, but it’s war fun and games any way you look at it.

    A visual koan.

    The image is several years old, but I just saw it today via @EMostaque.

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