All posts by anomalogue

Sermon on the Distributed God

There is a plurality of ways to be a pluralist, and pluralism is prepared to accept the pragmatic consequences of this truth by acknowledging that apparent contradictions to any given truth, even the truth of pluralism, does not imply falsehood.

Pseudopluralism believes that its view on pluralism is the only valid form of pluralism, and sees any contradiction to its own form of pluralism as false and anti-pluralist and something a pluralist should suppress through responsible use of overpowering force.

This is one variant of an ancient and universal trap: of merely knowing, or worse, saying, when we are summoned to act and to be.


Ok, now that we’ve scared off the intellectually timid, let’s talk religion.

Each of us is a divine spark of the immanent Distributed God.

Pluralism is the acknowledgment that our finite efforts to conceive reality from our various points in the divine body will necessarily differ, just as we feel different sensations in different points in our own bodies. Sparks within sparks. Speck-size sparks; flame-size sparks; inferno-size sparks, sun-size sparks, galaxy-size sparks. Sparks seen close-up, sparks seen on the horizon, sparks floating on the surface of the azure sky and sparks set in the depths of darkness.

Each spark regards the others as if through the eye of the one and only God. The Golden Rule urges us to know that we are merely participants in a transcendent one and only God, and we are surrounded by innumerable fellow-participants, fellow sparks. We are all centers of the universe.


In one part of the Asclepius, which was also attributed to Trismegistus, the twelfth-century French theologian, Alain de Lille — Alanus de Insulis — discovered this formula which future generations would not forget: ‘God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Here we can see the ethical dimension of pluralism — an attitude of mutuality toward our fellow-I — who, from our own perspective, is Thou — and actions of reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity — which must not be confused with a rule, because rules determine actions, but principles determine rules — goes by the misnomer “the Golden Rule.” The Golden Principle is a test for any action, and it iterative asks — that is, it interrogates — every action. It asks “By what principle is this action justified?” Then, “Would you accept that principle?” Then it asks, “By what principle is this principle justified? Would you accept that principle?” and this questioning iterates until the test fails, or it terminates at the root of this principle, which requires us to involve our neighbor, our Thou, as ourselves, as fellow participants in a We.

The Golden Principle can be restated as: Thou shalt codesign.

The Jewish tradition, in which the Jesus was a participant of supreme genius, has always approached God as community in covenant. He understood and taught that the Golden Principle — to respect and love Thou as I — is precisely the same principle of loving God with our entire being — not just with our theological minds, not only with our overflowing hearts, not only with our serving strength — but will all of ourselves, integrated and whole and in communion with our fellows in a network of I-Thous, woven into a jewelled Indra’s Net, who can never been seen from outside, despite all appearances. Indra’s Net is woven of first-person. The refractions of first-persons within first-persons is the scintillation of these jewels.

Martin Buber:

To man the world is twofold, in accordance with, his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.

The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.

The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.

Hence the I of man is also twofold.

For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.

Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations.

Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.

Primary words are spoken from the being.

If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it.

If It is said the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.

The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.

The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.

To make the leap from monocentric “I am one with God, and coextensive with God to polycentric “I am a participant in God, and I am entirely of God and nothing but God, while God infinitely exceeds my finite being” is also to say “My participation in God is inseparable from my participation with my fellow I, as they are also of God, and participants in God’s being.”

To oppose God, the world and other people is to render God finite and deny his very infinite essence. And we all do it every minute of every day. Each moment it is an infinite challenge to overcome this natural sin, and it is to this challenge we are summoned. “Where are you?” Hineini: within Thou who is, am, will be. Amen.

We are called to radical pluricentrism within the Distributed God.

To know and say it epistemologically: pluralism.

To do it ethically: codesign by the Golden Principle.

To be it ontologically: be a polycentric participant in the Distributed God.

This is my religion. It is Judaism. It is all religion. It is All, or at least one way to situate within All.

I am trying to convey this to anyone with the hope to know better, the will to receive new givens, the ears to hear, the eyes to see, the space of an open outspiraling heart.

