P2P and Human Evolution Ch 6

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6. P2P in the Sphere of Culture and Self

Chapter 6 of P2P and Human Evolution

I am here tackling the remainder of the two quadrants relating to intersubjectivity and subjectivity, considered in their basic linkage: the individual vs. the collective.

6.1.A A new articulation between the individual and the collective

One of the key insights of psychologist Clare Graves’ interpretation of human cultural evolution, is the idea of the changing balance, over time, between the two poles of the individual and the collective. In the popularization of his research by the Spiral Dynamics systems, they see the tribal era as characterized by collective harmony, but also as a culture of stagnation. Out of this harmony, strong individuals are born, heroes and conquerors, which will their people and others into the creation of larger entities. These leaders are considered divinities themselves and thus in certain senses are ‘beyond the law’, which they have themselves constituted through their conquest. It is against this ‘divine individualism’ that a religious reaction is born, very evident in the monotheistic religions, which stresses the existence of a transcendent divine order (rather than the immanent order of paganism), to which even the sovereign must obey. Thus a more communal/collective order is created. But again, this situation is overturned when a new individual ethos arises, which will be reflected in the growth of capitalism. It is based on individuals, and collective individuals, which think strategically in terms of their own interest. In the words of anthropologist Louis Dumont, we moved from a situation of wholism, in which the empirical individuals saw themselves foremost as part of a whole, towards individualism as an ideology,[1] positing atomistic individuals, in need of socialization. They transferred their powers to collective individuals, such as the king, the people, the nation, which could act in their name, and created a sacrificial unity through the institutions of modernity. (In section 3.3.C., I have tried to show how peer to peer tries to avoid the creation of collective individuals, through the creation of objective algorithms which express the communal wisdom of a collective.)

This articulation, based on a autonomous self in a society which he himself creates through the social contract, has been changing in postmodernity. Simondon, a French philosopher of technology with an important posthumous following in the French-speaking world, has argued that what was typical for modernity was to 'extract the individual dimension' of every aspect of reality, of things/processes that are also always-already related.[2] And what is needed to renew thought, he argued, was not to go back to premodern wholism, but to systematically build on the proposition that 'everything is related', while retaining the achievements of modern thought, i.e. the equally important centrality of individuality. Thus individuality then comes to be seen as constituted by relations, from relations.

This proposition, that the individual is now seen as always-already part of various social fields, as a singular composite being, no longer in need of socialization, but rather in need of individuation, seems to be one of the main achievements of what could be called 'postmodern thought'. Atomistic individualism is rejected in favour of the view of a relational self,[3] a new balance between individual agency and collective communion.

In my opinion, as a necessary complement and advance to postmodern thought, it is necessary to take a third step, i.e. not to be content with both a recognition of individuality, and its foundation in relationality, but to also recognize the level of the collective, i.e. the field in which the relationships occur.

If we only see relationships, we forget about the whole, which is society itself (and its sub-fields). Society is more than just the sum of its "relationship parts". Society sets up a 'protocol', in which these relationships can occur, it forms the agents in their subjectivity, and consists of norms which enable or disable certain type of relationships. Thus we have agents, relationships, and fields. Finally, if we want to integrate the subjective element of human intentionality, it is necessary to introduce a fourth element: the object of the sociality.

Indeed, human agents never just 'relate' in the abstract: agents always relate around an object, in a concrete fashion. Swarming insects do not seem to have such an object, they just follow instructions and signals, without a view of the whole, but mammals do. For example, bands of wolves congregate around the object of the prey. It is the object that energizes the relationships, that mobilizes the action. Humans can have more abstract objects, that are located in a temporal future, as an object of desire. We perform the object in our minds, and activate ourselves to realize them individually or collectively. P2P projects organize themselves around such common project, and my own Peer to Peer theory is an attempt to create an object that can inspire social and political change.

In summary, for a comprehensive view of the collective, it is now customary to distinguish

  1. the totality of relations;
  2. the field in which these relations operate, up to the macro-field of society itself, which establishes the 'protocol' of what is possible and not;
  3. the object of the relationship ("object-oriented sociality"), i.e. the pre-formed ideal which inspires the common action.

That sociality is 'object-oriented' is an important antidote to flatland network theory, on which many failed social networking experiments are based, i.e. the idea that the field of relations is the onlyimportant dimension of reality, while forgetting human intentionality.[4]

In conclusion, this turn to the collective that the emergence of peer to peer represents does not in any way present a loss of individuality, even of individualism. Rather it 'transcends and includes' individualism and collectism in a new unity, which I would like to call 'cooperative individualism'. The cooperativity is not necessarily intentional (i.e. the result of conscious altruism), but constitutive of our being, and the best applications of P2P, are based on this idea. Similar to Adam Smith's theory of the invisible hand, the best designed collaborative systems take advantage of the self-interest of the users, turning it into collective benefit.

This recognition would help in distinguishing transformative P2P conceptions from regressive interpretations harking back to premodern communion. I find this distinction well expressed by Charlene Spretnak, cited by John Heron in a debate with the conception of an 'inclusional self' by Ted Lumley of Goodshare.org:

"The ecological/cosmological sense of uniqueness coupled with intersubjectivity and interbeing … One can accurately speak of the ‘autonomy’ of an individual only by incorporating a sense of the dynamic web of relationships that are constitutive for that being at a given moment."[5]

In any case, the balance is again moving towards the collective. But if the new forms of collective recognize individuality and even individualism, they are not merely individualist in nature, meaning: they are not collective individuals, rather, the new collective expresses itself in the creation of the common. The collective is no longer the local ‘wholistic’ and ‘oppressive’ community, and it is no longer the contractually based society with its institutions, now also seen as oppressive. The new commons is not a unified and transcendent collective individual, but a collection of large number of singular projects, constituting a multitude.[6]

This whole change in ontology and epistemology, in ways of feeling and being, in ways of knowing and apprehending the world, has been prefigured amongst social scientists and philosophers, including the hard sciences such as physics and biology.[7]

An important change has been the overthrow of the Cartesian subject-object split. No longer is the ‘individual self’ looking at the world as an object. Since postmodernity has established that the individual is composed and traversed by numerous social fields (of power, of the unconscious, class relations, gender, etc… , and since he/she has become aware of this, the subject is now seen (after his death as an ‘essence’ and a historical construct had been announced by Foucault), as a perpetual process of becoming (“subjectivation”). His knowing is now subjective–objective and truth-building has been transformed from objective and mono-perspectival to multiperspectival. This individual operates not in a dead space of objects, but in a network of flows. Space is dynamical, perpetually co-created by the actions of the individuals and in peer to peer processes, where the digital noosphere is an extraordinary medium for generating signals emanating from this dynamical space, the individuals in peer groups, which are thus not ‘transcendent’ collective individuals, are in a constant adaptive behavior. Thus peer to peer is global from the start, it is incorporated in its practice. It is an expression not of globalization, the worldwide system of domination, but of globality, the growing interconnected of human relationships.

Peer to peer is to be regarded as a new form of social exchange, creating its equivalent form of subjectivation, and itself reflecting the new forms of subjectivation. P2P, interpreted here as a positive and normative ethos that is implicit in the logic of its practice, though it rejects the ideology of individualism, does not in any way endanger the achievements of the modern individual, in terms of the desire and achievement of personal autonomy, authenticity, etc…. It is no transcendent power that demands sacrifice of self: in Negrian terms, it is fully immanent, participants are not given anything up, and unlike the contractual vision, which is fictitious in any case, the participation is entirely voluntary. Thus what it reflects is an expansion of ethics: the desire to create and share, to produce something useful. The individual who joins a P2P project, puts his being, unadulterated, in the service of the construction of a common resource. Implicit is not just a concern for the narrow group, not just intersubjective relations, but the whole social field surrounding it.

An important aspect is the issue of value, both the value in the sense of what is exchanged on a market, and the value in the sense of ethical meaningfulness, i.e. what we value. Peer to peer produces for use value, not exchange value. The wider community therefore derives 'use value' from this common form of production. Participants themselves derive value in two different ways: first, the uptake or not of the 'production' is a sign of the relative value of the product in its wider field of related offerings. Participants will partake in the general recognition/valuation of the project in the wider society. Second, within, a similar form of recognition will operate according to the contribution of participants. The process is often measured or aided by social accounting tools specifically designed to that effect, and individual recognition of effort is always a key element of open source projects. Peer to peer is therefore also a process of social recognition and valuation, that replaces or complements money as a token of social recognition.

How does a successful P2P project operate, in terms of reconciling the individual and the collective?

