Forum on Conceptual Structure

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From: Bruce Schuman
Date: Monday, March 3, 2008, 5:53 PM
Subject: Abstraction/generality/inclusivity
Reply to: 262484
ID: 259945

Hello Patrick, and group...

As I have been contemplating these possibilities, it does feel to me as though we have already introduced some substantial content into this discussion. What I am actually hoping to do right now -- is make very careful sense about just a few things -- with the idea that a solid foundation for understanding might open some very interesting possibilities for meaningful creativity.

I do sense that energy in the air. For me, this work has extended over a lifetime -- and been largely ignored for years, in favor of more intuitive or perhaps more practical things. I've always felt that the most significant things I have done in my life have to do with this kind of analysis -- but I've not really had the kind of supportive professional context where this sort of work normally flourishes.

So, these many ideas on epistemology have been largely dormant since we closed down the BRIDGE-L discussion in the late 1990's.

But there is something about all of this that has always felt essential and "seminal" -- and I have always felt (hoped) that the time would come when this resistance or dormancy could be overcome. I'm not sure exactly what the proper ingredients for this creative process might be, but there is a sense right now that the underlying potentials are in place. This "LightPages" framework has enough capacity to support this kind of exploration, in a way that might be fun and interesting -- and, there are all these fascinating resources and articles out there today that can readily illustrate and document this kind of work -- including graphics, for example, that are very difficult or time-consuming for a single-handed writer to produce.

I thought what I would do, by way of response to this initial message, is introduce one or two simple ideas, that have opened up these possibilities for me, and made this arcane and complex subject (apparently) accessible and approachable.

So, rather than try to take on every issue, let me just go through the message and comment on a few points, and see if I can get one or two bigger ideas expressed clearly. I'll approach this in the spirit and method of "dialogue" that we developed back in the early days of BRIDGE-L.


Patrick: I was startled when I came upon your work and I felt that I had to know more.

Bruce: I appreciate that curiosity. It seemed to clear to me that you had solid insight and expertise on these issues, so it seems promising and fun to explore the possibilities...

Patrick: I have always been interested in the cartography of cognition. Your ideas seemed to take it to a new level in my opinion.

Bruce: Hmmm. Well -- I kinda think that way too -- (laugh) -- but let's see how solid this really is...

And this concept of "cartography" -- it's an interesting way to phrase it. I did start out way back in the 1960's, as an undergraduate at University of California at Santa Cruz, investigating the possible meanings of deeply intuitive holistic symbolism -- in particular, mandala (Hindu concept for "magic circle").

Back in those days, just about every book that was published had a mandala on the cover. I was a psychology major, and I was convinced that this symbol -- and others like it -- had a deep real-world meaning, that was somehow escaping our grasp -- but deserved investigation. So, at the very beginning of my time at UC Santa Cruz, I gathered up everything I could find on mystical symbolism and the interpretation of metaphor, and began exploring the idea that at least some mystical symbolism could be interpreted as a kind of "pre-mathematics" -- or maybe an intuitive/holistic mathematics. This subject is sometimes described today as "mystical geometry".

The most important single idea that emerged for me then -- was the idea that mandala could be interpreted as hierarchy. I drew tree-structured / hierarchical diagrams in circular forms, subjected them to "topological deformations", and considered all kinds of alternative geometric layouts. It seemed to me that "all of logic" (particularly induction/deduction) could be interpreted as a kind of directed flow across the concentric levels of a hierarchical mandala.

In 1968, I discovered a little book by Scientific American magazine editor Martin Gardner, entitled "Logic Machines, Diagrams, and Boolean Algebra" -- which reviews the history of these "cartographic" approaches to logic and analysis -- and which begins with a discussion of the "Ars Magna" of Ramon Lull, a 12th century Spanish "saint and madman" who created a way to prove logical syllogisms with rotating wheels. Lull's diagrams looked a lot like my "mandala of logic".

In any case, I was hooked. Somehow, we had to translate deep intuition into science or engineering. Humanity was confused, deep intuition could guide us -- what does it all mean???

Back in those days, there was a lot of creative juice in the air. I read all kinds of psychology books, and very soon found myself more or less persuaded that the content of psychological study was interesting and important -- but the language, conceptual systems, and methods, were too "soft". The real problems could never be "solved" within the limitations of these methods. New approaches were needed, and I became interested in computer models, "cybernetics", system theory, feedback control loops, etc.

I went through a long cycle of self-education on these themes, and for years, outside the context of any academic or scientific environment, continued to buy and read books on these subjects. I felt there really was a wave of powerful creative insight released during those years -- but it was very hard to handle. Even today, we still lack the tools and concepts to fully embrace this spectrum of inclusion. The world is full of specialists for good reason...

In the mid 1980's, as I continued along this line, one book I encountered was "Maps of the Mind", by psychologist Charles Hampden-Turner. In this illustrated review of 60 different schools of psychology, Hampden-Turner presents an overview of many "cartographic" or "topological" approaches to psychological structure. Hampden-Turner is a very erudite man with powerful intuition, and I was fascinated to see his compendium, and his attempt to pull all these ideas together. As he says, it's important, and not enough people are doing it.

Last summer, as I began sensing some of these new growth possibilities, I chopped up my original copy of Maps of the Mind, and scanned the entire thing into .pdf. Last fall, when I first set up this Bridge Across Consciousness web site, I put most of his "maps" online. And this morning, I finished that task, and now, all 60 of his maps, plus introduction, bibliography, etc., are available online.


Hmm. This message is getting rather long. I think what I will do is just wrap up this brief introduction, suggesting the possibility that Hampden-Turner's material might be good source for bridging deep intuition into technical precision.

Generally speaking -- I think my own objective here involves developing what I am starting to call an "Integral Theorem on Conceptual Structure". I can feel/see that idea, glimmering out there in potential-space -- and it would be fascinating for me to explore this idea in the context of comments and creative insights from others interested in these themes.

Patrick, I will address your particulars in a following message. Thanks.