I am not trying to convey it to those who do not want it, and that is most people, especially those who say “pluralism!” or related words like “diversity!” or “equity!” or “inclusion!” Two millennia ago, a radical Jew said “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The kingdom, of course, Malchut, Shekinah, is the enworldment of participation in the Distributed God.

All too often we believe beliefs as a counterfeit for a faith of being and doing and receiving givens.

One last thing: Participate first with participants.

You cannot play Monopoly with someone who plays only Solitaire.

But the more people are playing, the more the hesitant will feel compelled to join, and joining is its own kind of persuasion. With games, too — with games, especially — the medium is the message. And what isn’t a game? (Language games. Ethnomethodic games.)

Remember: Persuade the persuadable first.

Persuading the obstinate can be a form of obstinacy.

Watch yourself, sneaky.

If I have no choice but to go crazy, I will try to do a good job of it. I am not ok. I will very likely hide this sermon by this afternoon.

Alcatraz Tour

Once the wife of a former inmate to Alcatraz decided to take a tour of the prison so she could better understand what he’d gone through in his two decades of imprisonment.

She walked through the stone corridors, ate a snack in the mess hall, and even experienced the cold clank of the iron door closing behind her as she was shut up in a cell for a few minutes to contemplate the horror of confinement in a nine-by-five-by-seven foot space.

Afterwards, she reflected with her husband on her experience. “It was really quite interesting. Maybe next time you will agree to go with me, so we can experience it together.”


Wherever I read “the unconscious” and its implications of thoughts concealed beneath the surface of the mind, I intercept it and substitute ‘the unsayble”, implying that it is perfectly conscious, but just not yet intuitively disciplined and equipped with language.

To people for whom thinking is a word manipulation affair, the unconscious is beyond the limits of reason. If you cannot make an idea from some combination of the existing stock of words and meanings, then the idea isn’t even an idea. It is the unconscious.

For those of us who think partly with words and partly with images, relationships, obscure hunches and experimental action, though, it is the language recombination games of wordworld intellectuals that seems more deserving of the label “the unconscious”. A small gang of word-equipped intuitions uses their words to dominate the others.

My entire philosophical project is to equip a new faction of intuitions with words — intuitions sworn to protect the rights of wordless intuitions and to give them space to fully participate in the microcosmic political order known as the soul. It is an egalitarian inner-leftism.

Herbert Simon’s first book

I’m finally getting around to reading Herbert Simon.

I wonder how many service designers are aware that before writing Sciences of the Artificial, Simon wrote another book called Administrative Behavior, which according to Wikipedia, “was based on Simon’s doctoral dissertation” and “served as the foundation for his life’s work.”

I haven’t experienced this precise species of excitement since I learned that Adam’s Smith’s other book was all about empathy.

Prying open the hand of thought

I’ve begun to notice where other people’s own original “pet theories” harm their overall understandings and ability to communicate their ideas. The noticing is spontaneous and intuitive, too. It is not an intention or an analysis. I just see it as given.

This matters to me because I have become aware that I am guilty of the same thing. The idea that I was going to write a book to mark my intellectual property, and my intense anxiety of getting scooped has corrupted my thinking. Now my philosophy is scarred with neologisms and mangled with argumentative entrenchments.

For this reason, I am doing some strange things to loosen my own grip on “my” ideas.

I feel that if I can stop caring, or at least suspend caring about the source of the ideas I use and care about — if I can “open the hand of thought” and let my precious, old, complicated ideas fall out — maybe some simpler ideas might land on my palm.

I am focusing on learning to teach — prioritizing what is most readily learnable over what is mine — as a mindset to gently pry my fingers open.

And what I am going to learn to teach is service design. I want to get service design dead simple, so it can do its transformative magic on our everyday dealings with others.

When done in the right spirit, service design invests us with a new practical faith — one that guides our participation in the transcendent, mysterious, glorious drudgery of life. This drudgery — ours and others — deserves our love and respect. Service design operationalizes that love and that respect within an organization.

It is important!