Imagine a successful meeting of minds: individual ideas are confronted, but also changed in the process, through the free association born of the encounter with other intelligences. Thus eventually a common idea emerges, that has integrated the differences, not subsumed them. The participants do not feel they have made concessions or compromises, but feel that the new common integration is based on their ideas. There has been no minority, which has succumbed to the majority. There has been no ‘representation’, or loss of difference. Such is the true process of peer to peer.[8]

An important philosophical change has been the abandonment of the unifying universalism of the Enlightenment project. Universality was to be attained by striving to unity, by the transcendence of representation of political power. But this unity meant sacrifice of difference. Today, the new epistemological and ontological requirement that P2P reflects, is not abstract universalism, but the concrete universality of a commons which has not sacrificed difference. This is the truth that the new concept of multitude, developed by Toni Negri and inspired by Spinoza, expresses. P2P is not predicated on representation and unity, but of the full expression of difference.

6.1.B Towards ‘contributory’ dialogues of civilizations and religions

One of the more global expressions of the peer to peer ethic, is the equipotency it creates between civilizations and religions. These have to be seen as unique responses, temporally and spatially defined, of specific sections of humanity, but directed towards similar challenges. Thus we arrive at the concept of ‘contributory worldviews’ or ‘contributory theologies’. Humanity as a whole, or more precisely, its individual members, have now access to the whole of human civilization as a common resource. Individuals, now being considered ‘composites’ made up of various influences, belongings and identities, in constant becoming, are embarked in a meaning-making process that is coupled to an expansion of awareness to the well-being of the planet as a whole, and of its concrete community of inhabitants. In order to become more cosmopolitan they will encounter the various answers given by other civilizations, but since they cannot fully comprehend a totally different historical experience, this is mediated through dialogue. And thus a process of global dialogue is created, not a synthesis or world religion, but a mosaic of millions of personal integrations that grows out of multiple dialogues. Rather than the concept of multiculturalism, which implies fixed social and cultural identities, peer to peer suggests cultural and spiritual hybridity, and which no two members of a community have the same composite understanding and way of thinking.

One of the recent examples that came to my attention are the annual SEED conferences in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They bring together, native elders, quantum physicists, philosophers, and linguists, none of them assuming superiority over one another, but collectively ‘building truth’ through their encounter.

P2P dialogues are not reprensentative dialogues, in which the participants represent their various religions, rather, they are encounters of composite and hybrid experiences, in which each full expresses his different understanding, building a spiritual commons.

6.1.C Participative Spirituality and the Critique of Spiritual Authoritarianism

Traditional mystical and religious paths are exclusionary, based on strong divisions between the in and the out group. Internally, they reflect the social values and organizational models of the civilizations in which they were born. Thus they are premodern in authoritarian manner, patriarchal, sexist, subsuming the individual to the whole. Or, in their latter manifestations they are run as corporations and bureaucracies, reflecting the early emergence of capitalism as in the case of Protestantism, and in the case of the new age, operating explicitly as a spiritual marketplace reflecting the capitalist monetary ethos. When traditional religions of the East move to the West, they bring with them their authoritarian and feudal formats and mentalities. Epistemologically, in their spiritual methodologies, they are authoritarian as well, far from an open process, traditional paths start from the idea that there is one world, one truth, one divine order, and that some privileged individuals, saints, bishops, sages, gurus, have been privileged to know this truth, and that this can be taught to followers. The seventies and eighties have been characterized by the emergence of new religions and cults with a particularly authoritarian character, and by the appearance of a number of fallen gurus, characterized by abuses in terms of finance, sexuality, and power. If one decides to follow an experiental path, it is always the case that the experience is only validated if it follows the pregiven doctrine of the group in question.

It is clear that such a situation, such a spiritual offering is antithetical to the P2P ethos. Thus, in the emergence of a new participatory spirituality, two moments can be recognized, a critical one, focused on the critique of spiritual authoritarianism, and with books like those of June Campbell, J. Kripal, the Trimondi’s, the Kramer’s, and many others who have been advocating reform within the Churches and spiritual movements, and the more constructive approaches which aim to construct a new approach to spiritual inquiry altogether, those that explicitly integrate P2P practices in their mode of spiritual inquiry. The two pioneering authors who discuss ‘participative spirituality’ are Jorge Ferrer and John Heron.

Heron has given a good summary of the post-WWII evolution of spiritual culture and describes the current moment as follows:

  1. The erosion of guru status as a result of sexual and financial abuse and bullying scandals among both Eastern and homegrown Western gurus and spiritual teachers.
  2. The erosion of 'enlightenment' claims by the proliferation of the number of people, especially in the West, making the claim: the more people who make the claim, the more its narcissistic inflation stands revealed. For the 'enlightenment' claim is also an authority-claim to have followers, a recruiting drive; and the more claims that are made, the stronger the competition among claimants in the market-place for attention.
  3. A growing awareness that spiritual authority is within and that to project it outward onto teacher, tradition or text is an early, adolescent phase of spiritual development in the one projecting, and counter-spiritual manipulative abuse in any guru/teacher who seeks to elicit, to appropriate and to sustain the projection.
  4. The emergence of peer to peer spirituality, which democratizes charismatic, enlightened leadership, and realizes that it is a role which different persons assume at different times, either in the initiation of a peer group or in the continuous unfolding of its process.[9]

Ferrer’s book, Revisioning Transpersonal Psychology: Towards a Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality, not only is a strong critique of spiritual authoritarianism, which integrates poststructuralist arguments against absolute knowledge claims, but also a first description of an alternative view.[10] In it, a spiritual practice operates as an open process in which spiritual knowledge is co-created, and thus cannot fully rely on old ‘maps’, which have to be considered as testimonies of earlier creations, not as absolute truths. Spirituality is understood in terms of the present relationship with the Cosmos (the concrete Totality), accessible to everyone here and now.[11] Instead of the perennialist vision of many paths leading to the same truth, Ferrer advocates for an ‘ocean of emancipation’ with the many moving shores representing the different and ever-evolving approaches to spiritual co-creation. In an article on ‘Integral Transformative Practices’,[12] Ferrer also records new practices that reflect this participatory turn, such as the ones pioneered by Albareda and Romero in Spain: open processes of self- and group discovery that are no longer cognicentric, but instead fully integral approaches that collaborative engage the instinctual, emotional, mental, and transmental domains as equal partners in the unfolding of spiritual life. J. Kripal, who is very appreciative of Jorge Ferrer's contribution, does conclude that one more lingering illusion about religion and mysticism should be abandoned: that it is somehow quintessentially 'moral' or 'ethical' and essentially emancipatory in character, a claim that he disputes.[13]

New Zealand-based John Heron expounds, in the book “Sacred Science”, the specific peer to peer practice that he has created, called Cooperative Inquiry. In such a process, individuals agree on a methodology of inquiry, then compare their experiences, adapting their inquiry to their findings, etc… thus creating a collective intelligence, which is totally open and periodically renewed, experimenting both with the ‘transcendent’ practices of eastern nondual religions (transmental ‘witnessing’) as well as with the immanent grounding methods of the nature religions, thus creating a innovative dipolar approach which does not reject any practice, but attempts to integrate them. Peer circles (check the concept in a web search engine) have sprung up worldwide. My friend Remi Sussan stresses that the chaos magick groups on the internet, explicitly see themselves as self-created religions adopting open peer-based processes.

John Heron, in a personal communication, has outlined which conditions a contemporary spiritual practice based on interdependent relationality, should uphold, with explicit P2P characteristics:

On this overall view, spirituality is located in the interpersonal heart of the human condition where people co-operate to explore meaning, build relationship and manifest creativity through collaborative action inquiry into multi-line integration and consummation. Such collegial applied spirituality has at least eight distinguishing characteristics.

  1. It is developmentally holistic, involving diverse major lines of human development; and the holism is both within each line and as between the lines. Prime value is put on relational lines, such as gender, psychosexuality, emotional and interpersonal skills, communicative competence, peer communion, morality, human ecology, supported by the individualistic, such as contemplative competence, physical fitness.
  2. It is psychosomatically holistic, embracing a fully embodied and vitalized way of being.
  3. It is epistemologically holistic, embracing many ways of knowing: knowing by presence with, by intuiting significant form and process, by conceptualizing, by practising. Such holistic knowing is intrinsically dialogic, action- and inquiry-oriented. It is fulfilled in peer-to-peer participative inquiry, and the participation is both epistemic and political.
  4. It is ontologically holistic, open to the manifest (nature, culture and the subtle), to immanent life and transcendent mind. To relate (4) back to (3), there can be experiential knowing by presence with the manifest, the immanent and the transcendent, either relatively independently of each other or in full integration.
  5. It is focussed on worthwhile practical purposes that promote a flourishing humanity-cum-ecosystem.
  6. It embraces peer-to-peer relations and participatory forms of decision-making. The latter in particular can be seen as a radical discipline in relational spirituality, burning up a lot of the privatized ego.
  7. It honours the gradual emergence and development of peer-to-peer forms of association and practice.
  8. It affirms the role of both initiating hierarchy, and spontaneously surfacing and rotating hierarchy among the peers, in such emergence."

