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When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

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The Dragon


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Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity

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A Complexity Perspective of Human Identity, Spirituality and Ethics

This paper was written as a part of my MA Chaos, Complexity and Creativity through the university of Western Sydney

Our spiritual journey is paradoxically the journey of becoming that which we already are. Our true nature to be an infinite expression of perfect love existing beyond time and space. Enfolded within that perfect love is our painful journey through time and space allowing us to actualise that perfection consciously. All the pain and struggles of human existence are ultimately illusory, when viewed from outside, but are totally real while being experienced within time and space.

Ken Wilber (1996) describes the paradox of a finite universe within an infinite reality (somewhat simplistically as he himself acknowledges) through the metaphor of a ladder. While struggling and climbing the ladder of evolutionary consciousness, we generally fail to notice the ever present spirit; the wood out of which the ladder and all its levels is formed. The infinite reality is so ever present, we often fail to see it. 

Our spiritual journey is one that takes us back to the wholeness that we have always been, are now, and will always be. The principles of Complexity have much to tell us about that journey and assist us to become what we truly are.

Enfolded within the unity of the ultimate reality, we perceive ourselves as individual beings separate from the world around us with which we must interact. Through our interactions, we come to understand our nature and realise our potential. 

History is the story of human beings struggling to maintain our fitness in our environment. Increasingly complex solutions are required in response to an ever more complex world. One of the fundamental creations that assisted us in our evolving journey through history is identity.

Our earliest ancestors had no concept of identity. They were not aware of themselves as separate beings. They were immersed in their environment to the point where there was no differentiation between them and the world in which they lived (Wilber, 1983). 

Instinct was the prime mover of their actions. Individual fish in a school or birds in a flock operate by simple instinctual rules, which nevertheless result in complex behaviour. This greatly enhances their ability to survive and propagate their species.

A new-born baby is unaware that it has a separate existence. It does not yet perceive its skin to be a boundary with the outside world. The baby still perceives its mother and the room it is in to be a part of itself. The world is especially confusing for the new-born because on the one hand, it has poor control over its own body and on the other, it does have an element of control over its environment (e.g. if it cries, it will generally be fed or have its nappy changed). The baby slowly learns to distinguish its physical boundaries through a multitude of trial and error experiments. 

It slowly dawns upon the child, just as it dawned upon our earliest ancestors, that there are many implications of having boundaries and a separate being. We learned that we can be alone and abandoned. We learned that we cannot know everything nor can we control everything. Fear became conscious.

We also realised for the first time that we exist in a separate time. Previously,  past and future did not exist. Pain only existed if it was being felt at the time. As soon as the pain stopped, it ceased to be. There was no fear of the past nor dread of the future, because there was no past nor future. 

Once we became conscious of a separate existence, we had to find mechanisms to cope with the fear of the past, dread of the future and our eventual death as individual beings.

The fear of loss and abandonment, of not being in control, of death, of being overwhelmed and devoured by the world, all sprang from the realisation of our individuality. These fears are unbearable without some mechanism to reduce them to a level with which we can cope. Warrior training to deny emotions, religious systems with a belief in an after life, hoarding riches, and building enormous monuments or tombs have all been used as ‘projects’ (Wilber, 1983) to deny and hide the overwhelming fear of death. Our world views and our identity have been deeply infused with the particular ‘project’ that we have found most effective in allaying our fears of loss and death.

Lucas and Milov (1997) shows the link between identity and conflict. If we are individual, we have a unique identity. To express that individuality means being able to make our own choices about how we live. These choices will inevitably lead to conflict as individual needs clash. Indeed, it is through these competing interactions that we form our identity and realise why we are unique.

This also means that communication itself will cause conflict. Conflict, which can naturally be extremely destructive is totally necessary and integral to social interactions within the Human Experiential Space.

Because we are unable to experience and understand all of reality at once, we must take ‘bites’ of reality the size we can ‘chew’. We then form an image based on our best guesses as to the nature of the whole ‘pie’. The image formed is much like a map of a poorly charted territory.

We use this map to navigate the events and situations encountered in the world, just as an explorer uses a map to find their way through a jungle they have never previously encountered.<

All the impressions, images, thoughts, events and situations the individual has experienced come together in that person’s mind. There they interact with each other to create an internally consistent, dynamic image of the world that provides the individual a means by which to cope with the environment. Even though the map will be generally internally consistent, it may or may not be consistent with the external world it is attempting to map.

Sometimes the map will be accurate and reliable, while at other times, the map will not provide the necessary accuracy and the underlying fears and distress that had been allayed will re-emerge.

Included in the ‘map’ of reality, must be a map of the individual themselves. Just as the whole map must form a coherent and consistent image, the map of themselves must be similarly coherent and consistent. I must be able to link who I was yesterday, who I am today, and will be tomorrow or my ability to interact collapses. Memory is thus an integral part of creating an identity that persists over time.

Whenever a situation is experienced, it must be compared to the map. There are four possible responses to any experience. Firstly, we can find it consistent with the existing map and absorb the experience into our being. Secondly, we can find it unacceptable and reject it, thereby relegating it to our ‘shadow’. Thirdly, we can distort or reinterpret the experience so it can remain congruent with the map and then absorb it into our being, or finally, find the experience so disturbing that the map breaks down, leaving us unable to relate to our world.

Our identity is therefore created from our past and how we interpret it. 