I spent most of this week at Greenville Memorial Hospital. My dad had a Type A aortic dissection, and had to undergo emergency open heart surgery. So far, he has beaten some terrifyingly slim odds, largely thanks to his heart surgeon, Dr. Bhatia, who worked on him literally all Sunday night through Monday morning, and the incredible nurses and support staff at the CVICU.


These days it is easy to lapse into pessimism regarding our species.

But it is important to remember that the people who give us this dark impression is a small and specialized segment of the population, who spend their days reading about and writing about one small corner of human experience.

Meanwhile, another, much larger group of people show up to work each day to give care and comfort to a perpetually rotating set of hurting, terrified people. They serve with skill, professionalism, compassion and humor. We don’t often hear their perspectives on things because they are incredibly busy. Their communications are mostly practical and specific and directed to one person or a few.

When I focus on people like this, and recognize them as representative of humanity I feel much, much better about everything.

Philosophy as engineering

From William Wimsatt’s Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality:

I seek methodological tools appropriate to well-adapted but limited and error-prone beings. We need a philosophy of science that can be pursued by real people in real situations in real time with the kinds of tools that we actually have-now or in a realistically possible future. This must be a central requirement for any naturalistic account. Thus I oppose not only various eliminativisms, but also overly idealized intentional or rationalistic accounts. In these chapters I advocate an approach that can provide both better descriptions of our activities and normative guidance based on realistic measures of our strengths and limitations. No current philosophy of science does this fully, though increasing numbers are moving in that direction. A philosophy of science for real people means real scientists, real engineers, historians or sociologists of real science and engineering, and real philosophers interested in how any of the preceding people work, think about their practice, think about the natural worlds we all inhabit, and think about what follows reflectively and reflexively from these facts.

This view involves a species of realism, though not of the usual sort. It fits current scientific practice and illuminates historical cases better than other approaches, and it has implications for how to do philosophy. It neither has nor seeks the stark simplicities of current foundationalist theories. This philosophy must be based from top to bottom on heuristic principles of reasoning and practice, but it also seeks a full accounting of other things in our richly populated universe — including the formal approaches we have sought in the past.

This project is a philosophy for messy systems, for the real world, for the “in-between”, and for the variegated ecologies of reality supporting and increasingly bent to our science and technology. Pace Quine, this is ontology for the tropical rainforest. The “piecewise approximations” of the book title is unavoidable: we are, must be, and can be realists in our science and much of our practice. But our realism, like our practice, and even our inferential consistency, must be piecemeal and usually satisfied with a local rather than a global order. We aren’t God and we don’t have a God’s-eye view of the world. (In this piecemeal world, we don’t even have a gods’ eyes view.)

But then the first part of the title is only half-truth: to re-engineer the whole of philosophy in a human image is still ambitiously global. I don’t do all this. I sketch how to do it for significant parts of philosophy of science and closely connected areas of science. This captures new phenomena and reconceptualizes old in ways that fit more naturally with how we proceed. I hope that others find these results sufficiently suggestive to use, extend, and add to the tools I describe here to employ them elsewhere.

“Re-Engineering” appears in the title as a verb: this view of science and nature is constructed largely (as with all creative acts) by taking, modifying, and reassessing what is at hand, and employing it in new contexts, thus re-engineering. Re-engineering is cumulative and is what makes our cumulative cultures possible. And any engineering project must be responsive to real world constraints, thus realism. Our social, cognitive, and cultural ways of being are no less real than the rest of the natural world, and all together leave their marks. But putting our feet firmly in the natural world is not enough. Natural scientists have long privileged the “more fundamental” ends of their scientific hierarchy, and pure science over applied — supposing that (in principle) all knowledge flowed from their end of the investigative enterprise.

Not so: Re-engineering also works as an adjective, and has a deeper methodological role. Theorists and methodologists of the pure sciences have much to learn about their own disciplines from engineering and the study of practice, and from evolutionary biology, the most fundamental of all (re-)engineering disciplines. Our cognitive capabilities and institutions are no less engineered and re-engineered than our biology and technology, both collections of layered kluges and exaptations. We must know what can be learned from this fact about ourselves to better pursue science of any sort.