6.1.D Partnering with nature and the cosmos

Throughout this essay, I have defined P2P as communal shareholding based on participation in a common resource (with the twist that in P2P it is we ourselves who are building that resource, which did not previously exist, i.e. the common is actually the 'object of our cooperation'), whereby other partners are considered as equipotent. We also mentioned the co-existence within P2P groups of both a kind of naturally emerging and flexible hierarchy that aims to increase participation to a maximum extent, and egalitarian treatment of the equipotential partners. There are very good reasons to believe that we can and should extent this ethos to non-human forces, be they natural or cosmic, and if you have this kind of faith or experience, with spiritual forces as well. What follows is a speculative account of the philosophical and spiritual sources that could be used by our culture to recover such ethos. Participation emerges here with its central meaning: not that of atomized and separate individuals cooperating, but the growth of a consciousness that recognizes our mutual embeddedness and interdependence. What is emerging is a ‘participative worldview’, but it is also something we need to reconstruct.

Indeed in a sense, spiritually, the P2P or ‘participative ethos’ harks back to premodern animistic attitudes, which can also be found in Chinese Taoism for example. An increasing number of anthropologists, such as Steven Tambiah, have argued that the magical form of consciousness, is not just an outdated form practiced by ancestral humans or contemporary tribal peoples, but that it is a necessary adjunct to causality-inspired rational consciousness, that both are needed and entwined.

During the annual SEED conferences in Alququerque, New Mexico, Western astrophysicists and philosophers are undertaking a continued dialogue with native American elders, as one way to mutually enrich their epistemologies, with the explicit aim of recovering participative approaches.[14] Jean Gebser, in his masterwork 'The Ever-present Origin', is probably the one that has best described the process of recovery of such participative worldview, starting with the artists of the beginning of the 20th century and continuing with the development of quantum physics, in recent times, calling it 'integral consciousness'.

Instead of considering nature in a Cartesian fashion as ‘dead matter’ or a collection of objects to be manipulated,[15] we recognize that throughout nature there is a scale of consciousness or awareness,[16] and that natural agents and collectives have their natural propensities, and that, giving up our need for domination (or rather 'transforming it') in the same way that we are able to practice in P2P processes, we ‘cooperate’, as partners, with such propensities, acting as midwives rather than dominators. French sociologists like Michel Maffesioli[17] and Philippe Zafirian have analyzed a change in our culture, particularly in the new generations of young people, which go precisely in that direction, and it is of course specifically reflected in sections of green movement. Again, this is not a regression to an utopian and lost past, but a re-enactment of a potential, but this time, with fully differentiated individuals. While there is undoubtedly a new stress on 'wholism'[18] in many contemporary thinkers, the stress is on interpretations of interdependence that do not return to pre-individual interpretations, but rather on showing on the individual is fully co-dependent on the whole. In our understanding, this goes much beyond systems theory, as it has to include the necessary subjective and intersubjective elements, an approach that we have used as a research methodology for this book, and which we call integral. (see appendix 1.A).

An important question is: how do we recover such a tradition of thought and feeling-being, we who are the children of the Enlightenment? Here are some explorations of 'genealogies of thought' which could be used to recreate such participative ethos.

One of the possible paths is the recovery of the cosmobiological tradition of the Renaissance thinkers, who are close to us since they had one foot in the world of tradition and one in the world of modernity-inducing change. Loren Goldner uncovers, in a very interesting essay,[19] this ‘third stream of cosmobiological thought’, which he says could be used to reconstruct a post-Enlightenment left. He contrasts it with the Aristotelianism of the Church, and with the ‘mechanistic’ ideas of the Enlightenment (creators of a dead universe and empty space that can be gazed at and manipulated by the autonomous ego). He traces the history of this third stream starts with the Renaissance starting with Bruno and Kepler, and later continued by Baader, Schelling, Oersted, Davy, Faraday, Goethe, W.R. Hamilton, Goerg Cantor, Joseph Needham. For them, the universe is brimming with life, sensuousness, and meaning, and cannot be approached as dead matter. Marx explicitely refers to this tradition, and was imbued by it through his filiation with German 'idealist' philosophy, but, according to Goldner, that has been forgotten by the two dominant streams of the left, i.e. social democracy and Stalinism, who take over the mechanistic Enlightenment tradition. Both Foucauldian postmodernism, and the defense of the Enlightenment tradition by Habermas, miss and obscure this vital link as well, says Goldner.[20] In any case, this cosmobiological tradition is an 'alternative strand of modernity', which lost out but could perhaps be retrieved and redeveloped.

Other important genealogies to recreate a participatory worldview appropriate to our age have been undertaken by Skolimowsky and David Skrbina, in their 'ecophilosophy'.[21] The focus here is on the concept of the 'participatory mind'.[22] David Abram, in his classic ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’, seeks a source in the phenomenological tradition of western philosophy as represented by Edmund Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, who replaced the conventional view of a single, wholly determinable reality with a fluid picture of the mind/body as a participatory organism that reciprocally interacts with its surroundings. These different traditions stress the embodiedness of humans in our bodies and within nature .

Recently there have been important attempts to rephrase the participatory tradition by John Heron[23] and Jorge Ferrer as well, arising from within the community of transpersonal psychology. The Nature Institute, inspired by Goethe and others, has been working on developing conceptions of qualitative science that fits this evolution as well.[24] Toni Negri and others, are similarly trying to redeveloped a similar 'alternative modernity' based on the oeuvre of Spinoza, though the relationship with nature does not seem to be a prominent theme in his writings. Rather, they focus on developing a participative relationship with our machines.[25]

In any case, there is a natural progression in scope, from P2P groups, to the global partnership-based dialogues between religions and civilizations, to the new partnership with natural and cosmic forces, that forms a continuum, and that is equally expressive of the deep changes in ontology and epistemology that P2P represents. I do not think it is possible to divorce the P2P ethos as it applies to people and humanity, from our wider relationship with nature, and therefore, it will be impossible to fully retain either the modernist objective gaze or postmodern-inspired nihilism. Instead, we have to reconstruct our worldviews and heal our 'split' with nature.

And at some point, we will start to realize that our very realities are 'always-already participative',[26] that we are not separate from the world, that our being-in-the-world is subjective–objective. When this happens on a more massive scale, a new civilization will in effect have been borne.

6.1.E The Emergence of Peer Circles

In the cultural sphere, all these changes are expressed in the emergence of a new organizational form, that of peer circles. We have mentioned the emergence of cooperative inquiry groups and peer circles in the field of spirituality, but this is far from the only field where they are emerging. It used to be that if you wanted to create something new and 'collective', you would create a company, a NGO, or campaign for the creation of a new government agency. But these institutional forms are no longer sufficient to be fully acceptable to the P2P ethos. Attempts at collective creation, at worldchanging, are therefore increasingly taking on the new organizational form of peer circles. Self-help groups, not a new phenomenon, where a pre-internet prefiguration of this trend.

One example are the emergence of giving circles. These are groups of people who pool their resources together. For example, in the particular format of Full Circles, members donate $1 per day, or $360 for the year. They collectively research local causes that are worthy of support. Jock Gill of the Greater Democracy blog has proposed to extend the concept to development. Giving circles would directly connect with villages in developing countries, using internet-enabled videoconferencing, and would fund microcredit schemes. He appropriately calls it 'citizen to citizen' development based on 'edge to edge' relationships.

More Information


  1. The history of individualism, a series of lectures, available as audio files, of seminars at the Universite of Lyon, at http://uplyon.free.fr/

  2. The relationality of everything: Simondon

    The French journal Multitudes has dedicated a special section of its 18th issue to an examination of these aspects of the thought of Simondon. An excerpt from the article "Qu’est-ce qu’une pensée relationnelle?" by Didier Debaise:

    "La modernité se constitue, selon Simondon, à partir d’un paradigme qui traverse tous les domaines de l’expérience : l’être-individuel. Elle se définirait comme un ensemble d’opérations, de techniques, de connaissances visant à extraire les dimensions individuelles de ce qui, dans la réalité, se présente comme essentiellement attaché, relié et changeant. Dès lors, une des possibilités pour sortir de certains problèmes (liés à la connaissance, à l’expérience, au social) qui ont accompagné la pensée moderne pourrait se situer dans ce que nous avons appelé une «pensée relationnelle», dans laquelle la relation occuperait une place centrale.

