Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Convergent and divergent thinking

Just after James P. Carse published his delightful little book of logical theorems he titled Finite and Infinite games, I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy at a bookstore and browse the first couple of pages. I was immediately captivated by the nifty little statements that simply say what the game players do. It's a book of rules, then, about the rules people live by and don't often acknowledge. I immediately recognized the games I prefer, and why I like them. But what is so clever about this wonderful small but pithy piece of work, is the clarity and order it puts into little puzzling problems of communication, where one may be playing by the infinite game rule set, and dealing with someone playing by a finite4 game rule set. I found that by clarifying at least that for myself, I could keep clear, at least, and the confusion that seemed to be in place at times may not have been made clear between the other person and myself, but at least I was not so frustrated by it as I might have been, and at least I could take steps to minimize the uproar that often occurs when both parties are frustrated by a miscommunication.

Behind those little theorems that Carse produced lie two different forms of thinking, convergent and divergent. Convergent is causal and proof oriented, and thus for a purpose, and divergent is open ended and possibility oriented. The finite game player relies primarily on convergent thinking rules in the game and thus drives for a closure, or a completion, thus a winning. The Tai Chi divergent thinker foils that endlessly. A person I've dealt with on message boards, who I call Gerbil A, in some dim dark recess of his corrupted little brain, recognizes the possibilities of divergent thinking and thus tries to use it to disrupt a discussion. He also uses it to prove his little assumptions, like someone is "intellectually dishonest." That charge implies that the person must be using convergent thinking, and when they deviate from that thinking and explore other possibilities, they are "dishonest." What shows he's not so smart is that he doesn't recognize someone else that recognizes it. And now he doesn't know what to do, because his game depends on the other not recognizing it. And if he has any sense at all, he's got to recognize now that he's made a fool of himself. My guess is that's why I'm being left alone. In the end he's just a finite game player using something he really never took the trouble to understand. Because I challenged him to play the infinite game, and he couldn't. It's not that different from what you've done with your manipulative colleague.

The way I see it now, much of Eastern philosophical thought is based on an awareness of these two thought patterns. Some very bright people have made an effort to make sense of it throughout Western philosophy as well, and back in the Sixties, especially among those gathered along spots on the West Coast, some of them worked that out, and among them were guys like Alan Watts, and Gregory Bateson. Big Sur is an amazing location for me, and one place that was a gathering point was the Esalen Institute. Go to that link and just look at the picture, and you'll see, perhaps, why I went there to heal myself after my divorce.

Esalen Institute exists to promote the harmonious development of the whole person. It is a learning organization dedicated to restricted exploration of the human potential, and resists religious, scientific and other dogmas except for gestalt psychotherapy, which permeates all levels of the community based staff and business model. It fosters theory, practice, research, and institution-building to facilitate personal and social transformation and, to that end, sponsors seminars for the general public; invitational conferences; research programs; residencies for artists, scholars, scientists, and religious teachers; work-study programs; and semi-autonomous projects.

Michael Murphy, Chairman, Esalen Board of Trustees, Esalen Institute Statement of Purpose

I found myself drawn there even when I was still in the Navy, stationed in Alameda (not far from where I lived in Oakland years later.) So all of what I say has a depth of continuity that correlates to places like that, even if the thinking involved is not convergent and causal.

A number of features of my life seem to "magically" coalesce there, like the "Schizophrenia Research Project" which is what led me to Gregory Bateson thoughts, I suspect. Gregory Bateson's work with double binds and schizophrenia correlated with my interest in Eastern thought raised by my reading of Alan Watts after my own "awakening" when I went into a complete rebellion against the military authority system itself, a frustrated and trapped felling little gerbil that I found myself to be, running on my little wheel. Gregory Bateson himself drew on the Eastern thought to explain the double bind and the schizophrenic reaction to such things (paradox being a natural result of employing convergent logic to explain a divergent logical problem), and so much that puzzled me became clear when I witnessed that problem, not just in myself, but in what others around me were doing to make sense of their worlds. With that I already had the basic awareness for grasping what Gregory Bateson with his deutero learning was trying to describe when I first read it in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind in the early Seventies. The basic therapy process of Gestalt psychology was already embedded in this form in me, and these processes were all coalescing at the Esalen Institute, with the likes of well known proponents like Fritz Perls.

So the Esalen Institute on Big Sur was a "counter culture Nexus" in the Sixties, as some called it back then, and the point of an explosion of sorts, the results of which are reverberating in odd ways still today. I'd point to Usha and possibly even Thom as effects of that expansion of divergent awareness, which cannot be traced in convergent logic, and the results of what it could stimulate are the many possibilities that we see, interacting with forces that come up to contain it. Thom Hartmann himself is a kind of stepchild of Gregory Bateson through his connection to NLP and those who came along and bastardized it into a convergent thinking finite game of mind control. I'd love to run that narrative on the board and see where it goes. The counter action to the explosion of possibility thinking and the gestalt awareness that comes from it, is also visible, and the counter action is the convergent thinking in society that wants everything to make sense and thus have definable conclusions that can contain this explosion of possibilities that erupted, not really so much as a counter to the culture but as a breaking down of the prison walls of thought that have the gerbils endlessly spinning in their well fed, "happy" lives.

My writing is about that, when I think about it. All these little things I bring up, like binary oppositions as part of rational thought, my sense of how the world is evolving with the forces I try to describe, all of it. At least I have a "theme." What I don't have is a good set of understandable metaphors for others to make sense of what I'm saying, not unless they have transcended their own need to make sense of the world with convergent logic, and I see very little sign of that. So I have little hope that I will write anything that will every make open ended and playful sense in the way I'd hope it could.

The Esalen land is the true gift to the people who live and visit there, offering striking scenery set between mountains and ocean. Workshops cover many subjects including: The Arts, Ecopsychology, Health, Integral thought, Martial arts, Massage, Dance, Myth, Philosophical Inquiry, Somatics, Spiritual & Religious Studies, Transpersonal Process, Wilderness, Yoga, and Mindfulness.

Sometimes, when I think about things I think in this way, feel like I'm in about the place Robert Frost was when he produced
his last book of poetry: In The Clearing. That poem was one from that

Accidentally on Purpose -- by Robert Frost

The universe is but the Thing of things,
The things but balls all going round in rings.

Some of them mighty huge, some mighty tiny,
All of them radiant and mighty shiny.

They mean to tell us all was rolling blind
Till accidentally it hit on mind
In an albino monkey in a jungle

And even then it had to grope and bungle,

Till Darwin came to earth upon a year
To show the evolution how to steer.
They mean to tell us, though, the Omnibus
Had no real purpose till it got to us.

Never believe it. At the very worst
It must have had the purpose from the first
To produce purpose as the fitter bred:
We were just purpose coming to a head.

Whose purpose was it? His or Hers or Its?

Let's leave that to the scientific wits.
Grant me intention, purpose, and design--
That's near enough for me to the Divine.

And yet for all this help of head and brain
How happily instinctive we remain,

Our best guide upward further to the light,
Passionate preference such as love at sight.

No comments: