February 2016 Archives

Special Glasses Are Not Needed for Virtual Reality

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context matters

The idea of a virtual reality is a pretty hot topic these days. Googling for “virtual reality glasses” brings up about 100,000 hits. Google and Facebook have invested over $2 billion in acquiring part or all of a couple of leaders in the VR business. But why on Earth would anyone want to spend money to land in a virtual reality when we already exist in one. Our modern culture has created a reality that departs from whatever the real world is like. We live in that virtual world everyday, but have been lulled into thinking it much more precise than it is. The result is that we make a lot of mistakes as we go about our business, some of which are posing large threats to our continued existence.

The very idea of an objective world with fixed features and functions is a myth, created by the new scientists of the Enlightenment, but it is a very powerful myth, as Einstein noted: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” I never quite appreciated the power of Einstein’s aphorism until recently when I started thinking a lot about meaning and its centrality to human existence. Objectivity permits us to perform mental magic by removing the spatial and temporal context in which objects exist, thus endowing them with a timelessness and context-free set of rule-based functions.

It turned out that this was a wonderful new story when first invented. We learned all sorts of things about parts of the world around us and put that knowledge to work in the form of technology and rational rules for managing the newly found objects. The arbitrary rules that had come from religious dogma faded into the background. We were free at last! Most of the rules refer to inanimate objects, but similar rules were applied to human beings since we were considered to be objects like everything else, except that we also had a mind that could apprehend the objects and their rules.

Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher and scientist, rephrased Einstein’s quote in terms of what he called, “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” He was referring to the common mistake when one takes an abstract belief, concept describing some worldly thing, or opinion to stand for a “concrete” reality. His words were, “There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete.” His argument, similar to Einstein’s special relativity theory was,

[…] among the primary elements of nature as apprehended in our immediate experience, there is no element whatever which possesses this character of simple location. [… Instead,] I hold that by a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply located bits of material, and at other abstractions which are the minds included in the scientific scheme. Accordingly, the real error is an example of what I have termed: The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

I put this abstruse quote in to emphasize a point I have been making in several of my recent posts. Whitehead is saying in his convoluted way that context is important to the way the world works. No object can be described without reference to the world it is embedded in. Another way to think about this is that the menu is not the meal. The menu is an example of virtual reality. We use it to imagine what the various choices will taste like, but, as all of you know, we then suffer from the fallacy of misplaced concreteness when the waitperson brings the food to the table.

There is no avoiding this result whenever we act on the basis of abstract, decontextualized knowledge. We cannot avoid using such knowledge because we cannot stop every time we are about to act and try to add the missing context back. We account for it by qualifying our actions as having some probability of matching our intentions, but we are unconscious about it. The new “virtual reality” business will reinforce our blindness by reinforcing the belief that present everyday experiences constitute reality, as contrasted to what we perceive through our Oculus goggles as virtual.

Most of the time we accept the outcomes and move on, but some of the errors accumulate and become problems on their own account. Inequality is one of those. Virtually every action in the economy fails in some way to meet the perfect market model that is used to analyze and manage it. Over time the errors become visible as some new problem. The same is true for well-being, a critical measure of how the political economy is doing. The use of indices of wealth or material assets cannot reflect one’s real life as they lack the context of that life.

Our society has stagnated in many ways. The economist Robert Gordon has just written a book that argues that the economic boom that extended from 1920 to 1970 is not to be repeated. The Republican candidates seeking the nomination for President shout that we have lost our way. Inequality is increasing. Our infrastructure is rotting. Part of this situation is the result of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Our models tell only partial truths about the real world in which we exist as individuals and as a cultural mass.

Fixing the glitches as they show up will not work. We cannot move forward as long as we live in this virtual reality. We must replace it with a vision of the world that comes closer to how it really works. For many others, and me this is the easy part. The better model for the world is that of complexity, which does a better job of representing its highly interconnected, non-linear nature. This can be done in an instant by merely switching the beliefs we hold. The hard part is to follow with the re-design of the present, modernist cultural structure that has been erected on old, reductionist foundations.