    Whitehead écrit que «la philosophie ne revient jamais à une position antérieure après les ébranlements que lui ont fait subir un grand philosophe». L’histoire de la philosophie serait faite de chocs, de ruptures sous l’apparence d’une continuité de problèmes. Dès lors, interroger la «nouveauté» d’une pensée revient à demander quel «ébranlement» elle a suscité, quelle irréversibilité elle a introduit dans un champ.

    On peut dire que Simondon produit quelque chose de proche d’un ébranlement lorsqu’il place comme une proposition centrale que «l’être est relation» ou encore que «toute réalité est relationnelle». Cette proposition n’est pas neuve; on la retrouve, chaque fois différemment, avec Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson et Tarde si bien que d’une certaine manière Simondon ne fait que prolonger un mouvement qui le précède et duquel il hérite l’essentiel de la construction qu’il opère.

    Mais ce qui est inédit, c’est la mise en place d’une véritable systématisation de la proposition «l’être est relation», la prise en compte explicite de ce qu’elle requiert pour pouvoir être posée et de ces conséquences dans différents domaines – physique, biologique, social et technique. Et c’est un nouveau type de questions qui en émerge et qui s’oppose aux questions mal posées qui ont traversé la modernité : il ne s’agit plus par exemple de demander «quelles sont les conditions pour que deux individus donnés puissent être en relation», mais «comment des individus se constituent-ils par les relations qui se tissent préalablement à leur existence ?»; de la même manière, au niveau social, il ne s’agit plus de demander qu’est-ce qui fonde l’espace social (les individus ou la société), mais comment s’opèrent des communications multiples qui forment de véritables êtres-collectifs ?"
    (http://www.multitudes.net/Qu-est-ce-qu-une-pensee/ )

    Issue 18 is located at http://www.multitudes.net/category/l-edition-papier-en-ligne/Multitudes-18-Automne-2004/

  3. Kenneth Gergen: a view of the relational self and bottom-up social processes

    The following view stresses relationships as constitutive of social reality. On a superficial reading, this definition seems not to include the distinct existence of a social field, nor any object-centeredness, but the last paragraph shows a P2P-like understanding of social processes.

    Traditional theory of the civil society is built upon an ontology of bounded units or entities – specifically "the individual," "the community," "the state," and so on. Such a theory not only creates a world of fundamental separation, but invites the use of traditional cause and effect models to comprehend relations. One is either an actor, directing the course of events, or is reduced to an effect. How can we comprehend the social world in such a way that it is not composed of entities, but constituted by processes of relationship? This is no easy task for we at once confront the implications of Wittgenstein's pronouncement that "The limits of our language are the limits of our world." Our common language of description and explanation virtually commits us to understanding the world in terms of units (nouns) that act upon each other (transitive verbs). Even the concept of relationship, as commonly understood, is based on the assumption of independent units. If and when such units act upon each other we speak of them being related. Thus, for example, we say, "A relationship developed between them," or "They no longer have a relationship." If we turn to relevant social theory, we find that perhaps the most significant candidate for relational understanding, namely systems analysis, is lodged in the view of systems as a collective array of entities linked through processes of cause and effect. Thus, systems diagrams, flow-charts, feedback loops and the like… There is much to be gained by commencing our analysis with a focus on relational processes from which ontologies and ethics emerge, and from which certain actions become favoured while others are forbidden. Such processes of creating and carrying out meaning/full worlds are at all times and everywhere under way. In this sense, civil movements are always in the making. As any two or more persons negotiate about the nature of their lives, what is worth doing or not, they are establishing rudimentary grounds for civil life in their terms"
    (source: Kenneth Gergen website)

  4. Object-oriented sociality

    "[There is a] profound confusion about the nature of sociality, which was partly brought about by recent use of the term 'social network' by Albert Laszlo-Barabasi and Mark Buchanan in the popular science world, and Clay Shirky and others in the social software world. These authors build on the definition of the social network as 'a map of the relationships between individuals.' Basically I'm defending an alternative approach to social networks here, which I call 'object centered sociality' following the sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina. I'll try to articulate the conceptual difference between the two approaches and briefly demonstrate that object-centered sociality helps us to understand better why some social networking services succeed while others don't.

    Russell's disappointment in LinkedIn implies that the term 'social networking' makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it's not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term 'social network.' The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They're not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That's why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about 'socio-material networks', or just 'activities' or 'practices' (as I do) instead of social networks.

    In my experience, their developers intuitively 'get' the object-centered sociality way of thinking about social life. Flickr, for example, has turned photos into objects of sociality. On del.icio.us the objects are the URLs. EVDB, Upcoming.org, and evnt focus on events as objects.

    For a much more elaborate academic argument about object-centered sociality, see the chapter on 'Objectual Practice' by Karin Knorr Cetina in The practice turn in contemporary theory, edited by Theodor R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr Cetina, and Eike von Savigny (London 2001: Routledge.)
    (http://zengestrom.com/blog/ )

  5. Cooperative Individualism and the 'P2P Self', a debate between John Heron and Ted Lumley:

    Lumley quote 1: "We are each unique, and each have a unique and authentic role to play because we are each uniquely situated within and included in, a common hostspace dynamic. When we move, the shape of the hostspace dynamic we are included in transforms... Our individual movement = transformation of the common hostspace dynamic."

    Lumley quote 2: "Rather than having an absolute centre of self, our centre of self is defined by where our inside-outward asserting meets the outside-inward accommodating of the dynamical hostspace.... Our assertive movement is relative to the (simultaneous mutually influencing) assertings of our fellows, together constituting a community hostspace dynamic from which our individual actions push off (rather than pushing off from the 'absolute centre of our self')."

    JH comment: Lumley has two definitions of the self. Quite rightly, because I think both are necessary and interdependent. In quote 1, the self is defined in term of its unique situation within a hostspace, prior to any assertive movement within it. In quote 2, the self is defined in terms of this assertive movement. In my worldview, the first definition relates to the autonomy of the self in terms of its idiosyncratic appraisal of and response to its unique situation within a hostspace; and the second definition relates to the co-operative mutuality of the self in terms of its interactions with the others in a hostspace. The autonomous and the co-operative accounts are correlative and interdependent.

    Lumley quote 3: "A 'peer' is usually thought of as an abstract entity that is capable of behaviour in-its-own-right, and particularly of peer-to-peer collaboration, ... none of which alludes to the common hostspace dynamic as the prime influence in the evolution of the peer-to-peer dynamics."

    Not by me and others, e.g. Spretnak. Here's a quote from my book Sacred Science, pp 10-11

    "The distinctness of a person is to do with him or her being one unique focus, among many, of the whole web of interbeing relations. Personal autonomy is grounded in this unique presence, participating resonantly in an unitive field of interconnected beings, within the presence of Being, and in the individual perspective necessarily involved in imaging a world. It is manifest as the individual judgement inalienably required for a person to appraise what is valid and valuable; and as individual responsibility in choosing to act. This is not the personal autonomy of the Cartesian ego, an isolated, self-reflexive consciousness independent of any context – what Charlene Spretnak calls the Lone Cowboy sense of autonomy. It is, rather,

    The ecological/cosmological sense of uniqueness coupled with intersubjectivity and interbeing … One can accurately speak of the ‘autonomy’ of an individual only by incorporating a sense of the dynamic web of relationships that are constitutive for that being at a given moment. (Spretnak, 1995: 5)

    (Pluralities/Integration newsletter, issue 65, archived at http://integralvisioning.org/index.php?topic=p2p )

  6. Are the new P2P collectives 'collective individuals' or not

    In the main text I express the view that the new P2P collectives differ from the collective individuals as described by Louis Dumont. He argued that 'nation' and 'corporation' transcend the individual, having their own autonomous and oppressive agenda. I argue that the new P2P collectives are different since there is no transcendence and representation, and other algorithmic means are being found to filter value. This interpretation is challenged by my friend Remi Sussan, whose contribution I'm reprinting in extenso. I sense that we are both 'right' but am not able yet to formulate a position that honours both truths. In any case, even if P2P collectives are in themselves a form of institution, in many ways molding the individuals who participate and setting limits on possibility, they are to be clearly differentiated from the earlier forms of institutionalization. What R. Sussan invites us to, is to remain aware and vigilant vis-à-vis these new types of Commons-based institutions.