Human identity is relational. Unless we can compare ourselves to what is around us, we cannot understand why we are special and individual. We are therefore formed and sculpted by all those external influences much as a sculptor turns a block of clay, wood or stone into the desired image. We are moulded by events and our identity takes the shape we are given. 

At the same time, however, we have an ability to evaluate our experiences, reject external events, and form our own views. We are all at once the sculptor and the sculpted, the creator and the created.

Our identity is not based on who we are, but on who we perceive ourselves to be. If a very physically beautiful person perceives themselves to be ugly, their identity will be formed around their perception of their ugliness.

Physical, Emotional, Intellectual and Spiritual Body
Our primary identity is formed around our physical body. A baby relates to its physical being before any other less tangible aspects. Our perception of our stature and physique, our level of  health and fitness, our physical beauty all have a crucial bearing on our identity. Diseases such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia attest to the importance of our perception of our physical body can dominate our sense of identity.

We use our bodies to dance and sing our identity. We express our identity by the way we adorn, clothe and perfume our body. 

Beyond our physical body is our emotional body. Our many feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and grief all have their effect on our identity. At the intellectual level we find all our thoughts, concepts and ideas, which again have an enormous impact on our identity. We paint paintings, write poetry, and create web pages as extensions of our being. 

The final level is the spiritual, where we look beyond the bounds of everyday life and explore our inner realities. If developed, the spiritual dimension can have an all pervasive effect on our identity and the way we construct our lives.

Language and Identity
The development of language was a key factor in the formation of human identity. Language emphasises the separateness of our world. Each object has its own name. Time is specified and events are classified. The fuzziness inherent in our universe is wiped away when a word is defined. Each time we hear our name, the link between the sounds, or written shapes and our identity becomes further entrenched and canalysed. Objects and events in the real world become understood through the words and phrases used to describe them. The use of discourse is a powerful means of controlling people. Often without realising, our world view is subtly repositioned.

Metaphors are extremely important tools in understanding the world. We come to understand anything new by comparing it to things we already know and understand. Our identity also forms new linkages by comparing them to existing ones. 

Metaphors can canalyse our perceptions. For example, the computer has been used as a metaphor for the brain. Indeed there are some similarities between the operation of a computer and the operation of a human brain, but there are also many fundamental differences. When we see the computer as a brain, we exclude qualities the brain may have that computers do not.

Links to the Land and our Mythic Identity
I find myself linking to the land in which I live. The tall snowy mountains, wide shingled riverbeds, rocky coastlines are all a part of who I am. If I were to live in a desert, or a tropical environment, or in a colder climate, my identity would be correspondingly affected. It is no surprise that many mythic societies make the connection between the tribal ancestors and the environment in which  they live because the ancestors are seen as descendants of the land. The Maori people of the South Island of New Zealand, for example, have a story of an ancient canoe paddled by their ancestors. The canoe capsized because of an error in the prayers for the journey. The canoe and its occupants were turned into stone and became the South Island (Brailsford, 1994). This forms a seamless flow of relationship between the living individual, their ancestors and the land on which they live. All three are infused with a potent immediacy.

My own interest in Maori culture has meant that even without any Maori ancestral links, many of the traditional values have been integrated into my identity. I feel uncomfortable when I see a hat on a table, or food consumed near a coffin. Such values are irrelevant according to the Western mode of living, but are offensive within a Maori context.

Around 600 years ago a Maori tribe split in two, demonstrating some of the principles of complexity and the process of the development of tribal identity.
An argument arose between two brothers, Porourangi and Tahupotiki over the wife of Porourangi. When there is conflict in a group, as between these brothers or, for example, when there are insufficient resources, the tribe must re-organise itself on the phase space or their fitness will collapse. 

Often the group will bifurcate to form two groups. These must then differentiate themselves so each group maintains coherence. The father of the brothers determined that Tahupotiki, the younger, should leave the East Coast of the North Island. Those who wished to follow Tahupotiki left to live in the South island. They soon developed a separate identity, differentiating themselves from those people who had been kinsfolk. Often groups which are the most similar generate more conflict than widely divergent groups because of the need to express difference.

The followers of Tahupotiki formed their own artistic style, rituals of encounter and distinct dialect. Some of the new identity was influenced by the colder climate of their new home. In northern tribes one finds visitors arriving at night can be sent away until the next day, while in the south, they are more generally welcomed into the tribal meeting house. 

My ancestral origins lie on shores far distant from those on which I live. In spite of the depth of feeling for the land in which I live, my ancestral links to my identity are found in other lands. I have been fortunate to have travelled to the lands of my ancestors. Those distant hills stand high within my being, their winds caress my soul, the rivers flow in my blood and the clouds scud across the firmament of my mind. 

I have seen the paintings of my ancestors, read their letters, tried to learn something of the languages they spoke because I recognise them within me. By seeking my ancestors in the outside world, I keep them alive and vibrant in my inner world and in my identity.

The region where I live has its own linguistic nuances and variations on the English language. I have an accent that tells of where I live. Words echo through the hills, flow down the rivers and through the people. As I speak, my land, my ancestors, my relations, my friends, and my enemies all have their voice.

Cultural Ancestry
I have also found it necessary to link with my cultural ancestry, the western heritage. Reading about and visiting important cultural sites and events enlivened others parts of my being and identity. Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, entering the pyramids of the Pharaohs, the Winter Palace of the Tsars, Westminster Abbey and Stonehenge have been very important  to link me to my evolutionary history. 