We cannot fully represent the world; it is far too complex to be reduced to models we can fit into our individual cognitive machinery or even the largest supercomputer, but we can do much better than our present reductionist methods permit. We can start by putting context back into the processes both individuals and collectives use to determine what we will do next. This means we must use methods of observation and inquiry that capture both the things we focus upon and their spatial, temporal situatedness. This means we need to stay connected long enough to begin to understand temporal behavior. Such is the essence of pragmatism, as I have written quite a bit. Pragmatic inquiries require a team of concerned people, each of which will bring a different lens and, thus, expose more of the context than an individual or group of single-minded individuals could. Groupthink is quite the opposite from the reflective processes of pragmatism.

To those who might find the pragmatic way interesting and promising, but wonder if it can be translated into everyday practices, I point out the example of the Toyota Production System, now emulated by many of the world’s leading companies. The TPS uses teams, equipped with practical tools to facilitate patient observation of systems that have broken down. They come to understand “root” causes, that is, parts of the system that may not be visible in the immediate space of the factory floor. The key to this method and others like it is the capturing of context and subsequent transforming it to practical understanding. Complexity will not permit this understanding to be reduced to simple rules, but what counts is the results, anyway. Additional examples can be found in the field of organizational learning.

Among my recent blog posts are several that deal with individual relationships. The same process requirements apply to individuals as to groups. The key to finding effective ways to co-exist with others is through patient, reflective observation and inquiry. The purpose is the same: to add context to the superficial appearance of one’s present surroundings. Some of the methods used in the TPS and similar processes involve nested questions. If one asks why a number of times in succession, the chances of alighting on a helpful piece of the context grow. Such inquiry can work for individuals as well as groups. The key here is to draw on what you have observed, not attempt to find some abstract theory to explain it.

Please note that what I write here is applicable to just about every persistent problem we face together or in our individual lives. I have wandered into this thinking in my quest to find ways to create flourishing, but it is much more general than that. Flourishing, itself, is the result of thinking about complexity. By definition, any measure of well-being is a kind of value. Our place on the scale shows where we are at some moment. We use a particular kind of conventional value today. There may be a name for these, but I am unaware of it, so I will coin my own label. I will call such values as GNP or wealth as derivative values. There always is some model or set of reductionist assumptions behind them. Being able to quantify any measure implies that some factors are included and some are not, that is, these values have been plucked out of context.

Flourishing is different from this kind of measure. It is technically an emergent property of a complex system. It is present or not depending on how the system is operating. It can come and go. It is qualitative and subject to whatever criteria the assessor(s) are using. It is tied to one’s existential state of being and so is an important way to discuss how well life is going. It involves both one’s biological and cultural context. It is a proxy for the interconnected tapestry of meaningful aspects of one’s life. It is imperfect, but much closer to reality that any abstract or decontextualized index.

I hope, at this point, you are thinking about reality, if even a little bit, and, beginning to accept the artificial or virtual nature of modern life. It is not that such a reality is good or bad; it simply is not how the “real’ world is. That fact matters to us as human beings. We are complex ourselves and exist in meaningful interactions with the real, complex world. When meaning fades, so does our human Being; we become mere parts of the world, acting in ignorance of our place in it. We have accepted that fact for hundreds of years, even calling it progress. Time to wake-up and regain the wonder of human Being. It was present to those that invented language at a time it represented encounters with that real world. We have all had moments when we would respond positively to the question, “Are you flourishing?” All it will take to start to extend those moments is to begin thinking about reality in the way I have been talking about and carry that way of thinking into your everyday lives. “Just say No” to the same old, same old way of thinking. Don’t expect instantaneous results, but look for small changes in your close relationships at home, at work, and everywhere else. See if those persistent problems start to disappear. When we add context back to our practical thinking, we begin to apprehend the real world that is our home and the source of meaning that is so central to our species.

A Postscript to the Previous Post

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Tom Friedman raised a number of questions about the power of the social media in a recent op-ed column. Writing about a conversation he had with Wael Ghonim, who played a very important role in the Egyptian revolt. Friedman began with this question, “Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?” And then answered it.

Recently, an important voice answered this question with a big “ yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

I recently noted Sherry Turkle’s negative response to the widespread use of mobile devices. She found, in her research, that such use diminished the capability of young people to hold meaningful conversations. The Friedman column makes the same point, but in a far different, but important setting. Ghonim, now working in the US, provides a number of reasons that the social media failed in coalescing the aroused people into a politically viable mass. The fifth item in his analysis is remarkable similar to Turkle’s view. Here is his response to Friedman’s question.

“First, we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.” Second, “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else. Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.

“And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet.”

Fifth, and most crucial, he said, “today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

Technology interposes itself between people when it is being used. Communication devices, by their nature, interfere with the ability of the parties to be fully present, thereby excluding context and the development of meaningful relationships. Exactly what Ghonim observed.

In Memoriam

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I note the passing of Nigel Roome, one of the pioneers in the business and environment academic world. Many fond memories. Here is a link.

Context Is the Key to Flourishing

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Today, another long and complicated entry, but, for me, one in which many disparate ideas that have made my writing difficult seem to be coming together. I am beginning to see an orderly, explicable development of the ideas central to understanding flourishing, its critical importance, and its absence from today’s modern world.

context-matters

I note the subject of context has started to appear with some regularity in this blog. And rightly so. It is a subject that is not directly addressed in my books, but should be. Our modern institutions are build on a foundation of acontextual or decontextualized knowledge; a huge inter-meshed set of data, formula, and rules that has been created and accumulated by taking some object or collection of objects out of its worldly context and applying the methods of science to discover these law-like “relationships.” I put relationships in quotes because I want to distinguish its use as the way we typically characterize cause and effect among these objectified objects from the kind of meaningful relationships we develop in the course of living within the experiential context of the world.

The single-most defining characteristic of our species is consciousness. Other species are aware of and react to the outside world, but are not conscious of it. Consciousness is our ability to focus on portions of the external phenomenal world and ascribe meaning to it. Meaning shows up in the stories we tell to express that consciousness. Meaning is expressed through language and always is contextual. The same objects that produce a particular story in one context may (and usually do) have a different story within a different context. Meaningfulness is, like consciousness, a central characteristic of human existence. Without it, we lose our uniqueness and wander the earth like other animals.

Context has two dimensions, time and space. The same set of objects take on different meanings at different historical moments because the way we interpret phenomena depends on the present horizon of past meanings, which horizon has changed since the last time we encountered that same phenomenal world. What might have been an effective set of actions earlier no longer produces what our intentions called for. This is the basis for Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Repetition of some abstract, acontextual rule-based actions is likely to have the same results even when the context and the intention has changed because something about the context is involved, but has been left out.

Modern life rests on a foundation of abstract knowledge. To the extent that abstractions can be generalized to apply in different spatial and temporal settings, they make reproducible cultural activities possible. Imagine how life would be if we had to stop and figure out what to do next at every turn. Most of our daily life shows up as actions based on acontextual rules we have acquired during our existence from early childhood to the present moment. There is a form of meaning in these rules since we can tell a story like, “I am conscious of (recognize) the outside moment as “telling” me a particular story, but without and end. The end is stored in that part of my memory that completes such stories in the form of intentional actions. I “know” how I want the future to turn out and act accordingly.

And, indeed, it does turn out that way much of the time. If we associate thinking with this process, it consists of recognizing (giving meaning to) the present, as whatever I am conscious of, and searching for and activating the matching ending stored in my memory. I wrote about this process in a previous blog post that seems worth repeating.

Awareness (consciousness of something), selection of a future state that involves what I have just focused on (intention), appropriate steps to get there, declaration (conscious or unconscious) that I have done it. And, then, one goes on to the next intentional act, indefinitely. Here’s the quote from Husserl I used in one of my earlier blogs.

In every action we know the goal in advance in the form of an anticipation that is “empty,” in the sense of vague, and lacking its proper “filling-in,” which will come with fulfillment. Nevertheless we strive toward such a goal and seek by our action to bring it step by step to concrete realization. (Husserl, E., Formale und tranzendentale Logik, Halle, Niemeyer, 1929.)

That which has become culturally routine behavior lacks an image of the future and is based on behavioral norms that perhaps once worked in bringing society closer to its implicit vision, but now are producing more and more negative unintended consequences and less and less movement towards the underlying ends.

Similarly, the process as conceived by another philosopher, Alfred Schutz, is paraphrased as:

Action, then, can be conceived of as a dialectical relationship between the present and the future. While it is grounded and to a degree constrained by experience and the past, it is still open to alternative possibilities; there are still elements of choice of actions. Perhaps there is not the complete unrestrained freedom of the existentialist, but simultaneously there is not the complete determinism suggested by ‘naturalistic’ social science. The major point is that the purpose of action is change: it is formulated to negate in some sense that which is existing.” (My emphasis)

Another great thinker, Gregory Bateson, connected these phenomenological ideas to what he saw as the primary reason human beings haven’t been able to put their big problems behind them. He wrote, “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” I never quite understood this before, but now I see it as making the same argument I am making here. Relying only on acontextual bases for human action—the primary way that modern humans think/act— fails to capture the contextuality of the world.

Another way of making the same claim is to say that we act as if the world was nothing more than a context-free set of rules we have generated by our reductionist scientific methods. The world is, importantly, complex and behaves in ways that are not captured by these kinds of rules. Every situation is unique because the context is ever changing. As I wrote in the last blog, “Plato wrote. ‘You could not step twice in the same river (attributed to Heraclitus).’” If asked, we couch our expectations of the outcomes of our normal actions in probabilistic terms or simply as a matter of luck. Such statements are a tacit recognition that our models do not correspond to the world.

I have argued in all of my work that the persistent, growing problems that have shown up in modern cultures are the result of the disparity between how modern societies “think” and the way the world works, just as Bateson wrote. While we can characterize the differences in many ways, the single most critical, as I have been developing here, is the absence of context from the modern way of thinking.

Context, itself, is a word that reflects the process of consciousness, focusing on something within a larger body of sensory phenomena. Our focus, however, lacks the discriminating fineness of reductionist methods; we also capture a sense of parts of the world out there in which the parts we have focused on are embedded. The main players are always accompanied by the setting, not unlike the situation we observe while watching a play or movie. Context also has a historical dimension; we add a sense of what happened in similar situations in the past. The meaning of any such encounter with the world is much richer that the decontextualized story related only to the focal players. The story we would tell if asked to explain what is going on would be much richer.

Human action is always an interaction with the world, and the outcome always reflects that interaction. The success of our actions over time would be higher if our cognitive bases are more closely matched to the way that world works. This seems obvious to me, but is certainly arguable. Obvious or not, this assertion is the central grounding for my writings about sustainability (in the conventional sense) and flourishing. Other new ideas that follow are derivative of this argument. Contextuality remains a central concept in replacing the structure of modernity.

The importance of thinking in terms of a complex world follows. A complex system is any assemblage of elements for which predicting the future state requires information about its historical behavior, that is, understanding the context. Such systems can also be described in technical terms as behaving non-linearly, showing emergent and self-organizing behavior, flipping into new regimes, and so on. But how are we to create practical understanding of the messy, real systems connected to the problems we care about solving? The key is to use methods that are capable of creating context.

I have argued for a broad use of pragmatic methods, replacing the conventional use of scientific or rational methods. Following the above discussion, these methods are built to gather contextual as well as rule-like information about the system being studied. This is easier said than done, which fact makes patience an essential feature of any pragmatic investigation.

Another central feature of my work is the notion of Being as the proper model for human behavior against the modern model of Homo economicus. Here, too, I see context looming large. The idea of Being came from philosophers like Martin Heidegger and is exceedingly difficult to describe in everyday language. I, now, think that context can offer a way to understand it.

The modern way of living is largely decontextualized. Most of our actions, particularly in a society that is predominantly structured around markets, involve people interacting through transactions, that is, rule-based actions. The results of transactions, in general, are that you end having acquired something, hence the association with the “having’ mode of living. Being involves entering into relationships, interactions that possess contextual meaning, that occur in a context of a meaningful past. Relationships have a temporal sense tied to the entire duration of previous interactions. Context is created, in part, in the conversations that usually accompany a relationship.

Relational context is created in moments of no action, in the interruptions that can occur in the continuous flow of action between related actors. In these moments, reflection enables the latest part of the story (context) of that particular relationship to be added. Like pragmatic methods for collective context building, reflection is a critical process for individual context-building. In the rush that many describe as the typical behavioral pattern in the United States, little or no reflection is possible, so relationships fail to be created even in protracted periods of engagement. The use of technological devices to intermediate conversations interferes with context-building and becomes more transactional than relation-building.

In my last few blogs, I have written about caring, another word to describe actions that occur within a contextual horizon. Being, as a distinct mode of life, is one in which most actions occur within such a context. I will be writing more about these distinctions, critical for a world in which flourishing is a possibility. Today, what is important to take away is the centrality of context for such a world. Instead of focusing on Being and caring, you will be just as, perhaps even more, successful simply to think about how to introduce context into everyday living.

Why Choose Being Over Having

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Note to readers: This blog digs deeply into the notion of flourishing and Being, and is not easy reading, but these ideas are essential for the transformation of our non-working culture. For those seeking to change our consumerist culture, new institutions and practices built on meaningful relationships are critical. The reasons for this are discussed here.

meaning

Erich Fromm’s provocative book title, To Have or to Be, captures the primary challenge to flourishing. Human cultures reflect the dominant beliefs and values of those populating them. Most other developed country’s cultures and ours are clearly in the having mode. As I wrote recently, market economies are built on transactions, the predominant process by which people acquire things. One gets to have things through exchanges. The value of what one has can be measured by what has given up in these exchanges.

Some things critical to flourishing are absent in transactions, per se, and in the institutional structures that enable them. But before looking for them, a few words about flourishing are necessary. Flourishing, unlike most conventional measures of well-being, refers to a continuum of states. Flourishing has a temporal characteristic. One may be flourishing at the moment when asked about it, but it would be incorrect to claim that it is present, unless the present state rests in a history of similar conditions. Since flourishing, in part, is a sign of attaining one’s potential, for humans, any assessment related to it must be made in the context of what is that potential.

For all living nonhuman beings, potential is expressed in their genes. A flower flourishes when it blooms and seeds the next generation. An animal flourishes when it adapts to its habitat and produces progeny to maintain the species. Social species add an additional feature; they flourish when they have become part of a community and take their place therein. Humans are such a social species.

Flourishing for humans has an additional dimension related to their capacity to create meaning through language. The mostly biological processes suffice for other species, except for a handful that possess some rudimentary linguistic capability. Flourishing, for humans, requires an assessment that life is not only biologically satisfactory, but also satisfactory in terms of some criteria of meaningfulness. This poses philosophical and practical problems because meaning is always dependent on the culture in which any human being is immersed, which brings me back to the opening sentence above. Is there really any real difference between having and being?

I agree with Fromm that Being is to be preferred to having. (It is a matter of which is dominant. Human life will always incorporate both.) I think there is a good reason for this, but to establish this will take some more argument. Modern, market-based societies rest ultimately on a model of the human species that has ruled our thinking since the Enlightenment; humans are insatiable, needing creatures always acting to maximize their allocable resources, that is, money in modern cultures. It follows that the accumulation of things, including money itself, will be the measure of how well one has done in life. So it is in the United States. Wealth is a measure of success, both at the individual and collective level. So, then, what’s wrong with having as a desirable mode of living? Quite a few issues turn out to detract and nullify this measure of human well-being.

One important consequence; there is no end point to having, so people find it hard to be satisfied with what they have, whether a great deal or very little. Surveys of well-being indicate that the majority of people are not satisfied with their lives. Inequality is another factor that negatively affects assessments of well-being. In a society where fairness or justice is a primary value, it is problematic to judge oneself as flourishing when so many others obviously are not. This fact renders the very criteria of wealth as questionable. Additionally, the processes that support having, that is, the political economy, are producing serious, negative, unintended consequences in the natural system. No need to enumerate them here; what matters is, like inequality, these impacts raise questions about the appropriateness of having/wealth as the primary measure of well-being.

Perhaps, the most important factor related to having is the model of human nature on which it is base. What if this model is wrong? Then, having would have no legs to stand on other than the power of persistent, deeply embedded cultural beliefs. Importantly, Adam Smith believed that human nature was based on empathy, a form of caring, long before he changed his mind and gave us the selfish model we still cling to. Being, as I will explain, seems to be much closer to the kind of creature we are, and, therefore, is a more relevant model on which to ground flourishing, as related to approaching or attaining some expression of potential.

It is not possible to discuss Being without introducing language as a unique human capability. Humans evolved physiologically and cognitively in such a way that they developed both the mental capacity to create and store meaningful representations of their experiences in the world in their brains and also gestural control, including speech, that enabled them to communicate these representations to others. Another way of describing this evolutionary process is to say that humans developed the capability of expressing their experiences in stories, thus, ascribing meaning to otherwise meaningless phenomena. Once the meaning of an otherwise indistinct object out there in the world was captured linguistically, the linguistic object, whether word or gesture, could be used to engage others in some intentional activity.

Meaningful actions became the central feature of human life. Communities arose out of the shared meanings that developed around shared activities. Humans could act out of these meanings, calling them forth from their memories. Intentionality naturally followed this development of language. Meaning appears when humans focus on some group of objects, set against a meaningless context. A “tree” appears out of the background because the viewer has discovered that a part of it is tasty. The expression of meaning in this case might have sounded like, “object with all sorts of arms and legs that has delicious round stones hanging from it.”

Of course all the words must have be created from earlier experiences. Meaning never appears out of the context of past experience. We process our perceptual experiences from a horizon of meaning we have accumulated up during the past. The horizon is continually changed by the experience of the present moment as a result. Life becomes an experience of constant movement forward in time. Plato wrote. “You could not step twice in the same river (attributed to Heraclitus).”

Another way of thinking about this unique process of ascribing meaning is to say that all meaningful stories about the world are owned by the person who has created them. They are unique to her, except when the same stories are held in common, having arisen from (repeated) shared experiences. This follows from the historical and contextual horizons that shape our interpretations of phenomenal perceptions. The shared meanings that develop among individuals, raised within a culture enable interactions for, without them, communications by gesture or speech would mimic the Biblical setting of Babel.

So, how does this connect to Being? Being refers to existing/acting within the stories one owns. Life moves forward in time through meaningful events. The sense of ownership comes with a sense of connectedness. This or that story is about my past experiences with these or those meaningful objects-out-there-in-the-world. If the objects are other human beings, connectedness translates into relatedness. By convention, we rarely use the term, relatedness, to describe our connection to non-human objects, but our meaningful experiences with them are similarly connected.

Another way of talking about these meaningful interactions is to say we care about what we are doing. The actions we take are shaped by the meaning from which the action arose. Caring reflects the meaning-giving story that always includes parts about me (the actor, and, also, the others (the targets of my intentions), and any other objects shaping the context. Caring comes from me and signals my intentions, but reflects the meaningful context that, most importantly, includes a record of the other(s) and my past history.

Without going into details, current neuroscience, at least the work of Antonio Damasio, is consistent with this explanation of caring. Damasio claims that the brain produces three selves in action. One is what he calls the autobiographical self, which shows up in action through meaningful acts based on one’s past experience. This is the self that learns over time to change the responses to previous recognized situations where actions did not produce satisfactory results.

Now, I can attempt to answer Fromm’s question, To Have or to be? The criterion I use is flourishing, as the achievement of a being’s potential. Being, as I (and others) have argued is the primordial way humans exist. For most of our time on Earth, we lived with language arising only out of our Being-in-the-(natural)-world; cultural artifacts were few, if any. To the extent that we survived and evolved, we flourished, as did other species. As humans settled and began to create cultures, other criteria to measure human well-being were invented. We find these in sacred books and in the works of Greek and later philosophers. Aristotle had a word for flourishing, eudaemonia, that he used to express what human aspirations should aim at.

But as these cultural neologisms arose, the basic caring existence had to compete with other cultural modes. By the time of the Enlightenment and the emergence of science and an associated objective (meaningless) world, this mode of existence all but disappeared. Classic economics, based on the model of human nature I mentioned earlier, drove the last nails into the coffin of Being. Should we be concerned about this? I say, “Yes indeed1” The connectedness inherent to Being is a real feature of the meaningful world. We ignore it at our peril, as we are doing. We live within, and are a part of, an interconnected, complex world. What we do in our collective societal efforts has consequences on that world.

If the collective opinion of all humans were that all is right with the world, there would be little basis for concern. That is hardly the case anywhere, especially in the United States. We are destabilizing the natural world, and we are not achieving our cultural goals. In a word, having is not working. Transactions with little or no context of reality, not surprisingly, are likely to create all kinds of unintended, and unobserved (until they grow very large) consequences. Being, on the other hand, will be conscious of changes in the context, and affords the ability to learn and adapt. In a complex world, both of these capabilities are critical. Complexity requires understanding, not objective knowledge. Interacting with complexity requires the same skills necessary for caring for people: reflection and empathy. To act such that your actions fit the needs of the other, whether a family member or the larger natural system of the Earth, you need to be able to observe and understand what is going on over there and interpret the results of your actions in that context.

Our rationality has evolved with the transactional nature of our cultural interactions. The more we have become havers; the better we have become at taking situations out of context and creating abstract, partial rules about what is going on. If we begin to act more out of Being and relationships, we will become better at generating meaning out of complexity, a giant step toward flourishing.

I need to add a short note. Being, as I am describing it, rests on an accumulation of meaning that is owned/generated by the actor. This corresponds to authentic (meaning). Meaning that is merely taken in from the general voice of a culture is inauthentic and will produce transactions only.