This is very, very close to my own thinking, that philosophy ought to be understood as a species of design — the design of how we conceive — and judged by how well it does its job of enabling us to communicate and share a common sense of reality, how well it guides effective action and how well it reveals the value of our lives and our world.

These are design goals, not engineering goals, so I must say that on some level I probably disagree with Wimsatt, but I’m a quarrelsome person, and for me disagreement is a feature, not a bug. I suspect I will find much of use here. I’m already finding myself noticing heuristic thought more than before, and it is enabling me to make some weird wormholes between distant realms of thought normally considered absolutely untraversable.


One newer development in my thinking on design: Increasingly, over the last five years I have spent practicing service design (my first exposure to a truly polycentric design discipline) I have realized the enormous importance of philosophical interoperability — of designing philosophies that enable connections between people, instead of distancing and alienating them. This is always a change, but is exponentially challenging in times like these when all popular philosophies are philosophies of alienation and despair.

Parents now feel virtuous teaching their children ways of understanding the world that reveal it only as a vale of tears, dominated by sin, oppression, greed and hatred — and doomed to perish of these vices — and then blame the world for their children’s despair.

A well-designed philosophy must speak to people with these mentalities, whether these apocalyptic visions are secular or antisecular, but must divert them away from nihilism, without also diverting them from the reality of reality.

Anyway… I’m excited about this book.

Occipution errors

I need a word to designate a reality that seems to lack language.

In situations like this, we cannot avoid the protests of conservatives. We will be accused either of using familiar terms in outlandish ways, or we will be accused of using outlandish terms nobody can possibly understand. In this case, I have no choice, so I am coining a term: “occipution” after the word occiput, meaning “the back part of the head or skull.”

Occipution is the impossibility of understanding subjective realities in objective terms. An occipution error is the confusion of subject with one of its objects, a very common but rarely detected species of category mistake.

Why is it impossible to see sight? Occipution. We only know sight by seeing the objects of sight — the sights we see. Sight is subject.

Why is it impossible to think thinking? Occipution. We only know thinking by thinking the objects of thought — the thoughts we think. Thought is subject.

Trying to treat subjectivity as an emergent property of matter in an essentially physical world is maybe not a occipution error, but it is certainly a symptom of discomfort with occipution — as is the reflex to start with brain science when accounting for mental phenomena.

When we present our faith as a doctrine, or as a set of beliefs, we do so because of occipution. In fact, the doctrine or belief is merely an object of faith, but faith itself is subject.

When we see the unconscious as submerged or suppressed beliefs, or feelings or other mental objects this is a pop-psych occipution error. These have no objective reality, but they are subjectively active in ways we cannot understand in objective terms.

When we “seek ourselves” this is an occipution error. We look for the wrong kind of resolution. The worst possible pseudo-resolution is finding an identity with which one can confuse one’s self.

To state it phenomenologically, we confuse intentional objects for the faculty by which we experience both the intentional object and the faculty, because the way we think about thought encourages occipution errors.

The notion that thought is language is an occipution error.

The confusion of philosophy with philosophical content is an occipution error.

And so on and so on.

Living on terms with occipution requires radically new approaches.

If none of this made sense to you, it is not because this is nonsense. You cannot see the sense in which the emperor is clothed.

“The Unconscious” must go

I am deadly sick of Freudianism, or at least Freudianism  as generally understood by the educated public — that  vulgar Freudianism that animates public discourse, not only at the level of jargon and doctrine, but at the wordless faith-level … that faith which guides our attention, that accentuates relevant details or filters out irrelevant ones, links or severs associations between experiences and which categorizes phenomena into realms of real, unreal, objective and subjective even before we have started to process our experience with language.

Vulgar Freudians stuff everything extralingual — most of all faith — into a big woo-woo catch-all category “unconscious” and pretend this is scientific. But the Unconscious is the furthest thing from scientific. The Unconscious functions as a quarantine space — or maybe an asylum — that sequesters anything that might lead a person beyond our narrow, bloodless “secular” mentality. It rounds up all these various intuitive hunches, promptings and impulses and corrals them into a single undifferentiated, anonymous mass of mysterious irrationality.