National Identity
When societies develop beyond the tribal level, nations emerge. Proof of identity moves from genealogical links to the possession of a passport. Today a citizen of Australia or New Zealand may have been born in Afghanistan, speak Chinese or be a Buddhist. The nation’s identity is formed by the interacting elements of its history, geography, culture, technology, economy, external threats and predominant value system.

Global Identity
American culture has become the most influential culture in the Western world. In fact it has become so global that "American" may not be the best description of the influence. It is an enormous attractor that swamps all the smaller attractors it encounters. The more it swamps other attractors the less the overall diversity and the overall fitness of the landscape decreases. The global society is designed in so many ways to entrap us in its illusory materialist vision, thus diverting our attention away from the greater truth within each of us.

Technology, which is central to the global culture, increasingly affects our identity. Television, the internet, cell phones, movies, vehicles, and so much more have become everyday objects. The more everyday they become, the more they invisibly blend into our identity. 

While in Japan many years ago I remember how incongruent the sight of Japanese ‘punks’ appeared to me. It was all the more  poignant to realise that in fact New Zealand ‘punks’ were virtually as incongruent, also being an alien imported sub-culture.

The more we live in a global economy, the more likely it is that we will live away from our cultural roots. The seamless flow between the living individual, the ancestors, and the land is broken and only restored with difficulty. 

Communities of Interest
Communities of interest can define our identity. People in a New Age community, or a gang, or a particular religious group will form ways of expressing their shared identity. Rainbow colours, crystals and long hair is likely to indicate a person with an identity based on New Age or alternative ideas, while a bald head, a patch on a jacket and bodily tattoos is more likely to indicate a gang identity.

Roles and  Achievements
Often the roles we undertake in life become our identity rather than being aspects of our life. Our identity becomes a policeman, a teacher, a mother or a dancer as yet another ‘project’ to avoid exploring more deeply into our true nature. We often similarly form our identity around our achievements; centred around what we do rather than who we are. 

When we enter into a relationship with anyone, there is an interaction between the identities, each affecting the other. This is particularly so if the relationship is sexual. Long term partners do indeed tend to grow together as one, even as their individual identities remain strong. One of the dangers of entering a sexual relationship too quickly is taking on elements of the other person’s identity without really knowing what they might be like. 

The Influence of my Daughter
As I interact with my thirteen-year-old daughter, I take on a part of her world within my identity. I am not personally attracted to the music, the skateboarding, the videos, or the television programmes that she is. However, by being in their presence, they nevertheless impinge on my world and become a part of my identity. 

The need for congruency in values was seen during the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand in 1981. There were widespread demonstrations because of  the Apartheid policies in South Africa. The tour was opposed. The rugby supporters previously had generally little interest in international politics. When the issue became political they took on strong political beliefs they would not have otherwise adopted in order to be able to retain the centrality of rugby in their value system.

Carl Jung wrote much on archetypes, mental images inherited from our ancestors that constellate as vortices within the collective unconscious to form identities such as the trickster, the warrior, the lover or the wise person. These archetypes dwell within all of us and are a part of our identity. They form in ways appropriate to the culture of the individual. We are connected to them and they are connected to us.

Changes of Identity
Since our identity must remain congruent with the environment in which it operates, it must change as the environment changes or a dissociative split would cause a collapse of the identity.

Our physical body undergoes a bewildering level of changes over a lifetime. Our body grows to many times its own size, becomes strong and fecund, then grows weaker and weaker until it is finally unable to sustain life any more. Our body cells are said to be totally renewed every seven years. 

During our lifetime we take on a number of roles, learn an enormous amount of new skills and information, experience losses and gains, live in different locations and conditions, meet a bewildering array of people, all of which require corresponding changes to our identity. Sometimes change is slow and sometimes it is very rapid.

We humans can become subject to mental disorders which sever the links of the identity. We must ask what the identity is of a person with a disease such as Alzheimers, Biploar Disorder or Schizophrenia. Do they still have their ‘original’ identity if they have lost their memory or the ability to relate meaningfully in the world?

Value Systems
Within the swirling mass of influences around us everyday, those that resonate with our value system will be attracted to become a part of our identity. When people select similar value systems they are attracted to each other. Their interactions form a group value system and a group identity will emerge. Those centred in that value system will co-operate and further develop expressions of that value system that further reinforce the group identity. They will compete in the wider environment to have their values accepted and embraced by more people, or at least defend themselves from attacks from competing value systems. 

Lawrence LeShan (1976), cites four main human value systems: the sensory, clairvoyant, transpersonal, and mythic. He proposes that each system has an important contribution to how we see our world, but none are individually adequate to give the whole picture.

Spiral Dynamics take this concept even further by proposing a set of nested value systems, which are basically hierarchical, and yet still highly interactive between the levels. This structure is extremely reminiscent of a Complex Adaptive System. Spiral Dynamics proposes the survival, mythic, exploitative, absolute, achieving, relativistic, integrative and holistic levels. (Cowan 2001). As we move from one level to another we retain earlier levels. We do not lose our need for food and clothing, nor mythic identity because we have moved on. Dissociation at any level is reflected fractally through all levels. 

Complex dynamics require a large number of separate agents interacting intensely, such that the resultant effects are unpredictable. We have already explored the many factors which influence the nature and development of the identity. These many factors interact just as they do in other Complex Adaptive Systems, so our identity becomes a vital growing entity, constantly interacting with the external environment. 

