Constrictive vs. Generative Thought-Shapers

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By Robert Hanna and Otto Paans:

"The theory of thought-shapers is continuous with and an extension of the theory of social-institutional mind-shaping and life-shaping that Michelle Maiese and Robert Hanna presented in their 2019 book, The Mind-Body Politic. In that book, they argue (i) that mind-shaping and life-shaping in human social institutions is essentially embodied and directly revealed in bodily comportment, and (ii) that there’s a crucial distinction between (iia) social institutions that shape our essentially embodied minds/lives in destructive, deforming ways, and (iib) social institutions that shape our essentially embodied minds/lives in constructive, enabling ways, where the difference between destructive, deforming ways and constructive, enabling ways is cashed out in terms of either frustrating and undermining, or else promoting and sustaining, the satisfaction of true human needs.


Mirroring and extending Maiese’s and Hanna’s thesis in The Mind-Body Politic, there’s a corresponding basic distinction in our theory of thought-shapers between:

(i) thought-shapers that shape our conceptual thinking in destructive, deforming ways, which we call constrictive thought-shapers, and

(ii) thought-shapers that shape our conceptual thinking in constructive, enabling ways, which we call generative thought-shapers. But what, more precisely, is the difference between constrictive and generative thought-shapers?

A starting point for explaining this difference is that Platonic images, Baconian Idols, Marxian ideology, Wittgensteinian pictures, at least some Pepperian root metaphors for metaphysical worldviews,58 and persistent false beliefs and misinformation, are all vivid examples of constrictive thought-shapers. In this way, constrictive thought-shapers typically ‘install’ and ‘groove’ people’s thinking not only pre-reflectively and non-self-consciously, but also, and above all, by operating essentially as what William Blake called mind-forg’d manacles. ... More specifically, then, constrictive thought-shapers, in a mostly pre-reflective and non-self-conscious way, lock human thinking into false dogmatic assumptions and presuppositions, and into repetitive, uncreative, and unproductive routines, that inevitably lead to contradictions, dilemmas, paradoxes, and vicious circles in philosophical, formal-scientific, and natural-scientific thinking (aka dialetheias),60and to conflicts, crashes, crises, and cul de sacs (aka disasters) in artistic, moral, and sociopolitical thinking.


By a diametrically opposed contrast to constrictive thought-shapers, generative thought-shapers, by ‘installing’ human thinking in inherently re-configurable and re-patternable ‘ grooves ’, self-consciously unlock, liberate, and sustain creative and productive human thinking. A characteristic feature of generative thought-shapers is that they possess not only effective, true, flexible application to a proper domain of content, but also effective, true, flexible re-application or repurposing, across several or even unrestrictedly many different domains of content, yet without being infinitely malleable, ambiguous, or vague.

Our view is that

(i) constrictive thought-shapers are inherently mechanical and non-organic in structure, and also inherently computational, hence inherently captured b y Turing-style algorithms and by the Standard Models of particle physics and cosmology, whereas

(ii) generative thought-shapers are inherently non-mechanical and organic in structure, and also inherently non-computational, hence inherently not captured by Turing-computable algorithms, but instead and on the contrary, inherently captured only by complex systems dynamics and organismic evolutionary biology, but also

(iii) mechanicity/ constriction and organicity/generativity in thought-shapers, alike, allow for a range of degrees in each of their occurrences, in the sense that although mechanicity/constriction and organicity/ generativity are strict contraries and mutually exclusive, each of those properties is instantiated or realized to a greater or lesser degree in any given thought-shaper, hence any given thought-shaper can be either more-or-less mechanical/ constrictive or more-or-less organic/generative, although never simultaneously both mechanical/constrictive and also organic/generative.


Anything is organic if and only if it’s not a natural mechanism, and has an inherently uncomputable/non-recursiveprocessual, purposive, and self-organizing dynamics that dissipates entropy (i.e., creates negentropy by spontaneously restructuring matter and energy), running from The Big Bang Singularity forward, via temporally asymmetric or unidirectional energy flows, to organismic life, and then on to conscious mind in general and to rational human conscious mind in particular. Correspondingly, our thesis is that there is a single, unbroken metaphysical continuity between The Big Bang Singularity, temporally asymmetric/unidirectional energy flows, organismic life, conscious mind in general, and rational human conscious mind in particular, and that anything inherently belonging to this continuity is organic in structure, especially including human thinking that’s at least partially caused, normatively guided, and contextually enabled by generative thought-shapers.