The Unconscious may be assigned honorifics and spoken of as an infinite reservoir of potential and possibility, but in actuality, the Unconscious functions as a sewer into which anything with the potential  to disrupt the smooth mechanism of public mental processing may be flushed.

Oh, but the Unconscious is the wellspring of art and mysticism! We value it! Worship it, even! But look what happens to art and spirituality in this culture. Any art or mysticism that cannot be “utilized” to turns the wheels of commerce, either as a commodity to buy or sell, or as “commercial art” ends up in the same sewer, far, far away from public life where it can shuffle about harmlessly and not lead the sheep from the flock.

We worship (and fear) the Unconscious as an ocean of chaotic unknowable mental forces instead of allowing each of the variegated forces that constitute it to find a place in our existing order, and through its practical participation change the very nature of its order.



Philosophy and sophistry

Let us call “enception” the capacity to conceive some particular concept.

A concept is a meaning structure that enables any particular experience to be incorporated into our body of experience and to be interrelated with these other experiences. This does not mean that what is conceived can be spoken about with any degree of clarity or explicitness. It means it is available for association. Enceptions make a particular kind of analogy possible.

Wherever we lack an enception, potentially meaningful events — events that would be experienced as meaningful were the enception present — are submerged in oblivion and are not actually experienced at all. They are literally nothing to us.

Most of what we call unconscious is only unconscious with respect to our ability to capture and manipulate it with language. If we attend to the purely perceptive, apperceptive and intuitive apart from our ability to recognize these experiences and attach words to them — if we allow them to be, independently of what can be said about them — we will discover that the alleged unconscious is intensely consciousness and far more conscious than even the clearest explicit language.

Clear, explicit language is at its best when it holds partially conceived phenomena in place — when systematically employs other enceptions to put together a synthetic structure, and holds it steady long enough to allow an enception to emerge and develop and conceive the synthesis as a whole. This is what philosophy does. This is what I work to do.

People who haven’t developed an aesthetic or poetic sensitivity tend to experience the world mostly as a word-match affair. What can be caught with a person’s existing vocabulary is recognized and retained, whatever cannot be recognized is slips away unnoticed. Whatever gets recognized is linked up with other recognitions by way of whatever explicit relationships the person has available, through explicit reasoning or metaphor. It is all language-dominated — very firm, very clear, very sharp, very forceful — but also lacking the richness, spontaneity and intensity of consciousness of intuition unmediated by words.

Many intuitive, poetic, aesthetic people have been bullied by skillful users of explicit language. They understandably have developed suspicion, fear, sometimes hostility toward anything associated with explicit reason.

But reason need not and should not be used this way. This is not philosophy, however much such logicians claim the term for themselves. This is, rather, sophistry.

But many of these reason-abused people have been so damaged they are nervous around any energetic exercise of explicit reason, whether that reason is philosophical or sophistical.

Philosophy is oriented toward what transcends language and reason, but it uses language (and other forms) and reason to help us form relationships with these extralingual realities. It is against of shutting these realities out or subjecting them to linguistic domination.

We use explicit synthesis and conception together to expand the range of what we can spontaneously conceive, thereby making us more intuitively conscious both in our wordless experiences and in our explicit knowledge.

The Oracle at Delphi named Socrates the wisest man in Athens because he alone understood his own ignorance. Wisdom is practical awareness of the essential limits of truth. When we love this awareness and our thoughts and actions are expressions of this love, we are philosophers.

Wise knowledge

I’ve noticed that the unwise people in my life are invariably the ones most eager to share their wisdom. The less wise they are the more aggressive and insistent they are. They seem to believe they know something very wise that others need to know.

But recall the story of the Oracle at Delphi naming Socrates the wisest man in Athens. He was the wisest because he alone understood his own ignorance.

My current understanding of wisdom is this: Wisdom is not a quality of knowledge. It is in an attitude toward knowledge. Wisdom is practical awareness of the essential limits of truth.