Butterfly Effect
Small events in our lives can display the ‘butterfly effect’ on our identity. Positive feedback loops allow a seemingly insignificant influence to grow and become a major part of a person’s identity. In my own life a videoed programme on Chaos Theory was a small initial event. Once I had seen it, I sought out more information in books, on the internet, attended a conference and eventually participated in this course. Chaos and Complexity has moved from an interesting video to an integral part of my values and identity.

The butterfly effect can be positive or negative. If not countered, a small obsessive thought can dominate a person’s identity and cause havoc in their lives.

Power Law Distribution (Bak, 1996)
The effect of influences on our identity form power law distributions. The large bulk of the influences have a minimal effect on identity, a smaller group of influences have a moderate effect and a small number of influences have an enormous effect on the identity. This relationship can be remarkably precisely mathematically described by a logarithmically based distribution. We cannot predict how much effect a particular influence will have, but power law dynamics give shape to the overall structure of the identity.

Competition and Co-operation
Competition is often seen as the driving force of the corrupt corporate world, whose greed and avarice causes misery for many millions of people on our globe. Unbalanced competition certainly is extremely harmful, but that should not deter us from realising the importance of competition as an integral part of the process of Complex Adaptive systems. 

While co-operation allows the efficient use of resources by a group, without an incentive for individuals to excel, co-operation can flounder. Co-operation, paradoxically requires strong leadership. 

Competition, as Howard Bloom (2000) has written, engenders innovation. If there is a new development within a particular portion of a system that gives it a competitive advantage on the fitness landscape, it will gain prominence and its qualities will spread to more agents in the system.

Competition for the available energy in the bodies of our early ancestors led to the development of our brain at the expense of greater muscle strength. This development allowed us to dominate our environment and significantly increase the overall fitness landscape.

Those elements which can improve the fitness of our identity will tend to be selected before less adaptive elements.

Human Complex Adaptive Systems require a dynamic Edge of Chaos balance between competition and co-operation.

Swarm dynamics calculates the interactions of all the agents in a system to map situations such as the spread of a bush fire or the interactions between different species in an environment. Computer based models can depict species fighting for dominance against competitors as they seek their best position on the fitness landscape. Our identity is a similar ‘battlefield’ where  ideas, concepts and images struggle for a dominant place. Our beliefs are attractors seeking to draw allies to increase their place on our phase space.

Self organisation allows a system to grow and develop on its own without requiring interference from outside. It relates to the expression, "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps". While it seems impossible to grab your bootlaces and lift yourself up, Complex Adaptive Systems can do it by themselves and increase their overall fitness. This is achieved through the emergent properties that were not predictable and did not previously exist. 

An autopoietic system is one in which there is a flow of energy of some form  continuously flowing through the it, such that a stable shape is maintained. A human eating food and drinking water to stay alive or water in a stream forming a small stable whirlpool are autopoietic. Autopoietic systems can exhibit emergent behaviour, bootstrapping themselves to new levels of self organisation 

Edge of Chaos
Human identity as a Complex Adaptive System sits at many Edges of Chaos simultaneously, which all relate fractally. We have an internal world and an external world. Some explanations of human nature focus on internal processes, such as psycho-dynamics or cognitive therapies. Others focus on external causes such as Post-modernism. In fact they are both right and both wrong. There is an edge of chaos balance where each informs and influences the other to reveal a greater reality than can be gained from either polarity. We are male and female, individual and social, body and soul, competition and co-operation. All have dynamic balances at the Edge of Chaos. 

Our identity shows self similarity. All aspects of our identity must be interactive and congruent. Even flaws in our character are reflected fractally through all aspects of our being. If we have a violent identity, it will be expressed through all the aspects of our being. The violence acts as an attractor for violent images, attitudes, and values and draws them in to become integrated implicitly throughout the entire personality.

It is not only individuals who form identities. While the physical boundary of an individual is generally obvious, the boundaries of a group are more difficult to define. 

As we humans evolved, we often found existing social structures to be unable to meet our needs. Small family groups gradually grew in size until the group cohesion was threatened. A more complex tribal structure was needed to restore stability. Again, when too many tribal groups exist in close proximity,  the level of conflict rises. Historically, one of the tribes has tended to conquer the others and the tribal leader has become instituted as a King or Queen of the empire. As education levels and individuals’ expectations increased, democratic forms of government formed nations as the most effective social structure. Each level has its own, appropriate corresponding identity. We each have an individual identity, a family identity, a community/tribal identity a national identity, and a planetary identity.

Identity form as nested levels, including the previous level as we progress to a new level (Wilber, 1996).  The levels have a fractal relationship. Identity is formed in the same nested way as our brain. Our basic survival functions are controlled in the hindbrain (also called reptilian brain) at the centre of the brain. The paleomammalian midbrain wrapped around it controlling our emotions and the neomammalian neo-cortex is wrapped around all those formations controlling higher brain functions. (Eysenck, 1970: 84).  Evolution does not do away with existing structures, but instead forms new structures to modify earlier ones.  We do not do away with the need of a family level when we move to a tribal identity and so on. All the levels are interactive. Any level not fully functioning affects the whole organism. 

Human identity does not have clear edges, they are fuzzy. Because we have choice, we are not predictable, and have fuzzy identities. All Edge of Chaos boundaries in the identity are fuzzy. Fuzziness allows growth and development. 

As the many influences on identity are experienced, choices are always necessary. To choose is to define difference and create identity. A choice divides our world so a part of it is retained and the rest is rejected. Without this bifurcation we could not differentiate ourselves and form separate identities. 