    Remi Sussan:

    “Je ne suis pas forcément d'accord. Si l'on suit les recherches sur la "vie artificielle" ou "l'émergence" il me semble logique de penser que les "superorganismes" les "entités collectives" vont forcément émerger de l'interaction entre agents. Ces entités collectives, si elles sont assez complexes peuvent effectivement poursuivre des agendas non reconnus par les agents qui les constituent, et même s'avérer dangereux pour eux. Je en suis pas du tout persuadé que la "blogosphere" ne va pas donner avec le temps, de telles entités collectives. Je suis même persuadé que, vu la façon dont les blogs tournent en "circuits" chacun reproduisant l'autre en fonction des goûts et opinions des auteurs, on ne tardera pas, si ce n'est déjà fait, à voir apparaître des "voix collectives" porteuse d'un message spécifique. A mon avis, c'est déjà ce qui s'est passé avec les pages web. Leurs connexions ont créé des "clusters" culturels bien définis, avec leur limites et leur conformisme propre. En ce sens, l'émergence des "meilleurs" blogs pourrait être considérée de manière inverse : les "meilleurs" sont ceux qui expriment au mieux cette voix collective constituée par la communication de centaines de blogs analogues.

    De même, il me semble que Linux en tant que tel est bel et bien un superorganisme, dont la structure et les contraintes techniques déterminent le mode de participation des membres de la communauté, et susceptible, par un mécanisme sélectif, d'approuver ou rejeter les contributions de untel ou untel. Linux est certes plus avancé qu'un Windows, mais il n'en impose pas moins un mode de pensée, il n'en constitue pas moins un système de limites. En d'autres mots, je pense que les véritables entités collectives ne se trouvent pas dans les catégorisations de l'époque moderne, mais bien dans les sociétés holistes que Dumont décrit dans homo hierarchicus. Mais je pense que la tendance a générer ces systèmes holistes est toujours demeurée, y compris à l'époque moderne (l'individualisme étant une nouveauté en ce monde) , même s'ils ont cessé d'être reconnus. Je pense également que ces "entités collectives" s'avèrent d'autant plus dangereuses qu'elles passent inaperçues.

    Ma position est celle des gnostiques. On ne peut éviter l'émergence des superorganismes, des "Dieux", des "archontes", mais on peut les reconnaître en tant que tels et les utiliser au mieux, en évitant leur influence létale. Le changement introduit aujourd'hui par le P2P et les nouvelles méthodes de pensée n'est pas la disparition des superorganismes en tant que tel que la capacité qui nous est offerte aujourd'hui de les penser. En effet, des catégories comme la "nation", la "corporation" ne sont pas forcément des "individus collectifs" : ce sont des représentations de ces individus, représentations souvent naïves. La "corporation" n'est qu'un artefact qui peut ou non représenter un véritable entité collective : il peut exister plusieurs superorganismes au sein d'une même entreprise, sans pour autant qu'il en existe une "reconnaissance officielle". Par exemple, j'ai souvent remarqué dans les entreprises des conflits existant entre les étages, chaque étage peut bien souvent être considéré comme une "entité collective", avec ses coutumes, ses spécialités, son style, etc..

    De même, la chute des pays de l'est ont montré que bon nombre de " nations" etaient de pures fictions, tandis que des entités collectives jusque là négligées (ex les communautés religieuses, d'anciennes ethnies) s'avéraient tout à fait réelles et actives. Je pense donc que les nouvelles pensées telle la vie artificielle, et les technologies émergentes comme le P2P nous permettent de faire accéder à la conscience de chacun l'existence de ces "entités collectives," de comprendre leurs lois, leur dangers et leur limites, et de les voir tels qu'elles sont, et non imaginées sous la forme de représentations naives.. Elles ne nous libèrent pas de l'existence de ces "individus collectifs" qui sont là pour rester, pour le meilleur ou le pire."

  7. Relationality

    The following comes from a description of the concept of Panarchy, a form of governance that is strongly related to the peer to peer concept. In it, the author Paul Hartzog describes the importance of relationality in the new world views.

    "The most fundamental principle of Panarchy is relationality. In contrast to the deterministic, atomistic, mechanistic ontology underlying the Industrial Era, Panarchy is characterized by network effects. Network effects are typically summed up by using the example of the fax machine. Any one fax machine is useless. The second fax machine on a network increases the value of the first. Furthermore, all future additions to a network increase the value of the existing members of that network. The underlying reason that network effects exist is that the network itself is a communicative structure. As each new member enters, the number of communicative links increases exponentially, thus creating the added value. Communicative, i.e. network, effects occur in any relational system where communication is the overriding purpose of the system – political, judicial, social, economic, technological, et al. A second core principle is that of relational identity. In traditional atomistic/mechanistic ontologies, things are construed as having an independent existence apart from their relationships. Things have properties, and some of those properties may be relational. By contrast, the newer relational ontologies that pervade many disciplines from physics to biology, view relationships as part of what a thing is. In this light, a thing not only enters into relationships, but is in fact constituted by them. Relationships are fundamental to a thing's identity, or self. For an example consider a person's height vs. his identity as a father. His height is a property of his body, but his "fatherness" is not. "Father" is a linguistic way of describing an emergent property that is shared between two members of a communicative structure, i.e. a family."
    (http://www.panarchy.com/Members/PaulBHartzog/Writings/Principles )

    Here's a recent book that claims to examine the neurological bases of the changes in subjectivity: A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Daniel H. Pink. Riverhead Books, 2004

  8. This example is taken from an extraordinary pioneering work written in 1918, by Mary Parker Follett, i.e. The New State, available online at http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/Mary_Parker_Follett/Fins-MPF-01.html. Tom Attlee says about his book: “This 1918 classic explains the first vision of holistic democracy and has a greater density of quotable material on this subject than anything we know of.”

    Collective Intelligence is in the process of being enabled by the rapid growth of participatory practices being developed in the last decades, see the following Wiki gives an extended listing of Participatory Practices, at http://www.wiki-thataway.org/index.php?page=ParticipatoryPractices

  9. John Heron, describing the earlier phases in the evolution of spiritual culture as related to the guru phenomenon:

    "There seem to be four phases in the guru phenomenon in the West. (the fourth phase is described in the running text)

    1. In the late decades of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century, there was just a small guru-invasion from the East with key players like Vivekananda and the spread of the Vedanta movement in the West.
    2. Then post-war from 1945 with the publication of Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy, there started a major guru-invasion from the East including the dramatic spread through the 60s and the 70s of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism in the USA and Europe.
    3. In the third phase, over the last thirty years or so, alongside the guru-invasion from the East there has been the growing phenomenon of homegrown Western gurus and spiritual teachers claiming the special status of 'enlightenment'."
    (personal communication, March 2005)

  10. The Participatory Turn in Spirituality:

    Ferrer argues that spirituality must be emancipated from experientialism and perennialism. For Ferrer, the best way to do this is via his concept of a "participatory turn"; that is, to not limit spirituality as merely a personal, subjective experience, but to include interaction with others and the world at large. Finally, Ferrer posits that spirituality should not be universalized. That is, one should not strive to find the common thread that can link pluralism and universalism relationally. Instead, there should be emphasis on plurality and a dialectic between universalism and pluralism.”

    Reading Jorge Ferrer:

    Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (SUNY Press, 2002).

    “Some shorter introductions can be found in the following sources:

    Ferrer, J. N. (2003). Participatory Spirituality: An Introduction. Network: The Scientific and Medical Network Review 83 (Winter), 3-7.

    __________. (2002). An Ocean with Many Shores. Tikkun: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture & Society, 17(5), 60-64.

    __________. (2001). Towards a Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. ReVision 24(2), 15-26.

    A further elaboration and application of my participatory perspective can be found in the following articles:

    Ferrer, J. N. (2003). Integral Transformative Practices: A Participatory Perspective. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 35(1), 21-42. (This article may be especially relevant for your inquiry into peer-to-peer spirituality)

    Ferrer, J. N., Albareda, R. V. & Romero, M. T. (2004). Embodied Participation in the Mystery: Implications for the Individual, Interpersonal Relationships, and Society. ReVision 27(1), 10-17.

    Ferrer, J. N., Romero, M. T. & Albareda, R. V. (forthcoming). The Four Seasons of Integral Education: A Participatory Proposal for the New Millennium. ReVision.