Love-driven service

If you stop taking acts of service motivated by love for granted and instead see them as the most significant, valuable things any person can do, everything starts looking very different.

I am not talking about the stuff we notice and celebrate — the usual heroic acts of self-sacrifice, or overcoming insurmountable challenges to achieve the impossible, or anything requiring moments summoning will or bravery to do some great deed that has a defined beginning, middle and end.

I am talking about unceasing, interminable day-in-day-out, night-in-night-out persevering labor of care. I am talking about commitment to the endless, strenuous, stressful, frustrating, unglamorous, often mind-numbingly repetitive work that sustains our lives, both now and across generations.

It is the easiest thing on earth to take these love-driven acts of service for granted as a given, part of the invisible background of life. If we don’t work to notice, we are likely to remain oblivious to it.

Because love-driven acts of service draw on the deepest internal resources, they require no external motivation. On the contrary, they keep going despite every discouragement and danger. For this reason, people moved by these inner-resources are easy to exploit, and we do often exploit them shamelessly.

What we notice most, it seems, are those actions that we cannot depend on, which require payment of external resources. If payment is not made, the actions do not happen.

But those external reward driven actions are not the most valuable acts. They are only the most conspicuous acts. Precisely because we must reward these externally-motivated actions , we notice, respect and esteem them. But the love driven acts keep happening whether or not we notice them or whether or not we adequately reward them.

People who do this kind of love-driven work are everywhere, holding things together. We can find many of them on the front lines of service. Nurses, teachers, social workers, cashiers, waiters, and, of course, mothers. They are frequently overworked, under-compensated and unnoticed, but they don’t stop.

It is terrifying to recognize how much we owe them for what they have done for us and how dependent we are on their service and their love.

Can we bear feeling as much gratitude as we owe?

Maybe our blindness isn’t as innocent as we would prefer.

What if the real job all the rest of us have — those of us situated far behind the front lines of service — is not to order our front-liners around, and not to exploit our front-liners and their unconditional willingness to serve, but rather to give them the support they need, even when — especially when — they don’t demand it, so they can better do this sacred work that makes our lives worth living without burning out or falling into despair.

Our strength depends on their strength.

Square hipsters versus hip squares

Every adolescent knows: Oppressive piety invites defiant impiety.

If you are pious, you believe oppression is a necessary means to protect what deserves piety. But to those subjected to the oppression, it is obvious that it is the piety that is the means. Oppression is the real end. Piety justifies use of coercion, and enables the oppressor to enjoy self-righteous abuse of power.

Impiety is a vehicle for defiance of oppression. The impious content is secondary. What matters is the performative “fuck you” to those who use piety as justification for oppression.

Of course, the pious can only see defiance as a hatred of what deserves piety — morality, justice, compassion and so on. They see it this way and this way only. Permitting alternative views or irony or humor introduces the risk of seeing the ruse from the outside, which would puncture all delusions of moral superiority.

I think most people understand this to some degree. We can all sort of recall how it was to be a teenager. Some of us still identify with our teenage rebellion, and even believe that we are still rebellious, despite all evidence to the contrary. If, when corporations unite to celebrate your rebellion you bask in their approval and feel renewed inspiration to continue your personal journey to self-acceptance — or if you need everyone to unanimously affirm your rebellion or you melt into a puddle of trauma tears — sorry dude, you are the furthest thing from a rebel. How could anyone be so stupid and self-oblivious to miss that?

Here is how: Power is sneaky.

The smarter we are, the sneakier we get.

The world is currently faced with a piety with the sneakiest meta moves ever devised by our sneaky, pious species.

Imagine an oppressive piety obsessed with… opposing oppression and piety.

Now imagine a defiant impiety toward this oppressive piety of anti-oppression/anti-piety.

Pious impiety and oppressive anti-oppression versus impious piety and defiant anti-anti-oppression.

This meta layer has effectively confused the majority of our (mis)educated population.

The pious impious run around shitting on and tearing down everything formerly considered sacred in former times, and if someone gets uppity and refuses to conform with the defilement, they are scarlet lettered and shunned by the community. These people refuse to be named, but I call them Proggos, because that it a silly, unpleasant word perfectly suited for silly, unpleasant people.