Attractors and Repellers
Attractor and Repellers are a constant part of the interplay of influences that give structure to the identity. As we are drawn to attractors and repelled by repellers, we further differentiate ourselves and our identity. They are important in maintaining the stability of our identity.

Autopoietic systems can be understood through the metaphor of the vortex. A vortex requires a flow of fluid or energy drawn in from the outside, which then swirls around within the vortex and then leaves. A whirlpool draws in water from outside itself and swirls it around and around until it is spun back off again. Water is always moving through the vortex. A stable shape develops, although as conditions change, the particular shape that is formed will change. 

Our body operates like a vortex. New cells are always being created, old cells are dying, but we continue to live. Even though a particular person is recognisable as the same person over their whole life, they are constantly changing. 

Our sense of identity is formed as a vortex. All our memories, emotions, thoughts, desires and fears; all our social, cultural, religious and educational influences; all the words that we use, the television programmes we watch, the web pages we look at, and the magazines and books we read are all a part of the mass of swirling images and energies that interact with each other forming a vortex. An identity emerges that is stable enough to be recognised over time, but changes sufficiently to allow growth and development. Without this stability of identity, we could not know who we are from day to day or be able to make consistent decisions about how to act in the world. Our world would become deep chaos. 

Vortices are also fractal with vortices within vortices. A nation has its identity vortex and within it are regions, communities, families and individuals all with their own vortices. The non-linear dynamics of vortices emerge from the feedback loops in and between the vortices inside the overarching vortex .

Quantum Mechanics
It is interesting that Quantum Mechanics, one of the other key scientific developments changing the concepts of life in this age, describes the underlying dynamics of the universe in similar ways to Complexity. While Complexity talks of fractality, Quantum Mechanics talks about the universe as a seamless whole (Bohm, 1980) where all elements in the universe are linked and interact with each other. 

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Hypothesis tells us we cannot simultaneously know the position and momentum of a sub atomic particle. The act of measuring one alters the other. This means the universe is ultimately unpredictable. Quantum Mechanics describes a universe where everything that is, is either a wave (boson) or particle (fermion), but the two are not exclusive. A boson can become a fermion and a fermion can become a boson. The boundary is fuzzy. Existing at the Edge of Chaos boundary between particles and waves is light. Mystic traditions around the world consistently have recognised the special properties of light. 

Danah Zohar (1990) writes from a Quantum Mechanics perspective, but also links with Complexity principles. She describes Einstein-Bose condensates in which the polarities of the atoms all line up so the whole condensate acts as one unit, taking on emergent properties. Danah Zohar contends that, as well as being found at temperatures near Absolute Zero,  Einstein-Bose condensates are found in all living tissue and form the basis of consciousness. She claims that consciousness is the action of quantum and complex dynamics at a macroscopic level.

Complex Adaptive Systems
A Complex Adaptive System is one that not only self organises, but has the capacity to direct its activity towards its own optimisation. It is autopoietic and can maintain its existence. A Complex Adaptive System is poised between order and chaos. A system that is too orderly becomes rigid and stultified, while a system that is too chaotic has no structure from which to create. We humans and our identity are Complex Adaptive Systems, with the ability to  respond to our environment and developing strategies to continually improve our fitness.

When a particular influence is repeatedly experienced, its effect on the overall identity is strengthened. Even if it is unhelpful, because of the way it has been reinforced, it becomes difficult to change. On the phase space this is characterised by a canal or valley shape, where the ‘hills’ around the valley must be climbed to escape the canalysation effect.

Just as the dynamics of Complex Adaptive Systems in nature can be hindered by effects and events in the environment, so too can the development of identity. That which we call ‘evil’ can be defined as that which hinders the Complex Adaptive process of development.

Because the outcome of any action cannot be fully determined the boundary between good and evil must be fuzzy. What appears to be destructive to a system may in fact be the ‘butterfly wings’ of a perturbation that would lead to a new level of operation and what appears to sustain the vortex may in fact be hindering a whole new emergent level of development. 

When any of the crucial factors that set the dynamics of human identity swirling are altered, there is a risk that the self organisation of the system may falter. There are always people who would use this fact to subvert the process of identity development for their own ends. 

The Projected Devil
Within the world views of traditional religions all the unacceptable aspects of life could be scapegoated within the archetype of the ‘Devil’. Without the ‘Devil’ we are left with shadow aspects too dreadful to embrace which are re-projected into the world.

Complexity Theory tells us we do not need a ‘Devil’ or a similar external justification to explain catastrophes in life. Catastrophes are not external, but are implicit in the dynamics of life. Authenticity requires choice. If we cannot choose actions which are ‘evil’, we do not really have choice. ‘Evil’ too is implicit in the dynamics of life.

The ‘system’ is often blamed as the cause of our problems. While this is certainly true in many ways, we need to remain clear of the greater perspective. If we live in a seamless, fractal world then just as the ‘system’ creates us, we create the ‘system’. We are the system, the system is us. Whatever we think of the ‘system’, it’s existence is bound inextricably within our own identity. In fact, the more we see the ‘system’ as our enemy, the more we see ourselves as our own enemy. 

Thich Nat Hanh (2001) is very clear about how we project the shadow parts of ourselves we are unable to accept out into the outside world. He tells us we will not find our peace until we recognise that we are the bombers of the twin towers, George Bush, Hiroshima bombers, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, baby kidnapper, rapists and murderers. We cannot hope to overcome violence until we fully acknowledge it within ourselves. The boundary between oppressor and oppressed becomes fuzzy. 