    (this bibliography was provided by the author himself)

  11. J. Kripal summarises Ferrer's vision:

    “Ferrer's participatory vision and its turn from subjective "experience" to processual "event" possesses some fairly radical political implications. Within it, a perennialist hierarchical monarchy (the "rule of the One" through the "great chain of Being") that locates all real truth in the feudal past (or, at the very least, in some present hierarchical culture) has been superseded by a quite radical participatory democracy in which the Real reveals itself not in the Great Man, Perfect Saint or God-King (or the Perennialist Scholar) but in radical relation and the sacred present. Consequently, the religious life is not about returning to some golden age of scripture or metaphysical absolute; it is about co-creating new revelations in the present, always, of course, in critical interaction with the past. Such a practice is dynamic, uncertain, and yet hopeful—a tikkun-like theurgical healing of the world and of God."
    (http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0303/article/030352.html )

  12. see the article at

  13. J. Kripal on the necessity to reject the emancipatory illusions in religion and mysticism:

    "Ferrer … ultimately adopts a very positive assessment of the traditions' ethical status, suggesting in effect that the religions have been more successful in finding common moral ground than doctrinal or metaphysical agreement, and that most traditions have called for (if never faithfully or fully enacted) a transcendence of dualistic self-centeredness or narcissism. It is here that I must become suspicious. Though Ferrer himself is refreshingly free of this particular logic (it is really more of a rhetoric), it is quite easy and quite common in the transpersonal literature to argue for the essential moral nature of mystical experience by being very careful about whom one bestows the (quite modern) title "mystic." It is an entirely circular argument, of course: One simply declares (because one believes) that mysticism is moral, then one lists from literally tens of thousands (millions?) of possible recorded cases a few, maybe a few dozen, exemplars who happen to fit one's moral standards (or better, whose historical description is sketchy enough to hide any and all evidence that would frustrate those standards), and, voilà, one has "proven" that mysticism is indeed moral. Any charismatic figure or saint that violates one's norms—and there will always be a very large, loudly screaming crowd here—one simply labels "not really a mystic" or conveniently ignores altogether. Put differently, it is the constructed category of "mysticism" itself that mutually constructs a "moral mysticism," not the historical evidence, which is always and everywhere immeasurably more ambivalent. Ferrer, as is evident in such moments as his thought experiment with the Theravada retreat, sees right through most of this. He knows perfectly well that perennialism simply does not correspond to the historical data. What he does not perhaps see so clearly is that a moral perennialism sneaks through the back door of his own conclusions. Thus, whereas he rightly rejects all talk of a "common core," he can nevertheless speak of a common "Ocean of Emancipation" that all the contemplative traditions approach from their different ontological shores."

    Ferrer argues that we must realize that our goal can never be simply the recovery or reproduction of some past sense of the sacred, for "we cannot ignore that most religious traditions are still beset not only by intolerant exclusivist and absolutist tendencies, but also by patriarchy, authoritarianism, dogmatism, conservatism, transcendentalism, body-denial, sexual repression, and hierarchical institutions." Put simply, the contemplative traditions of the past have too often functioned as elaborate and sacralized techniques for dissociating consciousness. Once again, I think this is exactly where we need to be, with a privileging of the ethical over the mystical and an insistence on human wholeness as human holiness. I would only want to further radicalize Ferrer's vision by underscoring how hermeneutical it is, that is, how it functions as a creative re-visioning and reforming of the past instead of as a simple reproduction of or fundamentalist fantasy about some nonexistent golden age. Put differently, in my view, there is no shared Ocean of Emancipation in the history of religions. Indeed, from many of our own modern perspectives, the waters of the past are barely potable, as what most of the contemplative traditions have meant by "emancipation" or "salvation" is not at all what we would like to imply by those terms today. It is, after all, frightfully easy to be emancipated from "the world" or to become one with a deity or ontological absolute and leave all the world's grossly unjust social structures and practices (racism, gender injustice, homophobia, religious bigotry, colonialism, caste, class division, environmental degradation, etc.) comfortably in place."

  14. Information on the SEED Dialogues, at http://www.seedopenu.org/ . Similar work has been done by David Peat, a student of the astrophysicist David Bohm, in his book on 'Blackfoot Physics', at http://www.fdavidpeat.com/bibliography/bibliography.htm. See also http://www.fdavidpeat.com/bibliography/essays/black.htm

  15. David Peat on the monological gaze of the West:

    "Time was abstracted from space and painting was left with the single viewpoint, a frozen world seen though a window. With the device of perspective one longer enters into to painting but views it with an objective eye. Mirroring the metaphysics of the period, nature has been projected away from us and the world is experienced as something external.The mathematical basis of perspective is called Projective Geometry. This term says it all. One no longer engages directly with an object in its natural, essential form, as something that can be explored and touched, instead it becomes a surface that must be distorted to fit the global logic of mathematical perspective. The rich individualistic inscape of the natural world had given way to a uniform perspectival grid of logic and reason. How well perspective parallels a science in which nature obeys laws that are, in some metaphysical sense, external to matter's essence. As Bacon argued, these laws are to be discovered by placing nature on the rack, another sort of grid, and tormenting her to reveal her secrets."

  16. Find background reading in this ‘Anthropology of Consciousness’ bibliography, at http://sacaaa.org/bibliography_of_consciousness_studies.htm

    The truth of animistic forms of consciousness, despite their 'anthropomorphising' of nature, may well be their intuitive grasp of 'there is consciousness all the way down'.

  17. Michel Maffesioli

    “Nous sommes dans une ere de hedonisme generalise, pour lequel ce sur quoi on ne peut rien, devient indifferent… Ce qui engender une certaine forme de serenite, a la base meme de nombreuses manifestations de generosite et d’entraide, car l’acceptation de ce qui est peut aller de pair avec le souci de participer a ce qui est: non pas maitriser, mais accompagner un etat de fait pour qu’il donne le meilleur de lui-meme. La realization de soi se fait dans une interaction ecologique et festive. On tend a la “propension des choses” Il n’y a pas lieu de projeter sur elles des desires, des convictions, etc.. de quelque ordre qu’ils soient, mais bien de s’accorder a leur evolution, et a la necessite qui est la leur. La encore, l’initiative n’est plus propre a l’individu isole, ou d’un ensemble forme a partir d’un contrat social, mais elle est conjointe, partage entre le monde et l’homme. Ainsi, au moralisme et a son devoir etre, succeed une deontologie prenant au serieux les situations et agissant en consequence, qui est attentive a la disposition du moment, qui s’accorde aux opportunites du moment. Il n’y a nulle indifference a un tel immanentisme, mais une conscience constante, une presence a ce qui est: le monde, les autres. C’est une co-presence a l’alterite. Cela nous oblige a considere l’insertion au groupe, non uniquement regi par la raison (comme dans la modernite) mais mu egalement par les sentiments et les affects.”
    (personal communication, source to be verified)

  18. Wholism and individuality, by Ted Lumley of Goodshare.org

    "Bohm cautions that this [undividedness of the whole] does not mean the universe is a giant, undifferentiated mass. Things can be part of an undivided whole and still possess their own unique qualities. To illustrate what he means he points to the little eddies and whirlpools that often form in a river. At a glance such eddies appear to be separate things and possess many individual characteristics such as size, rate, and the direction of rotation, et cetera. But careful scrutiny reveals that it is impossible to determine where any given whirlpool ends and the river begins. Thus Bohm is not suggesting that the difference between 'things' is meaningless. He merely wants us to be aware constantly that dividing various aspects of the holomovement into 'things' is always an abstraction, a way of making those aspects stand out in our perception by our way of thinking. In attempts to correct this, instead of calling different aspects of the holomovement' things', he prefer to call them 'relatively independent subtotalities'."

    Indeed , Bohm believes that our almost universal tendency to fragment the world and ignore the dynamical interconnectedness of things is responsible for many of our problems, not only in science but in our lives and society as well. For example, we believe we can extract the valuable parts of the earth without affecting the whole. We believe it is possible to treat parts of the body and not be concerned with the whole. We believe we can deal with various problems in our society, such as crime, poverty, and drug addiction, without addressing the problems in our society as a whole, and so on. In his writings Bohm argues passionately that our current way of fragmenting the world into parts not only doesn't work, but may even lead to our extinction."
    (personal communication, March 2005)

  19. Recovering the cosmobiological tradition

    Loren Goldner on the cosmobiological tradition of the Renaissance.
    See URL = http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/renaissance.html.

