Saturday, June 30, 2012

Unzooing Ego

A book review and further development of the Unzoo concept.

The sub-text for my Unzoo blog header, taken from Desmond Morris is: "If he is given the chance he may yet contrive to turn his human zoo into a magnificent game-park. If he is not, it may proliferate into a gigantic lunatic asylum"...with "Ego", I am not convinced we will avoid the asylum.

The promise of Ego is what drew me to it initially; as shown by this video and the following paragraphs.

Ego - applying the principles of evolution to contemporary human life, through the lens of 9/11. The authors argue that the sense of self (the ego) that we hold so dear is a relic of our evolution, and that by understanding how our Stone Age brains work in an increasingly more complex world, we can perhaps improve all human existence.

That sounded pretty Unzoo, and looked pretty Unzoo, but then I read the book and found the devil is in the detail. The main benefit of reading Ego was it helped me to refine my thinking on Unzoo. Otherwise it was a thought provoking read that was held back by some key flaws (just my opinion, but hey, it's my blog right?).

The most powerful part of the book may be the heavily relied on quote from Einsten;

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us "universe,"a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something seperated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
It's a great quote, but the book doesn't seem to capture it entirely. The keys are compassion and a wider acceptance and understanding of nature. Even though "Ego" stems from evolutionary psychology, somehow it misses fully integrating the evolutionary context into its premise. Unzoo is exactly about this, whereas Ego has a completely different assumption base.

Ego accepts our present condition as the result of our ongoing evolution,  and sees our "stone age" biology as a yoke holding us back in the modern world. Out of date and out of tune. Hmm, not the angle I would take. Unzoo is about factoring in our evolutionary context harmoniously with our modern world, to futher evolve. But let's not just accept that the modern world is the bees knees please.

Even though the authors sound wise and have reviewed some powerful material, their own inherent biases are evident in their writing, and sadly thwart them from achieving a more exciting conclusion. I think they paint a too rosy a picture of the evolution of humankind,and have strong American based values that restrict a more universal perspective.

Facebook and the internet are hailed as key technological evolutions that feed the next stage of human cognitive development; "Conscious Awareness". The book contains two charts that illustrate firstly the phase model of development, and then how that looks for Human Evolution.

 Conscious Awareness takes us beyond the realms of ego to a new "enlightened" state. The authors seem to trust the forces of evolution will take humanity into this next phase, despite a key point made by them that natural evolution may have been replaced by artificial selection, primarily as a result of the huge growth in technological sophistication (but also increased complexity in the other two key variables; social and the brain). My concern is that their idea of evolution, if correct, is divorced from nature and may not be subject to the same historical trends and laws of natural evolution. Maybe it's not going to be so great after all? Maybe something needs to be done?

However, Ego offers no plan or tools, not even a clear vision really. The use of 9/11 as a filter for the concepts seems a gimic to me and almost gets in the way of the real purpose of the book. Yet there are moments of brilliance. This quote from them for example;
Sometimes a fish can become aware of the water in which it swims.
That was beginning to resonate with me, as did their token hat-tip to "mindfulness" and a bold statement that "As a species we will be increasingly aware of what is conducive for humans to flourish"..."the enlightenment revolution  may usher in an era of reintegration of body and mind".

Sadly they seem to have left nature out of the equation. Indeed,  they make a mention of it, but dismiss it mostly as "little evolutionary hacks" that may not make that much difference. Think again buddies. I will do a seperate post on the significance of Biophilia and the role it plays in Unzoo soon, but for now just hang onto the fact that we need nature. And maybe it should be the basis for significant change, rather than "tweaks" or "hacks".

Another nice quote; "Our physiology has not yet caught up with our sociology". So true, but there are different ways to react to this. Ego takes the position that we need to "get over it" and move onto the next level of evolution. Ouch. That approach seems full of bugs. Maybe we need to change our sociology as well? Overall I find the picture of the future painted by Ego a little sterile. We end up detached from our more primal mental activity and become a race of "Spocks" like the Vulcans from Star Trek, worker ants moving as a collective whole.  Science is the new religion, indeed religion is a "relic from the evolutionary past", and individualism fades to grey. And yet there is no mention of all the kinds of issues we face as technology outstrips our natural development and threatens to implode.