Constrictive thought-shapers generally presuppose what we’ll call the mechanistic worldview, according to which everything whatsoever in the world, including all human activity, is fully and ultimately explicable by mechanical principles alone (including principles of computability and/or mathematical physics, including chemistry, and biology insofar as it is reducible to physics and chemistry).

In turn, and more specifically, the mechanistic worldview consists in the conjunction of three somewhat distinct but logically nested theses:

(i) formal mechanism, applied to mathematics, logic, truth, and knowledge more generally, namely the theory of computability and recursive functions, including decidability,80

(ii) natural mechanism, which applies the notion of a natural automaton or natural machine, as per the description immediately above, to everything in the material or physical world,81 and

(iii) scientific naturalism, applied to everything in the world, including all human activity, which includes formal and natural mechanism, scientism (i.e., the valorization of the formal and/or natural sciences and their methods), empiricism, and materialist/ physicalist metaphysics (i.e., everything in the world is either identical to or necessarily dependent on fundamentally physical contingent facts).82 Of course, the root metaphor for the mechanistic worldview is the natural automaton or naturalmachine.

By another diametric oppositional contrast, generative thought-shapers generally presuppose what we’ll call the organicist worldview.

Correspondingly, and consistently with that, by an organism we mean an inherently uncomputable/non-recursive processual, purposive, and self-organizing entity with any of the basic features listed in the three-part OEED definition.

The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines ‘organism’ as follows:

a  living  individual  consisting  of  a  single  cell  or  of  a  group  of  interdependent  parts  sharing  the  life  processes.  
an  individual  live plant  or  animal.  
the material  structure  of  this.  
a  whole  with  interdependent  parts  compared  to  a  living being

According to the organicist worldview, everything whatsoever in the manifestly real world, including ourselves, is either

(i) a simple or complexorganism, or

(ii) a society of organisms, or

(iii) a proper part of an organism or a society of organisms, or

(iv) an immanent or intrinsic structural property of an organism or society of organisms, or (v) a causal product or byproduct of an organism or society of organisms, or

(vi) necessarily dependent on (i.e., either naturally/ nomologically or logically strongly supervenient on) an organism or a society of organisms, or

(vii) ecosystemic or proto-organismic in that it belongs to the set of actual conditions under which an organism or society of organisms emerges or operates, or

(viii) inherently analogous or homologous to an organism or society of organisms.

Obviously, the root metaphor for the organicist worldview is the organism.


Here’s an extremely important further point about the diametric oppositional contrast we’ve been developing between mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers and organic, generative thought-shapers. In principle, there’s absolutely nothing bad, false, or wrong with applying mechanical thought-shapers to inherently mechanical facts.

But when inherently mechanical, recursive thought-shapers, in economics, social theory, or political theory—for example, Prisoner’s Dilemma matrices, as a core thought-shaper in game theory — are systematically misapplied to inherently complex, organic real-world moral and sociopolitical facts and decision-making, then real-world conflicts, crashes, crises, and cul de sacs—real-world disasters—result in and through the corresponding shaped thoughts: namely, bad, false, and wrong ideological beliefs. A paradigmatic recent example of this is Garrett Hardin’s spectacularly influential 1968 essay, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’.


In other words, the real tragedy of the commons is how Hardin’s spectacularly wrongheaded argument in ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ has operated in morality and sociopolitics since the late 1960s, worldwide, as a spectacularly disastrous mechanical, constrictive thought-shaper.

Again, the problem lies not in the mechanical, recursive structure of the thought-shaper per se and its corresponding mechanical, recursive shaped thoughts itself—no doubt, Prisoner’s Dilemma matrices and game theory fairly accurately capture the behavior of people playing Monopoly, Risk, video games, online poker, cruising the casinos at Las Vegas, or engaged in gambling more generally — but instead in its altogether bad, false, and wrong misapplication to the nonideal organic complexities of ‘human, all-too-human’ moral and sociopolitical free agency ‘in the wild’, in the larger manifestly real world."