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Human Values Project (Explanations)

Complexity: Comprehending the complexity of the value surface

Human Values Project

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Perhaps the great merit of chaos theory is its ability to orient understanding to respond creatively to complexity. As such it is a tool to counter-balance the simplistic efforts of the many honourable initiatives to come up with a set of values applicable to all in a complex, multi-cultural society subject to a wide variety of pressures. These often result in a construction as inappropriate as a horse-and-buggy in a down-town traffic jam, however elegant it may appear. These initiatives have so far failed to attract universal support but they continue to raise hopes and divert conceptual effort from more complex approaches that might prove more appropriate.

A conceptually richer approach might also give a more solid foundation to that widespread intuition that such a seemingly simple set of values should indeed "exist" in some form. But just as a 3-stage space rocket may be composed of 3 cylindrical forms, this does not mean that juxtaposition of 3 cylindrical forms makes for an operational rocket. There is more to ensuring the viability of a 3-value set than the simple juxtaposition of 3 value charged words representing the flavours-of-the-month of the international community.

What makes for a viable set of values? And how is such a set to be comprehended? Consider the following progression:

1. Checklist

The standard approach is to produce a "well thought out" checklist, possibly with annotations. This fails to show the pattern of relationships and tensions between such values -- if any have been given attention. It is difficult to be more simplistic, static and linear than by this approach.

2. Matrix

More can be accomplished by endeavouring to capture the set in the form of a table or matrix that dimensions the set in some way and suggests a pattern of checks and balances between them. But as with the checklist approach, the question remains as to how particular value categories emerged and got clustered in that way. The creation of such a value map can be an extremely creative process for those engaging in it -- however it is perceived by those subsequently confronted with it as "The Map" by which their actions and futures are to be guided.

3. Mandala meditation

Those spiritual traditions that use circular mandala-type diagrams reflect another approach to value organization. As opposed to the grid layout of matrix maps, here the centro-symmetric focus is considered of fundamental psychological importance to an integrative relationship amongst the segmented parts -- and their often highly detailed articulations. (It is appropriate to note that such articulation often demonstrates the recursive symmetry that is a feature of chaotic systems) Words are however usually replaced by images to carry the value connotations (Trungpa, 1991). However such mandalas emerge, subsequent users of such maps are encouraged to meditate their way into them. Jung has made much of their emergence in significant dreams. Much emphasis is placed on the process by which the person comes to understand the configuration of symbolic elements. The adequacy of words as unambiguous labels for complex experiences is challenged. The observer becomes an active participant.

4. Sand painting creation

Other traditions have favoured variants on sand painting. Here the emphasis is very much on the production process by which the elements emerge and are configured on a space of sand. Symmetry is not necessarily of prime significance. Objects may be used rather than images. The production of the map is seen as an integrative externalization of the dimensions governing the person's behaviour. For Buddhists it may be a collective ritual. Significance is often attached to the subsequent destruction of any such artefact.

What is it that is being ordered in the above processes, especially when the ordering process becomes significant to what emerges?What is the surface or space out of which value elements appear to gel for a time before dissolving back? Are David Bohm's insights into implicate order and holomovement relevant at this point?


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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