    Here is how he explains his strategy to recover this tradition:

    "Our starting-point must be the direct opposition between the body of doctrine which came to be known as ‘Marxism’, codified in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals, and the ideas of Karl Marx. After separating these two, I want look at the relation between ‘Marxism’ and the body of ideas known as the Enlightenment, chiefly those of the French eighteenth century thinkers. Then I should turn to the earlier tradition sometimes called ‘Hermetic’, which includes magic, astrology and alchemy. I want to show how, when modern rational science defeated this outlook, it also lost something of value: its attitudes to humanity and nature. Following the work of Magee, I would then point out the deep immersion of Hegel in that old mystical tradition, and his direct opposition to the ideas and methods of Enlightenment thinking. Finally, I should return to Marx to see how his demystification of the mystics preserved the core of their profound insights.”
    (http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/articles/magic.htm )

    1. Loren Goldner. ‘Vanguard of Retrogression: Postmodern Fictions as Ideology in the Era of Fictitious Capital’, (Queequeg Publications, PO Box 672355, New York, NY 10467);
    2. Glenn Magee. ‘Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition’. Cornell University Press, 2001;
    3. online version of a book on Marx and the future of humanity, by Cyril Smith, at http://www.cix.co.uk/~cyrilsmith/

    See also: Karl Marx and the fourfold vision of William Blake, at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/articles/blake.htm

  20. Goldner on the 'forgetting' of the cosmobiological tradition:

    “The Foucaultian and Frankfurt School critics of the Enlightenment live off the impoverishment of the left by its extended romance with a one-sided appropriation of the Enlightenment, by the left's century-long confusion of the completion of the bourgeois revolution by state civil servants with socialism, and by the worldwide crackup of that project. The pre-Enlightenment, Renaissance–Reformation cosmobiology which passed through German idealism into Marx's species–being means even less to them than it does to figures such as Habermas. Yet the usual critique of them is undermined by the tacit agreement across the board that "nature is boring", i.e. the realm of mechanism, as Hegel, articulating the ultimate state civil servant view, cut off from practice in nature, said. Both sides of this debate still inhabit the separation of culture and nature, Geist and Natur, which came into existence through the Enlightenment's deflation of cosmobiology. It is the rehabilitation, in suitably contemporary form, of the outlook of Paracelsus and Kepler, not of Voltaire and Newton, which the left requires today for a (necessarily simultaneous) regeneration of nature, culture and society, out of Blake's fallen world of Urizen and what he called "single vision and Newton's sleep".

  21. Towards an Ecocracy/Cosmocracy, the point of view of Ecophilosophy

    "We are beginning to accept the idea of designing with nature rather than against nature. The acceptance of this idea leads to reverence for natural systems. Now the idea of reverence for natural systems, translated into the language of political science means ECO-CRACY. Ecocracy means recognizing the power of nature and of life itself, means observing the limits of nature, designing with nature, not against it, creating ecologically sustainable systems, reverence for the planet — not its continuous plundering. Let us put it succinctly. Technocracy and Ecocracy aim at fundamentally different goals. Technocracy aims at efficiency, control, manipulation and (so often) 'profit now'. Ecocracy aims at sustainable systems which can support and bring well being to human species and other species in the millennia to come. In this interconnected and co-dependent world of ours, the notion of Democracy must take on a new meaning. Democracy can no longer be limited to the city-state (the polis); it can no longer be limited to one nation. Democracy must be so conceived that its execution in one nation does not harm (if only indirectly) other nations and does not harm Nature itself. Let us put it in positive terms: Democracy in our times must be conceived as such a form of government that benefits all nations in the long run, and which at the same time, respects and enhances natural systems. This inter-nation and inter-species Democracy, I call Ecocracy or Eco-democracy. When we think how global and interconnected our problems are nowadays, this notion of Democracy impresses itself on us as almost obvious. Moreover, a system which I describe as Ecodemocracy, or a very similar one, is a necessity for our survival.

  22. The Participatory Mind, as defined by David Skrbina in his PhD thesis:

    "As I conceive it, the concept of 'participation' is fundamentally a mental phenomenon, and therefore a key aspect of the Participatory Worldview is the idea of 'participatory mind'. In the Mechanistic Worldview mind is a mysterious entity, attributed only to humans and perhaps higher mammals. In the Participatory Worldview mind is a naturalistic, holistic, and universal phenomenon. Human mind is then seen as a particular manifestation of this universal nature. Philosophical systems in which mind is present in all things are considered versions of panpsychism, and hence I argue for a system that I call 'participatory panpsychism'. My particular articulation of participatory panpsychism is based on ideas from chaos theory and nonlinear dynamics, and is called 'hylonoism'. In support of my theory I draw from an extensive historical analysis, both philosophical and scientific. I explore the notion of participation in its historical context, from its beginnings in Platonic philosophy through modern-day usages. I also show that panpsychism has deep intellectual roots, and I demonstrate that many notable philosophers and scientists either endorsed or were sympathetic to it. Significantly, these panpsychist views often coexist and correspond quite closely to various aspects of participatory philosophy. Human society is viewed as an important instance of a dynamic physical system exhibiting properties of mind. These properties, based on the idea of participatory exchange of matter and energy, are argued to be universal properties of physical systems. They provide an articulation of the universal presence of participatory mind. Therefore I conclude that participation is the central ontological fact, and may be seen as the core of a new conception of nature and reality."

    Thesis Title: Participation, Organization, and Mind: Toward a Participatory Worldview.

    Book: David Skrbina. Panpsychism in the West. MIT Press, 2005

    Henryk Skolimowsky on the Participatory Mind

    "The astrophysicist John Archibald Wheeler may have been the first to announce, in an articulate way (in the early 1970s), the idea of the Participatory Universe. He wrote, "The universe does not exist 'out there' independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are participators. In some strange sense this is a Participatory Universe."

    In the early 1980s, drawing from the insights of Wheeler, on the one hand ("In some strange sense this is a participatory universe"), and building on the insights of Teilhard de Chardin ("We are evolution conscious of itself"), I have developed the theory of the Participatory Mind. This theory, on the one hand, attempts to vindicate the claims of the New Physics about the participatory nature of the universe; and, on the other hand, attempts to fill the missing dimension in Teilhard's opus — which wonderfully describes the unfoldment of evolution but misses the role of the mind in the whole process. Consciousness is one of the key terms in Teilhard's story. But strangely, it is consciousness as if there were no minds. The theory of the Participatory mind provides an epistemological foundation to Teilhard's cosmology. The participatory theory of mind maintains that our world is the creation of our mind. But not in a solipsistic manner a la Berkeley (esse-percipi), but in a participatory manner: we have become aware that we can elicit from reality only that much as our mind is capable of conceiving. This is precisely the sense in which we say that we dwell in a participatory universe. We elicit what is potentially 'out there' in continuous acts of participation. Participation is of the essence not only in our cognitive acts but also in our social activities and political endeavors. Tell me what you participate in and I will tell you who you are; and what the meaning of your life is. We become that in which we participate. As we participate so we become. If we participate all the time in trivial matters, we become trivial persons."

  23. John Heron on 'Participatory Reality'

    "Co-operative inquiry rests on an inquiry paradigm of participative reality. This holds that there is a given cosmos in which the mind creatively participates, and which it can only know in terms of its constructs, whether affective, imaginal, conceptual or practical. We know through this active participation of mind that we are in touch with what is other, but only as articulated by all our mental sensibilities. Reality is always subjective–objective: our own constructs clothe a felt participation in what is present. Worlds and people are what we meet, but the meeting is shaped by our own terms of reference. In meeting people, there is the possibility of reciprocal participative knowing, and unless this is truly mutual, we don't properly know the other. The reality of the other is found in the fulness of our open relation when we each engage in our mutual participation. Hence the importance of co-operative inquiry with other persons involving dialogue, parity and reciprocity in all its phases. This participative paradigm has two wings, the epistemic introduced above, and the political.

    The epistemic wing, concerned with truth-values, is formed by:
    • An ontology that affirms a mind-shaped reality which is subjective–objective: it is subjective because it is only known through the form the mind gives it; and it is objective because the mind interpenetrates the given cosmos which it shapes.
    • An epistemology that asserts the participative relation between the knower and the known, and, where the known is also a knower, between knower and knower. Knower and known are not separate in this interactive relation. They also transcend it, the degree of participation being partial and open to change. Participative knowing is bipolar: empathic communion with the inward experience of a being; and enactment of its form of appearing through the imaging and shaping process of perceiving it
    • A methodology that commends the validation of outcomes through the congruence of practical, conceptual, imaginal and empathic forms of knowing among co-operative knowers, and the cultivation of skills that deepen these forms. It sees inquiry as an intersubjective space, a common culture, in which the use of language is grounded in a deep context of nonlinguistic meanings, the lifeworld of shared experience, necessarily presupposed by agreement about the use of language itself

    The political wing of the participative paradigm, concerned with being-values, is formed by an axiology, a theory of value which holds that:
    • Human flourishing is intrinsically worthwhile: it is valuable as an end in itself. It is construed as a process of social participation in which there is a mutually enabling balance, within and between people, of autonomy, co-operation and hierarchy. It is conceived as interdependent with the flourishing of the planetary ecosystem.
    • What is valuable as a means to this end is participative decision-making, which enables people to be involved in the making of decisions, in every social context, which affect their flourishing in any way. And through which people speak on behalf of the wider ecosystem of which they are part.