From an Unzoo perspective, we need nature in the equation, and the evolutionary context should be a key variable in evaluating  the human condition. If we do this, we may still end up at the same goal Ego has in mind, but it may be by a different path, and perhaps the goal will be richer. Maybe instead of Conscious Awareness, we might reach  another stage of "Organismic Consciousness" (yes, I made that up) that integrates subconscious and conscious thought processes, and retains individualism within a universal experience?   And instead of relying on a perhaps corrupted evolutionary process to generate an enlightment revolution, we should take the reins and become the architects of our evolution.

Anyway,  that was the book review for "Ego". I hope I didn't get the wrong end of the stick. It certainly made me think, and I value that, and the ideas it exposed me to.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Emperor and the Nightingale - just a fairy tale?

"You can understand and relate to most people better if you look at them -- no matter how old or impressive they may be -- as if they are children. For most of us never really grow up or mature all that much -- we simply grow taller. O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales."
Leo Rosten

The Emperor and the Nightingale
I was reading a fairytale to my youngest daughter the other night, and Unzoo theme's started popping out at me. The overall mantra of Unzoo is "go back to move forward", and the evolutionary context is the primary vehicle for this. However the principle is also manifested in other ways, such as with MovNat's call to watch how children move; they move naturally without the corrupted zoo influence we see in adults. Looking at children's natural movement is a way of looking back to how it should be done, so we can learn from it and move forward into natural movement for ourselves. The same theme popped out at me reading the fairytale; in this case "go back to move forward" means read the old stories and you will find the truth hidden in them for you to see and learn from. And here is what the story of "The Emperor and the Nightingale" has to say...
(bits sourced from Wikipedia...italics are me)
"The Nightingale"is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about an emperor who prefers the tinkling of a bejeweled mechanical bird to the song of a real nightingale. When the Emperor is near death, the nightingale's song restores his health.

The Emperor of China learns that one of the most beautiful things in his empire is the song of the nightingale. When he orders the nightingale brought to him, a kitchen maid (the only one at court who knows of its whereabouts) leads the court to a nearby forest where the bird is found. The nightingale agrees to appear at court. The Emperor is so delighted with the bird's song that he keeps the nightingale in captivity.(the process of “taming nature”)  When the Emperor is given a bejeweled mechanical bird he loses interest in the real nightingale, who returns to the forest (nature is forgotten, technology takes over). The mechanical bird eventually breaks down due to overuse. The Emperor is taken deathly ill a few years later. (technology fails, human health fails) The real nightingale learns of the Emperor's condition and returns to the palace. Death is so moved by the nightingale's song that he departs and the emperor recovers. The nightingale agrees to sing to the emperor of all the happenings in the empire, that he will be known as the wisest emperor ever to live. ( nature returns to humans, heals and enlightens. This is the Unzoo process, although unlike the story I don't rule out the possiblity of a duet between real and mechanical birds).
Then my searching took me into the rabbit hole and I found a host of related material relating to "real" vs. "mechanical/artificial" that roped in stories about Frankenstein and other horrors. Too scary for bed time stories...

The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines (New Haven: Yale UP, 1993)

I could have chosen innumerable other examples, for tales of the automata are legion. Those I have chosen, however, are classic examples (Asimov's are currently becoming so) and illustrate different aspects of the human encounter with the mechanical "other." Andersen's tale hinges on clockwork mechanisms; Shelley's Frankenstein-perhaps the dominant Western metaphor for the fourth discontinuity, straddling both biological and mechanical fears-holds an importance which is self-evident and thus deserves extended treatment; Baum's Oz stories, which obsessively reflect a childlike curiosity about "life," are hardly as innocent as they appear; Capek's R.U.R. gives birth to the term "robot," and voices the fear of robots taking over-a fear echoed today in countless films about menacing androids; and Asimov's varied cast of robots allows us to explore many of the intellectual dimensions of the predicted coming of a robotic age.