It is only when we embrace the pain and suffering of life and sacrifice our small ego-bound selves to the truth of the wholeness that we are, that we can be transformed to a new level of being where we really can be effective at changing the outside world. We no longer fear it, no longer need to distort it. The world is simply what it is. We are what we are and we align ourselves to be in harmony with the Complex Adaptive processes of life. Martin Luther King Jnr, Te Whiti o Rongomai, Mohandas Ghandi and many others knew this truth. They were effective at bringing about changes in the world because they stayed at the still centre.

Our true identity is to be found at the still centre of the vortex of swirling influences. At the still centre we are not buffeted about by the winds of the periphery, where, caught in oppositonal dynamics, our best efforts merely perpetuate the storm. At the still centre we are not buffeted by fear of the past nor hopes of an uncertain future. We exist clearly in the still centre of now as time itself flows through our being. Indeed, love is the experience of our connectedness with one another through the dynamics of Complex Adaptive Systems within the Human Experiential Space. 

There are people and influences that try to alter our experiences so the vortex of our identity moves away from its true centre to line up instead with their vortex. Sometimes that is done by subtle persuasion, sometimes by intimidation and outright violence. 

The intimidation and violence must be continually reinforced to maintain the vortex of fear. All the old empires from the Babylonians to the British maintained power by terror. The terror could never end because if it did, so did the empire. More modern ‘empires’ have found they can be just as effective by manipulating information instead.

Manipulating other people’s vortex of identity destroys the dynamics of self organisation. Violence cannot work forever. Violence always engenders the desire of the victim to reassert their authority.

Brainwashing can be seen as disturbing the swirling energies that form the vortex and setting up a new attractor as desired by the brainwasher. The flow can be disturbed by slowing it down or speeding it up. We slow the flow by isolating a person and reducing the stimuli that comprise the flow. We increase the flow by bombarding a person with too much information. Once the system collapses, the brainwasher forms a new vortex of their own making to be used to their own ends.

Violence and oppression springs from an attempt to bring unity into our lives. Rather than creating unity by co-operating and adapting to the outside world, violence seeks to force the world to the existing world view, so that the perpetrator’s world becomes the whole world. 

In opposing oppression and violence, we must be very careful to avoid falling into the trap of just becoming another influence in the swirling mass, buffeted about by the winds of the vortex, rather than moving to the still centre where we are in fact the most effective. If we oppose violence and oppression the wrong way, we merely exacerbate and prolong it. Anthony Judge (2002) warns of moving from one trap to another. If we have not addressed the key issues that generate our trap or ‘project’, we merely form a new one.

What is the optimal point on the phase state at one time, will not be the optimal point at another time. Therefore for a system to function optimally over the long term, it needs to be adaptable to change rather than optimised for specific situations. Howard Bloom (2002) says "specialists die, generalists live." 

If too many resources are given to agents existing at less than optimal positions on the phase space, the overall fitness of the system falls. Resources will then naturally shift towards those agents who prove themselves to be more effective at maintaining coherence and fitness. In natural systems this expresses itself as natural selection, where the resources tend to be food and water required for survival. Once a particular species or group has come to dominate, its position tends to become canalysed by virtue of their privileged access to the best resources. The fittest dominate the physical environment, whether they are bacteria, baboons or humans.

The very same mechanisms operate in the Human Experiential Space. The fight for natural selection can be the fight for money or information. Those with money and information can similarly dominate human societies and use their resources to maintain their optimal position on the phase space. 

This also suggests, as is borne out by history, that an equal sharing of resources is not actually an optimal strategy. The optimal strategy sits an yet another Edge of Chaos.

The same laws of natural selection are operating in regard to identity. Rather than seeking physical resources, the ‘battle’ is to disseminate ideas, concepts, values, beliefs and company products, into the mental world, influencing people to incorporate them into their being. 

Traditional religious philosophies, like so much of our modern world, are generally based on philosophies that split our universe into parts. The spiritual is stressed over the physical, which is generally seen as sinful. Traditional religions are generally male dominated with the female again seen as sinful. Beliefs are set in stone (sometimes literally) clearly delineating that which is right and what is wrong.  There is no fuzziness. Adherent’s lives are controlled. In spite of the claims of the religions to offer salvation and freedom, their actions and practices are, all too often, designed to gain control over people’s lives. Traditional religions tend to present distorted values and beliefs in order to entrap people within their discourse. 

Having made such generalisations about traditional religious beliefs, we must recognise the fuzzy reality, that there are exceptions. Black and white judgements on traditional religions would miss the tremendous contributions of people like Meister Eckhart, Mother Teresa, St Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther-King Jnr.

In order for people to link to the spiritual essence within, a whole new world view is necessary that encompasses the fuzziness of modern life. Today people are no longer prepared to blindly follow authorities, but need to find their own spiritual values and live their own authority. 

Life operates as a Complex Adaptive System which develops towards optimisation. This is not towards or an unchanging heaven or a fixed point of perfection as might be suggested by movement towards an ‘Omega Point’ (Teillhard de Chardin, 1959 ) but towards a dynamic fractal expression of eternity.

The dynamics of self organisation in the Human Experiential Space have two components. First is the agents. Agents must be free to act under their own authority. If individuals are unduly influenced, and start to act as one block according to the dictates of an external influence, the dynamics of self organisation breakdown. The attractor shifts from being a strange attractor to a point attractor.