Meanwhile the impious pious run around defiantly affirming the sacrality of everything the  Proggos hate, most of all sacred traditions, which is why these people are commonly called Trads. These Trads compulsively disregard all the moral rule Proggos impose and enforce, even that 75% that’s actually decent and good, and even the 50% espoused by their own sacred traditions. But Trads are not sincere in any of their affirmations. They affirm only to negate. They care nothing about sacredness — only saying “fuck you” in the most offensive manner they can find, and that has turned out to be the Apostle’s Creed.

So basically these pious impious Proggos and these impious pious Trads share something in common: a total disregard for sacredness. One desecrates with sincere contempt and the other desecrates  with disingenuous reverence.

Moral nonlinearity

My generation was shaped decisively by chaos theory. James Gleick’s bestseller Chaos: Making a New Science was, for many of us, not merely an introduction to, but rather, an initiation into a radically new approach to understanding order.

Chaos theory shows how even the most strictly determinate process can be radically unpredictable, if that process has the form of an iterative feedback loop. Most processes (even processes as simple as an object sliding across ice) can be reframed as nonlinear processes, and when seen this way, much that was once factored out as incidental noise turned out to essential signal.

When I first read the book, back when it was still actually on the NYT bestseller list, I was scientistic to the core. I was a hard determinist, in fact. The notion that I could have both the perfect, rational order of determinism, and also enjoy pristine, virgin unpredictability was exhilarating. I didn’t even know I wanted this radical unpredictability until I was given it, and was shocked by my own joy in receiving it. Radical order and radical unpredictability!

By this principle things will happen the way they happen, proceeding with invariable necessity, and they cannot unfold otherwise, but there is no way at all for us to get ahead of the process and see where it is going. We can only enact or follow the process, and see where it goes.

Since then, I have applied this pattern of radically-rational-yet-radically-unpredictable feedback processes to many phenomena outside of the domain of math — and many of these processes are core to my personal mission.

Design, of course, is famously iterative. And it is also notoriously unpredictable. We must constantly console nervous manager-types who need to know what we are going to learn before we learn it and what we are going to invent before we invent it. We have to tell them: trust the process. The process is a nonlinear one, and part of its rigor is refusing to draw conclusions using straight euclidean rulers. We must participate in the nonlinear process of learning-making-learning-making… and eventually, something will crystallize.

Hermeneutics is also famously nonlinear. The hermeneutic circle describes the interplay of whole and part, with the whole being your own understanding — an understanding that gives significance to parts, yet the parts constitute this whole. Learning is the development of a whole from parts that either support or extend or undermine or even break the whole into which parts are integrated.

Now, today, I am thinking of moral principles as nonlinear.

All too often, without even noticing, we assume that morality will be a linear rule. We wonder what we should do in x-situation. We apply a moral rule to the problem, get a decision, then execute the decision.

I originally applied this line of thought to the Golden Rule.

If you approach the Golden Rule linearly and assume the proper procedure is to feed the question into the Golden Rule Machine and see what answer it spits out, the Golden Rule will appear manifestly dumb. But if, rather than accepting that first answer, we instead iteratively receive it as a question to be fed back into the Golden Rule, things get more interesting. With each cycle, the output become more intuitively right, and not as an asymptotic approach to a predictable point. Outputs bounce around chaotically. For instance, the process almost immediately stops being one that occurs within one’s own mind, but expands beyond the skull to include those who are or might be affected by the decision. If someone is going to do something that affects you, don’t you want them to involve you? According to the Golden Rule you should do likewise.

This means even if we accept a the most rigorously rational morality it does not follow that this gives us the ability to unilaterally calculate what is moral. Morality is not a code of determinate rules, but a process we must follow — and it is a collaborative process we must follow with others.

Linearity — physical, cognitive, moral — is strictly for limited circumstances, one person or a few, within a limited context within a limited span of future time.

Beyond these narrow bound is radical order and radical surprise. So let us say amen.