In Andersen's telling, the tale has a poignancy and meaning that cannot be conveyed in a prĂ©cis. Examined closely, the short story also takes on unexpected ambiguities. The compelling note is the constant comparison between human-made and "natural" things: at the beginning, the croaking of frogs is mistaken for church bells by the courtiers, the nightingale's song for glass bells. The artificial bird and the real nightingale cannot sing well together, "for the real Nightingale sang in its own way, and the artificial bird sang waltzes." At first, the palm seems to go to the mechanical contrivance for "three-and-thirty times over did it sing the same piece, and yet was not tired." Praising it, the artificer explains how "with a real nightingale one can never calculate what is coming, but in this artificial bird everything is settled."
In fact, the artificial bird is neither untiring nor settled. It breaks down, and cannot be repaired. In contrast, the nightingale goes on living, as if for eternity. Thus, the qualities normally assigned to animate (living) objects and inanimate (non living) objects are reversed: it is the animate that endures.
Whew! So what do we get from all this? For now just this; the balance between nature and technology has always been a source of tension for us humans; we create the technology but it threatens to consume us. This is the Zoo Human Syndrome. The theme is rich in history, and never more significant than in our present and future. The Unzoo position of "go back to move forward" accepts the evolutionary context as the key vehicle for integrating nature with our tools/technology, as opposed to technology being used by humans to dominate nature. Remove the tension, then move forward.

And fairytales, and other stories, are not just for kids, just as natural movement is not just for kids either!

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

Albert Einstein
Attributed, but unsourced.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Is Paleo Unzoo?

The Paleo movement is growing in popularity at an exponential rate across the world. It's not as big as say, "weight watchers" by any means but it has left vegetarians and vegans behind. Check out the Google search trends:

Paleo (blue line) versus vegetarian and vegan search volume

 There are many definitions of what Paleo is, but I like John Durant's version on which has this simple diagram:
The basic Paleo model

So is Paleo Unzoo? No. This is Unzoo:

The Unzoo process is a "reset" button for continued evolution. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dealing With Fear - DC Gets Unscared!

A few weeks ago I posted on the "DC Challenge" dc-challenge-skill-session-in-progress and now here is the "he did it" post to celebrate!

What started out as a skill session ended up as more of a multi-disciplinary journey where we employed several approaches to get to the end goal. First I tried the "gung ho" approach, which involved the boot camp yelling, total immersion into the deep end method - which failed. It turns out we were dealing with more than just a skill session, we were dealing with fear (of heights in this case). Fear, as they said in the book "Dune", is the mind killer. It didn't matter what I said, fear was blocking DC from being able to overcome this obstacle.

So it was time to break out the psychology 101 stuff. We went  with two key approaches that I thought would work; systematic desensitisation, and mindfulness. For systematic desensitisation we scaled back the climbing to more achievable tasks that built confidence, and then progressed to literally "higher" levels. That took care of skill development and helped get the mind used to dealing with heights such as with the tree climbing session we did in the dark, on wet, slippery branches.

Negative self talk generates a downward spiral of performance inhibiting fear, and the best medicine for that is mindfulness. DC was ready for this, he got himself into a bit of meditation practice, and I emphasised focusing on the task at hand, as opposed to listening to the chattering monkeys in your head. (Such as; I can't do this, I am not strong enough, I need a rope, it's too far from the wall, I am too short, whatever...)

Then this week it was time to beat the fear, and knock the bugger off. We started with a light warm up to prepare - here is DC coming down from a warm up climb...dark and cold!

DC in the early morning up a tree in the dark, getting ready to face his fear.
From there we headed on to the cliff side where the climbing challenge was. We hiked with no talking, just to get a bit of moving meditation in before the climb. The first attempt showed the progress he had made; no negative self talk, just focus. There was a sticking point still, but this was OK now because the fear had been pushed back and DC could relax and "work it out". Which he did. Bloody brilliant! 

Here's his second go at it, silent and fast; good stuff. It took about 1 minute compared to nearly 45 minutes of fear previously.

Now we can get on with doing more stuff! Other challenges to come; a long high jump, some awkward climbing, getting a heavy rock overhead, and maybe catch a rabbit by hand!..then string it all together for another Bear Grylls "Man vs Wild" session!