The second component is the connections between the agents. There must be an open flow of information between the agents. Each agent must be willing and able to co-operate with the agents around it. If some of the agents are cut off from others, the dynamics again break down.

By interacting through their connections, the agents influence each other. We have already said that agents must not unduly influence each other. A dynamic balance at the critical Edge of Chaos between the agents and the connections enables the self organising dynamics.

For these dynamics to be effective in the Human Experiential Space each agent requires the skills to act to maintain their authority and work for their own good and the good of the whole. Next the agent requires the resources to act. These resources might be food and water, shelter, transport, emotional support, finance or information. 

Education is an important element in developing skills and knowledge. The more information and the better we know how to use that information, the better we can question and restructure information. We then become more effective at expressing our autonomy, which in turn supports the autopoietic process.

The actions and qualities which support the self organisation and optimisation of the Complex Adaptive System of life, support and develop our human identity, our spirituality and define the ethics. These then stand as a framework to allow the full expression of spirit through our being.

As well as undergoing constant change, there is a part of us that does not change. This is our higher self, and what some people will call the still centre. A vortex also has a still centre, right in the middle unaffected by the swirling mass of energy around it. In a cyclone we call it the eye of the storm. If a cyclone passes directly overhead, first the wind increases to a peak blowing in one direction. Then follows the eye of the storm, where all is quiet and calm. Following that the winds begin in the other direction reach a peak and then gradually passing away as the cyclone leaves.To be autonomous means being able to make choices. This means dividing off the phase space and excluding those possibilities that are not chosen. At first glance, this would appear to restrict the possible choices available, but choices available on the phase space were only potential possibilities which only become realisable once they are chosen. The act of choosing also opens new possibilities that were not in existence before the choice. We can see the similarities with the concepts of Quantum Mechanics and the dilemma of Schrödinger’s cat. 

Strangely, when we incorporate these insights from Complexity into our spiritual philosophies, we inexorably find ourselves describing our world in very similar terms to so many of the great mystics and spiritual identities of the past. 

Traditional religions have distorted many ethical principles to their own ends. A re-interpretation of those principles reveals that they can be compatible with Complexity dynamics and form a cohesive ethical framework appropriate to the needs of people in this twenty-first century.

Forgiveness (Pettitt, 1993)
Forgiveness is not an external process where someone excuses you for what you may have done. It is an internal process whereby we free ourselves of the canalysing effects of previous judgements. Our previous judgements cloud us from being able to make full use of the opportunities before us. We have become canalysed in our views and cannot raise ourselves out of the trough on the phase state to see the whole landscape. Forgiveness allows us to release those blockages and opens opportunities for action that were not previously available. Through forgiveness we become more authentic.

Rather than being a loss, sacrifice is a transaction. Used positively, we release an action, a world view, material possessions, or anything which inhibits us from taking on something of more value to us. We sacrifice money to acquire a house in which to live. We sacrifice time, energy and effort to learn new skills and knowledge. We sacrifice ego-bound world views for a spiritual understanding. A willingness to sacrifice, also breaks us free of canalysation and allows us to be more open and flexible and take better advantage of opportunities before us.

Traditionally grace is seen receiving the unmerited favour of an external God. In terms of Complexity, however, we can see it as the unexpected emergence of  a new level of awareness attained by aligning ourselves with Complex Adaptive dynamics and frees us from restrictions that existed before the emergence.

A key concept in maximising our identity is authenticity. We spend so much of our time being who we think we are or who we ought to be, that we lose sight of our authentic self. We spend our lives living roles or ideals to avoid facing the reality of who we are. To live an authentic life and have an authentic identity means not only embracing the wonder and joy of life, but also the pain and despair. It means facing our darkest secret and requires great courage and honesty. We are free to experience life as it is rather than as we would like it to be and can enter into the Mystery.

To be at the leading edge of change in a Complex Adaptive System is to be a pioneer moving into uncharted territory and breaking bonds with the ‘status quo’. The existing regime will see the pioneer as a rebel to be brought back into line. The actions of the pioneer will inevitably be seen as a betrayal. True spiritual progress will involve a betrayal. If we have the courage, the experience of betrayal can be transformational. (Emerson, Myss) 

Embracing the Whole of Reality
Complexity and Quantum Mechanics see our world as a seamless whole. There is nothing outside the reality that we are. Every part of the universe is potent infused with the whole of reality. All ‘evil’ dwells within us as much as outside us. If we harm anyone else, we harm ourselves. If we harm ourselves, we harm everyone else. It is therefore incumbent upon us to treat each other in the best way possible. To love our neighbour makes good sense in Complexity terms. Murder, rape, burglary, fraud and other crimes offend against the seamless nature of reality. 

At the crucifixion, the cloak of Jesus was not a collection of pieces of fabric sewn together, but was a seamless whole. This seamless cloak reflects the truth that through the process of sacrifice, resurrection and transformation we can come to know and be the seamless fabric of the universe.

Living in the Now
The conventional view of time is that we move from our past towards the future. Complexity offers a different perspective (Dimitrov, 2002). The flow of time operates as a vortex. Time swirls around the vortex and through the still centre of the present moment. 

Everything that has happened in our past is certain and cannot be changed. If we place our identity in the past, we live for what was and the present can have no meaning or power. 

Similarly, if we place our identity in the future, we live for what will be, for our future achievements, for what people around us will be; then again, the present has no meaning or power.