    Co-operative inquiry seeks to integrate these two wings by using participative decision-making to implement the methodology. Also by acknowledging that the quest for validity in terms of well-grounded truth-values, is interdependent with another process which transcends it. This is the celebration of being-values in terms of flourishing human practice."

    Source: from a personal communication and attachment by John Heron, April 2005. "Copied from Chapter 1 of Heron's book Co-operative Inquiry (1996). The key sections on Foundations are The fifth paradigm and especially Precursors of the participative paradigm. Some parts of this Chapter – but not the all-important Precursors section – are online at www.human-inquiry.com/doculist.htm , click on Exploring the context."

  24. The Nature Institute on 'qualitative science

    "We develop ways of thinking and perception that integrate self-reflective and critical thought, imagination, and careful, detailed observation of the phenomena. The Nature Institute promotes a truly ecological understanding of the living world. We study the internal ecology of plants and animals, elucidating how structures and functions interrelate in forming the creature as a whole. Our interdisciplinary approach integrates anatomy, physiology, behavior, development, genetics, and evolution. We investigate the whole organism as part of the larger web of life. By creating life history stories of plants and animals, we open up a new understanding of our fellow creatures as dynamic and integrated beings.

    Through this approach, the organism teaches us about itself, revealing its characteristics and its interconnectedness with the world that sustains it. This way of doing science enhances our sense of responsibility for nature. No one who has read, for example, Craig Holdrege's paper on the sloth, thereby coming to appreciate this animal as a unique, focused expression of its entire forest habitat, will be able to tolerate the thought of losing either the sloth or its habitat. As Goethe so beautifully expresses it, all of nature's individual aspects are interconnected and interdependent: We conceive of the individual animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of life; thus we are justified in considering every animal physiologically perfect."

    The Nature Institute on the limitations of reductionism:

    “We can discover the coherence of our five reductionist propositions by recognizing in them the operation of a single gesture of the cognizing mind. The gesture itself is not pathological; rather, its singleness – its operation in conjunction with a suppression of the necessary counterbalancing gesture – is alone what renders it and its reductionist results pathological. Reductionism, at root, is not so much a body of concepts as it is a way of exercising (and not exercising) our cognitive faculties.

    The cognitive gesture I'm alluding to here is the inner act of isolating something so as to grasp it more easily and precisely and gain power overit. We want to be able to say, "I have exactly this – not that and not the other thing, but this". The ideal of truth at work here is a yes-or-no ideal. No ambiguity, no fuzziness, no uncertainty, no essential penetration of one thing by another, but rather precisely defined interactions between separate and precisely defined things. We want things we can isolate, immobilize, nail down and hold onto.

    How do we avoid ambiguity and approach nailed-down, yes-or-no certainty? Part of the answer is: by drawing on one of our highest achievements, which is our ever finer power of distinguishing and cleaving. Whatever looks complex and of diverse nature must be analyzed into distinct, Simple parts with clearly spelled-out relations. Such analysis and clarification is the function of logic, a discipline we have carried to extraordinary levels of sophistication.


    Materialism, mechanism, and reductionism: their presuppositions and tendencies are all of a piece, because they are all expressions of a single cognitive gesture. The aim of this gesture is to lay hold of a simple, fixed, precise, unambiguous, manipulable reality divested of the inner life and qualities that might make uncomfortable demands on us. We anesthetize the world in order to possess and control it like a thing. But despite this singleness of purpose – or, rather, because such a single-minded gesture becomes sterile without the life and movement of a counterbalancing gesture – the presuppositions of the Reduction Complex betray a striking incoherence. They offer us:
    • Materialism without any recognizable material.
    • Mechanism that must ignore actual machines, occupying itself instead with the determinate and immaterial clarity of machine algorithms.
    • Reductionism that produces ever more precise formulations about an evermore impoverished reality.
    • A one-sided method of analysis that never stops to tell us about anything in its own terms, but forever diverts our attention to something else.
    • A refusal to reckon with qualities despite the fact that we have no shred of a world to talk about or understand except by grace of qualities.
    • Cause wrenched apart from effect; all becoming – that is, all active be-ing – frozen into stasis.
    • Bottom-up explanation that tries to explain a fuller reality by means of a less substantial reality, ignores the bi-directional flow of causation between all contexts, and naively takes the smallest parts of the world-mechanism as most fundamental for explaining it.
    • Finally, a denial of mind as an irreducible and fundamental aspect of the universe – this while scientists increasingly describe the world as driven by, and consisting essentially of, little more than collections of mental abstractions – mathematical formulae, rules, information, and algorithms.
    This entire body of dogma defines the reductionist ideology, not science itself. However, the dogma has tremendous power to distort the practice of science, a distortion evident on all sides. At the same time, there is reason to hope that in our day the dogma will finally collapse in upon its own absurdities. If this happens, it will not be because particular discoveries "disprove" the reductionist position, but rather because – much like during the earlier break with medieval thought – more and more people simply find it impossible to look upon the world in the old way.”

  25. Negri on the human-machine relationship:

    It has been generally noted, by McLuhan and others, that technology is an extension, an exteriorization of faculties of the human body, brain and nervous system. In the current era, as we are completing this process of emulating the nervous system and brain into our networks and computers, we see a start of a new process, which is the integration of the externalized technologies back into our bodies. This is generally discussed under the theme of the cyborg. Today, matter, life and mind are in the process of being understood on the basis of a reduction to their informational basis, giving rise to nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. On the basis of a continued dominnce of a mechanistic and manipulative framework, the results could be seen as an extension, to an unprecedented scale, our our alienation. Negri notes in a similar fashion, that the productive machines have entered us, in particular now that the brain itself, i.e. creative innovation, is seen as the most important productive factor, and now that we have access to increasingly cheap computers and a worldwide internet network that is outside of full corporate dominance. Yet this creative work is still generally under the command of financial capital. Negri attempts to go beyond the human-machine dichotomy, and to see the emancipatory potential in this state of affairs:

    The Multitude not only uses machines to produce, but also becomes increasingly machinic itself, as the means of production are increasingly integrated into their minds and bodies. The productive machines have been integrated into the multitude, but it has no control over them, making more vicious their alienation. This suggests that the actual subversion of the productive system into an autonomous plane could be possible in a flash, by disconnecting it from capital command
    (personal communication, from http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3editorial.pdf)

  26. On Participation, excerpts from Owen Barfield

    "Participation is the extra-sensory relation between man and the phenomena." The world as immediately given to us is a mixture of sense perception and thought. While the two may not be separable in our experience, we can nevertheless distinguish the two. When we do, we find that the perceptual alone gives us no coherence, no unities, no "things" at all. We could not even note a patch of red, or distinguish it from a neighboring patch of green, without aid of the concepts given by thinking. In the absence of the conceptual, we would experience (in William James' words) only "a blooming, buzzing confusion." (Poetic Diction; Saving the Appearances)

    "The familiar world – as opposed to the largely notional world of "particles" which the physicist aspires to describe – is the product of a perceptual given (which is meaningless by itself) and an activity of our own, which we might call "figuration." Figuration is a largely subconscious, imaginative activity through which we participate in producing ("figuring") the phenomena of the familiar world. (A simple analogy – but only an analogy – is found in the way a rainbow is produced by the cooperation of sun, raindrops, and observer.) How we choose to regard the particles is one thing, but when we refer to the workaday world – the world of "things" – we must accept that our thinking is as much out there in the world as in our heads. In actual fact, we find it nearly impossible to hold onto this truth. In our critical thinking as physicists or philosophers, we imagine ourselves set over against an objective world consisting of particles, in which we do not participate at all. In contrast, the phenomenal, or familiar, world is said to be riddled with our subjectivity. In our daily, uncritical thinking, on the other hand, we take for granted the solid, objective reality of the familiar world, assume an objective, lawful manifestation of its qualities such as color, sound, and solidity, and even write natural scientific treatises about the history of its phenomena – all while ignoring the human consciousness that (by our own, critical account) determines these phenomena from the inside in a continually changing way".
    (Worlds Apart; Saving the Appearances)

    "Our language and meanings today put the idea of participation almost out of reach, whereas the reality of participation (if not the idea) was simply given in earlier eras. For example, we cannot conceive of thoughts except as things in our heads, "rather like cigarettes inside a cigarette box called the brain." By contrast, during the medieval era it would have been impossible to think of mental activity, or intelligence, as the product of a physical organ. Then, as now, the prevailing view was supported by the unexamined meanings of the only words with which one could talk about the matter."
    (Excerpts collated at http://www.praxagora.com/~stevet/fdnc/appa.html; More about Barfield at http://owenbarfield.com/)