The present moment is balanced on the Edge of Chaos between the certain past and the uncertain future, not restricted by the past and free to create the future. If we place our consciousness in the past or the future, we place it in the turbulent swirling winds of the vortex, where we are tossed about and have little control over our lives. If, instead, we place ourselves at the still centre of the present moment, there is a calmness we find within ourselves. It doesn’t mean we avoid the difficulties of the world or ignore the past and future, but it does mean we see them from the still point and remain calm. We are actually then at the only place where true change can be made.

Returning to the Edge of Chaos
An abiding value of Complexity is that it tells us the world is fractal and that there is an Edge of Chaos at each level of fractality. Each Edge of Chaos is found at the optimal edge between two polarities. This means that for any situation, the question must be asked, "In what way is my understanding positioned nearer one of the polarities, rather than at the Edge of Chaos?" We must continually ask if we favour the internal over the external, the past over the future, the rational over the intuitive, the individual over the cultural. We are always asked to question what we need to do to move to the Edge of Chaos, thus allow the unfolding of yet another layer of depth to our understanding of our human reality. It is the nature of Complex Adaptive Systems that they are drawn to the critical edge. 

Balance of Aspects of Identity
The significance of Ken Wilber’s four quadrant, multi-level approach is that it provides us with a framework to explore the balance in any particular approach. We ask whether both the internal and external, the individual and the social, are sufficiently considered and in balance. 

That is not to say that approaches such as cognitive psychological theories, which focuses more on the internal world, or standard System Theory, which focuses more on the external, are without value. We need to embrace what they have of value and integrate that within the wider view. 

Similarly, if an approach is centred in only one world view, it will not explain human nature as well as one which is more all embracing.

Should we find the concept of God to be useful to understand our life, then the image of God in the universe as an enormous fractal, with Complex Adaptive Systems inside Complex Adaptive Systems, is valid and coherent. It describes a God as ever present in the minute detail as in the wider reality. We experience an imminent God that creates and is created. We encounter a God which ‘allows’ ‘evil’ to occur, but nevertheless moves towards a dynamic perfection. It describes a God which shows grace and salvation to those prepared to undertake the suffering of aligning their vortices within the great vortex that is God. 

The nature of the finite world must be linked to the nature of the infinite world since the finite springs from the infinite. For Complexity dynamics to be an integral part of the structure of our finite world, there must an appropriate reflection in the infinite reality. If ‘man’ is the image of God, then God’s qualities must be related to man’s qualities.

Prayer and Meditation
Prayer and meditation can concentrate our attention to move beyond our day to day concerns. By reducing the flow of mundane external influences, we allow the emergence of a resonance with deeper aspects of our being, more in line with the Complex Adaptive dynamics, that bring us closer to our true nature.

Politeness, Openness and Authority (POA)
Spiral Dynamics proposes these three qualities for helping humans communicate as effectively as possible. Politeness requires us to acknowledge the other person and their validity. We are required us to consider the other person, their needs and desires. We must ‘put ourselves in their shoes’ and consider what they may be finding difficult. Politeness requires respect and can avert situations of conflict.

Openness allows us to accept other people being different. With openness we embrace and nurture novelty. It requires honesty which builds the trust. An open person is tolerant, patient and sympathetic. Free and unhindered energy flows are possible with openness.

If we are feeling under threat, we are less likely to be open and more likely to maintain a fixed position rather than consider alternatives. Redfield, (1999), suggests that our prime objective should be to act in such a way that we provide any person to whom we relate with the best opportunity to act in the best, most open way. Whatever we can do to allay other people’s fears, build trust, and engender openness, supports the Complex Adaptive processes.

Authority means we retain our personal individuality and creativity. We are not influenced unduly by others and we are able to make our full contribution to the whole.  As previously mentioned, being authentic requires skills, knowledge, and resources. Anything that promotes any of these qualities promotes Complex Adaptive development.

Courage, Compassion, Wisdom and Authority 
MacGill (1995) proposes courage, compassion, wisdom and authority as corresponding qualities of the four Jungian archetypes of the warrior, lover, magician and king. Courage is required to express our authority. Through compassion we realise our connectedness with the people around us. We will be humble as we see our place within the whole. Without wisdom we cannot be compassionate.

Transcend and Include
Albert Einstein tells us we cannot solve a problem at the level it occurs. Ken Wilber (1996) tells us we must transcend and include. To move beyond ego-bound violence, we do not fight it at its own level. We must transcend it through forgiveness and sacrifice. In transcending, we do not deny what we move from, but embrace it as a part of ourselves and work to bring it into the greater wholeness where competition, ego and conflict find their rightful Edge of Chaos balance to produce a whole and harmonious life.

Complexity Theory provides a framework for us to create meaningful lives that are consistent with our bio-psycho-social-spiritual nature. A new paradigm emerges which we can use to break free of the hindrances of our past and create a future that allows the full expression of our human identity and our spiritual being.

The greatest threat to human evolution, I believe, is our unwillingness to acknowledge our own violence. Until we each acknowledge our vilence, we perpetuate it from generation to generation. We need to transcend the need for violence in our lives, while embracing the realities of the conflict inherent in the very fabric of our universe. 

To do this we require the qualities of politeness, openness, compassion, courage, honesty, humility and trust. These will allow us to make the sacrifices and undertake the forgiveness that open us to a new level of being. 

We can use the understandings of Complexity to develop our identity and express our spirituality in a way that leads us on our great journey to become that which we already are.


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